| | What does Black July mean?
Black July refers to the month of July 1983, and in particular, the organized mass killing of thousands of Tamils in Sri Lanka that occurred during the 3 days of July 24 – July 26. While tensions had been steadily building between Tamils and Sinhalese for decades, Black July was seen as an excessive, calculated action that could only imply that Tamils did not belong in Sri Lanka.
Who was responsible for the anti-Tamil pogrom? Most people believe it is the government that carried out the killings in a systematic fashion. All of the evidence confirms this idea, and it has been reported by organisations such as Amnesty International and International Commission of Jurists, media sources including The Times (London), The Guardian and The New York Times, witnesses, and government officials. A blackout on media and travel occurred alongside the violence. Police and armed forces were deployed but did not take action to stop the violence. The government officially addressed the nation only 5 days after the start of the pogrom, but no genuine apology was tendered then or since.
What was the aftermath of Black July? An estimated 3000 Tamils were killed. Many Tamil homes and businesses were destroyed, costing the economy at least $1 billion in damage. At least 1 million Tamils have fled Sri Lanka since July 1983. The Sinhalese and Tamil societies live irreconcilably separate from each other.
What was the response of the international community to Black July? Some journalists were able to send out reports on the events of Black July secretly in defiance of the ban on international media. Resolutions were passed in the United Nations condemning the violence, but not much has been done to enforce them or to exact reparations.
Why did Black July happen? Sri Lanka's history since its independence shows a steadily intensifying trend of maintaining populist support for the government at the expense of minorities. Two of the cabinet ministers in the government were outspokenly racist in favour of Sinhalese and against Tamils, and these ministers are well-known to have instigated and planned the riots. Unfortunately, even today, many news reports continue to incorrectly cite the killing of 13 Sri Lankan soldiers as the cause for Black July. Even a quick look at the events surrounding Black July provides a proper context. Every eye-witness, international journalist and fact-finding investigator agreed that the violence was well planned and organised. Many of them also state that, given what they had seen or heard, the soldiers' deaths was used as an excuse by the government to launch the riots. Since Sri Lanka gained independence, its history has seen frequent anti-Tamil violence, but Black July differs greatly in its scale and the intensity of its impact.
What is the significance of Black July? Periodic protests by Tamils against discrimination and lack of representation were subsequently met with violence by the state and/or the majority community. While Black July 1983 can be seen as following in this series of previous anti-Tamil riots that have punctuated Sri Lankan history, or in the climate of increasing counter-violence to the violent suppression of the Tamil protests, Black July is on a different scale. It was planned well in advance and executed by all apparati of the state, caused destruction and horror to an extent not yet seen nor could be justified, and can never be forgotten. Black July was the watershed moment which transformed and escalated ethnic tensions and skirmishes into an all-out civil war, which continues today.