Report by an independent international law group on
As a United
Nations member, the Sri Lankan Government is legally obligated to respect and observe
fundamental human rights and freedoms. Specifically, the Government must prevent
extra-judicial killings by its own agents in order to comply with its international
obligations. The Geneva Convention, which embodies binding principles of customary
international law unequivocally proscribes extra-judicial killings or summary execution,
the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment
announced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are
recognized as indispensable by civilized people.
Moreover, as a party to the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICPR), the Sri Lankan Government is
bound to prevent arbitrary deprivation of life and other cruel, inhuman or degrading
treatment. Finally, should such events take place, the Government of Sri Lanka has a duty
to prosecute those found guilty.
The international community has repeatedly urged the Government of Sri Lanka to prevent
further violence and to prosecute security force members committing extra-judicial
killings. In 1983, the Government assured the United Nations that it intended to protect
the fundamental rights of all Sri Lankan nationals. In February of 1984, Sri Lanka's Permanent Mission to the United Nations reiterated
this commitment, assuring the United Nations' Commission on Human -Rights that the rash of
Tamil killings during 1983 would be investigated and that the security forces responsible
would be punished. To date, however,
no security force personnel
have been prosecuted. The only sanction meted out has been the discharge of some officials guilty of gross
human rights violations. On one occasion, for example, the Government discharged 149 navy
and army personnel implicated in killing 51 innocent civilians in the Jaffna district
between July 23 11 and 27, 1983. Even this relatively minor sanction has been rarely
utilized. In the majority of cases, the Government has failed to discipline responsible
security force members at all, despite assurances to the contrary. The failure to punish security force personnel implicated in violence and the weak
sanctions meted out in rare instances of punishment seriously compromise Sri Lanka's
international obligations and its domestic law.
The ICPR requires State Parties to provide effective domestic remedies for violations
of the individual rights and freedoms recognized in the Covenant. In addition, Sri Lanka's
penal code imposes an affirmative obligation to inquire into and to try all punishable
offenses. Under Sri Lankan law murder is punishable by death and lesser included offenses
such as culpable homicide carry stiff prison sentences. Sri Lanka's statutes regulating
security force conduct also prescribe severe sanctions for extra-judicial killings and
other violations of civilian rights.
This study recounts repeated incidents for which the Government has accepted
responsibility for violent acts by security force personnel and for which legal or
administrative remedies have neither been pursued nor provided redress.
The following is a synopsis of extra-judicial killings committed by the security forces
since July 1979. Both the Tamil militants and the Government have acknowledged
responsibility for the incidents attributed to them in this report. The description of
each event has been divided into four categories:
1. the incident cited by the security forces as the cause for retaliation
which often resulted in the deaths of innocent people;
2. the actual incident in which innocent civilians were killed by the
3. the Government's recognition of security force responsibility and its
response in such incidents;
4. the Sri Lankan laws regarding the offense and appropriate punishment
applies in such circumstances. This section has been included only where it is clear that
the Government failed to fully comply with Sri Lankan law.
- July 14, 1979 - Extra Judicial Killing
- May - June 1981 - Killings, Jaffna Public
- May 18, 1983 - 175 Tamil homes burnt
- July 23 - 27, 1983 - Sinhala army kills 51
- July 25 & 27, 1983 - 53 Tamil
prisoners killed in jail
- March 20, 1984 - Extra Judicial killings in
Vavuniya & Jaffna
- March 28, 1984 - Chunnakam & Mallakam
- April 9 - 12, 1984 - Massacre of estimated 50
Tamil civilians in Jaffna
- August 11, 1984 - Extra Judicial killings,
- September 1, 1984 - Point Pedro Massacre
- September 11, 1984 - Women & Children
- December 4, 1984 - Ootuvayankulum Farm
- January 5, 1985 - Vankalar Cahtholic Church,
1. On July 12, 1979 emergency rule was declared in the Jaffna district following Tamil
militant attacks on several politicians.
2. On July 14, several Tamil youths were taken into custody by police. Six were killed.
3. The Government appointed a Parliamentary Select Committee to inquire into the
killings in August of 1979.20 The Committee's recommendations, which found culpable
homicide were published in 1982. However, the Government did not implement them.
