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Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
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Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C 

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Home > International Tamil Conferences on Tamil Eelam Freedom Struggle >   > International Convention for Solidarity with Eelam Tamils of Sri Lanka, 1997 > Human Rights Violations in Batticaloa - Joseph Pararajasingham M.P.

International Convention for Solidarity
with Eelam Tamils of Sri Lanka, 1997

Human Rights Violations in Batticaloa

Joseph Pararajasingham M.P.
(Leader of the T.U.L.F Parliamentary Group)

Joseph Pararajasingham,  a Tamil nationalist and Batticaloa district Member of Parliament (MP) of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and a committed political activist in the struggle for Tamil Eelam, was shot dead at St. Mary's cathedral church in Batticaloa, Tamil Eelam  while attending Christmas prayers early morning at 1.20 a.m Sunday 25 December 2005. more

I am a Member of the Sri Lanka Parliament, representing the Batticaloa District Constituency, predominantly a Tamil speaking district falling within the jurisdiction of the North - East Province. The Tamils are the majority in this Constituency, forming 73% of the population . Muslims, whose mother tongue is also Tamil, form the second major community with 23% and the others 04% which includes Sinhalese-the majority community of the island - and Burghers the descendants of the Portuguese and Dutch.

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 Parliamentary General Elections, obtaining 43,900 preferential votes - the highest ever obtained by any Tamil politician in the North - East. I am the Parliamentary Group Leader of the TULF - a moderate Tamil Political party which was in the forefront of the Tamils struggle for the past four decades in a non-violent way. This political party was originally known as the "Federal Party"

As an elected representative, I am physically present in my constituency for more than eight months in a year. Therefore, I am well informed about human rights violations which take place in my district and elsewhere in the North - East and other parts of Sri Lanka. These include mass scale massacres of innocent civilians, rape, torture, detention, disappearances while in 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".

Shocking Instances:

I would like to cite only a few instances of ;the violations, since the purpose of my talk is to give an essence of the prevailing situation. All incidents which I mention here, were raised by me in Parliament as well as brought to the notice of H.E. the President of Sri Lanka and the Deputy Minister of Defence: and in most cases to the Foreign Embassies in Colombo. Therefore, they cannot plead ignorance of these incidents.

The civil war in Sri Lanka is more than fifteen years old. Conflict analysts maintain that this war is currently the most intense fighting in the world, equal to the Tet offensive during the Vietnam war. The Amnesty International Report of November 1997 states that the Sri Lankan Government has to take the responsibility for failure to protect the lives of civilians under its jurisdiction. By the time the Government authorities in Colombo acknowledges the reality of what was happening in Jaffna, approximately 600 people had been reported disappeared. Hundreds of others were victims of torture at the hands of the Security forces. There were also several reports of rape by members of the Army.

The denial of rights to the minority Tamils and discrimination against them accounted for the emergence and the continuance of the intractable civil conflict. The Tamil minorities deprivation of human rights stems from the fact that they were treated as adversaries and now as citizens of the same place in a civil war.

Military analysts reveal that Sri Lanka is maintaining the largest army in the World on the basis of the proportion of population. Sri Lanka with a population of 18 million has a standing army of 110,000 persons of which 96% constitutes Sinhalese. On the basis of the proportion of population, it is calculated that for every 124 persons there is 1 person in the Army. In comparison; India with a population of 935 million, it has a standing army of 1.1. Million. This, on the basis of the proportion of population works out to every 835 persons 1 person in the Army. On the Sri Lankan ratio, India should have five times that of Sri Lanka - which means 5.5 million persons in the Army.

For the past two years the Sri Lankan Government has spent annually 40 billion Sri Lankan rupees (670,000 US$) on defence expenditure and the Government has voted 45 billion rupees (750,000 US$) for the year 1998 in their Annual Budget. This amount is 23% of the country's total annual revenue for the year 1998.

The mono-ethnic security forces cannot speak the language of the people in the areas where the conflict rages. So, the people are treated as aliens and foreigners and the war is waged as against the people of an enemy country. However, there is no justification for human rights violations.

One of the main reasons for the continual occurrences of large scale human rights violations is the existence of Emergency Regulations and the draconian Act called the Prevention of Terrorism Act. These two obnoxious regulations have given wide arbitrary powers to the Security forces which results in the impunity enjoyed by them by the usage of these regulations, including through murder, torture, rape and intimidation of witnesses.

