25 killed in detention centre massacre

Place: Bindunuwewa | Courtesy: TamilNet
| Date: 20001025

Twenty-five Tamil detainees were massacred and sixteen others were seriously wounded Wednesday when hundreds of villagers attacked the Bindunuwewa detention centre, in the Bandarawela district, about 65 km. south of Kandy, police said.

Villagers, numbering more than one thousand, armed with knives, clubs and sticks stormed Bindunuwewa detention centre in the early hours of Wednesday and attacked the inmates. The mobs later set fire to the centre, which houses people arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and held for rehabilitation, police sources said.

The inmates of the center who had gone through a three-month rehabilitation programme had been demanding their release few days ago. On Tuesday they had told the authorities that they would go on a hunger strike if their release was further delayed.

The Rehabilitation Center is maintained by Ministry of Defence and a retired Army Officer operating from Colombo is in charge of the center.

Officials of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) expressed shock and deep concern regarding the situation at this rahabilitation centre to house the detainees of the PTA.

Harsha Gunawardene spokesman for the (ICRC) in Colombo said that in accordance with international humanitarian law, the detaining authorities have the sole responsibility for the safety and security of the detainees under all times and all circumstances.

He said the delegates of the ICRC are now in Bindunuwewa and had visited the 12 wounded detainees admitted at Bandarawela hospital. The ICRC delegates were unable to access the Bindunuwewa detainees rehabilitation camp due to the tense situation prevailing there, he added.

In the meantime, human rights organisations and lawyers have appealed to the authorities to provide special security measures to all detention centers throughout the country to prevent similar incidents.


Several said missing after massacre

[TamilNet, October 26, 2000 00:36 GMT]

(News Feature) Four more Tamil detainees who were seriously wounded in Wednesday's massacre at the Bindunuwewa detention centre have succumbed to their injuries bringing the death toll to twenty-nine, Joseph Pararajasingham, an MP for the Batticaloa district said. Twenty Tamil detainees amongst those held at the detention centre remained unaccounted for Wednesday night, sources said.

Hundreds of Sinhala villagers who stormed the compound had been armed with knives, clubs, axe and sticks, the sources said. The mobs later set fire to the centre, which houses mainly young Tamils arrested on suspicion under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and held for rehabilitation, police sources said. More than 85 detainees - all of them Tamils - were there in the rehabilitation camp at the time of attack.

The Rehabilitation Center is maintained by Ministry of Defence and a retired Army Officer operating from Colombo is in charge of the center, the sources said.

According to the sources, the detainees who had been held for several months had been agitating for their release prior to the attack. On Tuesday they had told the authorities that they would go on a hunger strike if their release was further delayed, the sources said.

Local residents said tension prevailed in the area on Tuesday evening as anti-Tamil posters appeared in the Bandarawela town. They said the attack on the camp was premeditated and alleged several senior security personnel were behind it. The mob was allowed to enter the compound by the guards, without opposition, they said.

In the meantime, Sri Lankan human rights organisations and lawyers have appealed to the authorities to provide special security measures to all detention centers throughout the country to prevent similar incidents.

Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, MP for Batticaloa District said the majority of the detainees at Bindunuwewa centre were youths below 19 years of age, detained on suspicion under the PTA. In a fax sent to the Sri Lanka President, Chandrika Kumaratunge, the MP appealed for an investigation into the attack and urged her to bring the culprits to justice.

The President in a statement Wednesday blamed "external forces" for inciting the attack and said that there had been no disagreements between the detainees and their guards.

State radio however reported that detainees had tried to take control of the facility on Tuesday and that reinforcements from the security forces had been called in to quell the disturbance. Reports said the troops had withdrawn later that night, and the mob had attacked hours a few hours afterwards.

Mr.Pararajasingham said similar prison attacks continue in the island because the Government has failed to take any legal action against those involved in similar prison massacres earlier.

Wednesday's massacre at Bandarawela is the latest in several attacks on Tamil detainees and prisoners in Sri Lankan prisons beginning with the massacre of 53 Tamils at Welikade jail amidst the July 1983 anti-Tamil pogrom.

