2 June, 2023


HRW Renews Call For Justice Over Killing Of ACF Workers In Muttur

The New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) has renewed it’s call on Sri Lankan authorities to bring to justice those responsible for the execution-style slaying of 17 aid workers attached to the Paris-based Action Contre La Faim (Action Against Hunger, ACF) which took place in Muttur, Trincomalee exactly ten years ago.

A member of the French aid group ACF places a wreath in front of the photographs of his slain colleagues at their memorial in BatticaloaThe special court being set up by the government of President Maithripala Sirisena should ensure that the ACF killings and other wartime atrocities are fully and fairly tried with significant foreign involvement, and all those culpable brought to account, regardless of rank or position, Human Rights Watch said.

“The failure to provide justice for the ACF massacre is Exhibit A in the breakdown of accountability for serious crimes during Sri Lanka’s civil war,” said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch. “The mishandling of the ACF case shows why a war crimes court needs international involvement to shield it from political pressures.”

The killings of the ACF workers – 16 Tamils, including four women, and one Muslim – occurred after several days of fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for control of Muttur. The ACF team had been providing assistance to survivors of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. The war ended in May 2009, with the LTTE’s defeat.

The nongovernmental University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) published detailed findings on the Muttur killings based on accounts from witnesses and weapons analysis that implicate government security forces present in the area. The group alleges that two police constables and Sri Lankan naval special forces commandos were directly responsible, and that senior police and justice officials were linked to a cover-up.

In July 2007, then-President Mahinda Rajapaksa established the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate 16 major human rights cases, including the ACF case. Families of ACF workers who testified before the commission reported threats by security force personnel. And the commission’s international monitors resigned in protest in 2008, citing grave problems with its investigations. The commission’s full report was not released until September 2015, and while stating it had insufficient evidence to determine the perpetrators of the ACF killings, it effectively exonerated the army and navy in the massacre and indicated that LTTE forces or Muslim militia carried them out.

In July 2013, the Rajapaksa government, facing increasing international pressure, directed state lawyers and investigators to review the case and prepare a comprehensive list of witnesses. Little legal action is known to have taken since then, Human Rights Watch said.

The United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his statement at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on June 29, 2016, said that a way for the government “to quickly build public and international confidence in its determination to pursue accountability, and meet its obligations under international human rights law, would be to achieve successful prosecutions in some of the emblematic human rights cases pending before the courts.” He noted that the ACF case remained in “summary proceedings,” although the Sirisena government had “made renewed efforts to facilitate the appearance of witnesses” – an apparent reference to permitting remote testimony from abroad.

While the Sirisena government has taken important steps to address the serious human rights problems in the country, a number of the commitments made to the Human Rights Council in its October 2015 resolution remain unfulfilled.

Most notably, the government has at times backtracked on its commitment to a judicial mechanism for investigating war crimes and other serious rights abuses by both government forces and the LTTE. The October 2015 resolution specifically calls for the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, investigators, and defense lawyers, which is crucial to ensure that legal proceedings are protected from local pressures and have the independence that a purely domestic process would lack.

The gap between the government’s formal undertaking to create a tribunal with international involvement and contradictory statements from senior officials has distracted from making real progress on justice issues, Human Rights Watch said. Sirisena has repeatedly said that the justice mechanism will not have foreign judges. However, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s statement at the Human Rights Council in June that “our commitment to the Geneva resolution remains unchanged” and other remarks from officials about the need for support from victims’ groups, which back foreign participation, are evidence that the government intends to abide by its pledge.

“The government should honor its international pledge and move forward with a tribunal with foreign judges and other international participation,” Ross said. “The families of the 17 ACF aid workers and other victims need full confidence in the court to bring about genuine justice.”

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Latest comments

  • 5

    The sad truth is that the failed justice system of a failed state can never deliver justice to the victims of atrocities perpetrated by agents of the state. There is no getting around this stark reality.

    Involvement of foreign judges and investigators is the only answer!

    • 1

      The New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW)

      RE: HRW Renews Call For Justice Over Killing Of ACF Workers In Muttur

      Yes. It is an injustice to kill innovent workers and civilians.

      The Sri Lanka army and the LTTE have been at it for quite some time.

      The Great Satan and the minor Satans have been at it for quite some time in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. In addition to the killing of innocents, they have also destroyed the country.

      Yes.. The killers are getting away.

      Did you know that in Algeria in the 1959’s, the French were killing about 100 Algerians per day? They were also killing in Indo-China.

  • 2

    A man who denounced and renounced fame and riches and succeeded in the triumph of the human spirit had to find refuge in god-forsaken country. Today, his life and teachings stand blemished as if what was believed the saint he was could be a matter of spooked bed-time stories. Looking at the blood-stained countries like Sri Lanka and Myanmar, how discomforting it can be that could it have been the case of another treachery that he may not have been the “Enlightened One” after all. Does that mean it “runs in the veins”? Aren’t there a single person who has the backbone to show that path of truth they so insidiously quote very often but don’t mean a word of it. Spineless leaders who care not for the truth but their looted hunt and position have tarnished the name of the very person they hold in high reverence, or is it a phony reverence?

    • 0


      you are committing sacrilege by blaming the Enlightened One because many find it difficult to follow his teachings.
      His path may be flourishing in distant countries.


  • 1

    Who was responsible for evacuating those ACF workers. Who held those people there during the enraging battles ?

    Was it LTTE itself who killed those ACF workers ?

    • 2

      jim softy

      “Was it LTTE itself who killed those ACF workers ?”

      It may be possible to treat the blind and make him see. But is never possible to give vision to one who refuses to see.

      You belong to this category and no point wasting time on you.

  • 4

    Government ready to hear this case too at Anuradhapura by JURY.

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