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Chapter XI

EVIDENCE OF SPECIAL WTTNESSES AND NON – GOVERNMENTAL ORGANIZATIONS ACTIVE IN THE NORTH

POLITICAL Parties representing the people in the North[i], Non-Governmental Organisations active there, and persons active in the field of Human Rights in the relevant period, were summoned as Special Witnesses to place before the Commission any evidence they wished the Commission to take note of on the matters pertaining to the Mandate.

One of the matters that came to light Disappearances were widely prevalent in Jaffna from the early Seventies. Many reasons were adduced for such incidents.  Some were, to punish persons who opposed those in authority or those who expressed adverse opinions on their conduct. After abduction the corpses of the abducted persons were often exhibited in public to deter persons of opposing groups expressing opinions unfavourable to the group concerned, LTTE or such other group. Persons who were suspected information to state agencies allegedly have been abducted and killed.

Every time power changed hands on Jaffna, those who were associated with or sympathizers of the previous regime became in their turn, the victims of murder or disappearance. This phenomenon commenced with the murder of Mr. A. Duraiyappa soon after the International Tamil Conference in 1974. Almost ten years later, in 1983 there had been an influx of Tamils from the South following the riots of 1983. The hands of the Militants were strengthened and disappearances took place both at hands of the state and militant groups during the fight against the insurgents. In 1987 the Indian Peace Keeping Force was placed in control of Jaffna. They were there till 1990. Even during this period there had been reports of disappearances either of persons taken into custody by the IPKF or abducted by unknown persons. Only the EPRLF was allowed to function along with the IPKF. During that period other armed forces and the police ceased operations in Jaffna.

“After the IPKF left Jaffna in February 1990, until May 1995 the LTTE was in control of the Jaffna District.  The LTTE is alleged to have continued the practice of abduction of persons, torture, and often killings.  Soon after the 2nd Eelam war started on 13th June 1990 all other Militant Groups were totally eliminated and the entire Peninsula was controlled by the LTTE.  The LTTE conducted house-to-house searches and took people away as they liked.  They were abducting people, there were a lot of disappearances, and they had their Torture Camps and Detention Camps.”

“Anyone connected to other Militant Group, persons having any connections with the IPKF – even those who offered a cake to an IPKF Officer living next door, and persons who were former police, Army, Navy or Air Force Officers of the Sri Lanka.  A catechist of the Catholic Church a member of “Pax Christi” and having no political affiliations but doing counseling for the people, was taken by the LTTE and has disappeared.  A woman undergraduate who was a poet and dramatist, who protested at their cult of death and murder was taken by the LTTE and disappeared.  A teacher of Tamil Languages with a leftist background, who argued against these acts of the LTTE in violation of human rights, was taken by the LTTE and disappeared.  These are examples.  A lot of similar abductions and disappearances were taking place during the time.”

“People were not allowed to question them, (the LTTE) even the person arrested was not tried in a public court.  The whole investigation went on inside their detention camp, nobody knew what had taken place there.  Their intelligence chief, one Pottu Amman gave judgements as to how many years of detention and who should be executed.  From time to time they would bring prisoners in lots of 5 to 10 to a junction, to be killed in pubic.”

This was the situation prevailing in Jaffna from 1990 to 1995 till the Sri Lanka Army entered the Jaffna Peninsula.

“There were no Human Rights Groups working opening then – they were not allowed except to do relief work.  The only group to document all these to some extent was some ex-University Teachers from the Jaffna Campus, who had been recording human right violations prior to June 1990.  The LTTE searched for them when they continued to report the human rights violations in Jaffna during the period under LTTE too, and they had to go underground.  They have recorded things to some extent and this is the only documentary proof available.”

The tragic irony is the total erasure from the official records of human rights violations by the entity in power; a mirror image reflected in the Jaffna Peninsula of the situation during this period in the South.  So much to that a young and intelligent undergraduate of the Jaffna University could say evidence before the Commission, in all innocence, “No disappearances took place under the LTTE.”

It was also stated that, as in the South, the climate of impunity that prevailed was availed of by some to get rid of personal rivals.

The political parties, NGO’s and special witnesses stated that no disappearances occurred in the period soon after the Army took over Jaffna in late 1995.

However a sudden spate of disappearance occurred in July 1996 after the killing of General Hammangoda with the attempted assassination of Hon. Nimal Siripala De Silva, who was then the Minister of Housing and Construction.  This also coincided with the debacle of the Sri Lankan Forces in Mullaitivu that year.

