Sri Lanka: NfR’s calls for a serious investigation into the discovery of a mass grave in the Matale District of Sri Lanka.

NfR Sri Lanka, a net work of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders,  views the discovery of a mass grave in Matale in the  Central Province of Sri Lanka   should lead  to a renewed  discussion on   violence against political opponents, accountability, truth and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Finding a mass grave of 200 bodies is a serious matter  that needs special attention.  Therefore  NfR proposes  that the government of Sri Lanka  should appoint an independent commission with sufficient resources and powers  to investigate and bring to light the circumstances under which so many came to be buried at the site and deal with those responsible, if evidence could be collected on this matter.   Evidence of the existence of mass graves have been placed before the Presidential Commissions of Inquiry appointed in the 1990s  but  these Commissions had apparently not probed into these mass graves due to limitations in their mandates.  However the reports of these Commissions have referred to the existence of mass graves and recommended that steps be taken to investigate further into them.  Unfortunately the recommendations of these Commissions on this matter have not received any attention.

Quite ironically, when the news of the finding of the mass grave in Matale spread various  interested groups posing as “experts” have been  busy attempting to claim that the remains belongs to different time periods and provided bizarre reasons for the burial at that site.  Even the Government had  asked the Archaeological Department to investigate  to see if the  skeletons unearthed  had  any archaeological value.  Fortunately some of the theories put forward by interested persons have been debunked by the reports  issued by doctors, police and  other analysts. NfR believes that finding the truth relating to this mass grave cannot be a difficult task.  Since most of the skeletons are said to have signs of severe torture and  evidence  of hasty burial, NfR emphasizes  the need for preservation of all body parts found for a scientific investigation.   Networking for Rights believes that it is only an independent investigation of international standards could   confirm the time period and reasons for deaths behind these skeletons. NfR calls for such an investigation to find out the truth. 

Examining the contents of the published parts of the reports of the relevant Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances and the unpublished parts of their reports which are at the Government Archives Department could be a good starting point for the investigations into this mass grave and the others mentioned in the Reports of the Commissions.  A political process should be initiated to provide justice to the families of the victims and punishment of the perpetrators. Remedial measures should also be taken to prevent the occurrence of such graves in the future.

The years betweenn 1988 to 1994  are often described as the period of  terror  (beeshana samaya)  in the Southern part of the country.  During that time anyone who fell foul of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) and its armed wing Deshapremi Janatha Viyaparay (DJV) or the governing United National Party of the time or State’s armed forces under its command, had very little chance of survival.   Tens of thousands were killed, while many went underground to escape the wrath of one or the other party.   Many others disappeared without any trace. Both the State and non-State actors were responsible for the abductions and extra judicial killings that took place then. But it is reported that a majority of the killings were at the hands of State institutions.   Some opposition political parties and civil groups too collaborated with the state military apparatus to protect their lives form the DJV.

Beginning from the 1980s the North and East too have had its measure of abductions, killings and disappearances of persons both at the hands  not just of the State actors but at the hands of the LTTE which was a serious threat to the law enforcement authorities at that time.  

If the remains found at Matale are indeed of those who went missing in the 1980s and the 1990s  it would help bring closure for the families of the victims, many of whom still do not know what happened to their dear ones.  What is important however,  is that this investigation  should not become another political fiasco.

To emerge as a healthy democracy Sri Lanka needs to comes to terms to terms with this horrific past and only a process of truth telling and reconciliation can heel our communities of those dark periods. The discovery of  the  mass grave  at Matale provides an opportunity for the government to take a lead and show the world that it does not fear the truth of human rights violations  related to political violence’s including military actions by encouraging a open discussions, and inviting experts to investigate  the findings.  President Mahinda Rajapakse is famously remembered as the person who took all the information about these killings in the South to the UN while he was just a Opposition Member of Parliament at that time.  He now has a chance to initiate an investigations into these killings by initiating an serious investigation into the mass grave at Matale and identifying the victims without any political interference, and ensure that if the remains belong to those who disappeared during the terror era of 1988 -1994, the perpetrators are brought to justice, just as those who have committed war crimes should be held accountable.

Failure to take necessary steps for such an open and independent investigation and to allow the legal procedures to follow due course will make the present government also responsible for covering up the 88 – 90 disappearances by default.




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