4. Sri Lankan law stipulates that when a person dies while in police custody, his or
her body must be surrendered to a magistrate's custody for inspection into the cause of
death. This procedural requirement was not followed. (Emergency Regulation 15A which
permitted disposal of bodies without inquest proceedings into cause of death was not
enacted until June 3 1983) The Select Committee's appointment was in conformity with Sri
Lanka law because appointment of investigators is within the Government's discretion.
However, Sri Lanka's criminal procedure code requires prosecution when the inquiring body
finds sufficient evidence that a crime was committed or reasonable grounds to justify
further proceedings. Consequently, the Public Prosecutions Director should have prepared
indictments for the culpable defendants' trial upon securing the Attorney General's
Because Sri Lankan law requires trial of defendants committing punishable offences,
the Government's failure to follow the Select Committee's recommendation does not comply
with the criminal procedure code. Sri Lanka's criminal law provides that culpable homicide
is punishable by up to 20 years imprisonment.
May - June 1981
1. Some days prior to the District Development elections of June 4, 1981, violence
broke out in the town of Jaffna. At an election rally held by the Tamil United Liberation
Front 2 police officials were killed and 2 others injured. On June 2, a state of emergency
was declared and a curfew was imposed.
2. In retaliation, the police set fire to the market area in Jaffna, the office of a
Tamil newspaper, the home of a Jaffna M.P., and the Jaffna Public Library. In addition,
security forces killed one Tamil at Neerveli, two at Urumpirai, one at Keerimalai, and one
at Nallur between June 2 and 4.
3. The Government acknowledged police responsibility for the burnings in Jaffna. Police
teams were formed to investigate the Jaffna violence. A trial of the police officials
responsible for the destruction commenced in Jaffna but was subsequently moved to Colombo.
Relocation was reportedly necessary to protect implicated police from angry mobs in
Jaffna. However, the trial never reconvened because the defendants could not be located.
4. Sri Lankan law empowers magistrates to order detention of suspects likely to
flee. It is unclear why the police charged in the Jaffna tragedy were not retained in
May 18 1983
1. Tamil militants attacked a polling booth in Jaffna during local government elections
in an effort to subvert the elections. Two soldiers died and several were injured.
2. In retaliation army personnel burned 175 Tamil homes, killed 1 Tamil, and wounded
others in Thineveley, Jaffna on May 18.
3. The Government admitted the security forces' responsibility for the destruction. A
senior police official remarked that 'what happened in Jaffna ... is exactly what the
terrorists want, they want people to be resentful and embittered with the army." The
Government abandoned efforts to discipline those responsible when 40 soldiers from the
regiment involved deserted in protest.
4. Murder is punishable by death both under Sri Lanka's Army Act and its penal
code.Culpable homicide carries a maximum sentence of 20 years under both these laws.
Government's failure to prosecute individuals known to have committed punishable offenses
conflicts with its legal obligations to prosecute individuals violating the criminal law.The
Army Act provides that its provisions for court martial and punishment of offending
military personnel do not abrogate civilian criminal court jurisdiction.
July 23 - 27, 1983
1. Tamil militants killed 13 soldiers near Thinevely on July 23.
2. In response, security forces attacked civilians in a number of towns in the Jaffna
district. On July 23, the army killed 51 people in Tirunelvely, Katharmadam, and Mathagal.
During the evening of July 26, 130 navy personnel went on a rampage in Trincomalee town,
burning hundreds of Tamil houses and shops and destroying a number of Hindu temples.
3. In a letter to Amnesty International the Government accepted responsibility for the
killings by "members of the armed forces on the rampage.' The Government contended
that the militants' attack on the 13 Thineveley soldiers "resulted in the pent up
feelings of the soldiers [getting] the better of their sense of discipline., The
Government subsequently discharged "with ignominy' 149 army and navy personnel
implicated in the 51 Jaffna district killings and Trincomalee burnings.
4. Under the Navy Act arson is punishable by death or any of the lesser sanctions it
specifies.The penal code prescribes a maximum 15 year prison term and fines as punishment
for arson.Civilian criminal courts have concurrent jurisdiction with navy tribunals to
prosecute military personnel. Dismissal with disgrace is the third most severe punishment
authorized by the Navy Act. Murder is punishable by death under both the Army Act and
penal code.Culpable homicide is subject to a maximum 20 year term of imprisonment under
both the Army Act and the penal code. Army tribunals and civilian criminal courts have
concurrent jurisdiction over military personnel.