Report of the Amnesty International:

The Amnesty International in its concluding summary report of November 1997 states that Sri Lanka will remain prone to upsurges of serious human rights violations, particularly disappearances until the government tackles these problems at their root cause the lingering sense of impunity among perpetrators and the sweeping powers of the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act allowing for people to be detained incommunicate for long periods of time.

Since the present government came to power in August 1994, although there had been arrests,-no security personnel has been effectively punished for human rights abuses, as a deterent to others. Further, no action has been filed against any security force or other officer for the violation of rules prescribed in the Emergency Regulations.

To cite an example, the 22 S.T.F. (Special Task Force) men detained for the alleged murders of the 31 Tamil youths whose bodies were found floating in various lakes in the city of Colombo. In mid-1995 have all now returned to active duty after being granted bail. The case against them was removed from the Court's roll, on March 13, 1997. The government has not given any justification for dropping the prosecution against them. Many believe, it is simply due to pressure by the security forces.

This is in keeping with the pattern of the government pretending it will prosecute an officer known to have committed a human rights violation, but then dropping the case after publicising this claim. In most cases the accused soldiers do not appear in court. The State Council would often maintain that the defendants are on active duty in combat areas, so they cannot be prosecuted.

Directives and guidelines issued by the President from time to time are not followed or implemented by the security forces on the ground. Since they are not punished, more violations are committed and continue unabated.

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 NGO's (Non-Governmental Organisations) to visit the uncleared areas and by the support that the government and the military receives from the international community. Of special significance is the US support in arms sales and the Green Beret training to the Sri Lankan army.

Let me now cite some examples of massacres with impunity which was denied on many occasions by the government. On June 11, 1990 the six months truce between the former government, 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-Batticaloa district. From the date of commencement of the op eration until July, 10,1990 more than 600 innocent Tamil civilians were massacred by the army which included about 32 burnt with tyres and the charred bodies lying in the highways and prominent places o the Batticaloa Town for public exposure. This inhuman exhibition of burnt charred bodies of innocen Tamils was to create a fear phobia and warning to the Tamil civilian population of the area that anybody having links with the LTTE would ultimately embrace the same fate. This was the same tactic used by the government in 1989 and 1990 in the campaign against the JVP in South Sr Lanka, which clearly had the tacit approval of the Sri Lankan Government.

On August 21, 1990 the security forces rounded up a refugee camp in the Sittandy Hindu Temple. which housed almost 2000 Tamil refugees and took into custody 44 innocent civilians whose whereabouts are unknown today. They were all killed while in the custody of the army.

On September 05, 1990 the army during a cordon off and search operation at the Eastern Univer sity Refugee Camp, Vantharumoolai, Batticaloa, took into custody 148 Tamil youths in the presence o many hundred witnesses. Their fate is still a mystery. I personally visited this refugee camp on Septem be 09, 1990 and obtained a list containing the names of youths apprehended by the army. I raised this matte in Parliament and tabled the list containing the names of the arrested youths. The Deputy Minister o Defence, late General Ranjan Wijeratne, totally denied in the floor of the House that on inquiries made by him, no one was arrested from the refugee camp. Two months later, the Secretary to the Ministry o Defence by letter informed me that there was a cordon off and search operation conducted by the army on that date and the army took into custody 31 persons for questioning and ;they were all released within 24 hours. But none of them returned to their homes. This is the type of denial by the Government on incidents of this nature.

Only the army was responsible:

The Human Rights Task Force (HRTF) appointed by the government in August 1991 to monitor human rights, in its annual report for the year 1993 accused that the army was respon sible for the killing of the 148 youths and named four army officers. No action was taken agains the officers mentioned by the HRTF. They are still in active service.

On September 9, 1990 at about 8.00 p.m., the army made an announcement in the villages o Saturukondan, Pannichaiyady, Kokkuvil and Pillaiyarady - all falling within the Batticola Municipal Counci limits, ordering everyone to come to the main road. In all a total of 181 Tamil villagers from these fou villages were taken by the army and massacred. This included 35 children below the age of ten, and 6 women. Nobody was prosecuted nor the government held an inquiry into this cold blooded murder despite many representations made by me inside and outside the Parliament and by many local and Inter national NGO's.