Sri Lankan human rights groups and lawyers have often urged the government to charge and bring to trial those detained under the PTA or to release them immediately. Large numbers of Tamil men and women have been held for long period without formal charges being brought against them, they say.


Govt. officials involved in massacre -TULF

[TamilNet, October 26, 2000 14:23 GMT]

The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) Thursday alleged that the authorities at the Bindunuwewa detention center were involved in the massacre on Wednesday in which at least 29 Tamil inmates were brutally killed. A statement issued by Mr.R.Sampanthan, Secretary General of the party said "the manner in which the attack has been carried out is clearly suggestive of collaboration between officials at the camp and persons outside the camp who have planned and prepared to carry out the attack."

The text of the statement follows:

"The manner in which the attack has been carried out is clearly suggestive of collaboration between officials at the camp and persons outside the camp who have planned and prepared to carry out the attack.

"Eventually a mob armed with dangerous weapons has carried out the attack. No efforts have been made to resist the attack to provide protection to the detainees. This strongly supports the view that there was collaboration between officials at the camp and the outsiders who planned the attack.

"The security forces arrived at the camp only after the attackers had left. One needs to know why the security forces could not arrive at the camp earlier and repulse the attackers.

"It is a severe indictment on the country's capacity to provide protection to all its citizens, that Tamil detainees held under Government custody for the purpose of rehabilitation should be massacred in this manner.

"The least that can be done is to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into all the circumstances relating to this inhuman attack and to bring the offenders before the law. Sadly our experience is that while condemnation and assurances of impartial investigation are easily forthcoming, the end result is that no tangible action is taken and the offenders carry on with a sense of impunity.

"The TULF severely condemns the brutal attack on Tamil detainees at the rehabilitation camp at Bindunuwewa, Bandarawela in which 25 detainees have been killed and very many others grievously injured. The condition of many of the injured persons is said to be serious.

"The TULF also strongly urges that substantial compensation be paid by Government to the families of those who have been killed, and to those who have been injured while in the Government custody."


Tigers blame government for massacre

[TamilNet, October 26, 2000 22:59 GMT]

The Liberation Tigers Thursday blamed the Sri Lankan government for the massacre Wednesday of dozens of Tamil youths at a detention centre at Bandarawella by rampaging Sinhala villagers. In a statement from their London offices, the Tigers said they had evidence Sri Lankan security forces were "involved in organising, mobilising and instigating," the mob which attacked the centre. Those held at Bandarawella were neither members of the LTTE or child soldiers as the government had reported, but innocent civilians, the Tigers said. "The government of Sri Lanka should bear total responsibility for the serious consequences that might arise from continuing such genocidal assaults on innocent Tamil detainees," the statement said.

Following is the full text of the press release:

"The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) accuses the government of Chandrika Kumaratunga of being responsible for the gruesome killing of 30 innocent Tamil political prisoners and seriously injuring 50 others at a detention centre in Bandarawella, Southern Sri Lanka.

"We have evidence to believe that Sri Lankan security personnel - the army, police and prison officials - were involved in organising, mobilising and instigating gangs of Sinhala thugs to commit this heinous crime. Sinhalese prison officials of the area facilitated riotous Sinhala mobs numbering more than two thousand persons to storm into the detention centre and brutally slaughter the Tamil youths with knives, swords, axes and iron bars.

"The victims of this savagery are not members of the LTTE nor are they surrendered 'child soldiers'. They are innocent Tamil youth arrested on suspicion and detained without trial under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act. These young detainees have been protesting against their unjust arrest and demanding release.

"It is a well documented truth that Sri Lankan State authorities are responsible for several incidents of massacre and extra-judicial killings of Tamil prisoners in well guarded prisons. The savage massacre of 53 Tamil political prisoners at the Welikade prison during July 1983 riots was an internationally known incident. The mass murders of defenceless Tamil prisoners have become a regular manifestation of a devious genocidal policy advanced by the Sinhala state against the Tamil people. The government of Sri Lanka should bear total responsibility for the serious consequences that might arise from continuing such genocidal assaults on innocent Tamil detainees.

