Foreign Affairs

Torture And Trauma In Sri Lanka

Rajat Mitra

Dr. Rajat Mitra

Review of Narrative of Justice: told through stories of torture victims, 400 cases of torture from Sri Lanka, By Basil Fernando, published in 2013 by the Asian Human Rights Commission.

My first impression was that I was overwhelmed because of the sheer number of cases and the diversity of the ways in which people were tortured. What started sinking into me was the question, “What has happened as a result of all this? Has society taken notice of it?” How can people possibly stay indifferent after reading this?

Let this book sink into the consciousness of the people. Let people start talking about it. And as they start talking about it, they will find difficulty accepting that this happened in their midst. This is not something they can erase by saying it happened in the past. It is something which is very much there and will continue as a transgenerational trauma for the people.

These narratives of trauma will seriously affect the fabric of society even 50 years from now and affect how people become immune to happenings around them; until and unless there is accountability and people decide to act.


It has been seen that until and unless we start accounting for trauma happening in our midst, it starts affecting every trade, every core, every part of society in different ways, and becomes a part of society like a cancer or virus and grow and grow. And until and unless people are made accountable – and I don’t mean accountable in the legal sense, I mean accountable in the moral sense, accountable in the sense of accepting it – it would be very difficult to call Sri Lanka a mature society at any time in the near future. If we see societies, in their growth and their evolution, they come to a point when they have to take accountability for their wrongs before they can become mature. We see that for any society to call itself a developed or mature society, at some point they have to account for the wrongs they have closed their eyes to. For example, America had to deal with the issues of slavery and the Vietnam War before they could cross over to the next phase.

To me, what I am reading in this book is appalling, it is abhorrent. I am an Indian, but when I see that this has happened right across from me, it makes me feel, ‘My God, how can we stay indifferent to it?’

The maturity of a society is a very important issue. What you find when you read through these cases is that the events relating to which such serious acts of torture have been done are trivialities. Somebody loses some small thing and then a person is brought to the police station. Without even asking them a single question, that person is tortured. Sometimes they are beaten, hung on a beam and, in recent cases, chili is put on their private parts and eyes. These acts are done by average law enforcement officers. Looking at this treatment from the point of view of a human being, we understand that there is something radically wrong. They do not seem to feel critical, they do not ask, ‘Should I do this kind of thing?’ Nobody seems to be asking that question.

We are not seeing something new. The only thing about this book is that it has recorded something that has been going on for a long time, virtually since a policing system was established. In the modern sense, a policing system comes into being in Sri Lanka only with the British. They celebrated their 146thth anniversary for the formal start of the policing system recently. Ever since that time, there has been a big contradiction involved. On the one hand, this is the way through which you introduce the idea of justice; if a murder takes place, there should be justice in court. Justice meaning justice for the victim, and also justice for the accused. On the other hand, at that very same point, law enforcement agencies began to do very stupid things and seriously affected the legal process. This has gone on for so long.

The fact is that, at the moment, people are immune, and not necessarily due to fear. Fear may play a part due to insurgencies in recent times, but police torture did not begin with insurgencies. Endemic police torture began much earlier.

When the book was published, we were not revealing anything that anybody didn’t know. The book puts in print form what many people haven noted. They may not have noted it in detail because people tend not to look at some issues, so the book gives an enormous amount of details.

The book is, first of all, a collective. When you read an individual torture case, the human mind brushes it aside. It is very difficult to stay with it. The next thing we do is deny its significance. We say, ‘Oh, it was an individual case,’ or we somehow rationalize that the person deserved it. This book puts cases together, which makes many people say, ‘All these people who were tortured, they did not deserve it.’ There are so many cases, so many – I was trying to see why they were tortured; it seemed to be for trivial reasons, it didn’t make sense. They could have used simple questions. ‘Did you do this?’ ‘Did this happen?’ People are tortured about the most trivial, most inane things.

A book like this makes it very difficult for people to discount and dismiss torture. Torture rests on the denial of society. I would say that the more we have thicker, fatter book, the more we have collectives, the more it will shake the conscience of people because you sometimes need a big impact in order to shake people up. Individual cases, five cases or ten cases do not do that; but if you have five hundred cases, one thousand cases, then it shakes you up. Simply speaking, it makes you ask, ‘What is happening in our society?’

Even the most pessimistic person would say that at least 90% of the people in these cases did not do anything close to deserving this treatment. The most common reason I have seen for the acceptance of torture is the belief that the tortured person was probably a thief or a terrorist, or in some other way somehow deserved it.

This kind of a book cuts across that whole argument without explicitly saying so.

Another issue is the overall effect on society from the behaviour of the police. Here you have a seriously disturbed police/society relationship. To my understanding, it is not something that is going to go away, because it has been established on a mass level.

