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CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION

A presidential Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Warrant under your Excellency’s hand was signed on the 30th of November 1994, setting up a Northern and Eastern Provinces.

 

The following were appointed Commissioners under Section 2 of the Commissions of Inquiry Act (Chapter 393): Krishnapillai Palakidner Esquire, Luwisdura Walter Romulus Widyaratne Esquire, and Dr Wedaarachchi Nawalage Wilson.

 

K Palakidner Esquire was appointed Chairman of the Commission. The Secretary to the Commission was appointed on the 4th of January 1995 and the Hon. Minister of Justice briefed the Commissioners on the 9th of January 1995.

 

The Commissioners were to inquire and report on the following:

 

A. Whether any persons have been involuntarily removed or have disappeared from their places of residence in the Northern Province and Eastern Province at any time after January 1st 1988;

B. The evidence available to establish such alleged removals or disappearances;

C. The present whereabouts of the persons alleged to have been so removed, or to have so disappeared;

D. Whether there is any credible material indicative of the person of persons responsible for the alleged removals or disappearances;

E. The legal proceedings that can be taken against the persons held to be so responsible;

F. The measures necessary to prevent the occurrence of such alleged activities in the future;

G. The relief, if any, that should be afforded to the parents, spouses and dependants of the persons alleged to have been so removed or to have so disappeared; and to make such recommendations with reference to any of the matters that have been inquired into under the terms of this Warrant.

 

The Commission housed in the Superior Courts Complex of the Ministry of Justice, called for public representations, by notice published in the national newspapers in all the three languages on the 14th January, 1995. A period of one month was given for the receiving of representations. Subsequently on Your Excellency’s directive, the period was extended by another month. The electronic media was also widely used to appeal to the public to send in their representations.

 

Complaints were received both from the affected parties and also from the various Non-Governmental Organisations.  Complaints were also referred to us from Your Excellency’s office, from the Ministry of Defence, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Justice, and from the various Branches of Amnesty International.

 

It was also observed that more than one member of the same family had sent in their complaints regarding disappeared persons.  It so happened that the wife of disappeared person who had opted to stay with her parents after the alleged incident had sent in her complaint from the parent’s home while the father of the disappeared person had also sent in another complaint regarding the same person from his place.  It also happened that those who complained to us direct in response to the advertisement had also sent in their data to the Non-Governmental Organisations, which again forwarded these to us.  There was considerable overlap in these complaints.  The Commission had to recheck all these complaints. It also prepared and circulated a questionnaire to be completed by these complainants.  -  Annexure A.

 

On receipt of the perfected questionnaires the Commission fixed dates to meet the complainants in their own area and also in Colombo and recorded their statements in public.  The public sittings were held in the following areas, during the dates mentioned:

 

1.1              Public Sittings held in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

 

1.1.1.          Disappearances in the Batticaloa District Public Sittings held in Battticaloa.

1st Sittings                 24.09.95 to 02.04.95

2nd Sittings                09.11.96 to 16.11.96

3rd Sittings                01.02.97 to 07.02.97

 

1.1.2.          Disappearances in the Trincomalee District – Public Sittings held in Trincomalee

1st Sittings                 11.03.95 to 18.03.95

2nd Sittings                20.07.95 to 30.07.95

3rd Sittings                14.09.95 to 25.09.95

4th Sittings -               23.01.96 to 27.01.96

 

1.1.3.          Disappearances in the District of Kilinochchi, Mullativu, Vuvuniya and Mannar (Mainland) Public Sittings held in Vavuniya.

