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Impunity in times of uncertainty

Can Currency be Protected where Life and Freedom are Savaged?

Addressing Lanka’s Trust Deficit must go deeper than Economics

9th July 2022

by Rajan Hoole and Kopalasingam Sritharan ( Formally UTHR(J))


Sri Lanka’s current economic woes are of unprecedented severity and threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of Lankans. They are the root of the popular outrage that sent the President and his family scrambling for shelter from protesting citizenry. How surreal it must have felt, hunkered down at the Trincomalee Naval Base and looking for a way out of the country, as their ancestral home burned, and family statues toppled. This was a far cry from complete impunity and near royal treatment they enjoyed just months ago.

Economists lay the blame for the current crisis on a variety of poor decisions and irresponsible policies. The strengths of our institutions depend on whether our politics provides the social basis and harmony to sustain them. Our leaders paid lip service to Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s legacy advancing universal suffrage, free education, and trade unions, social democracy, and education, while undermining his vision.

Speaking from the perspective of a resident of Sri Lanka’s North, the economic potential and intellectual life of the North has been stifled. Where are the erudite products of Jaffna’s educational system of the past, and where our vibrant culture? The dominance of Colombo in our lives is economically and intellectually stultifying. We need elbow room. Any settlement to the ethnic conflict will have to loosen the tight grip Colombo has on the entire country. We have a long way to go to gain social democracy. But reopening Jaffna to resume its natural traffic and commerce would be a great gain to life in this country. An arid North that produces largely emigrants is no boon to the country.

Financial mismanagement in our crisis is just the tipping point. It is what every Sri Lankan, regardless of ethnicity, background or previous experience of abuse can relate to. The principal purpose of government is to protect, foster and enhance human life. But we have a history of startling public crimes committed with impunity.

There is nothing so scandalous as the highest in our political life and defence services being complicit in uncontrolled greed and viciousness against their people.  This is reflected in, for example, the prolonged cruelty in the 11 students’ case – which led to defenders of our seas becoming protected bandits who abducted for ransom and murdered young people from Colombo’s suburbs without consequences. In the face of this and other atrocities, such as the Bindunuwewa Massacre or the public killing of five students in Trincomalee, our law enforcement agencies and judiciary have shielded perpetrators, humming, hawing, and wringing their hands claiming that they could not find the evidence witnessed by hundreds. They have done the same for many thousands of other cases, some internationally notorious, others barely registering in the public consciousness.

An exploration of judicial history exposes Sri Lanka’s Impunity Club: Chief Justice Sarath Silva and Vice Admiral Sarath Weerasekera inaugurated Sri Lanka’s grim club of impunity in 2005 when they legitimised and then planted an illegal Buddha statue in Trincomalee, enraging communal tensions and spurring a series of atrocities with guaranteed impunity. The 2006 ACF massacre of 17 mostly Tamil aid workers in Muttur for which the same club was responsible, was covered up by Justice Udalagama and Counsel Yasantha Kodagoda assisting the Commission of Inquiry, working overtime to shred the good evidence, causing tremendous trauma to the victim families.

How did we get here? Starting with the Citizenship Acts, our law has ceased to be founded on principles, reason, and humanity. Article 29 (2) of our Independence Constitution made it unlawful for Parliament to pass legislation that discriminated against any community. But its protections were immediately ignored as Sri Lanka disenfranchised Tamil estate workers.  It took until the 1964 judgment of O.L. de Kretser in the Colombo High Court to restore confidence in a common sense understanding of the law when he deemed the Sinhala Only Act passed in 1956 ultra vires because it gave advantage to one community which the other did not have, rendering it void. But the Supreme Court dodged de Kretser’s challenge and Sinhala Only was encrypted by a brute force majority into the 1972 Constitution.

The ascendancy of J.R. Jayewardene and his punitive communal violence of 1977 and his crushing of the 1980 General Strike left us with the beginnings of arbitrary law. And although aimed at suppressing the lowliest, the new trend that followed - disrespect for fundamental principles of justice - also affected the highest. Hardly any one of our assassinated leaders was accorded the minimal honour of a proper inquiry. Even their cases were indifferently disposed.

How much worse the situation has been when the victims were Tamil. The Presidential Commission of Inquiry’s July 2009 verdict exonerating the armed forces in the ACF case while criticizing the role of organizations in the inquiry, and its silence on the killing of the five students in Trincomalee were on the same lines as judicial remarks in the Bindunuwewa case implying that when Sinhalese kill perceived enemies of the race, however helpless and innocent, no one has any business to stand in judgment. That remains the reality among an influential section of the Judiciary.

Tamil Lives do not Matter; but worse for Sinhalese who let the side down: Not every Sinhalese joined the Impunity Club that was in evidence in the killing of five students in Trincomalee, but all were mindful that it could punish them. Witnesses vanished, experts changed their testimony, and those brave enough (or well-connected enough) to come forward did so at considerable risk.   At the same time members of the Impunity Club continue to thrive. Yasantha Kodagoda whose performance in the Commission of Inquiry was so abysmal is now a supreme court justice and is likely to become chief justice, like his predecessor and founding Impunity Club member Chief Justice Sarath Silva . Given the nature of Kodagoda’s training and performance in the ACF case, what could the minorities expect from him as a judge? 

And so, we come back to the central problem. If it is life and its quality that we want to enhance, what is then the urgency of protecting the Sri Lankan Rupee when Lankan life has been made so very cheap? We are happy to learn that in the current protest to send home the present leaders, questions about our bloody past have begun to be raised but until accountability is embraced in all spheres, our future remains bleak.


Impunity in times of uncertainty

Can Currency be Protected where Life and Freedom are Savaged?

Addressing Lanka’s Trust Deficit must go deeper than Economics

This essay is dedicated to the late Ramasamy Shanmugaraj of Nuwara Eliya who amidst the plethora of unacknowledged crimes was a lone Tamil witness, who of his own volition resisted fear extracted from a minority, and provided the information to lay bare the ACF massacre whose perpetrators rule the roost until now by impoverishing the rest.  

The humiliating exit of the strongman Mahinda Rajapaksa less than two years after he led his party to an astounding victory with nearly 60 percent of the popular vote in the August 2020 parliamentary elections shows political instability in Sri Lanka to be deeply endemic.

Sri Lanka’s current economic woes are of unprecedented severity and threaten the lives and livelihoods of millions of Lankans. They are the root of the popular outrage that sent the President and his family scrambling for shelter from protesting citizenry. How surreal it must have felt, hunkered down at the Trincomalee Naval Base and looking for a way out of the country, as their ancestral home burned, and family statues toppled. This was a far cry from complete impunity and near royal treatment they enjoyed just months ago.

While the Rajapaksas have much to answer for, from alleged stolen assets to war crimes, the corruption and impunity that contributed to the current crisis had been enjoyed by Sri Lanka’s political elite for many decades before they took power.

Mahinda Rajapaksa’s pretended political adversaries former President Maithripala Sirisena and six-time Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe stand equally discredited. The main parties, essentially the UNP with SLFP, with new labels and factions, are jointly responsible for the country’s descent to impunity and bankruptcy. Sri Lanka cannot be put together again without a considerable reform, including substantial loosening of the country’s centralised power structure [1] as well as an honest accounting of its many crimes against its citizenry and a clear look at its social fracture lines.

Economists lay the blame for the current crisis on a variety of poor decisions and irresponsible policies. W.A. Wijewardene, a former central banker has faulted the Government for losing 5.5 billion USD in bids to protect the value of the Rupee. He accuses the Government of taking an unjustified gamble in the expectation of foreign remittances at the end of 2021 (The Island 15 Mar.2022). But when an ill-spent 5 billion dollars to protect the Rupee triggers a crisis of the current magnitude despite an annual GDP of 83 billion USD, a much more penetrating look at Sri Lanka’s economic and political reality is required. 

Investment banker Jayamin Pelpola contends that a government running on deficits in both the current account and budget may get away, if it avoids a trust deficit, by convincing creditors that the debt level is sustainable. This involves an active Central Bank constantly reassuring international stakeholders (Jayamin Pelpola, Daily Mirror, 25 Apr.2022).

While addressing the trust deficit with international institutions is important in the short term, it is much more urgent for the government to address its trust deficit with the Sri Lankan people, and in particular the minorities, whose trauma from years of political violence and discrimination, combined with other uncertainties and imponderables like corruption which increases the debt burden, easily becomes the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

For ethnic and religious minorities in Sri Lanka, trust in the system – in law enforcement, the courts, the major political parties and the majority-dominated government has always been in short supply, and with good reason if we re-examine notorious examples of impunity from the recent past. Families have waited decades for justice for killings and enforced disappearances of loved ones, but the corrupted system is heavily stacked against them

The strengths of our institutions depend on whether our politics provides the social basis and harmony to sustain them. Our leaders paid lip service to Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam’s legacy advancing universal suffrage, free education, and trade unions, social democracy, and education, while undermining his vision. We pride ourselves on our democratic system, but we have not been a true democracy since the Citizenship and Franchise Acts made serfs out of the most productive section of our working class. Respect for International Law enables Nordic countries to resolve their problems, social and diplomatic, peacefully while Sri Lanka time and again has tried to wriggle out of its obligations. We have hobbled ourselves with narrow nationality and ethnicity, fought over dubious histories, and we have bloodied ourselves.

Our people seek to migrate, often at substantial risk, rather than invest their efforts in Sri Lanka because Sri Lanka will not invest in them. To trust a country with your family’s safety or your hard-earned resources requires confidence in its systems. In the end this goes back to integrity in government, stability and protections that are enforceable. If the current crisis ends peacefully and an IMF agreement enables us to limp on, do we go back to the same state structures that bred discord and made us backward?

Speaking from the perspective of a resident of Sri Lanka’s North, the economic potential and intellectual life of the North has been stifled. Where are the erudite products of Jaffna’s educational system of the past, and where our vibrant culture? The dominance of Colombo in our lives is economically and intellectually stultifying. We need elbow room. Any settlement to the ethnic conflict will have to loosen the tight grip Colombo has on the entire country. We have a long way to go to gain social democracy. But reopening Jaffna to resume its natural traffic and commerce would be a great gain to life in this country. An arid North that produces largely emigrants is no boon to the country.

