Feature Article

Colombo enacts farcical show in Mirusuvil massacre case

[TamilNet, Saturday, 04 July 2015, 17:21 GMT]
As part of a concerted showdown in its campaign to transform the Geneva-based OISL investigation discourse into a domestic investigation, the Sri Lankan legal system was recently deployed to ‘demonstrate’ its ‘capacity‘ to 'investigate' what would be described by the human rights defenders as a ‘mass atrocity’ crime. The case, in which one non-commissioned officer of the Sri Lankan Army, Staff Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake, was sentenced to capital punishment, was in fact a genocidal crime in which several Sinhala soldiers, including a captain rank officer having command responsibility, took part. The main surviving witness in the case, who narrowly escaped the brutal massacre, had identified in 2001 the culprits, who belonged to the notorious ‘Deep Penetration Unit’, which was trained by Colombo to commit genocidal acts.

Today, the sole survivor, Maheswaran and his family, who have been subjected to severe harassments over a decade, say they are not prepared to come open and confront the verdict as they fear future reprisal from the Sri Lankan military system.

However, those close to the victims remarked that it was a crime carried out by several soldiers together, and the punished soldier was only one among them. Despite having clear evidences on the direct involvement of many Sinhala soldiers, all the others except Sgt Sunil Rathnayake have been protected and even the other four soldiers indicted together with him have been acquitted from the case by the Sri Lankan legal system.

“It was not a matter of a soldier gunning down a group of people and getting help from other soldiers to hide the massacred civilians into a toilet pit,“ commented a Tamil legal source, which was directly involved in the initial investigations conducted in Jaffna.

The eyewitness report has clearly established the nature of the crime and the role of several Sinhala-speaking soldiers.

The Sri Lankan system appears to 'sacrifice' one soldier, not only protecting the other soldiers and the command responsibility behind them. It has also protected an elite hit squad, which comes under the direct command of Colombo's military intelligence, the legal source in Jaffna told TamilNet.

The civilians were murdered while they were visiting to inspect their abandoned houses in Mirusuvil in Thenmaraadchchi division in Jaffna district in December 2000.

Sergeant Sunil Ratnayake
Staff sergeant Sunil Ratnayake was sentenced to death by the Colombo High Court on 25 June 2015. He was part of an elite LRRP squad. The victims, including two teenagers and a 5-year-old child, were tortured and slain on 19 December 2000 at Mirusuvil. The postmortem report established that the throats of the victims were cut with sharp knives and their arms and legs had been chopped off. The massacre was definitely not the work of a soldier who had gone mad, Tamil legal sources who took part in the initial investigations in Jaffna told TamilNet. [Photo courtesy: Wasitha Patabendege, Daily News]

“Finally, after a long process, justice is delivered [...] This also shows that we definitely have the capacity to conduct a credible investigation,” the prosecutor and Additional Solicitor General Sarath Jayamanna told Reuters following the verdict on 25 June. The SL Military Spokesman Jayanath Jayaweera was quick to claim that the verdict showed “local legal mechanisms were working well."

* * *

The Mirusuvil massacre is only one of more than 150 documented massacres by the genocidal military of Colombo during the period of conflict.

In September 2000, the LTTE asked the civilians to leave from SL military controlled Kodikaamam, Mirusuvil, Kachchaay, Manthuvil, Puththoor and Va'rani villages in Thenmaraadchi and to find safety in the Vadamaradchi division of the peninsula.

When normalcy appeared to be returning slowly in December, the families started to visit their houses to clear their properties after they had presented themselves with identity at SL military checkposts.

On 19 December, a group of at least 6 Sinhala soldiers brutally tortured and massacred 8 Eezham Tamils, including three teenagers and a 5-year-old child, when the group of 9 displaced families had gone to look after their properties and collect firewood near their houses at Mirusuvil.

21-year-old Maheswaran Ponnuthurai, the only survivor, who had managed to run away from the Sinhala soldiers while he was being tortured, became the prime witness in the case.

Everyone involved in the initial investigations, except the Judge of the Point-Pedro District Court Premshankar Annalingam and the District Medical Officer Dr. S. Kathiravetpillai, were Sinhalese.

The mass grave where 8 victims had been buried was discovered after initial investigations on 25 December 2000.

16 Sri Lankan soldiers, including two officers, were either arrested or questioned on the orders of District Judge Premashankar in January 2001.

