The True Face Of Sri Lanka's War


Despite the armed conflict finishing in 2009, the humanitarian situation in Sri Lanka remains grim, and human rights abuses continue. The government of Sri Lanka has done little to promote reconciliation and rehabilitation and bring about justice for victims. Both the Sri Lankan Government and the Australian Government paint an optimistic picture of the current situation in north Sri Lanka. The reality is much different.

It had been almost three years since I had first visited north Sri Lanka, at which time the war had only recently finished. I was unsure what to expect this time. Extensive development has been widely publicised by the government and applauded as an indication of restoration being implemented throughout the North.

It was when I travelled to the interior that I started to see and hear the stories of what life is really like for the majority of Tamil people. The carnage left behind after such a brutal war is horrific, and three years on, severe psychological trauma is vast and pervasive.

These images show the legacy of a war where safe zones were routinely targeted, where bloody battles took place right in the midst of homes and lives, and where the civilian sacrifice was significant. It uncovers the everyday struggle of living with agonising disfigurement, harrowing memories and departed loved ones.

CHOGM being held in Sri Lanka in November suggests that the international community, Australia included, is looking the other way and turning a blind eye to the war crimes committed by the government.

These are the lives of people who have still not been granted justice.

All photos by Shelley Morris. The full photoset may be viewed here. Warning: Graphic and distressing images follow.

This man suffers acute psychological and emotional disorders from his experience during the war. Rajah can hear but he cannot speak, and his frightening and erratic behaviour makes life miserable for his wife and eight year old son.

This boy's father lost his leg during the war, and sustained critical wounds by cluster shelling. His injuries have rendered him totally dependent on his wife for all his needs. The boy and his brother are seven and four years of age. Before they were displaced the family owned a small cinema from which they earned their living. 

Dayudshan was resting in a chair with a fan on him when I arrived. He lost his right hand and one leg during the war. His father died in the war. He has three siblings. His mother is a seamstress, but does not earn enough income to look after the family. Dayudshan has to change his prosthetic leg often as he is growing. He doesn’t want to use his false arm as it hurts him. 

Her mother and father were killed during the war, she and her three siblings live with their aunty, who is a widow and has four children of her own children. They all live together in a very small house made of mud.

Sinnathamy lost both his arms and one leg while digging a bunker for his family for safety from shelling. The boy who was helping him died on the spot. 

Survivor of torture inflicted by the SL military, which has seen him lose all his fingers and both legs. His wife works doing de-mining to provide for their three children.

Vijitha lost her father in the war, and she lives with her mother and her two younger siblings in a temporary house. “My future is bleak and barren for me without my right hand. I hate to look at myself in the mirror.”

This man is paralysed after he was hit with shrapnel. Day and night he lies dreaming about a bright future, which he very well knows will never become a reality. He always talks highly of his wife, who earns a living by working in the dangerous de-mining program every day.

During the war, one bullet found its way into one side of her forehead and came through the other side, blinding both eyes.

Nine-year-old Dayanthan survived the war with shrapnel wounds to his head. You don’t need a stethoscope to know his heart beat; the right side of the skull-less skinned area beats like his little heart. He is paralysed down one side and cannot walk or sit up. He spends his days laying in a rattan chair in their front yard. 

This 27-year-old girl was paralysed by shrapnel. She lays on a leaking water mattress at her mother's home. There is no support system in place for people with disabilities, and she can see no hope or future for herself. 

As she joined the fleeing crowd with her two young daughters, this woman became a victim to the battle raging around her. She still has a bullet lodged in her spine, and one of her legs is paralysed.

Blinded by shrapnel. He lives in a small hut with his wife and daughter. They own some large cooking pots which they loan out for a small income. 

All photos by Shelley Morris. The full photoset may be viewed here.

Launched in 2004, New Matilda is one of Australia's oldest online independent publications. It's focus is on investigative journalism and analysis, with occasional smart arsery thrown in for reasons of sanity. New Matilda is owned and edited by Walkley Award and Human Rights Award winning journalist Chris Graham.