"We call upon the international human rights organisations to condemn such barbarous killings in strong terms and use their good offices to pressurise the government of Kumaratunga to release immediately thousands of innocent Tamil youths lingering, without trial, in various detention centres and prisons in the Sinhala south."


Amnesty calls for "full investigation"

[TamilNet, October 27, 2000 19:57 GMT]

Wednesday's gruesome killing of at least 26 Tamil young men and boys aged between 14 and 23 who were detained for "rehabilitation" near Bandarawela, Sri Lanka, should be investigated fully, Amnesty International said Friday in an open letter to the President, Chandrika Kumaratunga.

"Police and army personnel deployed at the rehabilitation camp failed to protect the inmates from villagers armed with machetes and clubs," Amnesty said. "There are further allegations that some of them may have been involved in inciting the villagers or may have assisted them in entering the camp."

The organization welcomed the President's condemnation of the attack. "However a full impartial investigation is needed to ensure that those found responsible are brought to justice and that compensation is paid to the victims and the relatives of those killed," Amnesty said.

It also urged for a thorough review of provisions in the Emergency Regulations and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, which according to the London based human rights group, "allow for prolonged detention and were key contributing factors in this latest incident."


Barbarism at Bandarawela - Inside story of the massacre

[ Sunday Leader ] [ 12:20 GMT, Oct. 29, 2000 ] By: D. B. S. Jeyaraj

This incident will no doubt be a huge black mark on this country's human rights record. If the killing of prisoners held in Colombo prisons during the 1983 riots brought the reputation of this country to the lowest depths, these killings will revive those memories."

- The Daily Island editorial of October 26, 2000.

Bindunuwewa is an idyllic village less than three miles away from Bandarawela town on the Badulla road. The horrendous massacre of unarmed Tamil prisoners that took place there in the morning of Wednesday, October 25, has now led to Bindunuwewa, Bandarawela being coupled with a barbaric deed that has sullied the human rights record of Sri Lanka in an almost indelible manner.

A frenzied Sinhala mob numbering thousands presumably with the connivance of certain officials besieged a correctional facility in the area and brutally attacked the Tamil inmates killing at least 29 and injuring several others. In one evil stroke, the showpiece of Sri Lanka's efforts at rehabilitating young Tamils allegedly involved with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), was transformed into a prime exhibit of xenophobic bestiality.

Abandoned 'helpers'

The Bindunuwewa project in Bandarawela received a fillip when a large number of youngsters allegedly surrendered to the armed forces after an operation in the Wanni. The LTTE had apparently withdrawn suddenly leaving these 'helpers' in an abandoned state. Most of them were very young and in their teens. Even as these youngsters were being rehabilitated there was a trickle of similar age group from other areas too.

All of them were young and also not fully fledged LTTE cadres. Some had allegedly surrounded and others captured. The government also derived much publicity mileage out of these youngsters through media exposure until censured by human rights organisations that according to International Humanitarian Law - "Prisoners must at all times be protected against acts of public curiosity."

The LTTE however has never accepted the assertion by Colombo that these youngsters were LTTE cadres. In fact even a statement issued by the LTTE after the Bandarawela incident states that "the victims of this savagery are not LTTE members nor are they surrendered 'child soldiers.' They are innocent Tamil youth arrested on suspicion and detained without trial under the notorious Prevention of Terrorism act. These young detainees have been protesting against their unjust arrest and demanding release."

A correctional facility

The Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Centre was in principle run by a management comprising representatives of the Presidential Secretariat, Child Protection Authority, Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Rehabilitation and Reconstruction, National Youth Services Council and the Don Bosco Technical Centre. In practice the detention camp's commandant was Captain Ajith Abeyratne of the Army. A police unit under a sergeant and twelve home guards recruited from the neighbourhood were in charge of security. There was a civilian staff of 24, mainly from the NYSC. The youths were technically detained under the Prevention of Terrorism act but were in reality not prisoners held under stringent security.

Bindunuwewa was a rehabilitation and welfare centre and not a maximum security camp. It was a correctional facility that allowed inmates a great degree of freedom. This concession had not been abused. Thus the security arrangements were minimal.