The post-mortem examinations by Dr Kathiravetpillai revealed the extent of the massacre. All the victims were between the ages of 5 and 41, and only two were found with their underwear on. The rest of the bodies were naked. The skin of the 5-year-old child was peeled and his body was pink. Throats of the bodies were cut with sharp knives and the arms and legs were chopped off.

The victims were identified as Vilvarajah Sinniah with his two sons, 16-year-old Pratheepan Vilvarajah and 5-year-old Prasath Vilvarajah, Gnanachandran Kathiran and his son Shanthan Gnanachandran, Theivakulasingham Sellamuthu, Jeyachchandran Nadesu and Ravivarman Gnanapalan, who was a close friend of Maheswaran, the sole survivor.

Maheswaran, who had stated that he could identify all the 6 soldiers involved the massacre, effectively identified 5 Sinhala soldiers including a Lieutenant and two Lance Corporals.

The sixth person who was already absent in the identification parade was allegedly a captain rank officer, who had been protected by the Sinhala military and police, informed legal sources in Jaffna say.

The case was taken over by a three-member bench of the trial-at-bar in Colombo. The inquiry was taken up by the trial-at-bar, comprising of High Court Judges I.M. Imam (Chairman), Sarath Ambepitya and Kumar Ekaratna, on 11 February 2003.

The Attorney General indicted five soldiers of the SLA for massacring eight Tamil civilians.

The SL soldiers were indicted on nineteen counts, including unlawful assembly with common intention to cause injury, murder of eight Tamil civilians and attempted murder on Maheswaran.

Staff Sergeant R.M. Sunil Ratnayake, Second Lieutenant R.W.Senaka Munasinghe, T.M. Jayaratne, S.A.Pushpa Saman Kumara and Gamini Munasinghe were the indicted soldiers.

The Colombo-based Trial-at-Bar inquiry into the case was put off for various reasons in past. In 2007, a Sinhala Judge, Upali Abeyaratne, the chairmen of another bench comprising two other Sinhala judges Deepali Wijesundara and Sunil Rajapakse, proclaimed that there would be no such postponement once the inquiry commences in October 2007. But, again there were postponements for 8 more years till the case was ‘needed’ for the Sri Lankan system in connection with the campaign of ‘domestic’ mechanism opposed to international investigations right ahead of the OISL report scheduled to be published in September.

Apart from the non-commissioned rank officer Sunil Ratnayake, all others including the commissioned rank officers have been systematically protected from the Sri Lankan legal system in the Mirusuvil massacre investigation, Tamil legal sources involved in the initial investigations in Jaffna told TamilNet.

In fact, the ‘Sri Lankan’ investigations not only protected the offices and the remaining members of the military squad, but also concealed a lot of facts about the group of the indicted soldiers and how they were trained by the Sri Lankan military to carry out genocidal massacres to terrorise Eezham Tamils.

The involved squad was a notorious covert operation unit of the Sri Lankan military, known as the ‘Deep Penetration Unit’. The squad is officially named ‘Long Range Reconnaissance Patrol’ (LRRP) and has a long history of committing genocidal acts against Eezham Tamils including the targeted attacks on Tamil humanitarian workers, priests, Tamil politicians and the medical infrastructure of Eezham Tamils. The LRRP soldiers are handpicked and subjected to special training by the military intelligence hierarchy.

Therefore, a thorough investigative study is needed to record how the case has been handled by the Sri Lankan legal system, the legal sources in Jaffna said.

“All the Sinhalese, except the rare exceptions among the Sinhalese, would be protecting the genocidal culprits. The new regime is trying to showcase that there is a Tamil appointed as the head of the SL judicial system and there is a Sinhala soldier punished for a massacre. This is the usual tactic of the Sinhala State,” a legal source involved in the initial proceedings of Mirusuvil case in Jaffna told TamilNet providing the copy of the first registered eyewitness account by the prime witness.

Related Articles:
27.06.07   Court fixes inquiry into Mirusuvil massacre case
17.02.03   Mirusuvil massacre inquiry put off
13.02.03   Sole survivor in Mirusuvil massacre identifies army accused
11.02.03   'Mirusuvil massacre a crime against humanity' -State Counsel
04.01.01   Two more suspects identified in Mirusivil
03.01.01   Witness picks out murder accused
31.12.00   Mirusuvil massacre accused to stand in identification parade
27.12.00   Massacre victims died of stab wounds - Medical Officer
25.12.00   Bodies of missing civilians found

External Links:
Sunday Times: Sri Lankan Soldier Sentenced to Death for murder



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