During the entire period under consideration a large number of NGO’s and other persons helped the people in distress in Jaffna, and they were summoned to give evidence before this Commission.[ii]  Except for one or two organizations, all the others had to stop their activities when the people of Jaffna were forced to leave their homes before the Riviresa operations in 1995.  One organization that continued to remain in Jaffna was the Justice and Peace Commission of the Catholic Diocese.  This organization spoke of the cordiality that existed between the people of Jaffna and the Security forces after the take over of Jaffna by the security forces in 1995.  They stated that the assassination of Brigadier Hammangoda in July 1996 led to the incidents of disappearances re-occurring, and Peoples had even started approaching the church to take charge of their children to escape abduction.  The church then had to “stick its neck out and give a voice to what was happening”.  This had made the priests to get together and form the Justice and Peace Commission, which was until then only an informal organization.  This Commission spoke of how people were taken into custody at cordon and search operations and some of them who returned told them of the manner in which they had been tortured to extract information about militant infiltration into the Jaffna District.

A report by Amnesty International in November 1997 refers to these incidents.  Consequently there had been a public out cry against such disappearances.  Association of the Parents and Guardians of those who disappeared in Jaffna during that period stated they met Her Excellency  the President and had made representations about the disappearances.  The political parties which gave evidence and the Association of guardians and Parents of the Disappeared in Jaffna stated that Her Excellency had promised to appoint a Commission to inquire into those disappearances.

The Association of Guardians and Parents of the Disappeared in Jaffna, requested this Commission to inquire into their complaints also. It was with regret that they were told that this Commission has not been mandated to look into new complaints.  However they were informed that their request would be a subject of our recommendation.

Many organizations spoke of the cordial relationship they had with the higher officials amongst the security forces and made special mention of some security forces officers who made every effort to end human rights violation.

It was stated that the people who had been victims of abductions and killings had no one to complain to.  The Police Stations were not functioning.  All that they could do was to tell the concerned NGO’s.  When the abduction was at the hands of the militants, on one dared to complain.  Only the abductions and killings at the hands of security forces have been recorded by the Grama Niladhari had recorded the event without hesitation.  This has resulted in most abductions and killings by the militants being not recorded, giving a warped picture on responsibility for disappearances during the period concerned.  Another matter that came to light was that as a result of the displacement of the people in 1996, a large percentage of those who left Jaffna have not returned.   They are either in the Vanni or elsewhere in Sri Lanka, some have even left the country.

Consequently this commission is of the opinion that it was unable to get a true picture of the alleged disappearances in Jaffna.

With the displacements in October 1995 from Jaffna the official records maintained by the Grama Niladharies, Divisional Secretaries and even at the Jaffna Kachcheri, have been either lost or destroyed.  The Jaffna Kachcheri was damaged by a bomb falling on it.  This has also contributed to the lack of clarity of facts and figures pertaining to the situation.

Along with the absence of the Police Stations, the Courts had ceased to function.  Even after Riviresa, only the Magistrates Courts is functioning with the Police Stations in Jaffna and Kankesanthurai.  As these Police Stations are involved more with security work than with crime prevention, there has been no proper investigation by the police of any incidents of disappearance.

The political parties and the NGO’s spoke of the need to re-establish the High Court in Jaffna immediately as an urgent measure required to provide a judicial remedy for abductions and disappearances. A High Court Judge for the District of Jaffna has been appointed now.

The Northern Muslims Rights Organization gave evidence of the circumstances under which the Muslims were evicted from Jaffna and of the abductions and disappearances that took place during that period.  This Organization stated that the Muslims formed about 5% of the population of Jaffna District in 1990 and that at the time of their forced exodus they were living very amicably with the Tamil population.  There had been 84 exclusive Muslim villages in the North; 15,000 houses belonging to them; 165 Mosques and 47 Muslim schools. The Muslims were involved mainly in trading activities.  In the Mannar District 30% of the population was Muslims, who did fishing and cultivation as well.  In Mullaitivu they were mainly cultivatiors.

In October 1990 the Muslims in the North were evicted from the Jaffna, Mannar and Vavuniya districts with very short notice.  Those in Jaffna were asked to leave within 2 hours while the others had to go within 24 hours.   They were not allowed to take any of their belongings by the local cadres of the LTTE who had stated, they were complying with orders from their superiors.

Before and after the exodus several Muslims had been taken to custody by the LTTE.  Some of them were released while others disappeared.  Some of those who were fleeing from Manner by boat were drowned between Mannar and Kalpitiya.   Those who fled have taken refuge in the Puttalam, Anuradhapura, Medawachchiya, Gampaha and Kalutara Districts where they continue to remain as refugees even today.

39 Muslims have allegedly disappeared prior to October 1990, thereafter six Muslims had disappeared.  Some of these disappearances formed the subject matter of complaints to the Presidential Commissions on Disappearances.  Two such complaints were inquired into by this Commission.[iii] 

All the NGO’s and special witnesses who gave evidence before this Commission stressed the need to restore peace and provide assistance for the displaced to get back to their original places or residence and start life afresh.  The Government has established an organisation called the Re-settlement and Rehabilitation Authority of the North (RRAN) for this purpose.  International NGO’s such as the UNDP, Redd Barna, UNICEF, GTZ, and National NGO’s such as Sarvodaya, Hudec, Sri Lanka Red Cross etc., are involved in the relief and rehabilitation work of those affected by the incidents in the North.  The Government Agent and the Divisional Secretaries of Jaffna gave evidence and stated that the Government is providing relief and other assistance to those affected in Jaffna.

