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"To us all towns are one, all men our kin.
Life's good comes not from others' gift, nor ill
Man's pains and pains' relief are from within.
Thus have we seen in visions of the wise !."
Tamil Poem in Purananuru, circa 500 B.C

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Home > Tamils - a Trans State Nation > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Indictment against Sri Lanka: Introduction & Index > Indictment against Sri Lanka - the Record Speaks

The Charge is Ethnic Cleansing


Report by an independent international law group on impunity, May 1985

As a United Nations member, the Sri Lankan Government is legally obligated to respect and observe fundamental human rights and freedoms. Specifically, the Government must prevent extra-judicial killings by its own agents in order to comply with its international obligations. The Geneva Convention, which embodies binding principles of customary international law unequivocally proscribes extra-judicial killings or summary execution, the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment announced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized people.

Moreover, as a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPR), the Sri Lankan Government is bound to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. Finally, should such events take place, the Government of Sri Lanka has a duty to prosecute those found guilty.

The international community has repeatedly urged the Government of Sri Lanka to prevent further violence and to prosecute security force members committing extra-judicial killings. In 1983, the Government assured the United Nations that it intended to protect the fundamental rights of all Sri Lankan nationals. In February of 1984, Sri Lanka's Permanent Mission to the United Nations reiterated this commitment, assuring the United Nations' Commission on Human -Rights that the rash of Tamil killings during 1983 would be investigated and that the security forces responsible would be punished. To date, however, no security force personnel have been prosecuted. The only sanction meted out has been the discharge of some officials guilty of gross human rights violations. On one occasion, for example, the Government discharged 149 navy and army personnel implicated in killing 51 innocent civilians in the Jaffna district between July 23 11 and 27, 1983. Even this relatively minor sanction has been rarely utilized. In the majority of cases, the Government has failed to discipline responsible security force members at all, despite assurances to the contrary. The failure to punish security force personnel implicated in violence and the weak sanctions meted out in rare instances of punishment seriously compromise Sri Lanka's international obligations and its domestic law.

The ICPR requires State Parties to provide effective domestic remedies for violations of the individual rights and freedoms recognized in the Covenant. In addition, Sri Lanka's penal code imposes an affirmative obligation to inquire into and to try all punishable offenses. Under Sri Lankan law murder is punishable by death and lesser included offenses such as culpable homicide carry stiff prison sentences. Sri Lanka's statutes regulating security force conduct also prescribe severe sanctions for extra-judicial killings and other violations of civilian rights.

This study recounts repeated incidents for which the Government has accepted responsibility for violent acts by security force personnel and for which legal or administrative remedies have neither been pursued nor provided redress.

The following is a synopsis of extra-judicial killings committed by the security forces since July 1979. Both the Tamil militants and the Government have acknowledged responsibility for the incidents attributed to them in this report. The description of each event has been divided into four categories:

1. the incident cited by the security forces as the cause for retaliation which often resulted in the deaths of innocent people;

2. the actual incident in which innocent civilians were killed by the security forces;

3. the Government's recognition of security force responsibility and its response in such incidents;

4. the Sri Lankan laws regarding the offense and appropriate punishment applies in such circumstances. This section has been included only where it is clear that the Government failed to fully comply with Sri Lankan law.


July 1979

1. On July 12, 1979 emergency rule was declared in the Jaffna district following Tamil militant attacks on several politicians.

2. On July 14, several Tamil youths were taken into custody by police. Six were killed.

3. The Government appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee to inquire into the killings in August of 1979.20 The Committee's recommendations, which found culpable homicide were published in 1982. However, the Government did not implement them.

4. Sri Lankan law stipulates that when a person dies while in police custody, his or her body must be surrendered to a magistrate's custody for inspection into the cause of death. This procedural requirement was not followed. (Emergency Regulation 15A which permitted disposal of bodies without inquest proceedings into cause of death was not enacted until June 3 1983) The Select Committee's appointment was in conformity with Sri Lanka law because appointment of investigators is within the Government's discretion. However, Sri Lanka's criminal procedure code requires prosecution when the inquiring body finds sufficient evidence that a crime was committed or reasonable grounds to justify further proceedings. Consequently, the Public Prosecutions Director should have prepared indictments for the culpable defendants' trial upon securing the Attorney General's sanction.

