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LTTE & Amnesty
Exchange of Letters - Kallawara Incident 1995

Summary and Comment
Amnesty Urgent Action Appeal - 26 May 1995
LTTE International Secretariat Reply - 10 July 1995
Amnesty Response to LTTE - 11 September 1995
Please see also Sinhala Colonisation of Tamil Homeland

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Summary and Comment

On 26 May 1995, Amnesty International issued an Urgent Action Appeal.  The Appeal   stated that 42 Sinhalese civilians had been killed by the LTTE at Kallarawa, and added that "Amnesty International's concern that the massacre at Kallarawa may mark the beginning of renewed attacks on unarmed civilians has been heightened by another report on 26 May that LTTE members killed a Buddhist priest known for his stand against them. He was killed while driving into the compound of the temple's farm at Dimbulagala in Polonnaruwa District."

The International Secretariat of the LTTE replied to Amnesty on 10 July 1995. The International Secretariat of the LTTE welcomed "Amnesty International’s recognition of the existence of an armed conflict in the island and the need for the parties to the conflict to comply with common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 which prohibits 'violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds' against persons taking no active part in hostilities."  The LTTE however, regretted 'that in its haste to issue an Urgent Action Bulletin on the Kallarawa attack (within a couple of days of the attack), Amnesty has failed to consider the background of armed Sinhala settlements in the East and take care to sift the truth from the partisan assertions of so called 'survivors'. The International Secretariat pointed out:

"The ugly fact is that the Sri Lanka government has for a number of years used ‘Sinhala settlements’ in the East, sometimes as a buffer, and sometimes as a cutting edge, in its war of aggression against the Tamil nation. The Sri Lanka government has armed these settlers - some of them ex-convicts - and often uses them to attack Tamil villagers in the surrounding areas."

The LTTE added:

"... it is a matter for regret that Amnesty considered it sufficient to simply describe the ‘Buddhist priest’ as one ‘known for his stand against them (LTTE)’.

But what are the facts? The Sinhala Mahaveli Ministry official, Gunaratne, has this to say of this Buddhist priest, also known as the Dimbulagala priest and as the Matara Kithalgama Sri Seelalankara Thero. Writing in his book ‘For a Sovereign State’, Gunaratne says:

"(The Dimbulagala priest) was a dark man in his seventies, looked more like a war lord that a priest. This rugged man gave the appearance of a crusader who had come into headquarters, in the middle of battle. He was a monk, warrior, war lord and a preacher all turned into one big happy human being. .. The jungles of Dimbulagala had baptised this swashbuckling monk the fire of nationalism. He too hailed like king Dutugemunu from Ruhunu Rata, that fabled cradle of fierce freedom fighters.. He belonged to the durawe community. Durawe, somebody later told me stands for Dutugemunu Raja Vanse - the clan of Dutugemunu...

‘Do you what is happening in the country?’ he (the priest) asked me (in September 1983).

‘What do you mean Rev.Sir?’ I said

‘...Why are you people doing nothing when our country is slowly being separated? Can you not accelerate the settlement of the Sinhala people on this land quickly... What is wrong with you people? Do you not feel for Sri Lanka? After all, it is the only home for the Sinhala people’ cried out aloud the priest...

I said ‘Why don't you take some people and settle them there without complaining at a time like this. We will support you unofficially for the moment till we are able to get this regularised.’ ‘If you say so, I will do it’ shot back the priest.

I told the priest that he may leave immediately after this meeting, to identify suitable tanks around which we could settle some Sinhala folk. I told him that the settlements must start on the 1st of September. I also asked him to obtain a suitable ‘Nekatha’ (auspicious time) for this work. I requested him to observe the appropriate religious rituals like chanting the Pirith etc. The priest was overjoyed. He had everything he wanted and more. He blessed each one of us individually by touching our heads and saying, ‘Suwapath Vewa.’

....Straight from the ministry (the Dimbulagala Priest) went to the Davasa Group of News Papers. He urged them to publish a news item in Sinhala Sunday ‘Riviresa’, that temple land was available for Sinhala settlers in Dimbulagala. This statement appeared in ‘Riviresa’ (14 th August 1983) and read as follows:

‘The Reverend Matara Kithalagama Sri Seelalankara Thero, the chief Sanganayake of the northern and eastern provinces and Tamankaduva had made an announcement that he will be distributing land to youths who have no land and also to the poorest of poor peasant families for the purpose of cultivation free of charge.’

...The warrior lord, Rev.Dimbulagalla had headed the convoy of settlers (in September 1983) in a vehicle equipped with a loud speaker. He had been chanting the most soothing melody of `Seth Pirith' and flying the banner of the Buddhist flag on his vehicle He was playing on the emotions of the Sinhala people. ‘One race, one religion one language,’ seems to be his battle cry. The mendicant monk had used the time tested slogan of galvanising the Sinhala people - the battle cry of Prince Abaya Gamini of Ruhuna.’

