“To stand in silence when they should be protesting makes cowards out of men”. – Abraham Lincoln.
So how does a state successfully commit war crimes, and get away with it? Simple. Ensuring silence. Like an abusive parent guilty of molesting their child, the best way to escape prosecution is to ensure that the child keeps their mouth shut, keeping school teachers and peers utterly oblivious to the daily atrocities which the child is subject to.
While it is wholly questionable that said ‘schoolteachers’ and ‘peers’ were oblivious to the crisis taking place in Sri Lanka, it is clear the government has taken a similar approach. Intimidation, use of sexual torture, and by taking complete control of the country’s press, the government has ensured that silence is maintained.
Pogroms, destruction of homes and places of worship, all culminating in a bloody civil war ending in Sri Lanka as the government ordered the ruthless massacre of Tamil rebels and civilians alike, with over 75,000 murdered in 2009 alone. A country who’s history is marred with a lengthy record of genocide and ethnic discrimination, Sri Lanka has flown under the international radar for years, using their famed tourist landscapes as a beautiful veil.
However, in recent times this void in information surrounding the crimes taking place daily in Sri Lanka has been decreasing due to the hard work of a number of people and organisations. The pressure on the Sri Lankan state to be prosecuted for these human rights violations has been increasing – and one of the most vital and often underplayed components behind this growing pressure is the voice of the international student body.
Students in Sri Lanka and across the world have all done their part to expose these crimes, through campaigns and protests, and students at the LSE have followed suit. The LSESU Amnesty International Society as part of their Sri Lanka Campaign worked together with the LSESU Tamil Society to host both an exhibition and student-led discussion, raising awareness of genocide and detailing the ongoing human rights crisis in the country.
Students from all backgrounds were approached, and after being briefed on the situation in Sri Lanka were asked to detail their opinions with the use of one word or phrase. A difficult proposition. The result can be seen below, in the form of this photo montage, hand-picking just a few of the numerous students who took part in the exhibition.
It is cliched enough to say a picture paints a thousand words, but that saying rings poignantly true when observing what these students wrote. Phrases such as ‘convenient ignorance’, ‘heartless conflict’, and ‘unpunished war crimes’ painted a solemn yet accurate idea of the lives of the people who experience these atrocities daily.
The discussion similarly brought up a lot of emotions. Focussing on Callum McRae’s most recent documentary ‘No Fire Zone’, students were invited to watch a screening, prior to the floor being open to debate about the horrors detailed in the film. Many questions were raised, particularly as to why such crimes were being allowed to go on unpunished, and who or which organisation would eventually step in to bring an end to the crisis in Sri Lanka.
While an exhibition and discussion may seem entirely worthless in the fight against human rights violations, the power of awareness should not be underestimated. Silence strengthens all criminals, from petty robbers to genocidal states. Thus, the aptly named ‘Breaking the Silence’ campaign fights to prevent that. The hard work of the student body to uncover human rights violations does not go in vain, as it is crucial we use our positions to benefit as many other people as we can.
On behalf of the LSESU Tamil Society, we would like to thank LSESU Amnesty International Society for their collaboration with us on this project, and we are hoping this is just the first step of many in these campaigns.