The ages of the inmates ranged from 14 - 23. They were being taught technical skills, ethics, and also Sinhala. They were encouraged to meditate and also afforded psychological counselling. The fluency acquired in Sinhala enabled many inmates to strike up conversations with members of the Sinhala community in the neighbourhood. Since some freedom of movement was allowed , there was interaction between the detenues and the villagers. This happy state of affairs had prevailed until a few months ago. The serpent that entered Eden in this case was in the form of Sinhala chauvinistic ideology propounded by neo-fascist outfits during the election campaign.

A Tiger den

These Sinhala chauvinistic elements had a pet target when doing propaganda in the Bandarawela area. They pinpointed the Bindunuwewa centre as a Tiger den in Sinhala heartland. The PA and UNP that wanted to hand over the North and East to Prabakharan wanted to add Bandarawela to these merchants of hate stated. Unless and Until the kotis at Bindunuwewa were destoyed the whole of Uva in general and the Bandarawela area in particular was not safe. The Sinhala people must be vigilant and drive these Tigers out or the whole centre had to be dismantled and detenues transported elsewhere it was propagated.

The general election results saw the Sinhala chauvinist elements being trounced but nevertheless the venomous hate spewed by them did make an impact in Bindunuwewa and surrounding areas. The correctional facility was viewed with hate and mistrust. Also some Sinhala chauvinist organisations recruited more members from the Bindunuwewa village. The Sinhala ideology began to take root. An emerging groundswell of opinion began to agitate for the Bindunuwewa centre to be relocated from their area. The authorities were unmindful of these rumblings.

Meanwhile the centre too was being subject to new dangers from within. A few of the home guards hailing from Bindunuwewa were now converts to the Sinhala chauvinist cause. They began taunting and irritating the Tamil detenues. They began to threaten and intimidate them and wanted them to leave or be destroyed. Complaints made to the civilian authorities or camp commandant were not taken serious note of. The Tamil inmates were for the first time beginning to feel insecure. These feelings were being exacerbated by a yearning for freedom also.

The want of 'freedom'

For some unknown reason the authorities at the centre had promised the detenues at one time that they would all be allowed to go home after three months. When the date lapsed they were assured that they would get their 'freedom' after the elections. So the cry for freedom began after elections were over. The inmates also had a leader now and were better organised.

Anthony Johnson of Kalladdy, Batticaloa had come there recently. He was in his twenties and politically conscious. Under his leadership the inmates began agitating for their release. In the meantime tensions created by the 'hawkish' home guards were adding to the woes of the detenues. The communication gap between the detenues and the management along with the inability of the latter in comprehending the deteriorating environment was a recipe for disaster.

On Monday, October 23, the Tamil detenues began a protest fast. Their demand was "Viduthalai Sei Allathu Visaaranai Sei" (release us or commence an inquiry). In spite of entreaties by the management and threats by the home guards the fast continued. On Tuesday 24, Police personnel from Bandarawela were called in. The home guards and some policemen tried to force feed the detenues. This resulted in clashes.

The battle begins

At one point the detenues grabbed a warden and held him temporarily as a hostage after barricading themselves in their sleeping quarters to protect themselves from the policemen and home guards. Thereafter soldiers from the Diyatalawa cantonment were called in. The army was able to persuade the young detenues into giving up their protest without resorting to force. The army also gave first aid treatment to seven detenues injured in the fracas.

Even as the protest entered the second day posters and pamphlets were being circulated in Bindunuwewa and surrounding areas. These threatened the inmates with dire consequences. One poster warned that Bandarawela would not be handed over to the Tigers and that the 'Tamil dogs' in Bandarawela would be killed and their flesh fed to dogs. Some of these were visible in the premises of the centre too.

On Tuesday night after the army had left for Diyatalawa one home guard brought one of these leaflets to the Tamil detenues and began uttering obscenities and threats waving it. Some youths got angry and assaulted him. Breaking free, he ran off promising revenge.

A mob attack

The Tamil inmates were all sleep when a mob surrounded the centre at about 5. 30 a.m. on Wednesday, October 25. Aided and abetted by some home guards and policemen the mob numbering nearly two thousand started attacking the inmates with clubs, swords, axes, knifes, rods and even stones. Some of the attackers were women. It is said that some of the mob had been transported from elsewhere in vehicles while the bulk were from Bindunu- wewa and two adjacent villages.

