The Human Rights Watch (HRW) in its latest report has slammed the Sri Lankan government for failure to make real progress in holding accountable those responsible for the execution style slaying of 17 aid workers on August 4, 2006 despite renewed international calls for action. Seven years have elapsed but the perpetrators responsible for the death of 17 aid workers have not been brought to justice. And this in a country which boasts about 2,300 years old Buddhist civilization and Buddhist values!
On August 4, 2006, gunmen executed 17 Sri Lankan aid workers – 16 ethnic Tamils, four of them women, and a Muslim – with the Paris-based international humanitarian agency Action Contre La Faim (Action against Hunger, ACF) in their office compound in the town of Muttur in eastern Trincomalee district. The killings occurred after several-days battle between the army and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) for control of the town. The ACF team had been providing assistance to survivors of the December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.
The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) has published detailed findings on the Muttur killings based on accounts from witnesses and weapons analysis that implicate the Sri Lankan army in the area at the time. The group reported that two police constables and naval Special Forces commandos were alleged to be directly responsible and that senior police and justice officials were linked to an alleged cover-up.
In July 2007, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, established after the Muttur killings to investigate 16 major human rights cases, exonerated the army and navy in the massacre and instead blamed LTTE forces or Muslim militia. Families of ACF workers who testified before the commission blamed the army for the shooting. The commission’s full report to President Rajapaksa has never been made public.
In March 2013, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Sri Lanka, reiterating the concerns of a 2012 council resolution, which focused on the lack of accountability for human rights violations. The council called upon the Sri Lankan government to “conduct an independent and credible investigation” into alleged rights abuses and “take all necessary additional steps” to meet its legal obligations to ensure justice and accountability for all Sri Lankans.
According to James Ross, legal and policy director of HRW, the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa in apparent response to increasing international pressure, took long overdue steps by directing state lawyers and investigators to review the case and prepare a comprehensive list of witnesses. This was one of several recent moves by the government to adopt previously disregarded recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) created in 2011 following the defeat of the LTTE in May 2009.
The UN High commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is scheduled to visit Sri Lanka towards the end of this month and HRW has repeated its call for the UN Secretary-General or other UN body to create an independent international investigation into violations by government forces and the LTTE. This investigation should make recommendations for the prosecution of those responsible for serious abuses during the armed conflict, including the ACF case.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government continue to resist taking meaningful steps to investigate and prosecute alleged war crimes by the armed forces during the last phase of the war that ended on May 18, 2009. During the last 4 years or more the human rights situation in Sri Lanka has gone from bad to worse. Though disappearances and abductions have decreased, crack down on dissenting voices and assault on media freedom have increased. The Northern Province is under tight occupation of the armed forces and the Sinhalese governor is behaving like his name sake during the colonial era. Both the Sinhalese governor and the army commander are exercising unlimited administrative power. The government has refused to restore civilian administration on grounds of non-existing security threat!
On May 13, 2013 Nicolas Beger, Director of Amnesty International (AI) urged the European Union to demand publicly an independent, impartial and internationally-led investigation which holds to account those responsible for crimes under international law.
While both the HRW and AI have been consistently urging the Sri Lankan government to investigate and punish those responsible for war crimes, no human rights group has articulated the fate of second rank LTTE cadres who surrendered to the army on May 17/18, 2009 and since gone missing and their fate unknown.
Sri Lanka under Mahinda Rajapakse is one of the worst violator of fundamental human rights and humanitarian law governing conduct of war. Not only LTTE leaders were killed when they surrendered to the army with white flags in the battle field, scores of others were killed after they surrendered to the army on May 17/18, 2009.
Here is a list of those LTTE cadres who surrendered to the armed forces on 17/18 May, 2009 but their whereabouts unknown.
(1) K.V. Balakumar and his son Sooriyatheepan
(2) V. Ilankumaran (alias Baby Subramanian) Head of the Thamil Eelam Education Department. His wife Vettrichchelvi and daughter Arivumathy.