... Many more people were flocking towards the right bank of Maduru - Oya. Eelam was being steadily being penetrated. The priest was moving freely among the settlers, giving them advice and encouragement. He had mobilised cars, vans , lorries and motorcycles from rich mudalalies from Polanaruva. All these vehicles were ready to take the settlers to the promised land...

...Rev. Dimbulagalla was using all the weapons in his arsenal. ... Then he started his sermon to his people. ‘You are assembled here today, not only to get a piece of land for you to live on, but for more lofty purpose. This country is going through her worst period in history. We are being threatened from all sides by the separatists. What the separatist want is land. A contiguous block of land which they propose to call Eelam. You are going to break that contiguity. United Lanka should be defended to the last drop of blood of her people. That is your task. You are not to return from this journey. You are going to be the frontier men. Remember your eternal hero, King Dutagemunu. We are going on a holy mission. Now let us go on our journey,’ he said to the loud and high pitched chanting of ‘Sadu, Sadhu, Sadhu.’"

We believe that Amnesty should have examined with greater care the question whether the Dimbulagala priest was a ‘non-combatant’ or a ‘war lord’."

Amnesty responded to the LTTE on 11 September 1995:

"...Allow me now to come back to the specific arguments put forward in the LTTE statement of 10 July 1995 with regard to the legitimacy of killing people such as the villagers at Kallarawa and the Buddhist priest at Dimbulagala. Although sometimes difficult, we believe it is an essential obligation under humanitarian law to at all times maintain the distinction between the civilian population and combatants and that in case of doubt regarding the status of any individual, he or she should be presumed to be a civilian.

This position is in line with the official Commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Geneva Conventions which explains that participation in hostilities implies "a direct causal relationship between the activity engaged in and the harm done to the enemy at the time and the place where the activity takes place." (ICRC, Commentary on the Additional Protocols, paragraph 1697).

The ICRC Commentary on Protocol II's Article 12 is of particular relevance too. I quote: Those who belong to armed forces or armed groups may be attacked at any time. If a civilian participates directly in hostilities, it is clear that he will not enjoy any protection against attacks for as long as his participation lasts. Thereafter, as he no longer presents any danger for the adversary, he may not be attacked; moreover, in case of doubt regarding the status of an individual, he is presumed to be a civilian. [Ibidem, para. 4789].

Considering there were no reports of any of the Kallawara villagers having used arms prior to or at the time of the attack by the LTTE, Amnesty International believes that they could not be considered to be legitimate targets under international humanitarian law. Amnesty International is concerned that the 42 villagers were deliberately and arbitrarily killed in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions...."

Amnesty also added:

"Amnesty International does not by taking action imply that the situation it addresses necessarily constitutes an armed conflict in terms of international law; it seeks in all situations the observation of minimum humane standards drawn from basic principles of human rights and humanitarian law.

Amnesty International is guided in particular by the protection of the individual enshrined in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Above all, Article 3 common to the Four Conventions of 1949 forbids governments and their opponents alike to torture, to deliberately kill civilians taking no part in hostilities, to harm those who are wounded, captured or seeking to surrender, or to take hostages."

Comment by tamilnation:

Amnesty International's refusal to recognise that the deliberate use of armed settlers by the Sri Lanka government was (and remains) an important part of  Sri Lanka's  'war for land', and that the Dimbulagala Priest was a 'warlord' who played a pivotal role in that war for land, calls in question the correctness of Amnesty's conclusion that these persons were not actively participating in hostilities. That Amnesty (in its Urgent Action Appeal) should have considered it sufficient to simply describe the Dimbulagala war lord as a ‘Buddhist priest’ as one ‘known for his stand against them (LTTE)’, is significant - and many may consider that Amnesty's description was somewhat economical with truth.

Again, on the question of the existence of an armed conflict, Amnesty appears to have boxed itself into a corner. On the one hand, Amnesty issues appeals on the basis that Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions (relating to internal armed conflicts) is applicable to the situation in the island of Sri Lanka. On the other hand it continues to insist when it does so, it does not  imply that "the situation it addresses necessarily constitutes an armed conflict in terms of international law"!

Amnesty contends that 'it seeks in all situations the observation of minimum humane standards drawn from basic principles of human rights and humanitarian law'. Amnesty says that it is "guided in particular by the protection of the individual enshrined in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949". But what does 'guided' mean in this context?  Amnesty's remit does not extend to legislating in the area of human rights and humanitarian law. Amnesty is not above the law and it is therefore duty bound to declare explicitly the law that is applicable to the situation in the island of Sri Lanka - and the source of that law.

Amnesty and Sri Lanka appear to be at one in refusing to openly recognise the existence of an armed conflict in the island. Amnesty appears to take the view that to recognise the existence of an armed conflict in the island would be 'to take sides'. However, it is by refusing to recognise the existence of an armed conflict in the island, that Amnesty is taking the side of Sri Lanka.  If Amnesty seeks to retain a measure of credibility, it should recognise that the question whether an armed conflict exists or not  is not a matter of 'taking sides' but one of determining the law that is applicable to the situation on the ground. After all, if there was no armed conflict in international law, then, there would no 'combatants' and  the killing of even those in uniform would be unlawful.