Some youths tried to escape by running away. The mob shouting "duvapalla Demalu duvapalla" captured them effortlessly. A few were shot by the home guards. According to some Uva based Tamil politicians and journalists who spoke to some of the survivors the unarmed youths were absolutely at the mercy of the mob.

What followed thereafter was a horrible replay of 1983 July where an armed majority unleashed its fury on an unarmed, defenceless minority. Brutally cruel acts were perpetrated. Ears were cut off, mouths slashed, fingers crushed. In some instances the Tamil youths were stripped and subjected to torturous acts. The centre building too was set ablaze and in some instances the half dead youths were tossed in bodily into the raging inferno. The security personnel attached to the centre remained inactive.

Then came additional policemen from Bandarawela who also did not attempt to stop the mayhem. Finally came the army from Diyatalawa. The soldiers also did not fire on the mob but stopped the carnage by firing shots in the air.

Attending to the 'kotis'

The army then tried to transport the dead and injured persons away from the scene. Again some of the 'veerayas' wanted the 'hamudawa' to allow them to finish the job. But the soldiers said, "You should have done it before we got here," and proceeded with their duty while the mob dispersed with its fury dissipated and the centre burnt down.

There were further problems when the medical staff at Bandarawela hospital refused to attend to the 'kotis.' Later on minimal attention was provided. Some were taken to the Badulla and Diyatalawa hospitals. Seven seriously injured were taken to Colombo. It is said that medical attention in Uva was expedited only after Chief Minister Weerawanni intervened and ordered the health service to discharge their duties or face the consequences. Weerawanni along with Provincial Councillor Velauthan and former MP T. V. Sennan visited the hospitals personally.

Journalists trying to gather news about the massacre were subjected to exercises in obfuscation by police personnel. Initially a completely distorted picture of the events were provided. It was portrayed as an escape attempt, a riot etc. whereas the sordid episode was in essence a barbaric massacre. Details about the number of persons affected are also confusing.

One version puts the number of detenues at 84 with 27 dead, 31 injured and 16 missing. Another count says 40 with 26 killed and 14 injured. A third puts it at 55 with 29 killed and 26 injured. By Friday 27th morning only 13 dead persons and 23 injured persons had been identified.

Since some of those injured were in a critical condition it is feared that some more would succumb in the next few days. Bodies are lying in Bandarawela, Badulla, Diyatalawa and Colombo hospitals. Relatives of the inmates have not been informed fully of the situation yet. It is also announced that a mass burial would be held with or without family members attending. What is required of the government now is a clear statement stating the true situation and casualty figures.

Subsequent events demonstrated that the perpetrators of this montrosity were neither repentant nor cowed. When a Non-Governmental Organisation delegation tried to visit the scene they were stopped in their tracks by some villagers who told them "we have cleansed the area of Tigers and protected our homeland. Go away and don't report anything that would discredit our Sinhala Buddhist country." When the police took in a few hundreds of people for questioning crowds numbering thousands converged in a hostile manner outside the police stations resulting in the suspension of interrogation.

This made TULF MP for Batticaloa observe to a radio station overseas that double standards were being adopted for the Sinhala and Tamil people by law enforcement authorities both for affording protection as well as enforcing the law.

A full inquiry

President Kumaratunga has announced a full inquiry into the matter. She has after a cabinet meeting suspended all the security staff attached to the centre. What is expected in this matter at this stage is two fold. Firstly adequate compensation to be paid to the injured and the next of kin of those killed.

Secondly prompt and stern action in apprehending and punishing those responsible particularly those who masterminded the massacre. If necessary provisions of the PTA as well and emergency regulations should be utilised. By doing so the government may be able to rectify the situation partially at least.

A communal conflagration

The 1983 July prison massacres in Colombo where 32 detenues were killed, on July 25th and 19 on 27th was perceived to be an aberration possible only under the inhumane JRJ regime. But after Kumara- tunga became president and the enlightened professor Peiris became Justice Minister attacks

on Tamil detenues have occurred regularly in Welikada, Magazine, Kalutara and Boossa prisons. Most of them were due to the conduct of prison staffers.

