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Sri Lanka's Genocidal War - '95 to '01
Tamil M.P. Joseph Pararajasingham
on Impunity & Human Rights Violations in Batticaloa...
Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, Member of Parliament & Leader of the TULF Parliamentary Group in a written appeal to the United States in August 1997 declared:
|" I am a Member of the Sri Lankan Parliament
representing the Batticaloa District, predominantly a Tamil-speaking constituency falling
within the jurisdiction of the North East Province. The Tamils are the majority in the
constituency, forming 73% of the population. Muslims, whose mother tongue is also Tamil,
form the second major community with 23%, and the other 4% include Sinhalese, the majority
community of the island, and Burghers - descendents of the Portuguese and Dutch.
I represent the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), a moderate Tamil political party, which was in the forefront of the Tamil struggle in a non-violent method for the past 45 years - originally known as the "Federal Party." Its peace efforts yielded only violent attacks on Tamils and a series of broken agreements with the Government.
I entered Parliament in the year 1990 - the year when human rights violations by the Sri Lankan security forces reached a massive scale, with several large scale massacres of Tamil civilians. I was re-elected to Parliament in the August, 1994 General Elections, obtaining 43,900 preference votes - the highest ever obtained by any Tamil politician in the North East since Independence. I am now the Parliamentary Group Leader of the TULF, which consists of five members out of the 17 Tamil members representing various other political parties - particularly militant groups, which work along with the Sri Lankan security forces.
As an elected representative, I am physically present in my constituency for more than eight months a year. Therefore, I am well informed about human rights violations in my district. It is my desire to outline briefly the unprecedented level of human rights violations that have taken place in my district, committed by the Sri Lankan security forces, the Muslim Homeguards (an armed group established by the Government to safeguard the Muslim villages) and a few Tamil militant groups, armed and financed by the Sri Lankan security forces. These include mass scale massacres of innocent civilians, rape, torture, detention, disappearances while in the custody of security forces, shelling and bombing of civilian Tamil areas and denial of food and medicines to tens of thousands of displaced Tamils in "uncleared" areas.
This note covers only a few instances of the violations by security forces since the purpose of the note is to give the essence of the situation.
All the instances mentioned above were brought to the attention of the Parliament, the President and the Deputy Defence Minister and in most cases to foreign embassies including the Embassy of the United States in Colombo. They cannot plead ignorance.
All of the above violations reflect the intensification and escalation of the conflict in the North East. However, there has been no justification for widespread human rights violations. It is to be noted here that not one of the perpetrators has been found guilty and punished for even the severest crimes.
The primary reason for this is that the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has given wide arbitrary powers to the security forces which results in the impunity enjoyed by them by usage of these obnoxious regulations, including through murder, torture and intimidation of witnesses. Also, the Government seems unable or unwilling to punish the perpetrators. Directives and statements by Government leaders, including the President, are not implemented by the military in the field. Since they are not punished, more violations are committed.
The military is also encouraged by the regular denials by the Government of the violations, ignoring results of independent inquiries, the government censorship and restrictions on outside observers and NGOs, and by the support that the Government and the military receives from the international community. Of special significance is the U.S. support in arms sales and Green Beret training to the Sri Lankan Army.
1990-1993 Massacres With Impunity and Denial
On June 11, 1990, the six months truce between the government and the LTTE (Tamil Tigers) broke off, and the Sri Lankan Army commenced an offensive Operation on June 23, 1990 to take control of my constituency the Batticaloa District.
From the date of commencement of the operation until July 15, 1990 more than 600 innocent Tamil civilians were massacred by the Sri Lankan Army, which included about 50 burned in tires with the charred bodies lying in the highways and prominent places of the Batticaloa municipal limits for public exposure.
This barbaric and inhuman exhibition of burned bodies of innocent Tamils in tires was to create a fear phobia and warning to the Tamil civilian population that anybody having links with the LTTE would ultimately embrace the same fate. This was the same tactic used in 1989 and 1990 in the campaign against the JVP in South Sri Lanka, and clearly had the approval of the Sri Lankan Government.
On August 11, 1990 the Sri Lankan security forces rounded up a refugee camp in the Sittandy Hindu Temple, which housed almost 2000 Tamil refugees and took into custody 32 innocent civilians - whose whereabouts are unknown to date. They are presumed killed while in the custody of the army.
On August 20, 1990 the Muslim Homeguards entered a Tamil village, Savukady, in my constituency, and massacred 32 innocent civilians who included women and children.