Impunity: Evidence of Our Systems in Collapse

Abduction and Murder by the Navy: Sri Lanka’s most politically patronised defence force, the Navy (the same force that recently shielded the Rajapaksa family from angry mobs), is heavily compromised. A series of Naval Commanders have been linked to the abduction for ransom and killing of at least eleven people (children and young adults) in 2008 and 2009, and efforts to cover up the truth about those atrocities. Commander Wijegunaratne, the last Naval officer named in the case, helped leading suspect naval intelligence officer Chandana Prasad Hettiarachchi flee the country. President Sirisena rewarded him by making him Chief of Defence Staff upon his retirement in 2017. By contrast, his successor as commander, Travis Sinniah (who is Tamil), and whose testimony to the CID in 2009 helped to blow open the scandal, exposing the Navy’s role in the abduction for ransom and murder of youth of affluent Colombo families, was denied the customary extension and retired by Sirisena after two months as commander (18 Aug 2017 - 26 Oct 2017). Sinniah had also opposed the purchase of an old Russian war ship for 80 million USD more than what it was worth (Mohamed Fazl, Colombo Telegraph, 22 Dec.2017). The succeeding Gotabhaya government, harassed, arrested and put out to grass the two police officers responsible for bringing the scandals to light. Wijegunaratne was released on bail and has not been tried.

Negligence and Complicity in the Easter Bombings: The government of former president Sirisena and its defence advisors are also guilty of gross negligence in their handling of investigations into the series of bombings that targeted church goers and hotel guests on Easter Sunday 2019, killing hundreds, pointing strongly to their possible complicity. Removing the two effective police officers involved in investigating the bombings demonstrates their patent lack of seriousness in establishing the truth (Rajan Hoole, Sri Lanka’s Easter Tragedy, 2019).

These examples should tell us where the prevailing trust deficit comes from. There is nothing so scandalous as the highest in our political life and defence services being complicit in the uncontrolled greed, reflected in prolonged cruelty in the 11 students’ case – which led to defenders of our seas becoming protected bandits in Colombo’s suburbs. 

Sri Lanka’s Impunity Club: Most culpable in today’s grim predicament is the club of impunity inaugurated in 2005 by Chief Justice Sarath Silva and Vice Admiral Sarath Weerasekera when they legitimised and planted an illegal Buddha statue in Trincomalee, which spurred a series of atrocities with guaranteed impunity.

The 2006 ACF massacre of 17 mostly Tamil aid workers in Muttur for which the same club was responsible was covered up by Justice Udalagama and Counsel Yasantha Kodagoda assisting the Commission of Inquiry, working overtime to shred the good evidence, causing tremendous trauma to the victim families.

Lt. Commander Ranasinghe being brought into the initial stages of the planned ACF murders and given the licence for impunity, no doubt provided inspiration for the Navy’s abduction for ransom scandal that followed. Would Justice Kodagoda, as he is today, ever find the nerve to sentence Senior DIG Kapila Jayasekera, the evidence against whose grave misdeeds he helped to subvert? Doubtful.

Given this huge trust deficit in cases of mass murders unpunished, who in authority is left to protect the poor man’s Sri Lankan Rupee? Corruption, both that irritates and ruins, are founded on human rights abuses as instanced in the MIG fighter aircraft purchase scandal and the Navy’s abduction for ransom scandal. The first added several millions of USD to our debt burden along with the murder of the journalist Lasantha Wickrematunge, while the second resulted in ten million Rupees loss to individuals beside their loved ones.

Financial mismanagement in our crisis is just the tipping point. It is what every Sri Lankan, regardless of ethnicity, background or previous experience of abuse can relate to. The principal purpose of government is to protect, foster and enhance human life. But we have a history of startling public crimes. In the face of atrocities such as the Bindunuwewa Massacre or the public killing of five students in Trincomalee, our law enforcement agencies and judiciary hummed, hawed and wrung their hands claiming that they could not find the evidence witnessed by hundreds. They have done the same for many thousands of other cases, some internationally notorious, others barely registering in the public consciousness.

One may ask: If our accounting systems dismiss the loss of human life as so meagre, who could credibly account for vanishing gold and dollars from the treasury? How could any lender trust a country where the judiciary is so notably fickle or partisan, if not actually corrupt? If we want to function as a nation at all, and especially if we need international support to help us through times of crisis, we must be able to demonstrate respect for the rule of law. At present, that is impossible.

Below we sketch the issue looking at the history of events the country has allowed to fester:

Looking to the past: the political cultivation of an obliging Judiciary to violate rights

Article 29 (2) of our Independence Constitution made it unlawful for Parliament to pass legislation that discriminated against any community. Namely, lawmakers must not subject to disabilities, or confer privileges unequally among communities. In plain language all communities were equal under the Constitution. But almost immediately following Independence, Parliament passed legislation denying Plantation Tamils the Franchise which all permanent residents were given under the 1931 Donoughmore Constitution.

This disenfranchisement so plainly violated Article 29 that many of us wondered credulously if the law was so esoteric that it took specialists to see that it had deep, hidden, meanings inaccessible to ordinary readers. Though the disenfranchisement was upheld by the Supreme Court, a reluctant Privy Council went to the absurd extent of deeming the Plantation Tamils an itinerant community, coming and going according to job availability, to justify the Act when in fact it was their continued sweating in Ceylon’s hills while many sought safer refuges that kept the war time economy intact.

It took the 1964 judgment of O.L. de Kretser in the Colombo High Court to restore our confidence in our common sense understanding of the law as written for the ordinary reader. He deemed the Sinhala Only Act passed in 1956, [2] ultra vires because it gave advantage to one community which the other did not have; and was therefore an infringement of Article 29 of the Constitution, and therefore void. But the Supreme Court dodged de Kretser’s challenge. Sinhala Only was encrypted by a brute force majority into the 1972 Constitution. Starting with the Citizenship Acts, our law ceased to be founded on principles, reason, and humanity.

The ascendancy of J.R. Jayewardene and his punitive communal violence of 1977 and his crushing of the 1980 General Strike left us with the beginnings of arbitrary law.

Although aimed at suppressing the lowliest, the new trend that followed - disrespect for fundamental principles of justice - also affected the highest. Hardly any one of our assassinated leaders was accorded the minimal honour of a proper inquiry. They were indifferently disposed.

As much as ordinary people were shocked by the assassination of Prime Minister S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike in September 1959, the Government of the compromised Party he founded was struggling to hide its embarrassment. It was only at the previous April’s Party summit that Bandaranaike’s leading antagonist Buddharakkita Thero tried unsuccessfully to unseat Bandaranaike and install W. Dahanayake as prime minister.

Buddharakkita’s hatred of Bandaranaike was well-known, but the trigger had been pulled by Somarama Thero as witnessed at the scene. The Penal Code deemed the accomplices to the crime equally guilty and the punishment was death. The Parliament led by Bandaranaike’s shrunken party trying to find cover for themselves, passed a law that in effect revived the death sentence and confined it to Soma Rama Thero. 

The jury in the trial court ignored the direction of Justice T.S. Fernando not to take account of the testimony of persons indicted as accomplices to the crime against anyone else but themselves. No doubt influenced by the gripping testimony of Inspector Newton Perera who was indicted as an accomplice and Soma Rama’s confession to the Magistrate which he later withdrew and substituted a plea of not guilty; the jury found Buddharakkita Thero, his business associate H.P. Jayawardana and Soma Rama Thero guilty of the murder. 

The trial had major defects from the planning stages. In the absence of testimony by others not indicted as accomplices, there was no direct evidence against Buddharakkita or Jayawardana.

Jayawardana was indicted mainly because he was a frequent companion of Buddharakkita. But others associated with Budddharakkita were not prosecuted. At the pre-trial hearing the Magistrate released Mrs. Vimala Wijewardena, Buddharakkita’s close companion and political ally. Also not brought to trial was Nawaloka Tycoon. Police investigators, Inspectors Tyrrell Goonetilleke and Seneviratne, told court it was Nawaloka Tycoon who supplied Buddharakkita with the fatal bullets he sought and obtained from CID Superintendent B.C. Perera; Perera later committed suicide. Thus, the most promising way of cornering Buddharakkita, the supply of the fatal bullets, was ignored, despite which the jury made up its own mind from coloured testimonies they found convincing. 

Based on the jury’s verdict, Justice T.S. Fernando, went according to the Penal Code and pronounced death sentences on Buddharakkita, Jayawardana and Soma Rama. The defence counsel Phineas Quass surely had a point when he described the Crown’s prosecution of Buddharakkita and Jayawardena “as an Edgar Wallace type cloak and dagger story, where statements were made providing supposedly circumstantial evidence that was not evidence at all, but ‘fiction.’” 

Hanging Buddharakkita, the powerful chief incumbent of Kelaniya Temple, who intimately knew the darker sides of leading politicians would have carried a heavy political cost. On15th January 1962, eight months after the judgement, the Court of Criminal Appeal further damaged the standing of justice in Lanka when Chief Justice Basnayake leading a five-judge bench commuted the death sentences on Buddharakkita and Jayawardana to life imprisonment while leaving Soma Rama’s intact. It would have been more acceptable had Parliament retroactively removed the death sentence for murder, which Bandaranaike had previously done, and was after his assassination reimposed by Parliament ad hominem against Soma Rama.

But the Dahanayake Government wanted to hang Soma Rama to mitigate its embarrassment and had no interest in justice. 

This violated a fundamental principle of law, which makes no difference between the guilt of a killer and his accomplice. Justice T.S. Fernando had rightly ignored the unconstitutional ruling of Parliament. The subsequent Court of Criminal Appeal under Justice Basnayake had deliberately upheld the Parliament’s ruling as politically expedient. Miliani Sansoni, who later became Chief Justice had occasion to regret this when he ruled on the 1962 coup case on 25th February 1963: “Quite recently … a bench of five judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal upheld a sentence of death [against Soma Rama] passed upon a conviction for a murder committed at a time when under law the death penalty did not attach to the offence of murder. The penalty of death attached only by reason of legislation enacted with retroactive effect.” 