Various inquiries were undertaken but not one person has been penalised. The same pattern is now visible with the added worry of a 1983 type situation happening again. Unless the Kumaratunga government gets its act together a communal conflagration is very much on the cards.

In the final analysis the government must take responsibility for the barbaric massacre at Bandarawela. A statement issued by the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF), sums up the situation aptly - "The TULF severely condemns the brutal attack on Tamil detainees at the rehabilitation camp at Bindunuwewa, Bandarawela in which 25 detainees have been killed and many others grievously injured. The condition of many of the injured persons is set to be serious. The manner in which the attack has been carried out is clearly suggestive of collaboration between officials at the camp and persons outside the camp who have planned and prepared to carry out the attack.

"Eventually a mob armed with dangerous weapon has carried out the attack. No efforts have been made to resist the attack, and to provide protection to the detainees. This strongly supports the view that there was collaboration between officials at the camp and the outsiders who planned the attack. The security forces arrived at the camp only after the attackers had left.

Offenders still at large

"One needs to know why the security forces could not arrive at the camp earlier and repulse the attackers. It is a severe indictment on the country's capacity to provide protection to all her citizens, that Tamil detainees held under government custody for the purpose of rehabilitation should be massacred in this manner. The least that can be done is to conduct a thorough the impartial investigation into all the circumstances relating to this inhuman attack and to bring the offenders before the law.

"Sadly our experience is that while condemnation and assurances of impartial investigation are easily forthcoming, the end result is that no tangible action is taken and the offenders carry on with a sense of impunity.

"The TULF also strongly urges that substantial compensation be paid by government to the families of those who have been killed and to those who have been injured while in government custody."

Rehabilitating LTTE youth

The Sri Lankan Foreign ministry has published a colourful booklet titled Impact of Armed Conflict on Children: The Sri Lankan case. This booklet was distributed in large numbers to delegates attending "The International Conference on war affected children at Winnipeg, Canada from September 10 - 17, this year. An excerpt from it states: "The government of Sri Lanka has paid considerable attention to the aspect of rehabilitating and meeting the needs of LTTE child soldiers/youths who surrender. This process which has been in operation since 1996 was initially supervised under a special Presidential Committee on 'Safety and Welfare of LTTE Child Soldiers' which was part of the Presidential Task Force on Human Disaster Management. Two rehabilitation centres had been set up for this purpose. One for male children in Bindunuwewa, Bandarawela and another for female children, named 'Methsevana' in Gangodawila, Boralasgamuwa."

The booklet also says that "In order to carry out a more comprehensive rehabilitation programme, with the aim of reintegrating these children into society, a multi-sectional steering committee chaired by Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar was constituted by President Chandrika Kumara- tunga in November 1999." It further notes that a Four pronged action plan was drawn up to rehabilitate child surrendees, encourage other youngsters to surrender through assurances of proper rehabilitation and care, build an international coalition against the recruitment of children by the LTTE and prevent recruitment of children and youth by the LTTE.

Stepping stone to society

According to the booklet an appeal for international assistance in this regard by Kadirgamar to the diplomatic corps and UN representatives in Sri Lanka had been well received and assistance had begun coming in. As a result facilities at the Bindunuwewa centre had been improved and a special project had been undertaken at the Don Bosco Technical Centre in Negombo to enhance its capacity so as to absorb and provide technical skills to those coming from these rehabilitation centres as a 'stepping stone to their reintegration into society.'

It is quite evident therefore that the rehabilitation centre at Bindunuwewa was an important aspect in the government's military effort against the LTTE. It was a project that received maximum attention and support of President Kumaratunga and Foreign Minister Kadirgamar. It seems however that despite the laudable intentions professed by the government they were designed more for international consumption and propaganda rather than actual positive results on ground.

Cruel jokes

In the light of what happened at Bindunuwewa the lofty sentiments expressed like 'Safety and welfare of child soldiers,' 'rehabilitation,' 'reintegration into society' etc. seem cruel jokes. Nevertheless a government that held up the Bindunuwewa project for propaganda purposes has to bear full responsibility for the tragic massacre too.