On Septmber 20, 1990, the Muslim homeguards entered a Tamil village known as Savukkady i my constituency and massacred 31 innocent civilians which included many women and children. N proper inquiry was held into this incident nor anybody prosecuted.

On June 22, 1991, sixty- seven innocent Tamil villagers were massacred by the army a Kokkadicholai-which is also a village in my constituency. This was a retaliatory act for th killing of three .soldiers in a landmine explosion in that village. The bodies of all the victim were put in the crater and burnt where the landmine explosion took place. On my representa tion, a Presidential Commission of Inquiry was appointed by the government to inquire into thi incident.

The commission in its final report indicated that the army was responsible for th killings and Captain Kudaligama was named as the offender. The punishment he got was dismissal from the army and months later rewarded with an appointment in a Corporation Sector.

On August 09, 1992 the army massacred innocent civilians at a village known a Mailanthanai in the northern border of my constituency. In all, 36 were killed and 35 other seriously wounded. Twenty two army soldiers were arrested and non-summary proceeding

were conducted in the Magistrate's Court of Polonnaruwa. In 1994 the case was committed to the High Court. As of this date, the case has not yet been listed by the Attorney General to be taken up by the High Court.

The human rights situation improved during 1993-1995 and there had been a marked decline in the violations committed by the security forces. However, since mid-1995 the period the talks between the present government and LTTE broke off, there had been an increase in the violations by the security forces especially last year and this year (1996&1997). Although there have been no large scale civilian massacres, the people face greater hardships than at any time ever before. There had been a marked increase in the number of rapes committed by the security forces during the years 1996-1997.

During the first six months of this year in my district, disappearances and extra-judicial killings by security forces have been, on an average, 6-7 per month. As an example, I wish to cite the extra-judicial killings and rape committed by the security forces during the month of March, 1997 in my constituency.

On March 07, 1997 a Tamil youth Gomerz Amthonyraj (22 years) was on his way to open his boutique situated in the Batticaloa Town. At 6.00 a.m. he was picked up by a police officer and later found shot dead on the roadside. The following day, March 8th another Tamil youth aged 21 years, was shod dead at about 7-00 p.m. in the Batticola Town. On March 11, another Tamil youth aged 18 years was picked up from his house at Kallady, Batticaloa by the security forces around 4.00 p.m. Half an hour later people heard gun shot sounds. At 7.00 p.m. the body of the boy was handed over to the Batticaloa Hospital mortuary by the police.

On March 17, 1997 two sisters, namely Velan Rassamah (38 years), a widow and her sister Nalliah Dharshini(28 years) were alleged to have been raped by four arm soldiers at Thannamunai, a Village 6 km North of Batticaloa. The incident took place around 11.00 p.m. On a complaint made by me, an identification parade was held in the Magistrate's Court in Batticaloa where 150 soldiers were produced. Only one soldier was identified. Although a case had been filed in the Magistrate's Court, Batticaloa the accused was allowed on bail.

On March 22, the police committed a gruesome murder where a middle-aged family from the Burgher community was shot. Mrs Mervyn Ockerz(52 years) was shot on the head and she died on the spot. Her husband , Kingsly Ockerz(55 years) was seriously wounded. For all these four murders that I have enumerated here, evidence by eye witnesses points out to one and the same police officer. Though many complaints were made against this police officer, no action has been taken against him. But he still continues to be in active police service.

On May 17, 1997, Murugesapillai Koneswary (35 years), a mother of three children was gang raped and murdered by the policemen attached to the Central Camp Police station in the 11th colony, bordering my constituency. Evidence reveals that the offenders, after raping this woman had thrown a grenade into her abdomen part of the body in order to cover up medical evidence of rape. This brutal act by the police was brought to the notice of the president by me and she promptly ordered for an inquiry. The magisterial inquiry is in progress at the Kalmunai Magistrate's Court. Just to harass and humiliate me I was summoned by the police to be a witness in this rape case. Although I have immunity under the Parliamentary privelage I decided to appear in court in order to expose to the World that if such harassment happens to a Member of Parliament, what would be the plight of ordinary civilians in the country.