On September 5, 1990 the Sri Lankan Army took into custody 148 Tamil youths from the Eastern University Refugee Camp, Vantharamoolai, Batticaloa in the presence of many hundreds of witnesses. This refugee camp was the largest refugee camp in the district at that time, housing over 40,000 refugees. All 148 Tamil youths were later killed by the army while in their custody.
I personally visited the refugee camp on September 9, 1990 and obtained a list prepared by the university authorities giving the names of the youths apprehended by the army from the camp. I took up this incident of a large scale massacre by the army on the floor of the Parliament and submitted the list containing the names of the youths.
The Deputy Minister of Defence, late General Ranjan Wijeratne, totally denied on the floor of the house that, on inquiries made by him, anyone was arrested from the refugee camp. Two months later the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence wrote me a letter informing me that there was a cordon and search operations by the army on that date (September 5, 1990) and the army took into custody 31 youths, and they were all released within 24 hours.
I subsequently raised a supplementary question in Parliament that all these 31 persons about whom the Defense Secretary stated in his letter were released within 24 hours had not reached their homes. The reply was humiliating in saying, "The LTTE has taken them."
Subsequently, it became well known that the army had massacred these 148 youths.
The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), a body appointed by the Government in the month of August, 1991, in its annual report in December, 1993, accused the army of the killing of the 148 Tamil youths and named four army officers who were responsible for the killings. Up to now no action was taken by the previous government as well as the present government against the four army officers who are accused as the perpetrators of these brutal killings.
Of the four army officers mentioned by the HRTF, the first name is "Munas," a Sinhalese army officer masquerading in the Muslim name of "Munas." He was subsequently named as the first accused in the Bolgoda Lake killings in the city of Colombo in mid-1995, where bodies of 27 Tamil youths killed by the army in the headquarters of the Special Task Force were found floating in various lakes within the city of Colombo.
It is interesting to note here that the CID (Criminal Investigating Department) arrested 22 suspects from the STF (Special Task Force), where the first accused was the same Munas. The proceedings commenced on September 15, 1995 at the Magistrates Courts of Colombo. After four hearings - on February 15, 1996, August 2, 1996, September 12, 1996 and December 12, 1996, the case was removed from the courts roll on March 13, 1997, as the prosecution (which was the Government) was not present in court. Now these perpetrators are back in active service. I now understand that the government has dropped the matter entirely, falsely claiming that the bodies were not identified.
On September 9, 1990, at about 8:00 p.m., the army made an announcement in the villages of Saturukondan, Panichaiyady and Pillaiyarady, falling within the Batticaloa municipal limits, for everyone to come to the main road. In all a total of 181 Tamil villagers from these three villages were taken by the army and later massacred. This included 33 children under 10 years of age and about 68 women. No action has been taken by the government.
On June 22, 1991, 67 innocent Tamil civilians were massacred by the Sri Lankan Army at Kokkadicholai, a village on the western shore of Batticoloa. This was a retaliatory act for the killing of three soldiers in a landmine in that village. The bodies of all victims were put in the crater and burned where the landmine explosion had been. I took up the matter with the late President Premadasa and a Presidential Commission of Inquiry, headed by a noted Supreme Court Judge was appointed to inquire into this incident. The Commission, in its final findings, came out with a report that the army was responsible for the killings and they accused one Captain Kudilegama as the offender. He was dismissed from the army, but two months later was given a higher position in a state corporation. Nothing more happened.
On August 9, 1992 the army massacred innocent civilians at Mailanthanai, a village bordering the Batticaloa and Polonaruwa districts. In this massacre 36 civilians were killed and 35 were seriously wounded. Half of the civilians killed and injured were women and children. Twenty two army officers were arrested by the police and non-summary proceedings were conducted in the Magistrate Court of Polonaruwa. In 1994 the case was committed to the High Court. Up to now the case has not yet been listed by the Attorney General to be taken up by the High Court.
On August 22, 1992, Muslim Homeguards entered the Tamil village of Puthukudiyiruppu and killed 16 innocent Tamil fishermen and seriously injured 15 others. No legal or departmental action has been taken against the offenders to date.
For exposing all these violations by the Sri Lankan army I was once severely warned by the Joint Operation Commander of East that I must stop all these or otherwise they would not allow me to step into my electorate.
This warning I felt was a severe threat to my life, and informed not only the then-President, but also major embassies in Colombo. Nevertheless I continued to expose such atrocities even today, risking my life in the hands of many such forces.