Again, Amnesty avoids addressing the question whether the conflict in the island is an 'international armed conflict' and not simply an 'internal armed conflict'. Additional rules of humanitarian law are applicable to international conflicts and Sri Lanka has often acted in breach of such rules. Here Professor Paust's comments are not without relevance:

"It has long been recognised that there is a Civil war occurring in Sri Lanka that has reached at least the level of an insurgency"- thus implicating common Article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Convention ... (Indeed).. It is more appropriate to consider that the armed conflict (in the island of Sri Lanka) lasting more than a decade in which the Tamil people are fighting for self-determination has reached beyond an insurgency as such and implicates Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions (relating to international armed conflicts)..." (Professor Jordan J.Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law Vol. 31;Number3:May 1998)

Be that as it may, once the applicable law is clearly stated, then the further question will arise as to whether on the facts, a particular individual is a combatant or not, and whether he has taken and continues to take an active part in hostilities. If he does take an active part in hostilities, the protection afforded by the Geneva Conventions to non combatants would not be applicable to such an individual.

Amnesty is right to point out that the official Commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Geneva Conventions which explains that participation in hostilities implies "a direct causal relationship between the activity engaged in and the harm done to the enemy at the time and the place where the activity takes place." (ICRC, Commentary on the Additional Protocols, paragraph 1697).  The question that Amnesty failed to address in respect of the Kallawara incident was whether Sinhala settlers armed at the behest of the Dimbulagala war lord and urged to defend a united Lanka 'to the last drop of blood' as  ' frontier men' following in the footsteps of Dutugemenu, were not engaged in activity which had a direct causal link to the war in which Sri Lanka was engaged. Admittedly, the facts may have to evaluated, and propaganda sifted from truth - but bald accusations will carry little weight.

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Amnesty Urgent Action Appeal
AI Index: ASA 37/09/95 Distr: UA/SC  26 May 1995

42 villagers of Kallarawa, Trincomalee

During the night of 25/26 May 1995, members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) killed at least 42 Sinhalese civilians at Kallarawa, a small fishing hamlet 20 miles north of Trincomalee town in the east of Sri Lanka. Amnesty International fears that the massacre may mark the beginning of renewed LTTE attacks against unarmed civilians.

According to survivors, between 200 and 300 members of the LTTE approached Kallarawa around 9.30 pm on 25 May. They first attacked a small local army camp situated in the hamlet. However, the army camp was deserted as the 55 soldiers present had reportedly gone out on operations. One survivor reported that the LTTE members then walked into the village and knocked on doors.

When people came out, they were shot at close range. Among those killed are at least 12 women and six children. The attack lasted all night. At the end of it, LTTE members reportedly ransacked the houses and set them on fire.

The attack follows LTTE's call on 18 April for an end to a cessation of hostilities agreement reached with the government of Sri Lanka on 8 January 1995. Since then, there have been daily reports of fighting between the security forces and the LTTE. The attack on Kallarawa is the first involving what appears to be the deliberate targeting of civilians since the resumption of hostilities.

Amnesty International's concern that the massacre at Kallarawa may mark the beginning of renewed attacks on unarmed civilians has been heightened by another report on 26 May that LTTE members killed a Buddhist priest known for his stand against them. He was killed while driving into the compound of the temple's farm at Dimbulagala in Polonnaruwa District.

As yet, the LTTE has not issued any statement about the attack on Kallarawa. A spokesperson at its international secretariat in London stated that no information had been received from its leadership in Sri Lanka.

Background Information

The LTTE is the main Tamil armed opposition group fighting for a separate state in the northeast of Sri Lanka since the late 1970s. It effectively controls parts of the area.

In the past, the LTTE has been responsible for deliberate attacks on civilian members of the Sinhalese and Muslim community. In early August 1990, it was held responsible for the killing of 103 Muslim worshippers inside two mosques at Kattankudy in the east. In total, hundreds of Sinhalese and Muslim villagers have been killed by the LTTE. Sometimes, the LTTE has claimed responsibility for such killings. On other occasions, LTTE spokespersons abroad have issued statements denying they were involved in the killings.

Amnesty International has repeatedly appealed to the LTTE to immediately halt the deliberate and arbitrary killing of non-combatant civilians, including the killing of people apparently targeted solely by reason of their ethnic origin.

The deliberate and arbitrary killing of unarmed civilians is in clear contravention of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 which prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds" against detainees and other persons taking no active part in hostilities.

In February 1988, the LTTE issued a press release declaring its intention to instruct its members of the importance of acting, at all times, in accordance with humanitarian law.