It was once more a matter of the courts validating bad laws passed by Parliament with retroactive effect, starting with the disenfranchisement of Plantation Tamils whose franchise had been granted by the Donoughmore Constitution of 1931 and reaffirmed by Articles 29 and 91 of the 1948 Independence (Soulbury) Constitution. The Supreme Court which opportunistically upheld disenfranchisement should instead have ruled it to have been unconstitutional and spared the country the decades of agony that followed. Instead, when some judges (as de Kretser) in the 1960s began resisting Parliament’s attacks on fundamental principles, the game was once again changed. Colvin R. de Silva’s 1972 Constitution removed all checks in the Soulbury Constitution and made the Parliament’s rulings unassailable.

Our courts from independence accepted laws passed by Parliament with simple majorities ignoring the stipulation of a two thirds majority of the entire house for legislation that violated constitutional rights.

Peter Maxwell’s manual which every lawyer has, says, “It is in the last degree improbable that the legislature would overthrow fundamental principles, infringe rights, or depart from the general system of law, without expressing its intention with irresistible clearness.” One of these fundamental principles is jus soli or citizenship by birth. Irresistible clearness means that you cannot make a person stateless under the pretence of legislation to confer citizenship on residents. Exclusion must be clearly spelt out. 

The permissibility of vagueness, as in the repeated partisan observance of Article 29, explains why our laws have fared badly in defending rights. And in one instance the Supreme Court in comments from the Bench actually appeared to justify the motives behind mob attacks on unarmed Tamils.

Twenty-seven Tamil inmates were brutally killed in the attack on Bindunuwewa Rehabilitation Camp on 25th October 2000; hundreds of others witnessed the attacks. Prominent in the attack were some of President Kumaratunga’s party supporters, aided by senior police officers. The youth who they killed had been arbitrarily detained on suspicion of being LTTE, and some were LTTE conscripts who sought safety in surrender to the Army after escape from their captors.

The Human Rights Commission’s investigation team, which comprised Faisz Mustapha, Godfrey Gunatilleke, Mrs. Manouri Muttetuwegama, Sarath Cooray and N. Selvakkumaran quickly dismissed official claims: “From all the information that we have received in the course of our inquiry, it is clear that the police officers approximately 60 in number, have been responsible for a grave dereliction of duty in not taking any effective action to prevent the acts of violence that resulted in the deaths of 27 inmates and injuries to several other inmates of the Bindunuwewa camp.” Despite the high standing of the Commission, its finding was contradicted by the Government Spokesman Ariya Rubasinghe, that the victims were armed provocateurs. This claim which was reflected in President Kumaratunga’s evasive statement influenced Justice P.H.K. Kulatilaka’s Commission Report and the Supreme Court. Kulatilaka stated in a Sunday Observer article (22 Feb.2015):

Evidence revealed that at the time of the attack Anton James had been giving telephone calls to some unknown person. … Anton James was a LTTE spy or a ploy planted by the LTTE to create a revolt in the Centre to attract international attention and sympathy for their cause. Presence of the hard core LTTE terrorist in the Centre had a devastating influence on the inmates.”

Even after 15 years Kulatilaka had to stick to an absurd story, when in fact James had phoned for help that their camp was under attack. He had asked his brother to get help from Brigadier Zacky in Batticaloa whom James knew. Kulatilaka however ironically records that about midnight, hours before the attack, a caller from Batticaloa had informed HQI Seneviratne that the Bindunuwewa camp was under attack (UTHR (J) Special Report 19). One infers that officialdom from the President downwards, the security services and the Justices knew the truth, and believed that its exposure would hurt Sinhalese interests at a time when the LTTE had made some notable military gains (before its internal fractures took their toll). James was a helpless man. The use made of him in propaganda showed the weakness of Sinhalese chauvinism that had infected even the judiciary.

The event was made more scandalous by the presence of 60 armed police officers in addition to Army personnel who did next to nothing to stop the massacre. The massacre while the Police stood by was so sensationally harrowing that the Government which had turned a blind eye until that point felt the need to ceremonially punish a scape goat. 

In a badly managed hearing apparently relying on a vague notion of command responsibility, in the absence of a legal provision incorporating the doctrine in criminal law, the High Court used the two most senior police officers, who were present and therefore most answerable, as witnesses to prosecute two relatively junior police officers, who were given death sentences. The five sentenced appealed to the Supreme Court. 

Alan Keenan of the International Crisis Group observed, there were good reasons to throw out the convictions on appeal – for reasons of the unsound, and unfair, application of command responsibility. Had the Supreme Court done this [in its verdict on 27th May 2005], it would also have given greater weight to the principle of command responsibility in Sri Lankan jurisprudence – something that is urgently needed to address our impunity problem. It chose instead a route to acquittal that was eminently questionable. 

Human Rights Watch that was represented at the Supreme Court hearing observed, Impartial observers of the Supreme Court hearing said the justices were openly hostile to the prosecution and seemed to have decided beforehand that the accused were unfairly sentenced. One justice publicly reminded the courtroom to remember that the inmates who had died were members of the LTTE, suggesting that this might mitigate the guilt of the accused (2 Jun.2005). 

One of the five judges present on the bench was N.K. Udalagama, who was placed in charge of the Commission of Inquiry appointed by President Rajapaksa with an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) to investigate 16 cases of “serious violations of human rights” in 2006.

Two of the major cases were the exhibition killing of five Tamil students on the Trincomalee sea front on 2nd January 2006 and the killing of 17 employees of Action Contre la Faim (ACF) in Mutur on 4th August 2006. 

The Commission’s verdict on the ACF case and silence on the killing of the five students in Trincomalee were on the same lines as the judicial remarks in the Bindunuwewa case, namely when Sinhalese kill perceived enemies of the race, however helpless and innocent, no one has any business to stand in judgment. That is the reality among an influential section of the Judiciary.

In the killing of the five students, Dr. Manoharan, the father of the victim Ragihar defied police intimidation to stand up and demand justice. Because of his determination the Army failed in its efforts to pass off the deaths as owing to accidental explosion of grenades the boys had carried, rather than shooting by the paramilitary police, the STF. The authorities had counted on fear among the hundreds of witnesses to come forward to ensure that their cover up succeeded. But the case has refused to go away.

Dr. Manoharan’s advocacy to see justice done led international organizations to also take up the cause, forcing the Government to take the first steps as arresting the STF men. But Dr. Manoharan was not the only family member to speak up. For a government determined that not a squeak should come from any adverse witness, the show of defiance at a memorial ceremony for the five boys by Yogarajah Kodeeswaran, whose brother Hemachandran was killed, had been noted by SSP, Kapila Jayasekere, who had presided over the killings (UTHR (Jaffna)).

Kodeeswaran worked for the ACF and was stationed in Mutur on 4th August when he and 16 of his aid worker colleagues were killed. Our reports show how elements of the Police, Army and Navy took part in the killing of the five students, and how official links between the two cases manifested.

Commission of Inquiry: Testify at your own Peril

PC Shanmugarajah from Nuwara Eliya, then attached to Mutur Police, was the sole Tamil witness to the ACF massacre. He related his experience to a confidant, and this enabled us to be in contact with him by phone during the period of his ordeal.

·         Shanmugarajah with several other policemen went before the Commission in 2007, which was at that time selecting witnesses to be called up for the hearings. Before he entered, a police superintendent assisting the Commission had warned him, “While you are in the Commission, we are looking after your wife and children. As long as you tell the right story, they will be safe.” He duly told the Commission that he saw nothing. This was months before we got to know him.

Later a Tamil commissioner, Dr. Nesiah, told the Commission’s Chairman, Justice Udalagama, privately about this witness with a view to his protection and testimony. About that time the IIGEP took him under their protection.

·         President Rajapaksa got to know of this and stopped the live video conferencing of witnesses.

The IIGEP had to be content with video recording Shanmugarajah’s testimony and obtaining his signed affidavit. His damning testimony was given to us by David Savage formerly of the Australian Federal Police who assisted the IIGEP (Appendix 1). When these were presented to the Commission in late 2008, Deputy Solicitor General Kodagoda, who was meant to lead the evidence impartially, dismissed Shanmugarajah as contradicting his own statement made to the Commission’s investigating team just after being warned by a senior police officer assisting the Commission (Appendix 1). The only eyewitness testimony was thus quashed. As we shall see, his testimony was most crucial in falsifying Jayasekera’s escape route. He asserted Ranaweera’s presence at the Mutur camp on 3rd and 4th August which gave the lie to Kapila’s testimony of leaving Trincomalee for Mutur late on the 4th with Ranaweera.

The Government’s case for exonerating itself from culpability for the attack on the international humanitarian mission, was clumsy, risible and callous. Chairman Udalagama and several commissioners fell in line. 

·         Police DIG Thangavelu, a capable Tamil investigator whom several commissioners recommended for the investigation unit was turned down by the President.

Just before the killings of the ACF victims on 4th August 2006, one of the victims Kokila had telephoned her brother Senthoorkumaran about 4.00 PM. The Government Pathologist D.M. Waidyaratna had told Peter Apps of Reuters soon after the post-mortems on 8th August that the likely time of death was the afternoon of Friday, 4th August. 

But the Pathologist later changed his verdict and gave the Commission the time as early morning on the 4th. The testimonies quoted in our report, both official and otherwise point to the LTTE having mostly cleared out of Mutur by the 3rd evening. Official attempts to blame the LTTE for the killings centred on a claim in the pro-LTTE Tamilnet that ‘LTTE fighters returned to their positions Friday (4th).’

The crucial nature of the time turned the Commissions Investigation Unit into an intimidation unit. Methodist minister Sornarajah who was in Mutur a few hours before the killings told the Commission at the preliminary hearing in 2007 that he had seen the ACF staff alive about 8.30 AM on the 4th but also saw some LTTE cadres that morning. Sornarajah was intimidated to the point of breakdown by the Police and by the Army’s lawyer Gomin Dayasiri, even as the Commission’s verdict used his sighting of the LTTE eight hours before the killings in a bid shift the blame for the massacre. Commissioner Nesiah tried to console the distraught witness.