Because Sri Lankan law requires trial of defendants committing punishable offences, the Government's failure to follow the Select Committee's recommendation does not comply with the criminal procedure code. Sri Lanka's criminal law provides that culpable homicide is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.

May - June 1981

1. Some days prior to the District Development elections of June 4, 1981, violence broke out in the town of Jaffna. At an election rally held by the Tamil United Liberation Front 2 police officials were killed and 2 others injured. On June 2, a state of emergency was declared and a curfew was imposed.

2. In retaliation, the police set fire to the market area in Jaffna, the office of a Tamil newspaper, the home of a Jaffna M.P., and the Jaffna Public Library. In addition, security forces killed one Tamil at Neerveli, two at Urumpirai, one at Keerimalai, and one at Nallur between June 2 and 4.

3. The Government acknowledged police responsibility for the burnings in Jaffna. Police teams were formed to investigate the Jaffna violence. A trial of the police officials responsible for the destruction commenced in Jaffna but was subsequently moved to Colombo. Relocation was reportedly necessary to protect implicated police from angry mobs in Jaffna. However, the trial never reconvened because the defendants could not be located.

4. Sri Lankan law empowers magistrates to order detention of suspects likely to flee. It is unclear why the police charged in the Jaffna tragedy were not retained in custody.

May 18 1983

1. Tamil militants attacked a polling booth in Jaffna during local government elections in an effort to subvert the elections. Two soldiers died and several were injured.

2. In retaliation army personnel burned 175 Tamil homes, killed 1 Tamil, and wounded others in Thineveley, Jaffna on May 18.

3. The Government admitted the security forces' responsibility for the destruction. A senior police official remarked that 'what happened in Jaffna ... is exactly what the terrorists want, they want people to be resentful and embittered with the army." The Government abandoned efforts to discipline those responsible when 40 soldiers from the regiment involved deserted in protest.

4. Murder is punishable by death both under Sri Lanka's Army Act and its penal code.Culpable homicide carries a maximum sentence of 20 years under both these laws. The Government's failure to prosecute individuals known to have committed punishable offenses conflicts with its legal obligations to prosecute individuals violating the criminal law.The Army Act provides that its provisions for court martial and punishment of offending military personnel do not abrogate civilian criminal court jurisdiction.

July 23 - 27, 1983

1. Tamil militants killed 13 soldiers near Thinevely on July 23.

2. In response, security forces attacked civilians in a number of towns in the Jaffna district. On July 23, the army killed 51 people in Tirunelvely, Katharmadam, and Mathagal. During the evening of July 26, 130 navy personnel went on a rampage in Trincomalee town, burning hundreds of Tamil houses and shops and destroying a number of Hindu temples.

3. In a letter to Amnesty International the Government accepted responsibility for the killings by "members of the armed forces on the rampage.' The Government contended that the militants' attack on the 13 Thineveley soldiers "resulted in the pent up feelings of the soldiers [getting] the better of their sense of discipline., The Government subsequently discharged "with ignominy' 149 army and navy personnel implicated in the 51 Jaffna district killings and Trincomalee burnings.

4. Under the Navy Act arson is punishable by death or any of the lesser sanctions it specifies.The penal code prescribes a maximum 15 year prison term and fines as punishment for arson.Civilian criminal courts have concurrent jurisdiction with navy tribunals to prosecute military personnel. Dismissal with disgrace is the third most severe punishment authorized by the Navy Act. Murder is punishable by death under both the Army Act and penal code.Culpable homicide is subject to a maximum 20 year term of imprisonment under both the Army Act and the penal code. Army tribunals and civilian criminal courts have concurrent jurisdiction over military personnel.

Discharge with ignominy is the fifth most severe punishment authorized by the Army Act and is not a specified punishment for killing civilians.Consequently, the Government failed to sufficiently sanction the soldiers involved in the Jaffna killings under Sri Lankan law.

July 25 & 27, 1983

1. On June 27, 73 Tamils either detained or convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism Act were transferred to the Welikade Prison outside Colombo. Following the July 23 Tamil rebel killings of 13 soldiers in the Jaffna district anti-Tamil sentiments among the Sinhalese were inflamed.