Supporters of Amnesty International around the world are writing urgent appeals in response to the concerns described above. If you would like to join with them in this action or have any queries about the Urgent Action network or Amnesty International in general, please contact one of the following: Ray Mitchell, rmitchellai@gn.apc.org  (UK)  Scott Harrison, sharrison@igc.apc.org  (USA) Guido Gabriel, ggabriel@amnesty.cl.sub.de   (Germany) Marilyn McKim, aito@web.apc.org   (Canada)

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LTTE replies to Amnesty International

10 July 1995

The International Secretariat of the LTTE has taken note of the concerns expressed by Amnesty International at the attack on the Kallarawa settlement and army camp near Trincomalee in the East of the island of Sri Lanka.

We would, at the outset, reiterate that which we said in an open letter to the Sinhala people in October 1991:

"The Tamil national liberation struggle is the armed struggle of an oppressed people against the tyranny of a Sri Lankan regime which has sought to subjugate them. Nothing can be further from the truth than to suggest that our struggle is directed against the Sinhala people. We have no hatred towards the Sinhala people. It is one of the fundamental principles of our struggle that we respect and safeguard the rights of every individual, irrespective of creed, religion, sex or ethnic origin."

We, therefore, welcome Amnesty International’s recognition of the existence of an armed conflict in the island and the need for the parties to the conflict to comply with common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949 which prohibits "violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds" against persons taking no active part in hostilities.

In February 1988 the LTTE publicly declared its commitment to act, at all times, in accordance with the humanitarian law of armed conflict and the LTTE has taken care to instruct its cadres accordingly.

We regret that in its haste to issue an Urgent Action Bulletin on the Kallarawa attack (within a couple of days of the attack), Amnesty has failed to consider the background of armed Sinhala settlements in the East and take care to sift the truth from the partisan assertions of so called "survivors". This was all the more necessary, where, given the short time frame, Amnesty’s sources of information may well have had their own hidden agenda to advance the cause of the Sri Lanka government. Amnesty states:

"According to survivors, between 200 and 300 members of the LTTE approached Kallarawa around 9.30pm on 25 May. They first attacked a small local army camp situated in the hamlet. However, the army camp was deserted as the 55 soldiers present had reportedly gone out on operations."

But what are the facts? The Sinhala Defence Correspondent of the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island (who is no friend of the Tamil cause) wrote on 28 May 1995:

"The military has said that almost all the soldiers had been manning strategic locations in the jungles. This is correct. At the time only five soldiers had been in the camp itself. But the rest had all been within a mile of the area, covering the various approaches to the village, to attack any Tigers on their way to assault either the camp or the fishing community... The people of this village were mostly Sinhalese... they were almost all migrant fishermen from the Negombo area (in the West of Sri Lanka) who had settled here."

The Sinhala Defence Correspondent of the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Island added:

"The 65 families of migrant fishermen had recently gone to the east coast village 50 kilometres north of Trincomalee from Negombo and Puttalam"

The true nature of Sinhala armed settlements such as these will appear from a statement made by Mr.Vasantha Rajah, the former Chairman of the Sri Lanka Rupavahini T.V. Corporation on 18 June 1995. Mr.Vasantha Raja who was an appointee of the Sri Lanka President Chandrika Kumaratunga, and who resigned after the recent breakdown of the peace talks said:

"(The Sri Lanka Government) launching a new military recruitment campaign and ceremoniously opening up new settlements in Trincomalee did much to further undermine the trust that was imperative to any successful outcome of the talks."

The ugly fact is that the Sri Lanka government has for a number of years used ‘Sinhala settlements’ in the East, sometimes as a buffer, and sometimes as a cutting edge, in its war of aggression against the Tamil nation. The Sri Lanka government has armed these settlers - some of them ex-convicts - and often uses them to attack Tamil villagers in the surrounding areas. The Sri Lanka government has used these settlers as expendable pawns in its war of aggression again the Tamil nation and as a recruitment base for its para military forces called Home Guards. The additional longer term purpose of these ‘settlement schemes’ was to change the demography of the Tamil homeland and in this way, make the Tamils a manageable minority in their own land.

As long ago as 1979, Walter Schwarz pointed out in the Minority Rights Group Report on the Tamils in Sri Lanka:

"... Tamil spokesmen complained that the momentum of colonisation was greater than ever. They referred in particular to the Mahaveli Diversion project, supported by the World Bank, in the Eastern Province, under which Sinhalese families were being brought in from the South. They pointed out that the Maduruoya Scheme in the Eastern Province, backed by Canadian assistance, was having the same effect."

In February 1985, Robert Kilroy-Silk, M.P. and Roger Sims, M.P, who visited Sri Lanka as members of a United Kingdom Parliamentary Human Rights Group, reported:

"Witnesses also confirmed allegations made to us that whole villages (of Tamils in the Eastern Province) have been emptied and neighbourhoods have been driven by the (Sri Lanka) army from their homes and occupations and turned into refugees dependent on the government for dry rations... The human rights transgressed in such a course of action do not need to be detailed here...More important is that rightly or wrongly it tends to lend credibility to the view so frequently put to us that it is the Government's objective either to drive the Tamils out of the north and east in sufficient numbers so as to reduce their majority in the north and in the east, a process that would be aided by the Government's announced policy of settling armed Sinhalese people in former Tamil areas...or to drive the Tamils out altogether.."

