Human rights violations in Sri Lanka

Human Rights Classes for the Sri Lankan Army

Thanjai Nalankilli

TAMIL TRIBUNE, January 1998 (ID. 1998-01-01)
Minor Update: September 1998
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OUTLINE

1. Introduction

2. Rape-Murder of a Tamil Mother

3. Rape-Murder of another Tamil Mother

4. Massacre of Tamil Civilians

5. Crimes and Punishment
    5.1 The case of Koneswary Murugesapillai rape-murder
    5.2 The case of Thanganayaki rape-murder
    5.3 The case of Kumarapuram massacre

6. What is needed?

1. Introduction

Sri Lankan President Mrs. Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga is a public relations wizard. On the one hand, she is carrying out a brutal, no-holds-barred military campaign with no concern for Tamil civilian casualties; also, brutal crimes of rape, torture and murder of Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan army and police personnel abound in Tamil areas controlled by her army. At the same time, she has convinced foreign governments that civilian casualties and human rights abuses are at a minimum, through a public relations blitz by herself, her foreign minister and ambassadors. Simultaneously she restricts foreign reporters, international relief agencies and human rights groups from entering army controlled Tamil areas thus hiding from foreign governments the true extent of civilian casualties and human rights violations. (We challenge President Chandrika Kumaratunga to give a group of foreign reporters unrestricted access to army controlled Tamil areas, including photographing anything they wish (except military installations) and talking with anyone they wish without a soldier or police constable present. Let these foreign reporters tell the foreign governments the truth about what is happening in these areas.)

President Chandrika Kumaratunga's most recent publicity stunt is arranging human rights classes for the army. Forty Srilankan army officers attended a six-day human rights course at army headquarters. These officers are expected to go to various army bases and lecture on human rights to other officers and soldiers. This is nothing but a public relations gimmick put on by President Kumaratunga to show the world that her government cares about human rights. As you read this article, you yourself will come to the conclusion that these human rights classes will not make any dent on the brutal crimes committed by the army and police against Tamil civilians. What is needed is not human rights classes but something else, as we will explain later in this article.

Let us examine a few "human rights violations" by the Sri Lankan army and police during President Chandrika Kumaratunga's rule and see if human rights classes would prevent their recurrence in the future.

2. Rape-Murder of a Tamil Mother

On May 17, 1997, Mrs. Koneswary Murugesapillai, a 35-year old mother of four children, was gang raped by five Sri Lankan policemen in the Batticaloa-Amparai border area. After the rape, the five policemen inserted a grenade into this helpless woman's vagina and exploded it, thus murdering her so brutally.

Is a human rights class necessary to teach anyone that it is wrong to rape a woman and then murder her by inserting and exploding a grenade inside her vagina? Will President Kumaratunga's human rights classes stop such rapes and murders in the future? No! What is needed is something else. We will elaborate on it later.

3. Rape-Murder of another Tamil Mother

In the same area where the 35-year old Koneswary Murugesapillai was raped and murdered, another Tamil mother, 49-year old Thanganayaki, was gang raped by policemen in October 1997. Then the policemen butchered her vagina and she died horribly.

Again, is a human rights class necessary to know that what they did was a crime of the worst kind? President Kumaratunga's human rights classes are not going to put an end to these crimes against helpless Tamil civilians. What is needed is not human rights classes but something else. We will discuss it later.

4. Massacre of Tamil Civilians

On February 11, 1996, Sri Lankan soldiers entered the village of Kumarapuram around 6:00 PM and murdered 24 Tamil civilians in cold blood. This is not civilian casualties in cross fire but a deliberate, premeditated murder. A teenage girl was first raped and then murdered. One murder victim was a pregnant woman. Those murdered include children; the youngest victim was just 3 years old.

Is a human rights class necessary to teach these soldiers that it is wrong to murder a 3-year old child? Will President Kumaratunga's human rights classes put an end to such massacres? No, absolutely not. What is needed is something else, as we will discuss soon.

5. Crimes and Punishment

Human rights classes for the army are nothing but a publicity gimmick by the Sri Lankan President. As we discussed in the preceding paragraphs, perpetrators of these violent crimes against Tamil civilians know that what they did were wrong; no human rights class is necessary for that.

These policemen and soldiers would not rape a Sinhalese woman because they know that they would be sentenced to a long prison sentence. These policemen and soldiers would not murder a Sinhalese child or adult because they know that they would be put to death. They also know very well that they can rape Tamil women with impunity. There will be no punishment. They also know that they can murder the Tamil woman after the rape with impunity. There will be no punishment. They know that they can go to a Tamil village and murder the villagers - young and old, men and women, girls and boys - with impunity. There will be no punishment. That is the reason why the rapes, murders and massacres are taking place regularly.

The way to end the brutal crimes committed by Sri Lankan soldiers and police against Tamil civilians is to try the alleged rapists and murderers in an impartial court of law expeditiously and sentence those found guilty to punishments that fit the crimes.