I would like to mention here that the human rights situation improved during 1994-1995 and there was a marked decline in the violations by the security Forces. The reason for same can be attributed to the foreign aid consortium Countries threatening to suspend aid until human rights improved in Sri Lanka and because of protests by the international community in general, including many NGOs.
Serious Violations Since 1995 With Continuing Impunity
Since mid-1995 there has been a rapid increase in the violations by the security forces, especially in the years 1996-1997. Although there have been no large scale civilian massacres, the people face greater hardships than at any time before. Apart from rising cases of disappearances and extra-judicial killings while in the custody of Sri Lankan security forces, there has been continuous harassment, arbitrary arrests, torture and detention. Rapes by security forces have increased during the last year and also indiscriminate shelling and bombing of civilian areas from army camps. This results in the dislocation of civilians from their original places of habitation. Civilians are unable to farm or fish; their main occupations. Despite this, food and medicines are not allowed by the Government to the displaced Tamil civilians in the "uncleared" areas.
During the past six months in my district, disappearances and extra-judicial killings by security forces have been on the average of seven per month.
As an example, I shall cite a few cases of extra-judicial killings, rapes and other violations by security forces, during one month - March, 1997: On March 7, 1997 a Tamil youth, Gomez Antonyraj, aged 22, was on his way to open his small shop. At 6:00 a.m. he was picked up by a police officer and later found shot dead on the roadside in Batticaloa town.
The following day, March 8, 1997, another Tamil youth, aged 21, was shot dead at about 7:00 p.m. in the town area. Evidence of this murder points to the same police officer that committed the crime the previous day. On March 11, 1997 another Tamil youth, aged 18, was picked up from his house at Kallady, a village within the Batticoloa Municipal Council limits, at around 4:00 PM. The same police officer, along with a few others, masked their faces with black linen and came to the house in a white unmarked van without a number plate. The people in the house had identified the police officer as the same person involved in the previous two crimes. Half-an-hour later, people heard gunshot sounds. At 7:00 p.m. the body of the boy was handed over to the Batticoloa Hospital mortuary. On a complaint made by me to the Brigadier of the area, I was informed that this boy had a revolver in his possession and he was trying to shoot the police, and the police had to act in self defense. He was purposely branded as LTTE to cover up the killing.
On March 17, 1997, two sisters, namely Velan Rasammah (38), a widow, and her sister, Nalliah Dharshini (28), were raped by four army soldiers at Thannamunai, a village 6 km north of Batticaloa. The incident took place at 11:00 p.m. I lodged a complaint to the local head of the army and the Senior Superintendent of Police of the district. An identification parade was held in the court, where 150 soldiers were present. Only one soldier was identified by the victims. Although a case has been filed in the Magistrates Court of Batticaloa, the accused have been bailed out.
On March 22, a gruesome murder was committed by the police, where a middle-aged couple from the Burgher Community was shot. Mrs. Mervyn Ockerz (52) was shot in the head and died on the spot. Her husband, Kingsley Ockerz (55) was seriously wounded and admitted to the Batticaloa General Hospital. They were shot in their residence at Iruthayapuram, a village close to Batticaloa town. Here again the evidence leads to the suspicion of the same police officer that was involved in the previous three murders of youths. The reason for the killings was attributed to the son of the victims who was forcibly registered in marriage to a girl with whom a police sub-inspector had an affair. In order to escape from the involvement, the sub-inspector forcibly registered this boy to this girl.
The parents - Mr. and Mrs. Ockerz, and the son made representation to the Senior Superintendent of Police in the area and subsequently the sub-inspector was interdicted from service and a case was filed in the Magistrates Court of Batticaloa. The hearing of this case was held on March 16, 1997. The attempt by the police was to kill the boy in order to cover up evidence and as a retaliatory act, but the boy sleeping in the house with his parents fortunately escaped by running away from the place. Although many representations were made by me against the particular police officer by name in regard to all these extra-judicial killings, no action has been taken against him. He still continues in active service.
On May 17, 1997 Murugesapillai Koneswary (35) mother of three children, was gang-raped and murdered by policemen attached to the Central Camp police station in the 11th Colony in the border of the Batticoloa-Amparai districts. It appears that from evidence of relatives and the husband of the deceased that the offenders of this crime, after raping this woman, had thrown a grenade into her abdomen in order to cover up any medical evidence of rape. This brutal act was brought to the notice of the President by me and she promptly took action and ordered a fresh inquiry into this inhuman and barbaric act. The body of the woman was exhumed and sent to the government analyst for examination. However, nobody has been taken into custody in this matter.