1St Sittings 09.03.96 to 15.03.96

2nd Sittings                13.07.96 to 14.07.96

 

1.1.4.          Disappearances in the Mannar District (Island – Public Sittings held in Puttalam. Sittings were held from 06.10.96 to 07.10.96

 

1.1.5.          Disappearances in the Amparai District – Public Sittings held in Amparai and Kalmunai.

1st Sittings                 01.03.97 to 07.03.97

2nd Sittings                20.04.97 to 22.04.97

 

1.1.6.          Public Sittings were held in Colombo on the following dates in respect of all Districts.

17.05.95 to 31.05.95

06.06.95 to 28.06.95

05.07.95 to 13.07.95

18.08.95 to 21.08.95

04.09.95 to 06.09.95

17.01.96 to 18.01.96

22.02.96 to 23.02.96

07.03.96

10.04.96

13.05.96 to 31.05.96

03.06.96 to 28.06.96

17.07.96 to 25.09.96

 

1.2            Methodology of Inquiry

 

The purpose of the Commission during the First Stage of the inquiry was to give the complainants a chance to relieve themselves of the anguish festering in their minds for almost six years.  Opportunity was given to the complainants to elaborate on the data submitted by them to the questionnaire.  During this stage of inquiry, the commission also formed a rough idea of the economic set-up of the affected families.  It was found during the inquiries that most families were in desperate circumstances.  People who had been leading comfortable lives found themselves suddenly destitute.  They had to work as unskilled labour to support their families.  This affected the women folk most; hence the Commission worked out a compensation scheme for these affected families as a priority step.

 

The Second Stage of the inquiry was to find out the persons responsible for these arrests and subsequent disappearances.  This was a more complex problem.  Most people who suffered in the north and east were illiterate and from rural milieu and could not distinguish the Special Task Force persons from the Army personnel.  It was virtually impossible for them to identify any officers who were responsible for these arrests by name or by rank.  The Sri Lankan Army does not display the name badge on the uniform like the American GI. Except for some notorious cases of Army Personnel who were known far and wide for their terror tactics, most of the officers and soldiers who participated in the arrests could not be identified.  We had to write to the Army and the Police to find out which officer was in-charge of a particular camp at a particular time.  This operation was time consuming.  There were delays in replies and often there were no replies at all.  We were able to investigate into some complaints but the bulk of the exercise is left for the successor commission to look them.

 

1.3            Findings of the Inquiry

 

The Commission has come to the conclusion that youth in the north and east disappeared in droves in the latter part of 1989 and during the latter part of 1990.  This large scale disappearances of youth is connected with the military operations started against the J.V.P. in the latter part of 1989 and against the L.T.T.E. during Elam War II, beginning in June 1990.

 

The Commission was satisfied that the complainants who appeared before the Commission alleging arrests by the Army and Other Security Agencies were speaking the truth.  There is no reason for the people to come forward and allege that the Army from the X Camp or Major X from some other Camp arrested their sons or husbands 6 years earlier.  The Commission was impressed by the sincerity and the feeling behind

the evidence and the general demeanour of the complainants.

 

The Commission wishes that it could say the same thing with reference to some of the Security Service Personnel who appeared before it and gave evidence.  During the arrests the Army had come out with standard excuses when confronted with the demands of the relatives of those arrested.  The stock excuse was that they are being taken for inquiry and will be released after the inquiry was over.  Other response of the Army was to deny the arrests altogether.

 

The security officers who gave evidence before the Commission came out with similar excuses.  They denied involvement altogether or maintained that “records were missing”.  On occasions the Army officers were less than co-operative in assisting the Commission in its work.  One instance of this unhelpfulness given below is illustrative: The Commission took up the matter of the abduction of nine members in the same family with the ages ranging from 65 to 4.  This abduction happened during curfew hours in Trincomalee from a house that is close to a Military Check Point.  Hence the Security Services were suspect.

 

A witness gave evidence in camera that Cpl. Piyamantha of the Sri Lanka Army and Richard Wijesekera, D.I.G. were involved in the abduction.  As Cpl. Piyamantha was reported to be stationed at the Plantain Point Army Camp we asked the D.I.G. (Uva and Eastern Ranges) to summon Cpl. Piyamantha, question him and submit a report. The reply we received stated that inquiries were made at the Plantain Point Army Camp and that the Army Authorities were not in a position to indicate the present whereabouts of Cpl. Piyamantha, and they wanted the Commission to supply the Full Name, Number and the Regiment to which he belongs.  The Commission wrote to the Army calling for these particulars.  The reply received from the Army is reproduced in full in Annexure B.  This episode reveals that the attitude of the Army was of no great help in our inquiries.