On 02.07.1997 at the same Central Camp area in the 4th Colony policeman attached to the same Central Camp Police station fired indiscriminately in the village, killing on the spot a 14 year old boy Rasalingam Srikumar and seriously injuring three others. No action was taken against this incident but simply brushed off with the normal excuse that there was a confrontation with the LTTE and people got caught in the cross fire. Again on 23.09.1997 the olicem an attached to the same Central Camp Police Station went beserk and attacked the villagers in the 4t colony area killing five civilians and injuring 3 others. Forty-three houses were damaged, Out of which, 27 houses were completely destroyed. The entire villagers are now displaced and staying in a refugee camp in another village known as Sorikalmunai' in my constituency. The government ordered for an inquiry into this incident. The entire police unit responsible for the incident was transferred out from the station. An identification parade listed to he held in the Kalmunai Magistrate's Court got postponed for the fourth time as the accused policeman failed to appear in Court, The normal excuse submitted to Court by the state Council is that they are engaged in the combat area, If prompt action was taken against the same policeman who were earlier involved in the other two incidents namely rape and murder of Murugesapillai Koneswary on 17.05.97 and the killing incident of 02.07.97, this unfortunate incident would have been avoided.

On 16.09.97, Chellathamby Tharmalingam; a Grama Niladhari Officer was Summoned to the Chenkaladdy army camp situated in my constituency for an inquiry. He had reported at the camp and was released after the inquiry, He later waited for a bus to proceed to his office at Valaichenai. His friend, Perinban Pirabaharan, a Co-Operative Manager, who came in a motorcycle, volunteered to offer him a lift. They were stopped at Sittandy, a village between Chenkalady and Valaichenai by one 'Saba' who works with the army and known to his atrocities in collaboration with the army in the area. To-date, their whereabouts are unknown. Many witnesses have seen the incident but none come forward to give evidence fearing reprisals, It is feared, both would have been killed. 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 Women's Organisation in the district and elsewhere are up in arms against this barbaric crime on innocent women, Though estimates vary, it can be easily calculated at around sixty, But most of the victims never speak out openly because of reprisal by the perpetrators and of social stigma, Therefore, except the ones I have given above, others and concealed.

Disappearances continue:

However the firm action taken by the government to investigate the "disappearances of Krishanthy Kumarasamy, an 18 year old school girl from Kaithady, Jaffna and bring to justice those responsible for her killing curbed the murder of disappearances. The army arrested Krishanthy Kumarasamy on her way home on 07.09.1996 after sitting an examination paper. Her mother Rasammah Kumarasamy, her 16 year old brother Pranaban Kumarasamy, and a family friend Kirupakaran Sithamparam also disappeared after they were taken into custody at the same army check point. They had gone to inquire about Krishanthy Kumarasamy's arrest, All four bodies were later found in shallow graves in mid-October 1996. The arrest of nine members of the security forces and the legal action subsequently initiated served as a signal to the security forces, Nevertherless, reports of disappearances continue. For instance for the first half of 1997-41 cases of disappearances have been reported in Jaffna. None of the disappeared has been traced. They are all feared to have been killed in custody.

In conclusion I would like to stress the need for concerted action on the part of the International Community to ensure that both parties to the conflict observe international humanitarian standards and human rights, This action will take the form of support for independent human rights monitoring the human rights consequences of the armed conflict and by urging the government of Sri Lanka to repeal legislation such as Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations.

There is also a need for the International Community to prevent the further militarisati on of the conflict and the aerial bombings, shelling and attack on civilians. Humanitarian crisis caused by displacement which reached levels on one million persons in 1996 should be addressed systematically by donor community, relief agencies and International humanitarian organisations.

Recent visits by members of the Christian Clergy to the war affected areas in the Vanni. reveal severe cases of mal-nutrition elderly women are deranged by the trauma of displacement and destruction and entire families are huddled under trees lacking adequate shelter under monsoon weather conditions. Neither food nor medicine to be used as a political weapon punitively against helpless civilians.

I also wish to urge the International Community, including India to bring an end to this conflict by urging both parties to negotiate with the assistance of a third party facilitator. Several opposition parties in Sri Lanka publicly adopted this position and it is now open for the government to respond constructively to these proposals with a view to ending the human sufferings in the North-East. Without the participation of the LIFE no solution can be implemented on the ground nor permanent peace restored in the North-East.

For peace and normalcy to return to the country, there must be justice meted out to the Tamil minorities by recognition of their legitimate aspirations and the gross denial of human rights which I have so far outlined must be brought to an end, The International community and our neighbour India cannot remain silent in this hour of grief and tragedy affecting millions of who live in the North-East. 



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