The alarming rate at which rapes committed in my constituency during the past two years is of great concern to all who value human rights. Many womens organizations in the district and elsewhere are up in arms against this barbaric crime committed on innocent Tamil women. Though estimates vary, it can easily be calculated at around 100. But most of the victims never speak out openly or complain to authorities because of social constraints. Tamil custom is such that if a Tamil girl is molested or raped she is looked upon as a social untouchable. She will have no place in the society and nobody will like to marry the girl. Therefore, in order to avoid the prevalent social factor the crime concerned is concealed. However, a few have been reported and known public. They include the three I have described above. Nothing has been done by the government.
Another rape incident was that of a Tamil woman who was taking lunch to her husband who was working in the paddy field. This incident took place in the village of Mandor on December 31, 1996. The perpetrators are three STF (Special Task Force) personnel attached to the Vallavethy STF Camp. The other is the rape in a house at a village, Thiyavaddavan, Valaichenai, where the mother, daughter and another woman were raped by members of the Sri Lankan army on January 9, 1997. Apart from these seven rape incidents the other rapes are concealed because of the reason explained above, and also because of retaliatory acts by the security forces.
On June 14, 1997 three farmers, namely Kandiah Shanmugam, Banda Thangavelu and Kubarasappu Selvanayagam, after irrigating their paddy fields, went to close the sluice gate of the Weligakandiya Tank. They were taken into custody by the army. There are witnesses to this incident, since a few other farmers working in the fields saw the army taking these three men along with them. Up to now their whereabouts are not known. When the wives of these three farmers made inquiries at the army camps in the area they drew a blank. It is feared that all three were killed while in army custody.
Indiscriminate shelling of civilian areas from army and police camps has resulted in the displacement of most of the civilians from their places of original habitation. In many villages in the Batticaloa district it has become a routine practice for the civilian population to move from their homes almost every evening and seek shelter in the nearest temple or church, for fear of shelling and mortar firing from army and police camps, and in the mornings go back to their houses. During the past six months of this year, an estimated 37 civilians were killed and another 30 wounded as a result of shelling of civilian areas. This includes a few children and two infants. The economy of the district depends on agriculture and fishing. Because of security reasons, these two sectors have been badly affected, resulting in the disruption of fishing and agriculture.
Besides, every Tamil household in the district has to exhibit a notice in the entrance door of the house indicating the names of the occupants of the house, giving their National Identity Card number, etc. This is not required for Muslims or Sinhalese. These names have to be registered in the nearest police station. Supposing a relative or friend visits the house and stays overnight without informing the police and by any chance any raid takes place in the house, on that night the new occupant of the house would be taken into custody for questioning and sometimes detained for days until clearance is obtained and frequently tortured.
The Sri Lankan security forces continued to torture and mistreat detainees, both male and female, during interrogation and at the time of arrest. The methods of torture included beatings by baton, assault, beating the soles of the feet, burning, etc. Also, suspension by the feet where the head lies downwards and the rope turned so that the body of the victim rotates. He is beaten and chilli powder thrown in his face, and at times his face covered with polythene bag with water, where he finds it extremely difficult to breathe. Torture and ill treatment is widespread, with several people dying in custody. Some of the stories related to me personally and in writing by many of the Tamil youths who were detained and tortured are so horrifying, one cannot imagine whether such inhuman and cruel methods are used in a civilized society.
The other Tamil militant groups, armed by and working with the military, commit similar crimes, including torture and extra-judicial killings. In this connection, a letter written to me by Rev. Fr. B.H. Miller, S.J., an American Jesuit priest who had been residing in Batticaloa for the past 45 years, is of importance. Fr. Miller is actively involved with the Batticaloa District Peace Committee for the past ten years. In his letter he states, "We are informed that boys are being abducted, kidnapped by Tamil groups in the guise of recruitment, heads shaved, forced to sign enrollment papers, and sent without further ado to battle in the Vanni (Vavuniya). This they surely are doing under pressure from the army to find soldiers for the front. They gain marks for providing cannon fodder. And this is a gross form of human rights violations." These groups are paid by the Government for each person recruited.
Human Rights Violations of Tamils in Other Districts
Although I have given only the human rights violations committed by the security forces in my district, the same pattern of severe violations, including harassment, arbitrary arrest, torture, detention, disappearances while in the custody of the security forces, and rape takes place in other districts of the North East, including Jaffna, and even in the city of Colombo and suburbs.
Batticaloa can be taken up as a yardstick to measure the violations in the other areas mentioned above. In Jaffna alone there have been hundreds of disappearances and many rapes with a few months of its occupation by the army in 1996. The government has appointed a committee of military officers to investigate the disappearances.