(3) Yogaratnam Yogi in charge of ’Institute for Conflict Research’ in Vanni
(4) Poet Puthuvai Ratnadurai, Coordinator of LTTE Arts and Cultural Department
(5) K. Paappa, Coordinator LTTE Sports Department
(6) Rajah (Chempiyan) Assistant Coordinator LTTE Sports Department and his 3 children
(7) Ilanthirayan, LTTE Military spokesman
(8) Veerathevan, Coordinator LTTE Bank
(9) S.Thangkan, Political Wing Deputy Chief
(10) Aruna, Thamil Eela Education Department
(11) S. Naren, Asst. Executive Head of TRO
(12) Kuddy, Head of the LTTE Transport Department
(12) Piriyan, Head of Administrative Service Department and his family
(13) V. Poovannan, Head of the Administrative Service Division of the LTTE
(14) Thangaiah, Administrative Service Department
(15) Malaravan, Administrative Service Department
(16) Pakirathan, Administrative Service Department
(17) Reha, Head of LTTE Medical Division
(18) Selvarajah, Commander Manal Aru Head Quarters
(19) Bhaskaran, Commander Manal Aru Head Quarters
(20) Major Lawrance
(21) Major Kumaran
(22) Prabha, Batticaloa District Commander
(24) Rupan, Coordinator of Supplies
(25) Babu, Coordinator of Jewellery Business
(26) Ilamparithy, Executive Head of Political Wing
(27) Elilan, Head of Trincomalee Political Wing
(28) Vijitharan, Executive Secretary, Political Wing
(29) Major Veeman
(30) Sakthy, Coordinator Forestry Division and his family
(31) E.Ravi, Charge of Houses
(32) Sanjai, Mulliyavalai Divisional Political Wing Coordinator
(33) Para Ratha, Coordinator Justice Department
(34) Kumaravel, Coordinator Air Force Security
(35) Chithrankan Malathy, Commander Manal Aru District
(36) Suhi, Commander
(37) Arunan, Major Sea Tigers
(38) Manoj – Medical Department
(39) Lawrance, Finance Department
(40) Lawrance Thilakar, Coordinator TRO Planning Department
(41) Karikalan, former Commander, Eastern Province
The above list is by no means complete.
On May 31, 2009, Lankafirst.com website quoting Government Information Department sources, reported that some top Tiger leaders under the custody of the military were going through series of serious investigation by the security forces.
“Former eastern province political wing leader and subsequently in charge of the economic division Karikalan, former spokesman of the LTTE Yogaratnam Yogi, former EROS MP turned advisor to the LTTE V. Balakumar, a former spokesman of the LTTE Lawrence Thilakar, former Deputy political section leader Thangkan , former head of the political section for Jaffna district Ilamparithi, former Trincomalee political wing leader Elilan, former head of the LTTE Sports Department Paappa , former head of the administrative division of the LTTE Puvannan and deputy international head Gnanam are in custody,” it said.
The UTHR-J report mentioned the names of top leaders who surrendered to the army. Karikalan (former eastern province political wing leader and subsequently in charge of the economic division), Yogaratnam Yogi (former spokesman of the LTTE), Lawrence Thilakar (a former spokesman of the LTTE, a one time head of LTTE office in Paris and later in charge of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organisation), Thangkan (former Deputy political section leader), Ilamparithi (former head of the political section for Jaffna district), Elilan (former Trincomalee political wing leader), Paappa (former head of the LTTE sports division), Puvannan (former head of the administrative division of the LTTE), Gnanam (deputy international head) and Tamilini head of the Women’s political wing.
On June 12, 2009 The Asian Tribune, a mouth piece of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government, reported that “LTTE Senior V. Balakumar and seven other hardcore Tigers are in the police net, Asian Tribune learns. They are Yogaratnam Yogi, former LTTE spokesman, Baby Subramanian, LTTE stalwart of long years, Lawrence Thilakar, a former head of the LTTE’s International Secretariat, Ilamparithi, Jaffna political leader, Karikalan of the Eastern Province and three others whose names are not immediately available.”