·         Led by the Army’s lawyer Gomin Dayasiri Dr. Nesiah was eventually hounded out of the Commission with accusations that he had a conflict of interest; there was almost no protest.

·         Senthoorkumaran who had told the police in Trincomalee that he had received a call from his sister Kohila on the 4th evening just before the killings was regularly intimidated and once, abducted, and tortured. 

The Commission became an institution of abuse and intimidation where several senior figures, particularly among the Police assigned to assist it, were involved. Udalagama and Kodagoda could hardly deny complicity. Kodagoda is on the way to a leading position in the Justice Dept.

The New Sinhalese Right: Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera and the Club of Impunity 

We observed in our reports that when major violations were committed by the State from 2006 – 2010, the killings were done in such a way as to make denials easy and prosecution a thankless task.

The law-and-order machinery of the state in Sri Lanka was, and continued to be, highly politicised and nothing it says could be trusted.

Seeking to end Sri Lanka’s protracted armed conflict, international donors pushed the Government to appease the LTTE, which in turn drove Chandrika Kumaratunga to compromise with hard core elements in her own party. With her appointment of Sarath Silva, a man with an elastic conscience, as Chief Justice, her government lost direction.

The Sunday Island Defence Correspondent captured the atmosphere four days after the Bindunuwewa Massacre on 29th October 2000, noting:

“A strange blend of political thuggery by hard core Sinhalese elements, temporary emotions among the people in the Bandarawala area that were simmering about the war in general, and incompetence on the part of the police officers in the area.” 

Ignoring the warning posters for the massacre on the back of her election portraits and the agency of her own party, in particular Uva Chief Minister Weerawanni, she tried to minimise the murder of 27 young Tamils, which was reminiscent of the Welikade Prison massacre of 1983, as an ‘unfortunate incident.’

Out of deference to the LTTE in the Norwegian peace process, she in 2004, ordered the Army to stand aside and let the LTTE cross Verugal River and massacre young conscripts in the breakaway Karuna group, even though the split had decisively damaged the LTTE militarily. Things were getting dirtier. 

As we pointed out in Appendix II of UTHR (J) Special Report No.29, the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s handling of the Bindunuwewa case was marked licence given to Sinhalese extremist elements who drew their precedents from past communal attacks on minorities. Meanwhile hard-line elements were flexing their muscles and the Government capitulated. Twelve days before the Bindunuwewa verdict, on 15th May 2005 Rear Admiral Weerasekera who was in charge of the Navy’s Eastern Command, moved to boost Sinhalese extremist claims to Trincomalee by aiding the Patriotic National Movement (PNM) led by the JVP’s Wimal Weerawamsa to erect unlawfully a Buddha statue near the Trincomalee Market. 

Instead of intervening directly, as commander-in-chief, Kumaratunga got the Tamil Attorney General Kamalasabayson to deal with it. Chief Justice Sarath Silva used a counter-petition brought by an extremist local Buddhist monk to arm-twist Kamalasabayson into dropping the case for the removal of the statue. It would have been very painful for Kamalasabayson, who was himself a native of Trincomalee. It was the kind of humiliation a Sinhalese officer could, with his majoritarian political affiliation, inflict on a Tamil having about the same seniority. Unsupported, Kamalasabayson crawled home, and refused a routine extension until 60 by President Rajapaksa upon his reaching 58 in 2007; he died of cancer the same year.

In his final years, Kamalasabayson was a strong advocate for witness protection. The Bindunuwewa verdict where open communalism was advanced from the bench must have caused him much pain. When the new barbarism revealed itself in the murder of the five students in Trincomalee, the way the authorities behaved made witness protection like something on another planet. There was no further room for him as AG. 

Being vulnerable in the Parliament and Supreme Court, CJ Silva used a petition by PNM’s extremist rival the JHU, to shorten Kumaratunga’s presidential term by a year to end in late 2005. With the Norway-brokered ceasefire, which the LTTE never took seriously anyway, at breaking point Sinhalese extremists had a field day. 

After the Buddha statue fiasco Weerasekera while retaining his uniform was shunted out by Kumaratunga to a nominal post of Deputy Chief of Staff, free to stir the political cauldron.

Just after the erection of the Buddha statue, on 21st May 2005, young Lankan director Vimukthi Jayasundera’s film Sulanga Enu Pinisa (For Wind to Blow) was the joint recipient of the Camera d'Or prize for the best film presented at Cannes. The film was a strong critique of the militarisation of society.

With the onset of the election campaign Weerasekera declared in the Sunday Times of 4th September 2005, If there is a film on war even indirectly contributing towards fulfilling terrorists’ objectives wilfully, then it amounts to treason and should be dealt with severely.” 

Three weeks later Rear Admiral Weerasekera wrote in the Sinhalese Sunday ‘Divaina that producers of such films should be labelled as terrorists and hanged. This was a strange role for an officer in uniform. Mahinda Rajapaksa won the presidential election on 17th November 2005, with the cynical blessings of the LTTE which banned the Northern Tamils from voting. (Weerasekera’s action parallels that of academics and politicians in Jaffna who in 2018 blocked the screening of Jude Ratnam’s international award-winning Demons in Paradise, e.g., in Munich and Cannes.) 

It was time for the Weerawamsas and Weerasekeras to claim their reward. The latter needed something to justify his uniform and was given the Home Guards and called the head of the Civil Defence Force, a position formally given to him upon retirement in October 2006. In the face of political killings by the LTTE, the new club of impunity comprised birds of a feather brought together in the heady opportunism of the declining months of the Kumaratunga presidency and the licence they received from President Rajapaksa and his brother and Defence Secretary, Gotabhaya. 

·         Among the first of the actions of the new group was the assassination of Batticaloa MP Joseph Pararajasingham on Christmas Eve 2005, followed by the assassination of five students on the Trincomalee sea front on 2nd January. The murder was committed by STF men who were despatched to Trincomalee by retired DIG Police Kottakadeniya who was the Government’s advisor on police matters. The killings were carried out under Jayasekere, a police officer who had done a stint in the STF, and was SP Trincomalee during Weerasekera’s erection of the Buddha statue the previous year. The killing involved elements of the STF, Navy and Police.

Tamil Lives do not Matter; but worse for Sinhalese who let the side down

Stirring communal passions to activate violence goes back to Mettananda, a leading educationist who with Buddharakkita brought Bandaranaike to power. On 5th June 1956, the day Parliament passed Sinhala Only Tamil protestors launched a satyagraha on Galle Face Green. Mettananda, who had indicated that Sinhalese protestors could meet force with force, told those on the Green that they need not be afraid of the Tamil satyagrahis and urged a boycott of Tamil businesses.

·         Later that morning the satyagrahis were attacked, stoned, humiliated and injured by a Sinhalese mob led by Junior Minister K.M.P. Rajaratne (Neil DeVotta, Blowback). 

Weerasekera too showed a certain sophistication. He knew it was not good for him to give public vent to his true feelings about Tamils. Writing on the Amparai violence against Muslims in March 2018, the attackers alleging that a Muslim eatery was serving infertility drugs, D.B.S. Jeyaraj very cautiously fingered Weerasekera as the instigator without mentioning him by name, saying that during his stay in Amparai before the riot he met with lots of Sinhalese youth and had a series of meetings with police officials ( 17 Mar.2018). 

Strangely, Weerasekera, who could have ignored it, became sensitive, as the theme had resonance with other columnists and readers as he acknowledged ( 3Apr.2018). Without making a personal attack on Jeyaraj or answering his substantive allegation, Weerasekera suggested, “If Jeyaraj knows the “extremist politico” who was behind this heinous attack on Muslims, then before writing to the newspapers he should have informed it to the Police.” The entire problem was that going to the Police with such a complaint was like going to a shadow or worse. But Weerasekera was subsequently cautious. 

When after the Easter attack in 2019, Sinhalese extremist followers of Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, with elections in view, started a huge campaign to crucify Dr. Shafi on the ridiculous charge of sterilising Sinhalse women, Weerasekera was restrained. He addressed the “People’s Movement Against Wahhabi Extremism” on 4th August but kept away from attacking Dr. Shafi.

According to an intelligence report called by President Kumaratunga, in the early hours of 15th May 2005, when the illegal Buddha statue was planted in Trincomalee, Weerasekera addressed ‘a team of three-wheeler drivers offering a transport service and assured them he would ensure the statue would not be removed (Iqbal Athas, Sunday Times 19 Jun2005).’ He had used the Mettananda method for attacking Tamil protesters against Sinhala Only in 1958: Make the provocation and keep out of the way.

Weerasekera’s intemperateness showed when he attacked Sinhalese whom he regarded as traitors, as with the attack described above on award-winning film director Vimukthi Jayasundera in September 2005. By Kumaratunga keeping him on, in a dud post that sounded big without subjecting him to any disciplinary action, the office of Deputy Chief of Defence Staff became the propaganda wing of the Navy, encouraging the worst traits of indiscipline as the killing of youths abducted for ransom in the coming years.

On 21st May 2006, as the country edged close to war, President Rajapaksa attended a kool party hosted by his ally EPDP leader Douglas Devananda at his Layards Road office in Colombo with former LTTE deputy leader Karuna and Devananda seated on either side of him. This was four days after Rajapaksa castigated the EPDP leader for massacres at Allaipiddy which our investigations determined were done principally by the Navy. [3]

Importantly, the Navy Chief Sandagiri was also present at the party. The main outcome was that Karuna and Devananda agreed to cooperate with Rajapaksa on the breakup of the merged North-East Province (an anathema to the JHU and JVP). In return for the cooperation, Karuna was promised the interim administration of the East for five years and Devananda, that of the North for the same period (UTHR(J) Special Report No.29). 