That these efforts at Sinhala colonisation were the outcome of a strategy carefully planned by the Sinhala government, was established beyond doubt by the frank statements of the Sinhala Mahaveli Ministry Official, Herman Gunaratne in the Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Sunday Times on 26 August 1990:

"All wars are fought for land...The plan for settlement of people in Yan Oya and Malwathu Oya basins was worked out before the communal riots of 1983. Indeed the keenest minds in the Mahaveli, some of whom are holding top international positions were the architects of this plan. My role was that of an executor... We conceived and implemented a plan which we thought would secure the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka for a long time. We moved a large group of 45,000 land hungry (Sinhala) peasants into the Batticaloa and Polonnaruwa districts of Maduru Oya delta. The second step was to make a similar human settlement in the Yan Oya basin. The third step was going to be a settlement of a number of people, opposed to Eelam, on the banks of the Malwathu Oya. By settling the (Sinhala) people in the Maduru Oya we were seeking to have in the Batticaloa zone a mass of persons opposed to a separate state...Yan Oya if settled by non separatists (Sinhala people) would have increased the population by about another 50,000. It would completely secure Trincomalee from the rebels..."

We regret that Amnesty did not consider it necessary to point out in its Urgent Action Bulletin that the Kallarawa settlement was a recent Sinhala settlement intended to be part of Sri Lanka’s ‘war for land’ in the East. We believe that Amnesty should have examined the extent to which such an armed settlement was protected by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions of 1949. Again, if as the evidence shows, the Kallawara settlers were part and parcel of Sri Lanka’s war for land in the East, Amnesty should have been more cautious in relying on statements made by the so called ‘survivors’ as to the details of the attack.

Amnesty cannot be unaware of the disinformation campaign carried on by the Sri Lanka government and its agencies in the past. For instance, an Associated Press Report in the London Times on 23 June 1990 declared:

"Tamil guerillas hacked to death 62 Muslim villagers in eastern Sri Lanka yesterday, accusing them of being government informants, the Defence Ministry and an opposition Muslim leader said. The massacre at Nintavur came on the eleventh day of war between Tamil separatists and Sri Lankan forces for control of the northeast...The Defence Ministry said troops found the bodies of Muslim men, women and children in Nintavur. Military officials said rebels used knives to kill the villagers. Survivors said the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam raided the village early yesterday because they feared the residents would reveal their jungle hideaway, according to Mahroof Gani of the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress an opposition party. He said that the rebels set fire to a mosque, looted and burnt down houses and left placards warning Muslims not to work for the government...."

But within a couple of days, the Sri Lanka military admitted that this report was false and an AP report in the London Sunday Times on 24 June 1990 said:

"The military admitted yesterday that its report that Tamil Tiger separatists had hacked to death 62 Muslim men, women and children was false....They claimed their earlier report was based on faulty information from residents. The allegation was reported by international news agencies and appeared in newspapers around the world."

The graphic details of mayhem and murder turned out to be fabricated and the Defence Ministry passed the buck to ‘faulty information from residents’!

Here, may we point out that we do recognise that, however difficult it may be, lines must be drawn to protect civilians who do not take ‘an active part in hostilities’. We regret therefore that the actions of the Sri Lanka government and the Home Guards, together with the brutality of the operations of the regular Sri Lankan army, have, on occasions, compelled the Liberation Tigers to engage these armed settlers. And, however restrained we may be, these engagements with armed settlers will continue to be necessary until the armed threat posed by them is removed.

Amnesty has also stated in its Urgent Action Bulletin:

"Amnesty International's concern that the massacre at Kallarawa may mark the beginning of renewed attacks on unarmed civilians has been heightened by another report on 26 May that LTTE members killed a Buddhist priest known for his stand against them."

Here again, it is a matter for regret that Amnesty considered it sufficient to simply describe the ‘Buddhist priest’ as one ‘known for his stand against them (LTTE)’.

But what are the facts? The Sinhala Mahaveli Ministry official, Gunaratne, has this to say of this Buddhist priest, also known as the Dimbulagala priest and as the Matara Kithalgama Sri Seelalankara Thero. Writing in his book ‘For a Sovereign State’, Gunaratne says:

"(The Dimbulagala priest) was a dark man in his seventies, looked more like a war lord that a priest. This rugged man gave the appearance of a crusader who had come into headquarters, in the middle of battle. He was a monk, warrior, war lord and a preacher all turned into one big happy human being. .. The jungles of Dimbulagala had baptised this swashbuckling monk the fire of nationalism. He too hailed like king Dutugemunu from Ruhunu Rata, that fabled cradle of fierce freedom fighters.. He belonged to the durawe community. Durawe, somebody later told me stands for Dutugemunu Raja Vanse - the clan of Dutugemunu...