On August 06, the Lanka Guardian published a photograph taken in the army controlled area detention centre showing V. Balakumar and his son seated on a bunk under a tree. The background of the photograph shows army soldiers moving around the area. According to Lanka Guardian V. Balakumar came to surrender to the Army with white flags together with other senior leaders of the LTTE. The photograph was taken in the army-controlled area.
A senior Sri Lankan minister wittingly or otherwise has confirmed that some of the top Tamil Tiger leaders, including V. Balakumar and Yogaratnam Yogi, who had surrendered to the government troops during the final days of the war in May 2009, have been killed while in protected military custody.
Former Minister of Rehabilitation and Prisons Reforms, Dew Gunasekera undertook a visit to the north in July, 2010 and met groups of war widows told a Colombo-based newspaper on record that among the ‘widows’ whom he had met in Jaffna were wives of Balakumar and Yogaratnam Yogi.
The Minister’s statement indirectly confirms that some of the top leaders of the Tamil Tiger rebels have been killed while in military custody by the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which is already facing international war crime charges for allegedly executing top unarmed Tiger leaders who surrendered with white flags.
It is not known whether Balakumar, Yogi and others were killed in an execution-style murder or tortured to death.
The wives of Elilan and Ilanthirayan gave evidence before the LLRC claiming they saw their husbands bordering an army bus along with Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph, but have never heard of them since.
Ananthi Sasitharan (40) wife of Elilan, former Trincomalee political head of the LTTE in her testimony before the LLRC said that her husband Mr. Elilan, and other senior LTTE officials Yogaratnam Yogi and Lawrance Thilakar, both of whom took part in negotiations earlier, and LTTE Political Wing Deputy Chief Thangkan, former Jaffna Political Head Ilamparithi, Head of Administrative Unit Poovannan, Piriyan, Theepan, Sports Wing Chief Raja and his 3 children, Kuddi and Holster Babu were among those surrendered in front of her eyes to the Sri Lankan forces under the coordination of a Catholic Priest at Vadduvaakal in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May, 2009. In addition, the list of names of missing is Poet Rathnathurai, V. Balakumar, LTTE strategist, Karikalan, Head of the Political department, Batticaloa and Ilankumaran (Baby Subramanian) Head of the Educational Department.
Ananthi Sasitharan’ s evidence before the LLRC was corroborated Mrs.Punitharuban Vanitha the wife of Ilanthirayan who said her husband was taken away by the army on 17 May 2009, just before the Tigers suffered their final defeat. She was told, she said, that her husband would be returned after treatment for minor injuries. Mrs. Vanitha told the LLRC that she has not seen her husband since then. Bobitha Prabhakaran, the wife of Prabha, also said her husband was detained in May last year, and has heard nothing from him since.
Bearing witness in front of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s LLRC in Maanthai West in Mannaar on Sunday, Mrs R. Mironio, the wife of LTTE’s former Mannaar commander Antony Rayappu alias Yaan, said she has not heared from her husband or not told of the whereabouts of him after he surrendered in front of her in SLA controlled territory in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May 2009. The surrender was facilitated by Catholic Priest Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph, she said. The priest was also taken with her husband, but none have heard about them, she said.
On September 18 (Saturday) Mrs. Ananthi Sasitharan was interviewed by BBC (Tamil Oosai) following her testimony before the LLRC. She told BBC (Tamil Oosai) that she and her three daughters witnessed her husband and hundreds of other LTTE members surrendering to the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers on 18th May 2009, after the war has come to an end. “I have been trying to trace my husband and have not been successful to locate his whereabouts. I have no doubt that Sri Lanka’s president knows where my husband and others who surrendered are being held,” she told the BBC.