The meeting laid the ground for closer cooperation between the Government, the EPDP and Karuna Group. Ironically, the latter’s initial crushing by the LTTE was aided by the Government and Norwegian Peace Makers in April 2004. We said in the same report that the Tamil MP Raviraj, who was articulate in all three languages, was killed in Colombo on 10th November 2006 by Karuna Group cadres brought to Colombo by an extremist Buddhist monk and sheltered in a temple in Colombo. 

The Chief Justice throws his weight into the cover up of Fr. Jim Brown’s murder 

The LTTE had attacked and temporarily held Allaipiddy on 13th August 2006. The Navy at Allaipiddy and Velanai was then under the command of Cdr. Nishantha Koggala.

On the next day, 14th August, Fr. Jim Brown, the parish priest of the local Roman Catholic Church had taken two civilians injured in the attack by the Navy to Jaffna on his motorcycle when the Navy had confronted him threateningly. Subsequently, Fr. Jim met Koggala at the Velanai Camp on 17th August; the encounter evidently made matters worse for him. There was miscommunication about how Fr. Jim survived the government shelling from Palaly, and Koggala reportedly commented threateningly, “Ah, so you dug bunkers for the LTTE.” The following day Fr. Jim mentioned this to Acting Kayts Magistrate Mrs. Nandasekaran, who advised him that since it was widely known that Koggala had threatened him, he should see him again and try to clear his prejudices.

On 20th August, Fr. Jim left for Allaipiddy from Bishop’s House Jaffna with a layman Wenceslas carrying a large quantity of drinking water for the people sheltering in the church after the Navy’s attack. The two were witnessed going into Allaipiddy past the naval checkpoint at 2.00 PM by a priest who had spoken to him. The alarm went out on 22nd August that Fr. Jim and Wenceslas were missing. 

On 23rd August, on her way back to Jaffna from Kayts, Magistrate Nandasekaran sent her police escort to remove the logbook giving the names of those who passed the Allaipiddy navy checkpoint. The naval personnel there refused to turn over the book. That night, Chief Justice Silva used his power as Chairman of the Judicial Service Commission to remove Nandasekeran from the post of Acting Magistrate, Kayts. The logbook was never produced.

In a related occurrence, Wimaleswaran and Mathivathanan of the Socialist Equality Party (SEP) went from Velanai to Pungudutivu in March 2007 and according to the naval log at Pungudutivu, as ascertained by Wije Dias of the SEP, the two entered Pungudutivu at 5.30 PM and left for Velanai at 6.30 (World Socialist Web Site). The two are since missing. The commander at Velanai then was Hemantha Peiris.

Other episodes purely criminal in character followed. EconomyNext (23 Feb.2019) reported, “The CID found evidence that [during 2008 – 2009] the young men abducted and later killed had been detained in locations controlled by the then navy spokesman D. K. P. Dassanayake and Commander Sumith Ranasinghe.”

As a reminder: when Navy Commander Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda petitioned the Supreme Court against his arrest in connection with the abductions for ransom and murders of the “Navy 11” he noted that as per a Police B Report of the CID dated 2nd August 2017, Travis Sinniah who was then Deputy Area Commander East had charged that:  

(a) Illegal detention cells were functioning under [Karannagoda’s] supervision at the Trincomalee Navy camp known as ‘Gunsite’; (b) [Karannagoda] had instructed Travis Sinniah not to supervise or conduct any activities with regard to these cells; (c) [Karannagoda] and several others were aware of the fact that persons were detained at these cells and later killed; and (d) [Karannagoda] is responsible for the killings of detainees held in the said cells. 

After giving the testimony Sinniah is believed to have left for Australia and re-joined after a change of government in 2015 (Sri Lankan Navy: A Collective Blind Eye, International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), 2019).

The licence to kill Tamils on suspicion given to the armed forces had by this point degenerated to the level of banditry. We described the foregoing as background to important new testimony on the ACF case. Without this context readers may find it difficult to place this testimony alongside what we have covered in our previous reports [4] . The new testimony below mentions several names. We provided the background above not just for clarity, but also to not risk being unfair to any of those named.

New Testimony on the ACF Massacre – how does it fit in? 

The ACF office had been set up in Mutur in order to provide fresh drinking water and relief to the locals after the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Most employees were Tamils from Trincomalee. By the end of 2005 the ceasefire was in tatters. We said in Special Report No. 22, “Landmine attacks against the security forces by the LTTE and reprisals by the Army and Sinhalese home guards forced a large number of Tamils to leave their homes last April and flee east to Eechilampattu division in the LTTE controlled zone (Mutur East) in May and June [2006]. Security fears had also compelled many, including Muslims feeling threatened by the LTTE, to scale down cultivation.” 

On 19th July 2006, a day after the Tamil displaced expressed their grievances to the Divisional Secretary Eechilampattu, the LTTE closed the Mavil Aru sluice gate, which denied water to many farmers in the Allai scheme. Then we have from (26 Dec.2017), The government took [a] momentous decision on July 27, 2006 to conducted (sic) the mission to secure the release of Mavil Aru from the Tiger hold.”

We got to know that in late July 2006, about a week before the attack on the ACF office, Sarath Weerasekera who had recently taken on the informal role as chief of the Civil Defence Force (CDF, the Home Guards and the Karuna Group), held a meeting at the Nilaveli Navy Camp, under Commander Priyal de Silva. Commander Hemantha Peiris of Thiriyai Camp and Lieutenant Commander Sumith Ranasinghe of Naval Intelligence East were also said to have been present.

At the meeting, Weerasekera allegedly asked the officers for help to act against the ACF in Mutur and place the blame on the Karuna Group. Peiris and Silva were reluctant, so Weerasekera called Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in their presence and told him that Peiris and Silva would not support the plan unless there was authorisation from higher up. After the call, Weerasekera and Ranasinghe stayed behind to discuss matters, while Peiris and Silva reportedly left.

The killing of the ACF staff took place eight days later on 4th August, the opportunity being provided by the LTTE occupying large parts of Mutur on 2nd August and then being driven out. We believe the Government thought it a foolproof opportunity to kill and shift the blame on to the LTTE. When the fact of the massacre was later made public, the media blamed the LTTE, but the general opinion among navy personnel as we understand it was that Gotabhaya was working very closely with Weerasekera and Ranasinghe, and that the killing was done by Ranasinghe in partnership with the CDF.

We believe the fact of the meeting, and what was discussed there, as having a strong mark of authenticity, but that does not say how the killings happened. The discussion ties up with the Kool Party Pact of 21st May 2006 discussed earlier.

The date too is very significant in explaining how the ACF was fingered for elimination. Kapila Jayasekera who directed the killing of five students in Trincomalee had already, we pointed out, marked out Yogarajah Kodeeswaran, an ACF employee who in a moment of defiance had publicly voiced at a meeting in situ his determination to seek justice for his brother Hemachandran. The Army was about to launch an operation involving Mutur East and the displacement of Tamils from the area was part of the hidden agenda of army operations from the time Tamils were militarily evicted in 1984 to plant the Sinhalese colony of Weli Oya. At the end of the Mutur operation Tamils were evicted from Sampoor to mark out an intended industrial zone that however did not take off.

Having the ACF in Mutur with Tamil employees having international access was no doubt insufferable from the standpoint of state agenda.

Law-enforcement institutions in this country have deliberately been made to fail, and as the conversation above indicates, the State has used all means of terror, intimidation and appeals to Sinhalese identity to cover up and confuse. This makes it is very hard for anyone to uncover the workings of extra-judicial measures. That is why the victims have been demanding international investigation and prosecution, but Governments have refused citing eminent standards of British justice they believe are being observed in Sri Lanka. 

The 2006 Commission of Inquiry was to receive important testimony from the police officer Shanmugarajah, whom it in 2008 blocked from video conferencing. But DSG Yasantha Kodagoda threw his affidavit practically into the dustbin about 23rd Nov. for the very facile reason, known to him, that intimidation by the police assisting the Commission had earlier forced Shanmugarajah to feign complete ignorance. By this time commissioners wanting results were demoralised by the expulsion of Dr. Devanesan Nesiah who tried to keep the Commission on even keel when the important witness Rev. Sornarajah was intimidated in the Commission’s premises. The IIGEP too left in frustration. 

There is much we could gather from the testimony above and from Shanmugarajah’s affidavit (Appendix 1) together with some of the commission proceedings. Much of this was said in UTHR (J) Special Report No. 33 of 4th August 2009, where we identified SSP Kapila Jayasekera as the likely executor of the murders.

Our expectation was that a benign political change would lead to rigorous investigation. That has not happened, and the families of victims have continued to live in fear of the State and any uniformed presence in their neighbourhood. We go over the evidence in the light of the testimony above and try to tie up some ends. 

Kapila Jayasekera: Killer-in-chief in both ACF and Five Students Cases 

As we have previously pointed out, one of the hazards of tracing killer operations is that lines of responsibility have been deliberately fuddled. Kapila Jayasekere in particular has spent considerable energy covering his racist and murderous tracks, setting a dangerous example to the men under him.

Regarding the Trinco Five case: In August 2008, SP Operations Kapila Jayasekere tried to refute Dr. Manoharan's testimony that on 2nd Jan 2006 Jayasekere was already at the scene in his pickup when the shooting of the 5 students in Trincomalee took place at 7.35 PM. In his effort to cover his tracks, Jayasekere made claims before the Commission of Inquiry that were fatal to his denial. The same trend is evident in the ACF case. Jayasekera told the Commission in the Five Students case that he picked up ASP Serasinghe in his vehicle and reached the scene of crime at 8.20 PM.

But Police Sergeant Upali Gunawardene who had been at the UC Junction checkpoint at the time of the incident had already testified at the inquest in January 2006 that only two security officers were admitted to the scene of crime that had been sealed off, the first was an Inspector Zawahir, followed after a long time by ASP Serasinghe in his own vehicle. We conclude that Kapila Jayasekere lied to deny his presence at the scene at the time of the incident and that this was in fact his modus operandi in the Five Students killings and the later ACF case.

The fact that Kapila Jayasekere’s blatant lies have not been challenged or swayed investigators reveals how the authorities have cooperated in distorting the evidence in serious crimes, and why most violations in Lanka remain a closed book.