2. On July 25, 300-400 Sinhala prisoners broke into the compound where the Tamils were held and murdered 35 prisoners. The remaining Tamils were transferred to another prison building. However, on July 27, 17 Tamils who survived the first attack were murdered in another attack within the prison.

3. The Government acknowledged this event. However, it absolved the prison guards of responsibility for their failure to contain the 'riot', because the Welikade guards were all unarmed. After conducting a one day inquiry, the magistrate returned a verdict of homicide, but was unable to identify those actually responsible for the murder. Consequently, further investigations were ordered.

In January of 1984, President Jayewardene announced that a Supreme Court Judge would be appointed to conduct an independent judicial inquiry into the prison tragedy. To date, no such appointment has been made.

March 20, 1984

1. On March 20, two air force personnel were shot dead on the Jaffna Peninsula while traveling on a bus. A militant group took credit for these killings.

2. In retaliation, the air force reportedly killed at least 7 civilians and injured 24 others in Jaffna and in Vavuniya, located 90 miles away.

3. Although the Government acknowledges these incidents, it asserts that the victims were 'bystanders caught in the crossfire between militants and the air force. The Government neither conducted an inquiry into these events, nor reprimanded military personnel for the civilian deaths.

4. Murder is punishable by death under the Air Force Act as well as the penal code. Like the penal code, the Air Force Act imposes a 20 year maximum sentence for culpable homicide.In addition, the penal code provides that death caused by negligence carries a 5 year maximum sentence Given the Government's obligation to inquire about and punish acts that violate the criminal law, an investigation of the circumstances surrounding these civilian deaths should have been conducted to determine whether the deaths were avoidable. The Air Force Act provisions for court-martial and punishment of offending personnel do not abrogate civilian criminal court jurisdiction.

March 28, 1984

1. On March 25, a police officer was killed by an unknown gunman on Courts Road, Kayts. Another officer was killed in the Jaffna district. On March 28, air force personnel escaped an armed militant attack

2. Later on March 28, air force officials opened fire in the Chunnakam market place, a town eight miles outside Jaffna. Eight Tamils were killed in the onslaught. Shortly thereafter, air force personnel began shooting at citizens of Mallakan and Telleppallai, killing 1 and injuring 22

3. Air force officials admitted that both of these attacks were unprovoked. President Jayewardene subsequently stripped the responsible air force commander of his command and transferred him to Colombo.

4. It is questionable whether the Government's punishment of the commanding officer alone was sufficient under Sri Lankan law. Since the airmen were implicated in the 'unprovoked' killings, full compliance with the Sri Lankan criminal procedure code seems to require punishment of the air force rank and file involved in the Jaffna district tragedy as well as the superior officer.

April 9 - 12, 1984

1. Tamil militants bombed an army truck in Jaffna on April 9. Between April 10 and 12, militants reportedly attacked a police station in Point Pedro.

2. Army and navy personnel retaliated for the truck attack by opening fire in Jaffna and its surrounding environs. A number of bodies were reportedly burned to thwart identification.

3. The Minister of National Security contended that all of the estimated 32 killed were terrorists. However, the Government Agent for Jaffna estimated that 50 people died between April 9 and 12 and that 'hardly any of those killed by the army were linked with the guerrilla campaign for more Tamil minority autonomy. During this period, emergency regulations, which permitted police to bury casualties without postmortem or inquest were in effect and the identity of those killed was never established.

4. Murder is an offense punishable by death, under the Army and Navy Acts, and the penal code. Culpable homicide under all three acts carries a 20 year maximum sentence. In additon, death caused by negligence is punishable by a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.Because all of these punishable offenses may have been committed during the outbreak of violence in Jaffna, an investigation into the killings should have been conducted.

August 11, 1984

1. Six Sri Lankan soldiers were killed when a powerful remote control bomb destroyed a military vehicle at Illupangadavai, Mannar.

2. The army immediately attacked the town of Mannar and gasoline bombs were thrown at shops and houses. The city's main bazaar was set on fire. Adjoining villages of Adampan and Manthai were also attacked and 9 people were killed.