Moreover its inability to protect youngsters being rehabilitated at a correctional facility is a terrible moral and legal indictment. Furthermore the recurrence of such incidents where Tamil detenues are killed in custody raises serious doubts about the efficiency as well as legitimacy of the 'Sinhala' dominated state to maintain law and order for all of its citizens regardless of ethnicity. More importantly it has raised the spectre of July 1983 again.

Courtesy : Sunday Leader


International participation urged in massacre investigation

[TamilNet, October 29, 2000 19:05 GMT]

The Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) has appealed to the President of Sri Lanka to hold an impartial criminal investigative process inclusive of neutral international investigators into the crimes committed at Binudunuwewa rehabilitation centre, Bandarawela. The Secretary General of the TULF, Mr.R.Sampanthan in a letter to the President has requested her to ensure protection to the surviving detainees who would be prime witnesses to the investigation.

The full text of the letter is given below:

"The massacre of the Tamil detainees at the Bandarawela-Binudunuwewe rehabilitation centre has aroused the utmost outrage and concern amongst all right thinking people both domestically and internationally.

"The Tamil people in particular, are gravely concerned that the massacre of Tamils in custody is becoming a not too infrequent phenomenon. What has happened at Binudunuwewa, Bandarawela, is seen as a repetition of what happened at Welikade and Kalutara, of which the Tamil people have very unpleasant memories.

"In those instances, the offended were not subjected to the Rule of Law, as no credible criminal investigative process was set in motion. Any step taken was to enable a cover-up; not to ascertain the truth.

"The question is whether there will be a credible criminal investigative process in regard to what has happened at Bindunuwewa, Bandarawela, or whether there will be another cover-up. Yet another cover-up will only convince the Tamil people that when they are the victims, the Rule of Law in this country suffers paralysis.

"I am aware that you have expeditiously taken certain steps; but unless every step in the criminal investigative process is scrupulously monitored, there can be no guarantee, that there will be no cover-up. It is for this reason that I am writing to you and wish to state the following:-

"The detainees at Bindunuwewa were mostly surrenders being rehabilitated in government custody, and even if consequent to some discontent, they had staged certain protests, their conduct was not such as to justify the use of physical force against them, certainly not with dangerous weapons capable of inflicting death.

"The attempt to attribute the whole blame to a 'mob' is an attempt to avoid accountability. Normal civilians could not have been involved in an attack of this nature. I am inclined to the view that a 'mob' had been organised and got ready for the job. The 'mob' was thereafter given free entry into the Camp and a free hand by the personnel responsible for the custody/security of the detainees, to do what they wanted or had been asked to do. The detainees were not protected; the attackers were not repulsed. The attack ended only when the attackers on their own decided to leave. Additional security forces arrived only after the attackers had left. Many a question needs to be answered.

"The whole sordid episode reeks of a criminal conspiracy between personnel responsible for the custody/security of the detainees inside the camp and collaborators outside.

"In the interests of justice, this conspiracy needs to be revealed and the offenders, those who committed the crimes, those who conspired to commit the crimes, and those who aided and abetted the commission of the crimes, should be subjected to the law.

"The investigations should be entrusted to a team of investigators reputed for their impartiality integrity and ability.

"We earnestly and strongly request that Your Excellency's Government also engage at the earliest, a neutral international investigator or a team of investigators to assist and monitor the investigations. This would be the only way to ensure the impartiality of the investigations. This we strongly urge would be the only way to satisfy all right thinking people in the country, and the International Community that the government is genuinely committed to ascertaining the truth and bringing the offenders to book. The Tamil people themselves would then have no reason to question the credibility of the investigative process.

"The surviving detainees who would the prime witnesses should be given safe protection. The Government should ensure this.

"The Rule of Law should be upheld, particularly when grave crimes have been committed against defenceless persons held in Government custody and we submit that your government should take credible steps to full-fill this objective.

"I would also urge Your Excellency to take appropriate action to compensate adequately the families of the detainees who have been killed and also those who have injured."