‘Do you what is happening in the country?’ he (the priest) asked me (in September 1983).

‘What do you mean Rev.Sir?’ I said

‘...Why are you people doing nothing when our country is slowly being separated? Can you not accelerate the settlement of the Sinhala people on this land quickly... What is wrong with you people? Do you not feel for Sri Lanka? After all, it is the only home for the Sinhala people’ cried out aloud the priest...

I said ‘Why don't you take some people and settle them there without complaining at a time like this. We will support you unofficially for the moment till we are able to get this regularised.’ ‘If you say so, I will do it’ shot back the priest.

I told the priest that he may leave immediately after this meeting, to identify suitable tanks around which we could settle some Sinhala folk. I told him that the settlements must start on the 1st of September. I also asked him to obtain a suitable ‘Nekatha’ (auspicious time) for this work. I requested him to observe the appropriate religious rituals like chanting the Pirith etc. The priest was overjoyed. He had everything he wanted and more. He blessed each one of us individually by touching our heads and saying, ‘Suwapath Vewa.’

....Straight from the ministry (the Dimbulagala Priest) went to the Davasa Group of News Papers. He urged them to publish a news item in Sinhala Sunday ‘Riviresa’, that temple land was available for Sinhala settlers in Dimbulagala. This statement appeared in ‘Riviresa’ (14 th August 1983) and read as follows:

‘The Reverend Matara Kithalagama Sri Seelalankara Thero, the chief Sanganayake of the northern and eastern provinces and Tamankaduva had made an announcement that he will be distributing land to youths who have no land and also to the poorest of poor peasant families for the purpose of cultivation free of charge.’

...The warrior lord, Rev.Dimbulagalla had headed the convoy of settlers (in September 1983) in a vehicle equipped with a loud speaker. He had been chanting the most soothing melody of `Seth Pirith' and flying the banner of the Buddhist flag on his vehicle He was playing on the emotions of the Sinhala people. ‘One race, one religion one language,’ seems to be his battle cry. The mendicant monk had used the time tested slogan of galvanising the Sinhala people - the battle cry of Prince Abaya Gamini of Ruhuna.’

... Many more people were flocking towards the right bank of Maduru - Oya. Eelam was being steadily being penetrated. The priest was moving freely among the settlers, giving them advice and encouragement. He had mobilised cars, vans , lorries and motorcycles from rich mudalalies from Polanaruva. All these vehicles were ready to take the settlers to the promised land...

...Rev. Dimbulagalla was using all the weapons in his arsenal. ... Then he started his sermon to his people. ‘You are assembled here today, not only to get a piece of land for you to live on, but for more lofty purpose. This country is going through her worst period in history. We are being threatened from all sides by the separatists. What the separatist want is land. A contiguous block of land which they propose to call Eelam. You are going to break that contiguity. United Lanka should be defended to the last drop of blood of her people. That is your task. You are not to return from this journey. You are going to be the frontier men. Remember your eternal hero, King Dutagemunu. We are going on a holy mission. Now let us go on our journey,’ he said to the loud and high pitched chanting of ‘Sadu, Sadhu, Sadhu.’"

We believe that Amnesty should have examined with greater care the question whether the Dimbulagala priest was a ‘non-combatant’ or a ‘war lord’.

We are mindful that Amnesty has reported on Sri Lanka's violations of humanitarian law for more than 20 years but despite well intentioned Amnesty Reports, these violations by Sri Lanka have not only continued unabated during these past several decades but have increased in intensity. The answer clearly cannot lie in further Amnesty Reports - for another twenty years - whilst the attempt to subjugate the Tamil people continues. Whilst we recognise that questions of the right of self determination of a people are not within the remit of Amnesty International, we believe that Amnesty will see the force of reason in that which 15 non governmental organisations told the UN Commission on Human Rights at its 49th Sessions in February 1993:

"We are of the view that any meaningful attempt to resolve the conflict should address its underlying causes and to recognise that the armed struggle of the Tamil people for self determination, arose as a response to decades of an ever widening and deepening oppression by a permanent Sinhala majority, within the confines of an unitary Sri Lankan state.

It was an oppression which included the disenfranchisement of the plantation Tamils, systematic state aided Sinhala colonisation of the Tamil homeland, the enactment of the Sinhala Only law, discriminatory employment policies, inequitable allocation of resources to Tamil areas, exclusion of eligible Tamil students from Universities and higher education, and a refusal to share power within the frame of a federal constitution. It was an oppression by an alien Sinhala majority which consolidated the growth of the national consciousness of the Tamil people.

During the past several years the Sinhala dominated Sri Lankan government has attempted to put down the armed resistance of the Tamil people and has sought to conquer and control the Tamil homeland. The record shows that in this attempt, Sri Lanka's armed forces and para military units have committed increasingly widespread violations of the rules of humanitarian law.

