Unlike in the previous year, there were no substantiated reports of extrajudicial killings, although the use of force against civilians by government officials, while increasingly rare, remained a problem. The government arrested several members of the armed services and political class suspected in unsolved cases, some more than a decade old.
A total of seven suspects were charged with five counts in the killing of Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Nadaraja Raviraj in 2006, including three naval officers and one former ex-army soldier. Three of the seven were charged in absentia, as two had fled the country and another could not be located. Criminal Investigation Division (CID) sources told the media the weapon used to kill Raviraj was traced back to the chief of the Tamil Makkal Viduthalaip Pulikal political party and former chief minister of the Eastern Province Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan (alias Pillayan). On December 27, Australian newspaper The Sunday Morning Herald reported Sri Lankan police issued an arrest warrant in absentia for one of the suspects, former police officer Fabian R. Toussaint. A spokesperson for the Australian Federal Police declined to comment as to whether they were assisting with the investigation.
On July 4, the government re-arrested 12 of 13 persons convicted of the 2006 murder of five Tamil high school students on a Trincomalee beach; the convicted persons had been released in 2009. Among the suspects was an assistant superintendent of police, who at the time of the murders was a Trincomalee-based police inspector. On October 14, the presiding judge released the suspects on bail with instructions not to threaten prosecution witnesses.
On October 8, the Colombo chief magistrate authorized the CID to detain two suspects for 90 days in connection with the killing of former Tamil National Alliance Party member of parliament Joseph Pararajasingham. Pararajasingham was killed by a group of unidentified gunmen in 2005 during Christmas Mass at St. Maria's Church in Batticaloa. The two suspects were identified as Edwin Silva Krishnanandaharajah (alias Pradeep Master) and Rengasami Kanayagama (alias Kajan Mama). On October 11, the CID arrested former chief minister of the Eastern Province Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan in connection with Pararajasingham’s killing. The CID also informed the court that two additional suspects involved in this incident had fled abroad.
On October 7, the Jaffna High Court convicted four army personnel of the 2010 rape of a Tamil woman and sexual assault of another. The judge sentenced the four men, who had been out on bail for several years, to 25 years’ imprisonment, rupees (Rs.) 600,000 ($4,286) in compensation, and Rs. 35,000 ($250) in fines. If the convicted men are unable to pay the fines, they are subject to an additional five years’ imprisonment. One of the convicted individuals fled the country following his release on bail, but the government was reportedly working with Interpol to re-arrest him.
The Human Rights Office reported two police officers, Nihal Rajapakse and W.M. Balasuriya, were sentenced on December 3 to seven years’ rigorous imprisonment by the Kandy High Court for the 2005 torture of Rohitha Liyanage and Sarath Bandara. The presiding judge also ordered the officers to pay the victims Rs. 10,000 ($71) as compensation.
On October 16, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe tabled two reports in parliament as a prelude to debate on the same scheduled for October 22. Although the investigations detailed in these reports refer to events dating back to 2006, this was the first time their findings were made public. The first report was by the Commission of Inquiry Appointed to Investigate and Inquire into Serious Violations of Human Rights (also known as Udalagama Commission or UC), established by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2006. The second was by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (also known as Paranagama Commission or PC), also established by former president Rajapaksa in 2013. The UC was tasked with investigating 16 of the country’s most high-profile cases of human rights violations, which occurred from 2005 to the date of its appointment. Some of these cases included the killing of 17 aid workers of the international nongovernmental organization (NGO) Action against Hunger in 2006; the killing of five youths in Trincomalee (also known as Trinco Five) in 2006; the killing of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar; and the killing of Tamil National Alliance parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham in 2005, among others. Civil society often criticized the PC and UC’s operations for their inefficiency, flawed methodology, overt intimidation of victims who gave testimony, and concerns that it was established largely to exonerate the military for its prosecution of the war.
The UC completed proceedings in only seven of the 16 cases it was charged with investigating, citing insufficient time for the remaining nine. It concluded the LTTE terrorist group committed killings in a majority of cases investigated but also found the military culpable in others. The PC report accepted Sri Lankan Army (SLA) shelling caused a substantial number of civilian deaths but stressed “this was an inevitable consequence of the LTTE’s refusal to permit civilians to leave their control in order to use them both as a shield and a pool for recruitment.” Its findings thoroughly rejected the suggestion that “civilians were either targeted directly or indiscriminately by the SLA as a part of an alleged genocide plan.” The PC asserted the military lacked the credibility to probe charges against itself of having committed gross violations of human rights, necessitating an independent judicial investigation with some degree of international involvement to establish the facts.
On September 16, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) submitted A/HRC/30/CRP.2, also known as the Report of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) (Section 5). In the report, the OISL found there were reasonable grounds to believe the security forces and paramilitary groups associated with them were implicated in unlawful killings carried out in a widespread manner against civilians and other protected persons. Tamil politicians, humanitarian workers, and journalists were particularly targeted during certain periods, but ordinary civilians were also among the victims. Discernible patterns of killings were evident in the vicinity of security force checkpoints and military bases, and also of individuals while in custody of the security forces. The typical modus operandi involved the arbitrary arrest or abductions of individuals by security force personnel, sometimes with the assistance of paramilitary group members operating in unmarked “white vans” that were reportedly able to pass security checkpoints or enter security force bases. These violations were and still are facilitated by the extensive powers of arrest and detention provided in the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), as well as Emergency Regulations in force until 2011.
The OISL also found reasonable grounds to believe that the LTTE unlawfully killed Tamil, Muslim, and Sinhalese civilians perceived to hold sympathies contrary to the LTTE. The LTTE targeted rival Tamil political parties, suspected informers, and dissenting Tamils, including political figures, public officials, and academics, as well as members of rival paramilitary groups. Civilians were among the many killed or injured by LTTE indiscriminate suicide bombings and mine attacks.