Harassment of Tamil civilians in the city of Colombo and the suburbs has become a nightmare for the Tamils living in these areas. Only Tamils are required to register with the police. Their houses are being raided in the night at ungodly hours and the households, including women and children, are taken to the nearest police station and detained, frequently resulting in extorting money. This has become a daily occurrence in the city of Colombo and suburbs.
The latest harassment, particularly in the month of June this year, is something serious meted out to the Tamils in the Bandaranaike International Airport (formerly Colombo Airport). As soon as a Tamil enters the airport for travel abroad he is looked upon in suspicion. In case by any chance airport immigration authorities find that any one of the travel documents is suspected forged (in many instances purposely so determined by the officer as forged documents in order to harass a Tamil), the passenger is handed over to the airport police for investigation and he is charged under the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). But if on the same offense the person arrested belongs to the majority Sinhalese or the Muslim community, he is charged under normal Immigration and Emigration laws. This is a clear case of discrimination meted out only to the Tamils.
The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF), which hitherto monitored the human rights violations, although not well, and had its office in Colombo and in a few districts of the North East, was dismantled by a Gazette notification issued by the President on June 23, 1997. According to the Gazette notification the HRTF ceases to function with effect from June 30, 1997.
The reason given by the government is that a National Human Rights Commission had been appointed, therefore the NHRC will look after the entire human rights violations. But at the time of announcement, the NHRC had not got off the ground and it has so far not established any regional office in the North East.
Therefore, the closure of the HRTF will create a vacuum, thereby driving the Tamils to the mercy of the Sri Lankan security forces, which would eventually end up in more and more human rights violations. Although the government has extended the functioning of the HRTF Regional Coordinators for a further period of one month, until July 31, 1997, it is doubtful whether the newly established NHRC would be able to establish its regional offices within this period to meet the vacuum created by the closure of the HRTF.
The recent offensive by the Sri Lankan Army to open up a land route to Jaffna has resulted in the displacement of an estimated 200,000 civilians from their original places of habitation, adding to the earlier hundreds of thousands of displaced Tamils. Many hundreds of families are wandering in the jungles of Mullaithu and many thousands have moved to Vavuniya to be locked up in detention camps.
They are not allowed by the government and military to relocate themselves in the areas of their choice, even in Vavuniya town or Colombo or other Tamil areas like Batticaloa and Trincomalee. They are detained in severe conditions under army control and even the ICRC and UNHCR or NGOs are not allowed into the camps.
The intensification and escalation of the conflict has been viewed with alarm by all those who value human rights and humanitarian norms. The immediate impact of such a conflict on defenseless civilians is immense. They are subjected to heavy artillery attacks and bombings. The flow of food items and medicines to the war-affected areas has been severely curtailed by the governments embargo, causing immense hardship and misery to the affected civilians. An unknown number are dying and sick.
The international relief agencies and non-governmental organizations continue to encounter restrictions with regard to their operations. For example, the Quaker Peace and the Peace Brigade, two international NGOs who were helpful to displaced Tamils in uncleared areas in my district, have been disbarred since April, 1997 from doing any operations in the Batticaloa District. In addition, the media and other independent observers are not allowed to visit the affected areas.
In addition, there are about 1700 Tamil youths detained in prisons, police stations and various unidentified detention camps without any trial or investigation. Out of this, about 300 is languishing in prison for the past five years without being brought to trial. The slow process in disposing of these cases by the Attorney Generals department is causing much alarm and anxiety among the parents and relatives of the detainees.
The U.S. Governments approval for the "Green Berets" to give training to the Sri Lankan security forces is causing alarm and concern to the Tamil people. The U.S. support to the Sri Lankan Government is giving a moral encouragement to the Sri Lankan security forces to engage in more and more human rights violations against the Tamils.
It is my considered opinion that the governments policy of "War for Peace" is failing, not only because of limited progress in military operations and its devolution package (which is very much watered down from the August, 1995 proposals), but also, especially because it is causing more and more hardships and misery and human rights violations to the Tamils. The Tamils have lost faith with the Government.
Therefore, I earnestly appeal to the U.S. Government to press the Sri Lankan Government to take the following actions in support of human rights. The LTTE should also cooperate on these actions:
Until these actions are taken by the Sri Lankan Government, especially the presence of a team of observers in the North East, the U.S. should suspend its support to Sri Lanka, especially military support. It was similar action by the international community, under the Foreign Aid Consortium, which brought about an improvement in 1993-1994.