July 27 in History
1983 – Black July: Eighteen Tamil political prisoners at the Welikada high security prison in Colombo are massacred by Sinhalese prisoners, the second such massacre in two days
Black July was an anti-Tamil pogrom that occurred in Sri Lanka during July 1983. The pogrom was premeditated, and was finally triggered by a deadly ambush on July 23, 1983, which caused the death of 13 Sri Lanka Army personnel, by the Tamil militant group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Although initially orchestrated by members of the ruling United National Party (UNP) the pogrom soon escalated into mass violence with significant public participation.
On the night of July 24, 1983, anti-Tamil rioting started in the capital city of Colombo and then spread to other parts of the country. Over seven days, mainly Sinhalese mobs attacked, burned, looted, and killed Tamil civilians. Estimates of the death toll range between 400 and 3,000, and 150,000 people became homeless. According to Tamil Centre for Human Rights (TCHR), the total number of Tamils killed in the Black July pogrom was 5,638. Around 8,000 homes and 5,000 shops were destroyed. The economic cost of the riots was estimated to be $300 million. The NGO International Commission of Jurists described the violence of the pogrom as having “amounted to acts of genocide” in a report published in December 1983.
Fifty-three prisoners were killed inside the high-security Welikada prison in Colombo, in what is known as the Welikada Prison Massacre, during this period.
The killings occurred in two different series of actions: the first on July 25, 1983 when 35 Tamil prisoners were attacked and killed by Sinhalese inmates. The second massacre was two days later, on July 27, when Sinhalese inmates killed another 18 Tamil detainees and three prison deputies.
No one has been convicted of crimes relating to these incidents.
Sri Lankan Tamils fled to other countries in the ensuing years, and a large number of Tamil youth joined militant groups. Black July is generally seen as the start of the Sri Lankan Civil War between the Tamil militants and the government of Sri Lanka.