Problems of the Residents of Jaffna

Several NGO’s and Special Witnesses spoke of the problems faced by of the residents of Jaffna.  They stated that there was a forced exodus of the residents of Jaffna on 30th October, 1995, when the LTTE wanted them to leave within 24 hours.  Most of them went to Vadamarachchi and the Wanni.  While those who had the means either shifted to the South or left the country.  After the Sri Lankan security forces regained control of the area in 1996, many of those who were in Vadamarachchi and the Wanni returned to Jaffna.  As stated elsewhere in the report a suicide bomber attempted to assassinate the then Minister of Construction and Housing on 4th July, 1996.  The Army Commander in Jaffna General Hammangoda was killed in that incident.  Several disappearances are alleged to have taken place thereafter. Those disappearances do not fall within the Mandate of this Commission, as no complaints of these disappearances had been made to the Presidential Commission on Disappearances in the North and East.

The NGO’s and Special Witnesses stated that the events that occurred during the period of the forced exodus and thereafter had devastated the economy of the District.  So it took time for the people who returned to start normal life once more. The evidence is that the Government gave a helping hand to them by the provision of dry rations for the first three months and assistance in rebuilding damaged houses.  Financial assistance was also given to get their basic essentials.

The witnesses stated that, the forced exodus had changed the village and family structures.

One witness stated as follows:

”Most of those who could find their way out of the District had left.  Some of the affluent have gone abroad or settled down elsewhere in the country.  In many homes the able-bodied male of the family is no longer in Jaffna.  They are either in the South, overseas or with the militants.  Consequently the family unit had become disrupted.  A large percentage of those living in Jaffna now are women, old and infirm man and young children.  Youth are conspicuously scarce.”

Another witness stated as follows:-

“The society survives because of women. They have kept the hearths burning.  They could be seen almost on every road in Jaffna either walking or on their bicycle.  They are the ones who get checked at checkpoints and get exposed to harassment.”

Most of the young girls and boys of school age in Jaffna are going to school.  Education is one sector that has withstood the turbulence.  The University is functioning and a number of graduates pass out from them with merit.  Even in the schools the results at G.C.E. Ordinary Level and Advanced Level Examinations are on part with the results in the other parts of the country which have not been directly affected by the war.

The evidence of the Special Witnesses from the Medical field indicated that, the health of the People is on the decline.  In 1976 a World Bank Survey had revealed that out of the 24 Districts in Sri Lanka, the Jaffna District was the second best in nutrition.  But now it is reported to be the third from the lowest Malnutrition is rampant, medical supplies  and facilities are inadequate.  Many Special witnesses spoke of the effects of the events of the Jaffna on the mental state of the people.  One of them said as follows:

“The war machinery can’t hear the dirges of the people (of Jaffna) whose families cry day and night.  Some women became mentally imbalanced after a short period of time.  The babies get distorted in their wombs……..”

Jaffna has no access to electricity supply from the main grid despite the efforts of the State.  However, thermal electricity is available in many parts of Jaffna.  The economy is static.  The cultivator has very limited access to the National and International Markets.  The affluent in Jaffna are only those whose family members are working abroad.  The fishing limit of 2 kilometers for security purposes does not permit fishermen to do deep-sea fishing.

The local government structure composed of elected representatives is weak.  They lack the necessary funds and the capacity to strengthen basic facilities needed by the people.  Repeated assassinations of elected representatives by the LTTE have crippled the local government system.

The unemployment rate is high.  The educated few and the able bodied who have the means, are waiting hopefully to go abroad.  Jaffna is a resourceful land, which has an enterprising population.  Yet the lack of proper transport, health facilities, agricultural inputs, marketing facilities and an effective civil administration are the stumbling blocks to the economic development and the upliftment of the people of the area.

The war has made it impossible for the State to develop the infrastructure.  Consequently the people of Jaffna are a disillusioned lot waiting hopefully for peace to dawn. 

In the light of the tension and uncertainties associated with the lack of assurances of peace, there can be no guarantee that there would be no resurgence of the phenomenon of disappearances in the Jaffna District or any other part of Sri Lanka at the hands of whoever is in power at that particular time.  The establishment of all structures recommended in this Report are set to naught in the absence of peace.


[i] Vide Annex X(a) for the list of Representatives of Political Parties which gave evidence.

[ii] Vide Annex X for list of NGO’s etc.

[iii] Vide Chapter VIII for further particulars.

Posted on 2003-06-15



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