3. The Minister of National Security denied the reports, but Government sources in Colombo admitted that there had been instances in which some northern security force soldiers had retaliated following the deaths of their peers. The National Minister of Defense said that 3 soldiers were confined to their barracks pending investigation by a Cabinet sub-committee.However, no further measures were taken.

4. The soldiers' confinement to barracks seems to intimate that reasonable suspicion of their guilt in the killings and burnings existed. Consequently, an investigation should have been conducted. Arson is punishable by a 15 year prison term and fines. The penalties for murder, culpable homicide, and criminal negligence have already been discussed.

Incident 2

1. One Sinhalese soldier was killed by a bomb in his office.

2. In retaliation, soldiers killed 6 civilians in a restaurant.

3. The National Security Minister attributed the violence to mutinous members of the army, and pledged that those responsible would be immediately courtmartialed. However the Government has not, at present provided names of those court-martialed.

September 1, 1984

1. Militants bombed a police truck at Thikkam, near Point Pedro. Four policemen were killed.

2. Police responded by shooting 16-18 civilians dead in Point Pedro.Police also burned shops and several Hartley College buildings in retaliation for the attack.

3. The National Security Minister stated that 6 to 10 civilians were killed, and a few shops were burned according to government information. The Government ordered a police investigation and promised that disciplinary action would be taken against those responsible. The Minister, however observed that it was difficult to gather evidence sufficient to support court-martial sanctions. No one was subsequently prosecuted.

September 11, 1984

1. Nine soldiers were killed when a landmine exploded in Mullaitivu, a northern province.

2. A long distance coach was hijacked near Vavuniya, while on its way from Colombo to Jaffna, by groups of armed men in uniform. The coach was driven to a lonely spot on the Mannar Road, where the women and children were chased into the jungle, and the men were shot at as they attempted to flee. Sixteen Tamils were killed and 10 were injured. Tamil sources claimed that the hijackers were security force personnel.

3. A police source said that the army commander had warned the troops to avoid reprisals against civilians for the nine soldiers' deaths. The Government admitted that the attack could have been carried out by ex-soldiers and promised a full investigation. However no further measures were taken.

4. Kidnapping with intent to kill is punishable by a fine and a maximum of 20 years imprisonment.Kidnapping with intent to cause grievous hurt is punishable by a fine and a maximum sentence of 10 years. The penalties for murder, culpable homicide, and criminal negligence have been discussed previously. In this instance, as in several discussed earlier, the Government's failure to conduct an investigation flouts Sri Lankan law.

December 4, 1984

1. An army vehicle exploded when it struck a landmine near Mannar.

2. In retaliation, the army killed 16 people working on a Ootuvayankulum farm in Mannar.The army also attacked two state transport buses between Murungan and Vavuniya, killing 37 people. Four people died when the army attacked the Murungan post office and 12 persons died at army hands in Parapandandal. The deaths of at least 90 persons were attributed to the army before its rampage ended.

3. Neither the National Security Minister nor the President responded to citizens' complaints.The Security Minister denied that the army had gone on a rampage, but admitted that innocent civilians were occasionally caught in the crossfire between security forces and Tamil rebels. However, no investigation of the identity of those killed was conducted.

4. Mutiny is punishable by death or Any of several lesser sanctions specified by the Army Act. Punishment for murder, culpable homicide, and criminal negligence have been discussed in preceding sections. Again, the Government's failure to conduct an investigation and prosecute responsible military personnel conflicts with obligations imposed by Sri Lankan law.

January 5, 1985

1. Tamil militants allegedly attempted to ambush an army patrol near Mannar.

2. Sri Lankan troops killed 8 Tamils outside of a Vankalar Catholic church, near the town of Mannar. The parish priest was also killed as he attempted to open the chapel doors.Thereafter, soldiers broke into the chapel, reportedly killing two boys, ages 12 and 14, who had been living with the priest.

3. The National Security Minister initially denied that, a Catholic priest had been killed, claiming that the church premises had been a terrorist haven and that all those killed were terrorists. Subsequent to protests by the Bishop of Jaffna., the Government ordered a police inquiry into the incident. The Government has not reported punishing army personnel involved.

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