The phenomenon of Mass Graves is a macabre
pointer to the clandestine nature of the counter-insurgency
operations carried out in this period. Their very existence and
the recoveries from them bear vivid witness to a complete
disregard of the constitutionally guaranteed safe-guard of the
physical security of persons in detention.
The existence of twelve Mass Graves have been
reported to this Commission.
1. The Hokandara Mass Grave
2. The Essella School Mass Grave
3. The Wavulkelle Mass Grave
4. The Walpita Government Farm Mass Grave
(2 to 4 are in the Gampaha District)
5. Ambagahahenakanda Mass Grave
6. Bemmulla Mass Grave
7. Kottawakella, Yakkalumulla Mass Grave - Galle District
8. The Dickwella Mass Grave at Heendeliya
9. Diyadawakelle, Deniyaya, Mass Grave
10. Wilpita Akuressa Mass Grave
(8 to 10 are in the Matara District)
11. Angkumbura Mass Grave - Matale District
12. Suriyakanda Mass Grava - Monaragala District
The Hokandara, Essella, Wavulkelle, Walpita
Farm, Angkumbura and Suriyakanda Mass Graves have been
disinterred on judicial order. This Commission accepts the
evidence of the existence of the others. Their existence raises
the likelihood of other mass Graves being in existence,
unreported as yet.
Mass Graves have been located at the sites of
pits carved out by a bomb explosion as in the cases of the
Hokandara, Dikwella and Angkumbura Mass Graves. The Wilpita,
Akuressa Mass Grave is located at the site of Army Camp. They may
be located at public place such as a public highway (Hokandara),
the village school (Essella) or a government farm (Walpita), Even
when located in a remote place as in the case of the Suriyakanda
Mass Grave they are often within sight and control of state
These Graves are a far cry from the shallow
unmarked Grave set up in attempted concealment of an individual
crime. And of an entirely different genre from the JVP's public
display of brutally butchered victims' bodies. Sophisticated
logistics have gone into their creation: modern fire-arms; heavy
All these Mass Graves reported to this
Commission are a matter of knowledge shared by the people of the
area where the Mass Graves are located, even though unknown
nationally and unacknowledged by the authorities. Several have
attempted to report their knowledge to the authorities at the
time when the Mass Graves came into existence. The police either
do not record or record the report as merely that of a
"disappearance": "I did so on superiors
orders" admitted the recording officer to the Criminal
Investigation Department which was conducting investigations on
the Magistrate's order consequent to the disclosure of the
existence of a Mass Grave (Hokandara Mass grave) in the middle of
the main road of a Colombo suburb.
Others with knowledge did not report to the
authorities through fear, understandable in the circumstances.
In several instances the authorities could not
have failed to have been aware themselves of the creation of the
Mass Grave in question, for they occur in public places: a busy
through fare as in the case of the Hokandara Mass Grave, a
Government Farm or a State school (Walpita and Essella). But the
recording and investigative authorities of the state are signal
in their failure to record and investigate. Credible evidence has
been led to the Commission that the Hokadara Mass Grave remained
and open grave for a period of at least one week. And yet, police
officers now holding senior positions professed to the Commission
complete ignorance of its existence, while producing police Books
of Record of a visit so inspection to the site of the original
bomb explosion. This is another hall-mark of these cases, and
constitutes significant evidence of whom the authorities
considered to be creators of the Mass Graves in question.
At another level, the lack of action by the
recording and investigative authorities signified an attitude of
indifference. For instance, the judicial Medical Officer in his
report of his visit to the Vavulkelle site has noted the
statements of a police officer as follows:
Stated that when he visited the scene he saw the fire blazing
with logs and tyres and burning bodies. He did not extinguish the
fire as his superior officers have asked him to see that such
bodies are destroyed and dumped off
A female petitioner before the Commission
giving evidence in respect of the same Mass Grave unknowingly
corroborated the police officer's account of his conduct related
When we heard bodies were burning at
Wavulkelle after my husband and uncle were abducted, uncle's
family hired a car and got there early. So they were able to
identify the partially burnt corpses. I went on foot and by
the time. I got there some one had buried the remains
scattering them around. Dogs were eating some of the remains;
others were scattered around; besides what was dug up the
magistrate afterwards. So I couldn't find my husband's body.
His ring was found among the remains by the CID.