Another damning piece of evidence was presented in UTHR (J) Special Report 24, which quotes the testimony of Poongulalon, a survivor of the Trinco Five killings who told a hospital visitor that the boys were first beaten up in the back of a vehicle and thrown onto the road by STF men who were about to leave, when an officer seated in the vehicle barked out an order to kill the boys. Poongulalon who passed out after the beating was left for dead.

As in the ACF case, we believe the victims in Trincomalee may not have been killed had Kapila Jayasekere not been nearby to issue the fatal instructions.

Regarding Navy 11: Lt. Cdr. Sumith Ranasinghe was named in the planning stage. Vice Admiral Travis Sinniah explained to the CID that the cells in Gun Site at Trincomalee base where youths abducted for ransom were held had been controlled by Lt Cdr R.P. Sumith Ranasinghe and DKP Dassanayake, both under Navy Commander Karannagoda.

In the ACF Case: The ITJP report cited adds: “From June 2006 to April 2007 [4 days after the meeting above], RPS Ranasinghe was appointed to ‘Special Duties’ on the Staff of Eastern Commander, Thisara SG Samarasinghe, conducting covert operations in the east. RPS Ranasinghe was involved in at least two attacks on the LTTE in Muttur in July 2006, weeks before the killing in Muttur of 17 aid workers from NGO Action Contre la Faim on 4 August 2006.” This suggests that Ranasinghe knew about the ACF but it takes us no further. 

What we come back to is the Club of Impunity that was in evidence in the killing of five students. Not every Sinhalese joined that club, but all were mindful that it could punish them.

·         In the five students’ case Dr. Gamini Gunatunge did an honest postmortem confirming bullet entry wounds, giving the lie to the Army’s statement that the deaths owed to accidental explosion of the grenades the boys were carrying.

·         In the ACF case Dr. Waidyaratne gave his honest opinion of the time of death as 4th afternoon to Peter Apps of Reuters and later changed it to early morning in keeping with the Commission’s agenda.

In Travis Sinniah’s case, he was Tamil, but from a leading school and may have had the connections to survive the backlash for his testimony against his errant mates.

We have identified some members of the informal club, starting with Chief Justice Sarath Silva who blocked the investigation into the murder of Fr. Jim Brown.

We can be sure that Kapila Jayasekera, Sumith Ranasinghe and Sarath Weerasekera, if not buddies, knew each other as comrades in arms. 

It is unlikely that there were well laid out plans much in advance to attack the ACF, that they knew exactly how the military operations begun on 27th July would progress, or that the LTTE would attack Mutur late on 1st August. But once the LTTE began pulling out on 3rd August, the Club found it opportune to put into operation a decision already taken – to eliminate a troublesome witness. Mutur Police Station had been under siege and Kapila Jayasekera fitted in as the right man for the job. As SSP Operations by then he had a duty to go to Mutur, but he went in such a way that if his plans were botched up, he could evade blame and his presence would be untraceable.

We refer to the Daily Mirror report of the Commission hearing of 23  Nov. 2008 by Sumaiya Rizwi. This was four days after Kodagoda had summarily dismissed PC Shanmugarajah’s affidavit. Rizwi refers to an unnamed very senior police officer who went to Mutur supposedly on 4th August 2006, accompanied by OIC Ranaweera of the Mutur Police. Their planned departure by sea from Trincomalee at 9.00 AM, the top officer said, had been delayed to 9.00 PM because of an LTTE artillery attack on the Mutur Jetty. The unnamed very senior police officer said he signed the logbook at the Mutur Police Station at 2400 hrs on the 4th (12.00 AM on the 5th) which he said they mistakenly entered as 1200 hrs (12.00 Noon) and later changed. We wonder why the Commission asked the Press to withhold Jayasekera’s name, but not OIC Ranaweera’s? 

The very senior officer had uttered patent lies which the Commission failed to pick out in contrast to the short shrift Kodagoda gave Shanmugarajah. Rizwi reported the senior officer the following day: 

“OIC Ranaweera (Mutur Police) and I left for Mutur on August 4 at 9.00 PM the Witness said. According to notes kept by the SSP Tricomalee Police Nihal Samarakoon, the witness and the Mutur Police OIC Ranaweera were in Muttur at 10.30 AM and travelled through the town, a fact the witness denies.”

On the other hand, we have from Shanmugarajah’s affidavit which Kodagoda threw out, the invaluable testimony: 

“On the day after the big attack on the Main Police Station [2nd] the OIC Ranaweera returned from Trincomalee. The attack had gone quiet and there was no further shooting. They arrived on a gunboat and it came to the Lagoon; I could see it arrive from my post. He was with the ASP Mulleriya. The Commandos arrived at the Jetty, and they came in through the back door of the Police Station near guard post number 9. They brought with them a lot of ammunition as we had almost run out of it…” 

This statement is clarified by an earlier question put by Kodagoda to Naval Lt. Meepawala who had been at the Mutur Jetty on 26th August 2008:

Please consider this carefully. A number of witnesses stated that a group of Commandos had reached the Mutur Police Station on the 3rd at about 3 PM. This matched your statement. Also, those witnesses who had been at the Mutur Police Station said that the group that arrived at 3 PM was headed by a Captain called Siranjeeve.”

Meepawala however rejected the claim that Mutur Jetty came under fire on the 4th and was disabled. Kodagoda put to Meepawala the claimed arrival of the very senior police officer, “On the 4th night the Naval Boats carried a Police Officer from Trinco to the Naval Jetty Camp. The Police officer testified to having met a military officer from a Commandos regiment by the name of Pathirana. (He also testified to having met you Meepawala).” This was something Meepawala said he could not remember:

The situation was such that I was not in a position to remember names. I recollect a Major because of his accolades which he was wearing on his shoulder and I couldn’t recall any names.” 

We have from the above, Mutur OIC Ranaweera as duty demanded had reached Mutur Police Station at 3.00 PM on 3rd August, with his commanding officer, an ASP, with the incoming group of commandos the IGP had promised the previous day. As for the senior Trincomalee-based police officer’s identity, if we exclude SSP Samarakoon and Trinco DIG Abeywardene, it must be, and appropriately, SSP (Operations) Kapila Jayasekere. A witness he regularly met professionally, saw him at Mutur Police Station on the 5th morning and spoke to us.

Then we have Samarakoon’s puzzling record that Jayasekere and Ranaweera were in Mutur Town at 10.30 AM on the 4th. We may conclude that Jayasekere did in fact come to Mutur as he claimed, with OIC Ranaweera, but a day earlier than he admitted. These considerations rubbish his story. This among other reasons made it necessary for Kodagoda to trash Shanmugarajah’s testimony.

We conclude that Kapila came to Mutur on 3rd afternoon with a purpose he could not reveal, which he had to keep hidden along with fiction about his arrival and movements.

To make the final connections we have to go back to Shanmugarajah’s testimony. 

About afternoon on the 4th the Trincomalee ACF which had spoken to SSP Samarakoon in Trincomalee giving a list of their staff in Mutur, also called the Mutur Police Station and spoke to OIC Ranaweera, who in turn discussed it with ASP Mulleriya.

Whatever had been planned, there seemed some confusion after the ACF’s request of protection for its staff. A party of ten in Mutur left for the ACF office. Apart from commandos there were Home Guard Jehangir, who had been swearing to kill Tamils and two Police officers. One was a ‘bodyguard’ to OIC Ranaweera, named Susantha. The other was the assistant Weapons Manager Nilantha. Just after the group left the Station, Shanmugarajah continued with the most decisive part of his testimony: 

“PC Punchinilame ran out of the Telephone Room. He started to say “Sir….”. The OIC at the same time received a call on his mobile telephone and was talking in Sinhala. I understood it appeared that the OIC was being told that not all LTTE cadres had left the town and that they were in the ACF office at that moment. I was near my bunker when this call came through and it is only about ten metres from the location where the OIC picked up this call. I do not know who called the OIC with this information. 

“The OIC then got onto his radio handset. I heard the OIC say: ‘Susantha, I have received information that the LTTE may be in the ACF office, however I have also received information that it is ACF staff inside the ACF Office, approach carefully. If it is ACF people protect them and bring them back to the Police Station. If it is LTTE you can attack them. Do not be scared of anything if it is LTTE just give them the maximum you can, I will look after you.’” 

We consider this decisive, because the last call brings in Kapila Jayasekera. Ranaweera having been in Jayasekera’s company would have known the intentions of the senior officer then playing hide and seek as he had done in the killing of the five students. But the fact that the ACF had approached SSP Samarakoon and had called him would have made the OIC uncertain of how to deal with the situation. There was no LTTE in town as Shanmugarajah had verified from a local Muslim. He had got out on his bicycle. A heavily armed group with Jehangir and the OIC’s trigger-happy minions going to ‘rescue’ the ACF staff was incongruous. The last caller, who would have been an officer superior to the OIC and ASP and gave the final directions, which Ranaweera conveyed with the calculatedly ambivalent formula ‘I will look after you’ sealed the fate of the ACF staff. We quote from UTHR Sp. Rep. No.30:

“Led by the commandos, Jehangir and the rest of the party including policemen and home guards turned left from the main road past the Hospital, and went to the ACF. The commandos surrounded the place. Those at the ACF were drinking tea and eating biscuits, stuff they had bought a little while ago. The commandos called the ACF staff and asked them in Sinhalese what they were doing there after everyone else had left. The latter replied that their Trinco office had asked them to remain. Jehangir butted into the conversation and without giving the ACF staff a chance to explain, insisted that the staff were LTTE. Susantha and Nilantha, the two policemen with him said nothing. The commandos remained passive. Jehangir got the staff to kneel, and the victims were fired upon as they begged for mercy. It was all over within five minutes from the time they arrived.”

The final caller above, a policeman with authority intently watching the developments on the ground, could have been none other than Kapila Jayasekera, SSP Operations. 

