South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

By Abdul H. Azeez

On August 4, 2006 17 members of Action Contre La Faim (ACF or Action Against Hunger) were brutally shot and killed in Muttur in the midst of the war between the Sri Lankan Army and the LTTE.

Their young, promising lives were lost in an instant as each of them were executed at point blank range with their faces turned to the ground.

Four of the victims were 24 years old and the oldest was 54. They were four women and thirteen men, and eleven were under the age of thirty. The killings of the 17 workers are said to be the most serious crime perpetrated against a non-governmental organisation. Four years after the massacre the perpetrators have yet to be brought to justice.

Three judicial proceedings followed the executions but none yielded results. In 2008, after much deliberation about the likely success of the Sri Lankan judicial proceedings, ACF decided to withdraw from the country in order to detach itself from Sri Lanka. Since leaving the country ACF started making noise in the international arena and in 2009 called for an international inquiry into the matterwhile continuously denouncing legal proceedings here.

K. Ratnavale, the lawyer who represented the families in the Presidential Commission hearing and also represented ACF in the criminal courts told The Sunday Leader that the commission’s proceedings were ‘bungled’ by the ‘meddling’ of the Attorney General’s Department. He alleges that important evidence was disregarded and ignored. ‘There were several key witnesses from the victims’ families who could have given important information about what happened,’ said Ratnavale adding that witness protection programs were disrupted and finances were not provided for video conferencing with those family members who had fled abroad.

“The AG (through his representative) was basically operating with a conflict of interest, on the one hand playing the role of prosecutor while at the same time trying to protect elements of the armed forces,” he accused.

Meanwhile the victims families have been left with no one to turn to. Some have chosen to forget the injustice done to their kin and move on with their lives as best as possible, while other still hope for justice and closure.

Mahindana Wasanthan of Muttur lost a sister in the massacre; Kovarthani Kanavaratnam was 28 and single and died of gunshot wounds as the ACF base she was working in was overrun by armed men. Wasanthan is resigned to never getting closure over her sister’s death. She says that when ACF left the country the last hope of the victims families vanished along with them. “The CID (Criminal Investigation Bureau) came and had an inquiry immediately after the incident. We were then asked to come to Colombo for another inquiry. Though we went for that, we heard nothing from the CID, Police or any other authority afterwards.”

Rasaiah Thurarajah lost his only son when 27 year old Pradeepan was shot dead in the attack. His daughter has left the country and is in the UK. “After the presidential commission called us for a hearing on 1st April 2008, we heard nothing from the authorities. It was only through a BBC report in 2009 that we found out that the commission was to reconvene.” He is still eager for justice but with ACF out of the country and legal proceedings at a virtual standstill, he does not know how if this will ever happen.

The commission, though ostensibly done with their inquiries, is yet to release its report. According to Ratnavale this may never happen. “The inquiry was not satisfactory and it was far from impartial,” he said. He added foreign experts brought into the commission soon resigned expressing their inability to work with it and saying, “the government is not interested in bringing out the truth’.

Source: The Sunday Leader – 31.07.2011