“If my husband has disappeared during the war, then there will be reason to think that he may have been killed during the heat of the battle, but having seen him surrender after the fighting has stopped, there is absolutely no reason for me to believe that he is dead,” Ananthi told the BBC.
When asked if she did not fear for her life [from Sri Lanka Government] after talking candidly before Sri Lanka’s commission, Ananthi said, she has never been afraid of death, and that her resolve to live has long been disappeared. She added that she will continue to her efforts to find her husband.
“All countries have betrayed us,” she told BBC (Tamil Oosai) after complaining to the LLRC that SL President should know the whereabouts of her husband and fellow LTTE officials surrendered through a Catholic Priest in Mullaiththeevu on 18 May 2009.
When asked whether she was concerned about repercussions for stating her views publicly from Vanni, the mother of three responded: “I am not afraid. I am prepared to face anything since we don’t now live with the zest for life.”
She further said that, while her three daughters were psychologically traumatised from seeing death and destruction, she is managing to bring them up as best as she can from the income from her employment.
“I had complained by a letter to the Vavuniya, Colombo International Red Cross Society and in person. I had complained to Vavuniya Human Rights Commission regarding my husband, but I did not receive any reply. Several months had lapsed, but my husband’s whereabouts is still not known.”
A remarkable feature of her interview is her spirit of defiance in the face of adversity and despair. She did not mince her words and always spoke in terms of collective self, as “we” and not “I.” This Eezham Tamil psyche that is seriously concerned more about the sufferings of the nation than individual miseries.
Mrs. Ananthi Sasitharan appealed to the media to bring to light her plea to the attention of world leaders and media outlets to exert pressure upon the Sri Lankan government to release her husband. Despite the pleas from people like Mrs. Ananthi, international media and world diplomats have taken little or no attention to their pleas.
Mrs. Ananthi Sasitharan said he and her three daughters witnessed her husband and hundreds of other LTTE members surrendering to the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) soldiers on May 18, 2009, after the war came to an end.
Mrs. Ananthi Sasitharan, in a letter addressed to Ms. Sooka Yasmin (Executive Director) of Foundation for Human Rights and a Member of UN Experts Panel, on September 15, 2010, wrote: “My husband Sinnathurai Sasitharan on 18.05.2009 at Vanni Mullaiththeevu District in Vadduvaakal Division on the Head of Church Father Francis Xavier with many hundred Tigers surrendered to Mullaiththeevu Sri Lankan Army.
When the LLRC went to Batticaloa many Tamil civilians testified before the panel about missing relatives. Among them were wives of LTTE military spokesman Rasiah Ilanthirayan and Prabha head of the Tiger intelligence wing in Batticaloa. Both have not been seen since being detained by the army.
The government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa should come clean as to the fate of these LTTE cadres who surrendered to the army on May 17/18, 2009. If they have been summarily executed then details regarding the execution.
Human rights groups like the HRW, AI, International Crisis Group and others should press the Sri Lankan government for an answer. Executing soldiers who surrender to the victors amounts to war crimes and crimes against humanity. These acts violated international human rights and international humanitarian law; some of them may constitute as war crimes. It is vital that those responsible for these atrocities be brought to justice. Failure to do so would send a message that the international community will allow war criminals to escape accountability and justice, and encourage other countries to follow the “Sri Lanka model.”
Soft diplomacy is not knocking any sense into the head of Mahinda Rajapaksa. He in act defiance has rejected the US sponsored resolution adopted on the 22nd March, 2013 claiming his government is not bound by it. By rejecting the resolution he is making a mockery of the UN system itself. According to Failed States Index of the Foreign Policy publication, Sri Lanka is fifth in the second league of twenty failed states for the year 2010.
The question now is how long countries like US, EU, UK and Canada will tolerate Sri Lanka’s nose thumping? So far the government has failed meaningfully to investigate war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by the armed forces. There must be a limit to tolerance.