Law Enforcement a Prisoner of State Ideology of Racism and Terror

We have fundamentally two testimonies, unsupported except by our own judgment, to get at important truths behind the ACF killings. Why does our system of law enforcement fail so miserably, and the Sinhalese largely either do not care or dodge responsibility by associating all ills with Tamil or Muslim perfidy? Our signal cases are notorious for the lack of public-spirited witnesses coming forward. The politics of the Sinhalese has driven them to feel so weak and vulnerable, that the clarion call of the Weerasekeras not to let the side down has become part of the Sinhalese psyche. 

More recently in 2018, Rear Admiral Weerasekera attacked Dr. Deepika Udagama then Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, over the HRC’s involvement in the commonly agreed vetting of Lankan troops sent abroad on UN Peace-keeping missions. In an article published in Sinhalese, he accused Dr. Udagama of working with NGOs to treacherously further the interests of the Tigers, and in an article in July 2018 Weerasekera called for the death penalty for all traitors under the rule of a patriotic Government (Daily Ft, 17 Jul.2018). (Notable here is the role of Sinhalese and Tamil ideologues, for their different reasons, keeping the LTTE notionally alive after their complete physical extermination.) Although Dr. Udagama was unshaken and the demand itself was silly – it was to protect the country’s name – to others hearing it, it would have reinforced the message that letting the side down is dangerous.

The Sansoni Commission looking into the 1977 communal violence ignored the immediate cause, which involved a Tamil police officer at Jaffna police station being ordered by his Sinhalese superiors to issue a false message over police radio that Sinhalese were being attacked in Jaffna. No Sinhalese officers spoke up for him and the Tamil officer, Inspector Gurusamy, was later murdered by Tamil insurgents. The radio provocation to riot was officially covered up. No Sinhalese testified to it. That illustrates PC Shanmugarajah’s dilemma in the ACF case when he was under an official death threat – to be a Tamil traitor or a patriotic Sri Lankan? Our post-independence politics has made Lankan identity a figment of the imagination – that is one dilemma concerning the current protests urging national unity. 

An alternative provenance of silence was the paucity of Tamil witnesses in the five students’ case even though there were hundreds of them. They were terrorised and the Sinhalese in uniform ensured their lips were sealed. In the ACF case the local Muslim civilians who were bound to have seen the executioners were terrorized, and the one Tamil police witness was threatened. 

In the Navy’s abduction for ransom scandal, Vice Admiral Sinniah gave his testimony to the Police and left the country to avoid the backlash where his heroism in military action may not have saved him from killers like the Cdr. Ranasinghes who had official blessings. 

Even Sinhalese with good connections are not safe in this dispensation. It is this state apparatus developed to protect this dispensation of terror that killed Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga in 2009. Given the long history of impunity in Sri Lanka, it is not right to only single out the Rajapaksas, although their culpability its clear – Mahinda had charm; he could tell Tamil political leaders that Kapila Jayasekera was behind the killing of the five students and then appoint an ‘international commission’ to cover it up.

His brother Gotabhaya, just as ruthless, lacks Mahinda’s charm. In the wake of Lasantha Wickrematunge murder on 8th Jan.2009, when Gotabhaya asked Chris Morris of the BBC, ‘Who is Lasantha?’ and moved to ridicule him, the menace against dissent was palpable. Morris too was disturbed when on this question of a straightforward murder, Gotabhaya kept returning to the theme of fighting terrorism. The law did not exist for him. 

It is a tragic comment on our state of affairs that Shani Abeysekera and Nishantha Silva, our exceptional police officers uncovering the legacy of impunity, both faced persecution: one was arrested and the other had to flee the country after Gotabhaya became president. 

This disease of impunity could not have been sustained if our Judiciary had avoided becoming compromised in the State’s ideology and what it demanded. The Supreme Court’s upholding the disenfranchisement of Plantation Workers marked its surrender to the executive. The power the executive wielded over the Judiciary was demonstrated in Prime Minister Kotalawala forcing the resignation of Chief Justice Alan Rose when in 1954 he failed to convict the socialist woman activist Theja Gunawardana, who wrote about high level corruption in foreign loans, on charges of defamation. Rose was the AG who argued to make the Plantation Tamils stateless.

A largely unwritten instance of judicial interference with justice concerns the 1983 Welikade Prison Massacre and the judicial censorship of the conscientious Prison Superintendent Alexis Leo de Silva who wanted the truth on record. The testimony was given to us by his son Lalanath de Silva (UTHR (J) Supplement to Special Report No.25, 2007): 

“If there was one thing [my father] was ever so clear about – it was his duty as a Prison official with respect to all … committed to [his] ‘safe custody’ … That is why the [Colombo Chief] Magistrate [Keerthi Wijewardene] at the first inquest refused to record his full story – abridged what he said, taking down only what he wanted. At one point my father refused to continue unless his evidence was accurately recorded.”  The Magistrate became angry and stopped taking any more evidence from my father. 

In any event, my father told me that the AG’s department counsel [C.R. de Silva] 

called my father outside the room where the inquest was being held and had attempted to persuade my father to go along – his plea was that the truth would place Sri Lanka in a very adverse position internationally. My father refused to cooperate. He wanted it recorded that the Army had been complicit (by commission and omission) in the whole affair, that there were prisoners still alive after the massacre that he wanted sent immediately to the accident service for emergency treatment and that the army had blocked this and that his pleas to higher authorities to move the Tamil detainees away from Welikadeeven before the massacres had fallen on deaf ears. Of course, none of this was recorded!” 

“At the second inquest, he did not take my father’s evidence because he knew my father insisted on speaking the truth and instead selected some junior officers.  It was clear to my father that both the AG’s department personnel and the Magistrate had one clear objective – to cover up the incident and return a finding where no one could be identified and prosecuted for the massacre.  My father paid for his stance.” 

Kishali Pinto Jayawadene’s column in the Sunday Times of 1st Jan.2017 reflected on this theme beginning with the acquittals over MP Raviraj’s murder.

“There is a long string of such cases, including the Mylanthanai Case where the accused Sinhalese soldiers opted for a jury trial with a Sinhala speaking jury. Witnesses were brought all the way from Trincomalee in the Eastern province to the capital Colombo for the trial. The accused were acquitted on 25 November 2002. 

“The acquittal occurred despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary as buttressed by (then) High Court Judge, the late S. Sriskandarajah’s observations urging the jury to reconsider its decision in the light of several factors in the evidence placed before it. However, the same verdict was returned by the jury. 

“More recently we had the acquittals of the accused in the mass murder of twenty-four Tamil villagers including women and children of the Kumarapuram village in Trincomalee in the same circumstances. So there is a pattern which cannot be airily brushed aside on the assumption that these acquittals were right and proper because they were arrived at through a legal process.” 

We have recorded above Chief Justice Sarath Silva blocking in 2005 AG Kamalasabayson’s move to remove the illegal Buddha statue in Trincomalee and, in 2006, his personally blocking magistrate Srinithy Nandasekaran’s investigation into Fr. Jim Brown’s disappearance. 

In October 1982 the Supreme Court under Chief Justice Neville Samarakoon, with Justices Wimalaratne and Colin-Thome found Judge K.C.E. de Alwis guilty of ‘conduct unbecoming of a judicial officer.’ De Alwis petitioned Parliament, which formed an ad hoc select committee which summoned Justices Wimalaratne and Colin-Thome for an inquiry.

Justice Wimalaratne responded, “I think a case has been made to review all judgments by this judge [de Alwis] in his wayward career.” The public would be fully justified in making a similar demand with regard to the career of Chief Justice Sarath Silva. 

The ACF Commission: to exorcise ghosts of truth that continued to haunt regardless 

Under the watchful eyes of Justice Udalagama and State Counsel Kodagoda the Commission exercised enormous selectivity, not to reveal the truth, but to suppress it and to block every hole through which it peeped.

The JMO advanced the time to early morning by about eight hours to when it might be argued that the LTTE was present despite Reuters reporting the JMO’s original time of the killings, soon after the autopsies on the 7th, as 4th afternoon. To protect the fake time, Rev. Sornarajah who saw the ACF staff late morning, instead of early, had to be chased out of the Commission and his testimony used selectively to point to the LTTE. The fact that SSP Jayasekera claimed to have come with OIC Ranaweera, who arrived on 3rd August rather than 4th night, and was absent when the OIC directed a team to the ACF office on the 3rd, had to be suppressed, despite contradictory testimony from SSP Samarakoon and Lt. Meepawla at the Mutur Jetty.

A 5.56 mm bullet recovered from the body of Romila by Dr. Dodd at the second autopsy, created a furore because it pointed to a weapon used by the commandos and very unlikely by the LTTE. The identification of type was supported by two police officers present at the inquest. Dr. Dodd later claimed inexplicably that the bullet type was the common 7.62 mm, but the original photograph taken by Dodd and given to the government analyst was not produced (UTHR (J)) Special Report No.27).

By deliberately suppressing the time of the killings, which was afternoon, as by permitting Gomin Dayasiri to intimidate Rev. Sornaraj in the commission premises and keeping out witnesses who knew otherwise, particularly Shanmugarajah, Chairman Udalagama claimed that the LTTE was in control early morning and no witness saw the Army; and then disingenuously introduced the LTTE as the possible killers, “There was other evidence like the presence of Muslim home guards. They had access to the weapons. And it could have been LTTE (BBC 14 Jul.2009).”  

It was not the end of the immense stress the victim families were put through. Through the Police, Gomin Dayasiri, the lawyer for the Army got the Police to bring the ACF families to Fort Frederick and asked them to sign letters blaming the LTTE. Senthoorkumaran, who received a phone call in the evening from his sister Kohila about 4.00 PM just before she was killed, was later abducted and tortured. The Commission knew that Jayasekera deliberately gave the wrong time he had entered Mutur, to justify his absence at the time of the killings. It was just as well that they wrapped up the Commission saying there wasn’t enough money to clear its work.

Even if not intended, the way the Commission functioned to exorcise the truth made it a display of state racism. It has repeatedly happened when the truth is advertised as hurtful to the Sinhalese. It has defined the shape of our judiciary and the treatment of minorities who call for justice. There were many exceptions. Deepika Udagama as chairman of the Human Rights Commission, did a salutary job in advancing the protection of Muslims during the communal violence against them in 2019. 