Discharge with ignominy is the fifth most severe punishment authorized by the Army
Act and is not a specified punishment for killing civilians.Consequently, the Government
failed to sufficiently sanction the soldiers involved in the Jaffna killings under Sri
July 25 & 27, 1983
1. On June 27, 73 Tamils either detained or convicted under the Prevention of Terrorism
Act were transferred to the Welikade Prison outside Colombo. Following the July 23 Tamil
rebel killings of 13 soldiers in the Jaffna district anti-Tamil sentiments among the
Sinhalese were inflamed.
2. On July 25, 300-400 Sinhala prisoners broke into the compound where the Tamils were
held and murdered 35 prisoners. The remaining Tamils were transferred to another prison
building. However, on July 27, 17 Tamils who survived the first attack were murdered in
another attack within the prison.
3. The Government acknowledged this event. However, it absolved the prison guards of
responsibility for their failure to contain the riot, because the Welikade
guards were all unarmed. After conducting a one day inquiry, the magistrate returned a
verdict of homicide, but was unable to identify those actually responsible for the murder.
Consequently, further investigations were ordered.
In January of 1984, President Jayewardene announced that a Supreme Court Judge would
be appointed to conduct an independent judicial inquiry into the prison tragedy. To date,
no such appointment has been made.
March 20, 1984
1. On March 20, two air force personnel were shot dead on the Jaffna Peninsula while
traveling on a bus. A militant group took credit for these killings.
2. In retaliation, the air force reportedly killed at least 7 civilians and injured 24
others in Jaffna and in Vavuniya, located 90 miles away.
3. Although the Government acknowledges these incidents, it asserts that the victims
were 'bystanders caught in the crossfire between militants and the air force. The
Government neither conducted an inquiry into these events, nor reprimanded military
personnel for the civilian deaths.
4. Murder is punishable by death under the Air Force Act as well as the penal code.
Like the penal code, the Air Force Act imposes a 20 year maximum sentence for culpable
homicide.In addition, the penal code provides that death caused by negligence carries a 5
year maximum sentence Given the Government's obligation to inquire about and punish
acts that violate the criminal law, an investigation of the circumstances surrounding
these civilian deaths should have been conducted to determine whether the deaths were
avoidable. The Air Force Act provisions for court-martial and punishment of offending
personnel do not abrogate civilian criminal court jurisdiction.
March 28, 1984
1. On March 25, a police officer was killed by an unknown gunman on Courts Road, Kayts.
Another officer was killed in the Jaffna district. On March 28, air force personnel
escaped an armed militant attack
2. Later on March 28, air force officials opened fire in the Chunnakam market place, a
town eight miles outside Jaffna. Eight Tamils were killed in the onslaught. Shortly
thereafter, air force personnel began shooting at citizens of Mallakan and Telleppallai,
killing 1 and injuring 22
3. Air force officials admitted that both of these attacks were unprovoked. President
Jayewardene subsequently stripped the responsible air force commander of his command and
transferred him to Colombo.
4. It is questionable whether the Government's punishment of the commanding officer
alone was sufficient under Sri Lankan law. Since the airmen were implicated in the
'unprovoked' killings, full compliance with the Sri Lankan criminal procedure code seems
to require punishment of the air force rank and file involved in the Jaffna district
tragedy as well as the superior officer.
April 9 - 12, 1984
1. Tamil militants bombed an army truck in Jaffna on April 9. Between April 10 and 12,
militants reportedly attacked a police station in Point Pedro.
2. Army and navy personnel retaliated for the truck attack by opening fire in Jaffna
and its surrounding environs. A number of bodies were reportedly burned to thwart
3. The Minister of National Security contended that all of the estimated 32 killed were
terrorists. However, the Government Agent for Jaffna estimated that 50 people died between
April 9 and 12 and that 'hardly any of those killed by the army were linked with the
guerrilla campaign for more Tamil minority autonomy. During this period, emergency
regulations, which permitted police to bury casualties without postmortem or inquest were
in effect and the identity of those killed was never established.
4. Murder is an offense punishable by death, under the Army and Navy Acts, and the
penal code. Culpable homicide under all three acts carries a 20 year maximum sentence. In
additon, death caused by negligence is punishable by a maximum of 5 years imprisonment.Because
all of these punishable offenses may have been committed during the outbreak of violence
in Jaffna, an investigation into the killings should have been conducted.
August 11, 1984
1. Six Sri Lankan soldiers were killed when a powerful remote control bomb destroyed a
military vehicle at Illupangadavai, Mannar.