In the East whole villages of Tamils have been attacked by the Army and by the so called Home Guards. Many Tamil residents in these villages were killed. Others have been tortured. Those Tamils who were detained by the Sri Lankan authorities have had little or no hope of coming out alive. The attacks on the Tamil homeland have been coupled with the declared opposition of the Sri Lankan Government to the merger of the North and East of the island into a single administrative and political unit.

However, despite the sustained attacks of Sinhala dominated governments over a period of several decades, the territorial integrity of the Tamil homeland in the North and East of the island has remained. The Tamil population in the North and East, who have lived for many centuries within relatively well defined geographical boundaries, share an ancient heritage, a vibrant culture, and a living language which traces its origins to more than 2500 years ago.

A social group, which shares objective elements such as a common language and which has acquired a subjective consciousness of togetherness, by its life within a relatively well defined territory, and its struggle against alien domination, clearly constitutes a 'people' with the right to self determination.

Today, there is an urgent need for the international community to recognise that the Tamil population in the North and East of the island of Sri Lanka are such a 'people' with the right to freely choose their political status. It is our view that such recognition will prepare the ground for the resolution of a conflict which has taken such a heavy toll in human lives and suffering during the past several years."

The Liberation Tigers are leading a historic and progressive struggle for Tamil national liberation. We reiterate again: we have no hatred towards the Sinhala people. We appeal to the Sinhala people not to become pawns in the ‘colonisation schemes’ which have been carefully designed by Sinhala chauvinistic forces to sow the seeds of discord and create everlasting enmity between the Tamil people and the Sinhala people. We urge individuals and organisations of goodwill in the international community to support the Tamil struggle for freedom from oppressive alien Sinhala rule and in this way, help to further the peace process.

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Text of Letter Dated 11 September 1995 from Amnesty
to Mr.Lawrence Thilakar, International Secretariat of LTTE

Mr. Lawrence Thilakar
International Secretariat Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam
211, Katherine Road London E6 1BU
United Kingdom

Dear Mr. Thilakar,

I am writing in reply to statement of 10 July 1995 setting out observations by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) on the Urgent Action appeal issued by our organization following the killing of 42 Sinhalese villagers at Kallarawa, Trincomalee District in late May 1995.

In the appeal, we had urged for an immediate halt to deliberate and arbitrary killings of non-combatant civilians.

The central issue addressed in the LTTE statement concerns the legitimacy under international humanitarian law of the deliberate and arbitrary killing of people settled in certain areas by the Government of Sri Lanka, some of whom may have been armed.

You appear to acknowledge, without explicitly saying so, that the villagers living at Kallarawa were killed by the LTTE.

You argue, however, that their killing can be justified under international humanitarian law because they were considered by the LTTE to be actively taking part in the current conflict between the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE.

We believe these views are misleading, and fail to address the fundamental issue of respect for human rights and basic principles of humanitarian law.

First of all, I must reiterate a point we have outlined in previous communications; by monitoring or addressing political armed groups such as the LTTE, Amnesty International offers no special recognition or status to them. Our appeals and contacts are purely humanitarian in nature. Nor does Amnesty International's intervention imply any judgement about the character of the conflict in question.

Amnesty International does not by taking action imply that the situation it addresses necessarily constitutes an armed conflict in terms of international law; it seeks in all situations the observation of minimum humane standards drawn from basic principles of human rights and humanitarian law.

Amnesty International is guided in particular by the protection of the individual enshrined in Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions of 1949. Above all, Article 3 common to the Four Conventions of 1949 forbids governments and their opponents alike to torture, to deliberately kill civilians taking no part in hostilities, to harm those who are wounded, captured or seeking to surrender, or to take hostages.

We have noted the LTTE's announcement in February 1988 that it would abide by the provisions of the Geneva Conventions and its Optional Protocols I and II.

Despite the LTTE's continuing pledges, we have received consistent reports that it fails to do so. Since May 1990, we have repeatedly raised our concerns about reports of gross abuses of human rights with the leadership of the LTTE, conveyed via you or other representatives of the LTTE outside Sri Lanka. They have included the deliberate killing of hundreds of non-combatant Muslim and Sinhalese civilians, the arbitrary killing of civilians in bomb attacks on public buses and trains, the torture and killings of prisoners, and abductions for ransom.

We have also expressed concern about reports of execution-style killings of prisoners accused of being traitors and those held for committing crimes in line with our organization's policy of total opposition to the death penalty in any form. In cases where we learned of the imposition of death sentences, we have appealed for their commutation. We have also appealed for an immediate halt to incommunicado detention and have asked to be informed of the fate or whereabouts of individual prisoners held by the LTTE, some of whom have reportedly been tortured and killed. They include student and writer Thiagarajah Selvanithy and dramatist Thillainathan, who were both arrested on 30 August 1991.

I use the opportunity of this letter to appeal that these two prisoners of conscience, if still alive, be released immediately and without conditions. If they have died in detention, we urge the LTTE to reveal their fate or whereabouts.

