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The Sri Lankan state has been accused of state terrorism against the Tamil minority as well as the Sinhalese majority. The Sri Lankan government and the Sri Lankan Armed Forces have been charged with massacres, indiscriminate shelling and bombing, extrajudicial killings, rape, torture, disappearance, arbitrary detention, forced displacement and economic blockade. According to Amnesty International state terror was institutionalized into Sri Lanka's laws, government and society.
Sri Lanka gained independence from Britain in 1948 as the Dominion of Ceylon, although the British Royal Navy retained a base there until 1956. In 1972, the country became a republic, adopting the name Sri Lanka. Since this time, the country has experienced several major conflicts – a civil war, Marxist uprisings, also several other conflicts.
From 1985 to 1989, Sri Lanka responded to violent insurrection with equal violence against the Sinhalese majority as part of the counterinsurgency measures against the uprising by the Marxist Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) party. In order to subdue those supporting the JVP uprising, a wide range of acts of cruelty were recorded as having been carried out by the state, including the torture and mass murder of school children. This repression peaked among the Sinhala population during 1989–90.
The Sri Lankan Civil War lasted from 1983 to 2009. In 1986 an American Tamil social anthropologist at Harvard University stated that acts of "terrorism" had been committed by all sides during the war, but although all parties in the conflict had resorted to the use of these tactics, in terms of scale, duration, and sheer numbers of victims, the Sri Lankan state was particularly culpable. This was echoed by the Secretary of the Movement for Development and Democratic Rights, a Non-governmental organisation (NGO), which further claimed that the Sri Lankan state viewed killing as an essential political tool. This had originally prompted the demand for a separate state for minority Tamils called Tamil Eelam in the north of the country, an idea first articulated by S.J.V. Chelvanayagam in 1976.
Assaults on Tamils for ethnic reasons have been alleged, and the experience of state terrorism by the people of Jaffna has been alleged to have been instrumental in persuading the United National Party to increase their hostilities there.
Chandrika Kumaratunga was the President of Sri Lanka from 1994 to 2005. In an interview with the British television presenter and news critic David Frost, she has stated that at the time that her husband Vijaya Kumaranatunga was assassinated, "Sri Lanka had a killing fields, there was a lot of terror perpetrated by the government itself, state terrorism." This statement has been supported by a report released by the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), a Non-governmental organization based in Hong Kong and associated with the United Nations, which has also claimed that there was widespread terrorism by the state during this period.
Following the collapse of peace talks in 2006, human rights agencies such as the Asian Center of Human Rights (ACHR), the University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR), and pro-LTTE political parties such as the Tamil National Alliance, claimed that the government of Sri Lanka had unleashed state terrorism as part of its counterinsurgency measures against the rebel LTTE movement. The Sri Lankan government responded by claiming that these allegations by the LTTE were an attempt by the LTTE to justify their own acts of terrorism.
The ACHR has also stated that following the collapse of the Geneva talks of February 2006, the government of Sri Lanka perpetrated a campaign of state terrorism by targeting alleged LTTE sympathizers and Tamil civilians. A spokesman for Human Rights Watch was of the opinion that: "The Sri Lankan government has apparently given its security forces a green light to use dirty war tactics." International intervention in Sri Lanka was requested by Tamil sources to protect civilians from state terror.
When referring to the 2006 Trincomalee massacre, of 20-year-old  students, and subsequent intimidation of witnesses and the perceived lack of investigative vigor, the local human rights group UTHR termed it an act of state terror. The 2006 Trincomalee massacre of NGO workers took place on 4 or 5 August 2006, when 17 employees of the French INGO Action Against Hunger (known internationally as Action Contre la Faim, or ACF) were shot at close range in the city of Muttur, Sri Lanka, close to Trincomalee. The victims included sixteen minority Sri Lankan Tamils and one Sri Lankan Muslim. Sinhalese Home Guards and Sri Lankan army navy special forces have been accused to having committed this massacre.
According to the Asian Centre for Human Rights (ACHR), the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court identifies "conscripting or enlisting children under the age of fifteen years into armed forces or groups or using them to participate actively in hostilities" as a war crime. The agency has accused the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP), a LTTE breakaway group and government-backed paramilitary group, of recruiting children, describing it as "state terror" and has appealed to the international community to refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court for investigation into the violations of the Rome Statute.
Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch has said, "The government is fully aware of the abductions but allows them to happen because it's eager for an ally against the Tamil Tigers". The Human Rights Watch further added that it would be impossible to transport abducted children without the complicity of the Sri Lankan Army. TMVP has allegedly been used as a paramilitary force by the Sri Lankan army, from the time the group split from the LTTE in 2004.
The International Federation of Tamils, a pro-LTTE consortium of Tamil groups, has alleged that the systematic use of torture and rape by Sri Lankan forces has amounted to state terrorism. The torture, rape and murder of a family during the Vankalai massacre has been described as an act of state terrorism. Human Rights groups have condemned this massacre and demanded an independent investigation. In the book Trauma of Terrorism by Yael Danieli, the Sri Lankan state is viewed as having been the most guilty in the use of terror; the author claims that state terrorism became institutionalized into the very structure of society and mechanism of governance. Hillary Clinton has been quoted linking Sri Lanka with the use of rape as a tactic of war, to which some have responded unjust to "rope in" Sri Lanka's name to countries like the Congo and Burma.
Opposition leader Ranil Wickremesinghe has charged the government of Sri Lanka with turning the country into a junta: "This junta has control over the economy, business activities and defense. They have unleashed corruption and terror on the country." He has claimed that an attack on the Sunday Leader newspaper, an independent English weekly, could not have occurred without the knowledge of the Sri Lankan Defense Ministry since the offices were located in a High Security Zone, neighboring a military air force base, a defense academy and a military camp .
The UTHR, a local human rights organization, has claimed that the media has been repressed by state terrorism. Some activists have drawn attention to the lack of coverage of the displacement of Tamils in late 2008, particularly people being relocated to welfare villages in India, covered by Indian news, as a symptom of anti-democratic controls over the media.
Sri Lankan government have been accused of the usage state-sponsored paramilitaries to commit war crimes. Most of them were created at the height of the second JVP uprising. During the civil war, the main state sponsored paramilitary was the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, which was led by Karuna Amman.