We listed just three incidences of crime against Tamil civilians in this article. These are by no means isolated cases. Records kept by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International show that hundreds of Tamil girls and women have been raped by Sri Lankan soldiers and police, and dozens murdered after the rape. Many rapes go unreported for fear of retaliation. We will mention a little later what happened to the mother and neighbor of a teenage high school student who was gang raped, when they went to the army camp to inquire about her. There were dozens of massacres, each massacre claiming dozens of Tamil civilians. There are many hundreds of disappearances of Tamils detained by police and army; it is no secret that those disappeared in police and army custody are in fact murdered by the police and army. All these happened during President Kumaratunga's rule and all are documented by unbiased human rights organizations in spite of severe restriction on their access to army controlled Tamil areas. (If President Chandrika Kumaratunga were to remove the restrictions, many more cases would be documented.)

Let us now examine what happened to the perpetrators of the three brutal crimes we listed in the first half of this article.

5.1 The case of Koneswary Murugesapillai rape-murder

After much footwork by the local Tamil Member of Parliament, a case was filed against the five policemen who allegedly raped and murdered Koneswary Murugesapillai. When the case came to trial, a key witness - the Assistant Superintendent of Police - did not come to court because he was too busy. (What is more important to this senior police officer than to see that justice is done in a sadistic rape-murder case involving five of his policemen?) In the meantime the Tamil Member of Parliament was threatened not to take any more interest in the case. Family members of the murdered woman were also threatened.

Key witnesses or other important government officials not coming to court and thus allowing the case to slowly fade out is by no means unique to this case. In 1995, some Special Task Force (STF) commandos picked up several Tamil youths in Colombo (with no charges or arrest warrant), took them to their headquarters, tortured them and murdered them. Then the commandos threw their bodies into lakes and rivers. Some of the bodies washed ashore. Following repeated appeals to the president by international human rights groups, charges were filed against several STF commandos. When the case came to trial, the government prosecutor would not show up. The judge took the case off the court roll after the prosecutor's absence on several trial dates. No one was punished. The accused commandos still work for the Special Task Force.

5.2 The case of Thanganayaki rape-murder

No one has been charged for the rape and sadistic murder of this 49-year old Tamil woman.

5.3 The case of Kumarapuram massacre

First the army said that its soldiers were not responsible for the massacre of the 24 Tamil civilians. It claimed that an unidentified group wearing army type uniforms carried out the massacre. Then, confronted with solid evidence, the army said that some soldiers did, in fact, commit the murders. Survivors of the massacre said that they could identify the soldiers who carried out the massacre. Soon a number of soldiers from the nearby army camp were transferred to another camp. An internal army commission was constituted to investigate the massacre. Not a single soldier was punished for this massacre of 24 civilians including a three-year old child, six others below age 12 and a pregnant woman.

6. What is needed?

What is needed is not human rights classes but an impartial court trial followed by swift, sure and severe punishment to those found guilty. In spite of President Kumaratunga's oft-repeated respect for human rights, not a single soldier or policeman has been punished for rape or murder of Tamils during her rule to date. We know that some soldiers were sentenced to imprisonment for refusing to fight but not a single soldier was punished for rape or murder in spite of many hundreds of rapes and murders and dozens of massacres. It shows where President Kumaratunga's priorities are. Fighting the Tamil fighters, namely the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and thus subduing the Tamils once and for ever is of paramount importance to her (thus the imprisonment of soldiers refusing to fight) but if the soldiers and police were to rape and murder Tamil civilians, that's alright with her as long as they fight the LTTE. This priority is clearly evident in an editorial of a mainline Sri Lankan newspaper that supports President Kumaratunga's war efforts. A teenage high school girl in Jaffna was taken to an army camp, gang raped by soldiers and murdered there in 1966. His mother and a neighbor who went to the army camp to inquire about her were also murdered and buried there. After repeated appeals by a number of international human rights groups and after a Tamil magazine published the gruesome details of this crime, a case was filed against the soldiers. The Ceylon Daily News wrote the following editorial:

"There should be no cause for bitterness and anger against the security forces... That would swiftly undermine the on-going "hearts and minds'' battle." - Ceylon Daily News Editorial (November 6, 1996)

President Kumaratunga must be thinking the same way. How else can we explain why very few cases are filed in spite of the large numbers of murders and rapes? How else can we explain why key government officials (senior police officers, prosecutors) sabotage even those few cases by not cooperating with the court? How else can we explain why not even a single soldier or policeman is punished in spite of so many rapes, murders and massacres?

The blood of the murdered Tamil civilians cries out from heaven for justice! But there is no justice for Tamils in Sri Lanka!

AN UPDATE (added in September 1998): After this article was originally published, in mid 1998, one case involving the particularly brutal rape-murder of a school girl and the murder of her mother and neighbor that received international attention and outcry was tried and four soldiers and one police constable were sentenced to death. They are still in prison. This the one and only conviction to our knowledge in spite of thousands of murders and hundreds of rapes.)

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