We have also continually urged that all people held in LTTE custody, including members of the Tamil community seized on suspicion of being sympathetic to other Tamil armed groups or organizations, are seen promptly and regularly by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). In relation to members of the Sri Lankan security forces, we have appealed for guarantees for their safety and for them to be seen promptly and regularly by representatives of the ICRC. There are other potential concerns that we are currently investigating.

They include reports of unfair trial of members of the Tamil community in contravention of Article 6 of Protocol II as well as of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Paragraph 2 of Article 6 states that "[n]o sentence shall be passed and no penalty shall be executed on a person found guilty of an offence except pursuant to a conviction pronounced by a court offering the essential guarantees of independence and impartiality."

In this context, I would like to remind you of our request of April 1992 for information about the reported creation of a law enforcement and judicial system in some of the areas of Sri Lanka under control of the LTTE. Other potential concerns that we are currently investigating include abuses in the context of the forcible recruitment of children by the LTTE forces.

Whereas acknowledging several responses from yourself, particularly in relation to concerns expressed about the safety of members of the security forces, we regret that to date we have not received a response from the leadership of the LTTE in Sri Lanka.

We also regret the lack of response to any of the individual incidents of human rights abuses we have raised with you and which we know you have brought to the attention of the LTTE leadership in Sri Lanka. In the past, you have argued that the lack of response from the leadership in Sri Lanka is due to communication difficulties.

However, recently, we have received dozens of press statements purported to have been issued by the leadership in Sri Lanka. We therefore question the validity of this argument.

Allow me now to come back to the specific arguments put forward in the LTTE statement of 10 July 1995 with regard to the legitimacy of killing people such as the villagers at Kallarawa and the Buddhist priest at Dimbulagala. Although sometimes difficult, we believe it is an essential obligation under humanitarian law to at all times maintain the distinction between the civilian population and combatants and that in case of doubt regarding the status of any individual, he or she should be presumed to be a civilian.

This position is in line with the official Commentary of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the Geneva Conventions which explains that participation in hostilities implies "a direct causal relationship between the activity engaged in and the harm done to the enemy at the time and the place where the activity takes place." (ICRC, Commentary on the Additional Protocols, paragraph 1697).

The ICRC Commentary on Protocol II's Article 12 is of particular relevance too. I quote: Those who belong to armed forces or armed groups may be attacked at any time. If a civilian participates directly in hostilities, it is clear that he will not enjoy any protection against attacks for as long as his participation lasts. Thereafter, as he no longer presents any danger for the adversary, he may not be attacked; moreover, in case of doubt regarding the status of an individual, he is presumed to be a civilian. [Ibidem, para. 4789].

Considering there were no reports of any of the Kallawara villagers having used arms prior to or at the time of the attack by the LTTE, Amnesty International believes that they could not be considered to be legitimate targets under international humanitarian law. Amnesty International is concerned that the 42 villagers were deliberately and arbitrarily killed in direct violation of the Geneva Conventions.

As explained above, Amnesty International does not take a position on political conflicts or on the legitimacy of resorting to arms to pursue political goals. Nor does it, in the Sri Lankan context, take a position on the issue of settlement of Sinhalese civilians in certain areas of the current northeastern province and its borders. The same policy is maintained when addressing other political armed groups in other parts of the world whatever the political background.

Nevertheless, I wish to point out that Amnesty International has been aware for a long time of the issue of settlement and its particular relevance as a background to the current conflict in Sri Lanka. In 1986, in its report Sri Lanka: "Disappearances" (AI Index: ASA 37/08/86), Amnesty International described the settlement of Sinhalese ex-convicts and members of their families at Kent and Dollar Farms as "part of the government's policy to move Sinhalese into some Tamil areas" (page 34) as part of the context in which "disappearances" in Sri Lanka started to be reported. Indeed, the same human rights and humanitarian principles underline Amnesty International's appeals to the Government of Sri Lanka about reports of human rights violations.

I quote from a recent letter to President Chandrika Kumaratunga Bandaranaike of 15 May 1995 appealing for the investigation of several reports of extrajudicial executions in the east of Sri Lanka:

"Amnesty International does not address in a general way the issue of military tactics, nor does it raise as a human rights violation deaths caused involuntarily in the course of combat. The killings which Amnesty International raises with governments are those which appear to be deliberate killings of defenceless people, whether they are civilians or combatants incapacitated by injuries or who have surrendered and offer no resistance."

In this light, I would like to reiterate our concern about the killings at Kallarawa and urge that they be investigated and that all steps be taken to ensure that individual members of the LTTE suspected of having committed or ordered these deliberate and arbitrary killings are removed from any position of authority or duties which bring them into contact with prisoners or others at risk of abuse.

We would also welcome any further information you may be able to provide on this incident and on any measures taken by the leadership of the LTTE to prevent such killings in the future. Finally, I enclose for your information and comment copies of other recent documents issued by Amnesty International on our concerns in Sri Lanka. I look forward to receiving your response.

Yours sincerely,
Derek G. Evans
Deputy Secretary General

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