Instances we have given above suggest that overall, the Judiciary and law enforcement are quite rotten where the minorities are concerned. Yasantha Kodagoda is now a supreme court justice and is likely to become chief justice. Given the nature of his training and performance in the ACF case, what could the minorities expect from him as a judge? 

Recent history has shown that many of these adverse consequences would inevitably trickle down to the Sinhalese. The Easter bombings on 21st April 2019 showed inexplicable negligence by the State to the point of being complicit. It is by now well-known that Army-Mohideen for whom there was an arrest warrant from 2017 for his association with Zahran’s violent activity, was in close contact with the Police and Army. So close it seems for a wanted man that he kept very little away from his handlers. Though closely monitored, he assisted Zahran in stockpiling munitions and helped his family to move from Kattankudy to Sainthamaruthu on the eve of the bombings. Media reports indicate that the Police got a haul of information by arresting Mohideen, whom they called the second in command, soon after the Easter bombings (IANS, ITV, Washington Post 26 Apr.2019). 

Senior DIG Kapila Jayasekera was posted to Batticaloa in July 2017 when Zahran’s was the only armed group in his area. Army-Mohideen lived and acted under his very nose and he apparently knew nothing, although the SIS had given information that Mohideen was involved in training armed groups. On 7th March 2019, ASP Wickremasekera of the CID sent men to interview Army Mohideen, but evidently left him as a mere informant. On 16th April a bomb on a bicycle had been detonated near Kattankudy. The IGP had been informed and he asked ASP Wickremasekera to investigate. Surely, the Police, the Army and Jayasekere in particular, could not have missed Mohideen’s visible moves on the eve of the fateful Easter. 

One also sees the kind of state we would have when its movers and shakers use outfits like the Civil Defence Force (CDF) as an instrument in their dirty work, as in the ACF killings, confident that the minions would not bite the hand that fed them; perhaps, they did not.

The handlers of these minions finally became front runners for political office. How the Easter bombings affected the coming presidential election leaves much to be answered. A part of the problem is that the kind of training Jayasekere had in anti-terrorism is not of the cognitive kind. He was a political cop who had not done any honest policing: for his ilk, if the person is a Tamil and you don’t like him, just kill! Unfortunately, we have a president who earned his spurs dealing summarily with Sinhalese youths in Matale during the second 1987-1990 JVP insurgency – by the lorry-loads – even as the LTTE in that period imitated them in dealing with Tamil dissent in the North. Leaving such men to defend the country’s interest and security in a time of peril is not a cure. 

We come back to the central problem. It is life and its quality that we want to enhance. What is then the urgency in protecting the Sri Lankan Rupee when Lankan life has been made very cheap? We are happy to learn that in the current protest to send home the present leaders, questions about our bloody past and future have also been raised. We end with a note on the latter. 

A Social Democratic Future? 

In the final analysis the strengths of our institutions depend on whether our politics provides the social basis and harmony to sustain them. One leader who thought deeply about this was Sir Ponnambalam Arunachalam, who during his active years after 1913 advanced universal suffrage, free education and trade unions to protect the rights of workers. For our political future he pointed to the examples of Switzerland and Denmark, where social democracy prevailed. Pointing to the special place education enjoyed in Scotland, he said, there “education, elementary and secondary is so widespread and higher education so well-provided for, that one boy in four goes to the University. No wonder that in every part of the Empire, Scotsmen hold a position quite out of proportion to their population (Our Political Needs, 1917).” 

A facet that marks out the Nordic countries and Switzerland is their respect for International Law. That enabled them to resolve their problems, social and diplomatic, peacefully. A pledge made by an accredited representative of a government to his counterpart in another, is recognized as binding in international law. From 1922 Immigrant Indian labour was brought to Ceylon on a government to government undertaking that they would be entitled to the same rights as the other local inhabitants. By 1940 our leaders were brazenly denying that any undertakings were given. It led in 1949 to removal of the franchise the immigrants had long cherished under the law. It put us on the wrong side of international law, to pay the price our peccancy entailed.

In 1997, our Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar acceded in Geneva to the Optional Protocol to the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which allowed appeals to the UN body against convictions, especially under the PTA, in local courts. This was a right citizens enjoyed under international law. Singarasa appealed and received in 2006 a recommendation by the UN Human Rights Council for a revision of the crippling sentence imposed on him under the PTA. Our Chief Justice Sarath Silva ruled infamously that laws under the ICCPR are not laws in Sri Lanka unless adopted by its Parliament. Like the rejection of our earlier undertakings on Indian immigrant labour, this new ruling placed us firmly in the category of a paraiah state. In a laughable move to appease the UN, Sarath Silva’s rejection of the Optional Protocol led to the passage of the local ICCPR Act, which gave the Police enhanced powers of arbitrary detention, completely nullifying habeas corpus which was a mitigating aspect of the colonial state.

Our impressions about countries are formed by experience and from what we read in the news. Those who have been expatriates would have faced the question of where to bank their savings. Instinctively, they would feel comfortable with banks in Switzerland or the Nordic countries that try to be at peace within themselves and with their neighbours. They would think twice about depositing it in a bank in our country. Finally, it goes back to integrity in government, stability and protections that are enforceable. 

We must ask, if the current crisis ends peacefully and an IMF agreement enables us to limp on, do we go back to the same state structures that bred discord and made us backward? Our leaders who when it was convenient paid lip service to Arunachalam and undermined his vision completely, left us a wounded nation. We flattered ourselves a democracy, which we were not after the Citizenship and Franchise Acts that followed independence. How could we be, after making villeins of the most productive section of our working class that enabled us to limp through the past decades? We became a slave state like colonial Virginia. We hobbled ourselves with nationality and ethnicity, fought over dubious histories, and bloodied ourselves. 

It is good to see what we were at the onset of British rule in 1799, from one of the earliest laws in our statute book – Lord North’s Proclamation: “We hereby do allow liberty of conscience and the free exercise of Religious Worship to all persons who inhabit and frequent the said settlements of the island of Ceylon, provided always that they quietly and peaceably enjoy the same without offence or scandal to Government.”

Lanka was long a collection of settlements where people were free to come and go, minding their own business. Intercourse with India formed an important aspect of our intellectual, commercial and cultural life. The diminution of that contact was presaged by centralization, the railways and war time rationing. Instead of developing the North, the North thoughtlessly became prisoner of the postal order economy, which absorbed the educated youth from the North. It had to end, and when Sinhala Only ended it, we were left with ethnic conflict. Any settlement to the ethnic conflict will have to loosen the tight grip Colombo has on the entire country. The now dormant economic potential of the North was captured in Prideham’s Ceylon published in 1850: 

Point Pedro is not, as is commonly supposed, the northernmost point in Ceylon, it being two miles distant. It is called by the natives Parettitorre or Cotton harbour, from the great quantity of cotton formerly produced here, and by the Portuguese was named Punto das Pedras, or rocky point ... A considerable trade is carried on with the Coromandel coast in palmyra timber, in return for which are imported grain, cloth, &c.” He also describes another port nearby: “There is a passage for boats up the river, which is very intricate and terminates a few miles to the west of Point Pedro at Tondeman-aar,”

The 1871 Census shows that in comparison with 47 ships anchored in Colombo and 31 in Galle, there were 35 anchored in Jaffna, 10 in Pt. Pedro and 13 in Kayts. Those northern ports are largely closed today. The prosperity of the North, its intellectual development and commerce, were closely entwined with this sea traffic. The national tea economy and the Northern Tamils’ postal order (remittance) economy were an unsustainable aberration. Tamil politics was unrealistically tied to its educated youth getting a disproportionate share of government clerical service jobs, which influenced our politics, and our errant response to Sinhalese nationalism. 

One cannot avoid being struck by the story of Allen Abraham, no doubt a largely self-taught man who was professor of Tamil and then Mathematics at Jaffna College. A native of Karainagar (Kayts), his flair for Astronomy was no doubt nurtured by the poetry and cadence of the sea and its traffic that were the lifeblood of his community. In 1912 he was made Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society for his original work on Halley’s Comet. Where are the erudite products of Jaffna College today and where is Jaffna? The dominance of Colombo in our lives is economically and intellectually stultifying. We need elbow room. 

We have a long way to go to gain social democracy. But reopening the ports in Jaffna to resume their natural traffic would be a great gain to life in this country. For children in Jaffna to go to events like the annual book exhibition in Chennai (Madras) and to visit its scholarly and cultural events by sea and rail, would make the North cosmopolitan and intellectually active as it once was and become in turn a great boon to this country. An arid North that produces largely emigrants is no boon to the country.

George Bell the Bishop of Chichester was no pacifist, but radically opposed carpet bombing of German cities during the second world war. But William Temple the archbishop of Canterbury, a member of the labour party, thought it not inappropriate that Germans should pay for the crime of backing the Nazis. The important difference was that Bell through regular contacts knew the German people, as not all being Nazi supporters. Bell was in close touch with Bonhoeffer and Hans Schonfeld, who kept him informed of the group that was plotting the assassination of Hitler. This contact during the war enabled the blossoming of the European Union at its end.

Even here at the height of the war Tamils benefitted from such friendships some of whom have featured in our writing above. Our future depends on our ability to keep to the middle ground.  

Appendix 1

Appendix 2

Appendix 3



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[1] Introduced by the Colebrooke – Cameron Reforms of 1833 followed by coffee and then tea plantations in the central hills, the production of which by labour imported from India formed the centre of the export economy. In turn Colombo became the hub of commercial activity. This is reflected in the decline of the once thriving ports in the North and Galle in the South, and the rail network by which the British reinforced central control.

[2] The Official Language Act No.33 of 1956, which made Sinhala the official language of administration, putting Tamil speakers at a distinct disadvantage.

[3] On the night of 13th May 2006 the Navy killed an extended family of thirteen in Allaipiddy and five civilians in nearby Velanai. Except for one person of uncertain affiliation, people of the area consulted by us identified the Navy as the perpetrators. 

[4] In particular see, Special Reports 30, 33 and 34


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