In several instances, the site of the Mass
Grave was the scene of destruction wrought by subversive act. The
bodies therein were reprisal killings in respect of that
subversive act. e.g.
Hokandara Mass Grave was in a crater created by
a subversive bomb explosion in which police officers died. The
Mass Graves at the Walpita Farm came into existence following on
the destruction by subversives of the farm building and the post
office, the Rural Bank and a private shop at that junction. It is
in evidence before the Commission that a pile of burning bodies
had been on display at that junction that day.
The creation of a Mass Grave in the compound of
the Yatagama School at Essella was preceded by the sound of the
arrival of heavy trucks to the village and the sound of the gun
shots, followed by a very public exhibition of the bullet riddled
bodies of several young men and women in the drain adjoining the
school located in the vicinity on the ancestral home of a army
officer which had suffered a 'subversive attack.
Several of us from adjoining villages went
to see the bodies lying in a row in the drain by the Yatagama
school. Some bodies were very much charred. In some cases the
cloth had burnt away and the bodies were baked. I remember in
one instance the face was untouched ; it was blind-folded,
with a gun shot injury on the forehead.
The above is the evidence of a petitioner in
another case unconnected to the Essella Grave.
In some instances such as Essella and
Hokandara, the bodies themselves were weapons of terror, and
there was no attempt to conceal their existence prior to their
internment in a Mass Grave, although pains had been taken to
prevent individual identification. More usually, there are
"disappearances", on the one hand, and there are
"Mass Graves", on the other : whether in the same area
The significant relevance of the existence of
Mass Graves to the subject of our mandate cannot be over-stated.
The phenomenon of Mass Graves bears a significant correlation to
the massive number of disappearances that have taken place in the
period under review, independent of any idntification of a corpse
disinterred to a particular person who has disappeared, There is
a significant correlation also to the validity of the evidence of
the alleged returned detainees describing various practices of
torture in places of detention.
There are very many more Mass Graves known to
the local inhabitants of the area in which they are located. In
view of the nature of the evidence coming to light from the
excavations to date, it is very evident that a full record of the
location and other attendant particulars of such graves should be
collated while personal first-hand knowledge of them still
exists. This must be done without delay for a further reason. On
the date that the Suriyakanda mass Grave was due to be opened on
the Magistrate's order, fresh corpses dug up from fresh graves
were left along the route in obvious intimidatory warning to
potential witnesses : "This is what will happen to you if
you disclose what you know".
Excavation however should await until such time
as the requisite forensic and technical knowledge and skills are
available in Sri Lanka as valuable evidence is destroyed by the
exposure of buried human remains in the absence of adequate
preventive safeguards being observed. The excavation of Mass
Graves in now an area of specialised knowledge and skills.
Dr. Ravindra Fernando, professor of Forensic
Medicine, University of Colombo stated :
Identification of human remains is one of
the major problems in the investigations of crimes in Sri
Lanka. Inadequate facilities and non-availability of
expertise result in undue delay in criminal investigations
where human identification is an issue. Sometimes, the
investigations have to be abandoned.
It is accordingly advisable to establish a
Human Identification Centre (HIC) in the University of
(a). Train forensic pathologists and
scientists in all aspects of identification
(b). Provide modern state of the art
techinques, including DNA profiling, computerized facial
reconstruction and photo comparison, video superimposition
and anthropometric analysis.
The HIC can be established by:
(a). Providing infrastructure facilities,
such as necessary buildings, communication and other office
facilities and other modern equipment and consumables.
(b). Training scientist in the Scotland
Yard or other similar laboratory for a period of three to six
months on modern identification techniques.
This Commission recommends the establishment of
Identification Centre as outlined by Prof.
There is another inference to be drawn form the
phenomenon of Mass Graves in this period. In this period corpses
had a value of their own independent of a particular identity.
Bodies were set alight with "tyre necklaces". Charred
defaced bodies by the road side, bodies on lamp-posts, were a
common sight intended to strike the beholder with terror. And yet
the supply available of bodies was "too much" what a
sad commentary of the times.
THE LOCATION OF THE HOKANDARA MASS GRAVE
" FOR A WEEK THE MIDDLE OF OUR ROAD WAS AN
OPEN MASS-GRAVE "
1. see Manual on the Effective Prevention Investigation
of extra-legal, arbitrary and summary executions. United Nations
Posted on 1999-01-01