2. The army immediately attacked the town of Mannar and gasoline bombs were thrown at
shops and houses. The city's main bazaar was set on fire. Adjoining villages of Adampan
and Manthai were also attacked and 9 people were killed.
3. The Minister of National Security denied the reports, but Government sources in
Colombo admitted that there had been instances in which some northern security force
soldiers had retaliated following the deaths of their peers. The National Minister of
Defense said that 3 soldiers were confined to their barracks pending investigation by a
Cabinet sub-committee.However, no further measures were taken.
4. The soldiers' confinement to barracks seems to intimate that reasonable suspicion
of their guilt in the killings and burnings existed. Consequently, an investigation should
have been conducted. Arson is punishable by a 15 year prison term and fines. The
penalties for murder, culpable homicide, and criminal negligence have already been
1. One Sinhalese soldier was killed by a bomb in his office.
2. In retaliation, soldiers killed 6 civilians in a restaurant.
3. The National Security Minister attributed the violence to mutinous members of the
army, and pledged that those responsible would be immediately courtmartialed. However the
Government has not, at present provided names of those court-martialed.
September 1, 1984
1. Militants bombed a police truck at Thikkam, near Point Pedro. Four policemen were
2. Police responded by shooting 16-18 civilians dead in Point Pedro.Police also burned
shops and several Hartley College buildings in retaliation for the attack.
3. The National Security Minister stated that 6 to 10 civilians were killed, and a few
shops were burned according to government information. The Government ordered a police
investigation and promised that disciplinary action would be taken against those
responsible. The Minister, however observed that it was difficult to gather evidence
sufficient to support court-martial sanctions. No one was subsequently prosecuted.
September 11, 1984
1. Nine soldiers were killed when a landmine exploded in Mullaitivu, a northern
2. A long distance coach was hijacked near Vavuniya, while on its way from Colombo to
Jaffna, by groups of armed men in uniform. The coach was driven to a lonely spot on the
Mannar Road, where the women and children were chased into the jungle, and the men were
shot at as they attempted to flee. Sixteen Tamils were killed and 10 were injured. Tamil
sources claimed that the hijackers were security force personnel.
3. A police source said that the army commander had warned the troops to avoid
reprisals against civilians for the nine soldiers' deaths. The Government admitted that
the attack could have been carried out by ex-soldiers and promised a full investigation.
However no further measures were taken.
4. Kidnapping with intent to kill is punishable by a fine and a maximum of 20 years
imprisonment.Kidnapping with intent to cause grievous hurt is punishable by a fine and a
maximum sentence of 10 years. The penalties for murder, culpable homicide, and criminal
negligence have been discussed previously. In this instance, as in several discussed
earlier, the Government's failure to conduct an investigation flouts Sri Lankan law.
December 4, 1984
1. An army vehicle exploded when it struck a landmine near Mannar.
2. In retaliation, the army killed 16 people working on a Ootuvayankulum farm in
Mannar.The army also attacked two state transport buses between Murungan and Vavuniya,
killing 37 people. Four people died when the army attacked the Murungan post office and 12
persons died at army hands in Parapandandal. The deaths of at least 90 persons were
attributed to the army before its rampage ended.
3. Neither the National Security Minister nor the President responded to citizens'
complaints.The Security Minister denied that the army had gone on a rampage, but admitted
that innocent civilians were occasionally caught in the crossfire between security forces
and Tamil rebels. However, no investigation of the identity of those killed was conducted.
4. Mutiny is punishable by death or Any of several lesser sanctions specified by the
Army Act. Punishment for murder, culpable homicide, and criminal negligence have been
discussed in preceding sections. Again, the Government's failure to conduct an
investigation and prosecute responsible military personnel conflicts with obligations
imposed by Sri Lankan law.
January 5, 1985
1. Tamil militants allegedly attempted to ambush an army patrol near Mannar.
2. Sri Lankan troops killed 8 Tamils outside of a Vankalar Catholic church, near the
town of Mannar. The parish priest was also killed as he attempted to open the chapel
doors.Thereafter, soldiers broke into the chapel, reportedly killing two boys, ages 12 and
14, who had been living with the priest.
3. The National Security Minister initially denied that, a Catholic priest had been
killed, claiming that the church premises had been a terrorist haven and that all
those killed were terrorists. Subsequent to protests by the Bishop of Jaffna., the
Government ordered a police inquiry into the incident. The Government has not reported
punishing army personnel involved.