The Politics of Representations of Mass Atrocity in Sri Lanka: Challenges to Justice and Recovery

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Within the legal framework of international law, the representation of mass atrocity is expressed through the categories of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. However, these conceptual categories are applied within particular political and ideological fields that must be critiqued in order to reach an inclusive representation of truth about mass atrocity. The focus of this paper will be on the representations of mass atrocity in Sri Lanka, and will demonstrate that ideology has determined how truth is perceived, and how justice
and recovery are envisaged. Approaching this task through a hermeneutic of suspicion allows a more accurate representation to emerge within the political imagination, and indicates more comprehensive justice and recovery measures to be pursued.

Death beyond Reckoning…

According to UN sources, at least 40,000 Tamil civilians were killed in the final phase of the war, lasting just four months (January through May of 2009).1 Giving testimony at the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL)-appointed Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) on 11 January, 2011, the Bishop of Manner revealed that there are still 1,46,679 Tamils unaccounted for, a figure he arrived at by analysing official data issued by the GoSL 2. How can the truth about such shocking loss of life, such a staggering number of deaths, best be represented in the political imagination? International law provides conceptual and legal categories, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and crimes against peace. The representation of mass atrocity in Sri Lanka within these categories will determine what measures are deemed necessary in terms of justice and recovery.