 

The Commission was able to listen to the evidence of the Army Officers connected with three major arrest operations conducted by the Army – Viz  Mc-Heyzer Stadium arrests in Trincomalee, Bse Hospital arrests in  Trincomalee and Sathurukondan arrests in Batticaloa.

 

The burning question confronting the Commission is what happened to all those who were arrested during the operations from 1988 to 1993.  The arrests are well documented and the Commission is satisfied in its mind that the arrests took place.

 

It was the impression of the Commission that the Army Officers were not forthcoming in the evidence they gave or in the assistance they offered to the Commission.

 

It was obvious that a section of the Army was carrying out the instructions of its political superiors with a zeal worthy of better cause.  Broad power was given to the Army under the Emergency Regulations which include the power to dispose of the bodies without post-mortem or inquests and this encouraged a section of the Army to cross the invisible line between the legitimate Security Operation and large scale senseless arrests and killings.

 

Due to time constraints and other factors the Commission is unable to complete its inquiries against the Army Personnel who had caused the disappearances of so many people and we hope that the successor Commission, will have success in its investigations into the arrests.

 

Unlike other Commissions this Commission had to investigate disappearances in areas of Military Operations.  The Commission had to either cancel several sittings or postpone them due to the unsettled conditions caused by the ground situation.  On one occasion in Batticaloa, the Commission found shells zooming over the Circuit

Bungalow where it stayed and heard the rattle of gunfire for hours.  On this occasion the L.T.T.E. attacked the Batticaloa Police Station in the heart of the Town.  In fact we were advised by the President’s Office on 10.12.96, not to go to Jaffna to hold inquiries, as conditions were not conducive for holding public inquiries.

 

1.4.            A Word of Thanks

 

This Commission wishes to record its appreciation of the help rendered by several parties for the successful completion of its work.

 

The Ministry of Justice made available the space to house the office of this Commission.  The Ministry recovered no rent for the space allocated.  A good part of the furniture was borrowed from the Ministry of Justice and we have to put on record the help given by the Hon. Minister of Justice G L Peiris for allowing us to continue to function in the building when attempts were made to eject us.  We should also record the immense help given by Mrs Lalani Perera, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Justice who went out of the way to make out stay as comfortable as possible.

 

The Government Agents in the Districts offered us all assistance in the work of the Commission and helped us in numerous ways.  Mr K. Ganesh, Govt Agent, Vavuniya, Mr K. Pathmanathan, Govt Agent, Batticaloa, Mr A. I Wickrema, Govt Agent, Amparai, Mr K. Paramalingam, Deputy Chief Secretary, Provincial Public

Administration, Trincomalee, Mr P. Balavadivel, High Cout Judge, Trincomalee, Mr R. Premasiri Appuhamy, Acting Gove Agent, Puttalam Mr P.A. Rupasiri, Administrative Officer Amparai Kachcheri are some of the Persons to whom this Commission is deeply indebted for anticipating even the slightest wish of the commissioners and mobilising all the resources under them to make our tasks lighter and more pleasant.

 

We have also to thank the army and several Deputy Inspector Generals of Police of the Districts who provided us with Security during our stay in troubled areas in the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

 

Mr S.C. Manicawasagar, Secretary and the three Assistant Secretaries, M/s S. Appadurai, S. patkunarajah, and S. Kankasabapathy and the staff worked cheerfully under cramped conditions in the office by giving of their best in matters of Organisation, supplying support services to the Commission and in drafting the Final Report.

 

The two legal officers, Mr V.S. Ganeshalingam and Mr A. Punithanayagam used their contacts with Human Rights Organisations to strengthen our investigative process.  Finally we have to thank your Excellency for reposing confidence in us with this mandate and we have to thank the Secretary to the President Mr K. Balapatabendi and his staff led by Addl Secretary, Mr Dhammike Amarasingha for the unfailing assistance provided to this Commission.

 

K Palakidner                             (Chairman)

L W R Widyaratne                  (Member)

W N Wilson                             (Member)

S C Manicavasagar                 (Secretary to the Commission)

 

Posted on 2002-08-29



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