In societies that have such a mass level of torture by the police, there is a serious rupture in the law enforcement and in the concepts of justice and society, because most people only see justice through the prism of the police.

If I look at police torture behaviorally, one of the things I notice is that when policemen torture regularly it becomes a part of them and even when they are just talking, even in inane conversations, there is some aspect of torture coming through.

When I was asked by the courts in India to do interviews in prisons and detention centers, I would often have the following experience: I would be interviewing and making some progress. A police officer would enter the room just to find out what was happening and I would say we were talking. (Whether it was a suspect or a witness, it was immaterial.)  He would say something to the effect of, “Oh, they haven’t told you everything yet?” and he would go and slap them hard. It would happen right in front of me and I became quite particular about sitting in such a way that I was blocking the door so that they wouldn’t be able to go to the person straight away. They would move so fast after asking whether the witness or suspect had told me everything.

This interaction would be about several things: the person has wasted my time, police time, and he has no right to do so; and a slap or a hit is something that is very natural, so why shouldn’t I? This officer, not someone who has been involved in the interrogation or investigation, would think that because he has slapped the person I was interviewing, that person would tell me everything. And since I can’t and won’t slap – I was known to the police as a gentleman talker, they would laugh about it –  this would somehow be the last straw that would make the person talk.

And then the officer would immediately turn back into themselves, and they would say, “Dr. Mithra, why don’t we go and have a cup of tea? I have given them something to think about.” He would turn to the person and say, “We are coming back in five minutes and I am going to show you what I can do.”

It would ruin everything. Whether the interviewed person is innocent or guilty, no person deserves to be slapped or talked to like that. It has become a part of these police officers. Slapping has become a very routine thing for them. They cannot talk without slapping.

The same thing happens to policemen who have had no formal training, who are corrupt, and where the system for the rule of law has completely fallen apart. There is no notion of what they are supposed to do with a suspect or a victim, except that they need to use brute force in order to get at whatever they want; and they seldom want the truth. People who search for the truth know that violence is divorced from truth. Violence and truth never go together. With these policemen, violence has become an integral part of them.

These people, when they are called up – if a cycle has been lost or something similar – automatically start with violence. That is a sign of a sick police force and its sick relationship with society.

Any sane society needs to look at it very seriously. The situation is comparable to India and Pakistan, where the police is also very sick.

What we see from the police is a very mechanical and reflexive reaction to suspects and how they should be dealt with.

It is possible to deduce some things from the behavior of a policeman who assaults interviewees, as mentioned above. Firstly, it is clear that he is not a thinking being. He is not observing anything. A rational person who wants to know what is happening would ask how it is going, would ask if he could talk to me privately. These officers would do none of that. They would just walk in and slap. It is a person who is not a thinking being, who has no value for truth, and who is not compassionate at all. Interestingly, when I would talk to them about compassion, they would say that a policeman should not be compassionate. I would say that you can be tough and yet compassionate.

What we are seeing is a model. A model has been inbuilt into these people with certain ideals. An ideal, for example, of not being compassionate. ‘If I am to achieve anything, I should not be compassionate. I should be tough, physically tough.’ It’s a kind of model within which thinking has no place.

Thinking has been replaced with violence. There is no place for thinking, exploring, finding out. I think that the police force should be able to think clearly. It scares me because, for police who cannot think clearly, the only recourse left to them is violence and to go about things in a tragic way.

The second issue is compassion and it is very interesting that, in many interviews with suspects, they disclose information only if someone is talking to them compassionately. It doesn’t mean condoning anything. I have to be tough and go about finding information, but I can understand why they may have done something, how they may have been brought up. Many people share more when they speak to someone who they think respects them. Police officers, particularly the ones in charge of interrogation, may do well to learn this principle. Then torture would go down significantly and they would be much better at solving their cases.


The above idea of teaching interview skills is, of course, in line with our ideals; the ideals of rationality. However, if we try to understand what has happened to create a situation like this, some other problems come to mind. Although we say that, from the point of view of proper training, there have been no interview and other skills taught, there has actually been a kind of training going on. It is a training that is based on officers from the earlier generation; when a young man comes to work, he is trained like an apprentice. On the job training.

They are brainwashed and conditioned into accepting certain ideals, which should be brought to the surface more. They believe that when they are dealing with criminals, they need to give up the idea that violence is bad. In this particular job, they tell themselves, violence is valid. There is a big contradiction in their whole philosophy. The law enforcement officer is supposed to eliminate violence in the whole of society. But they have an idea that that can be done only through violence.

What is the cultural model here? We are not dealing with abnormal people or anything like that. We are dealing conditioned people who have gone through a long period of training – a different kind of training, true – but with different kinds of ideals.

The training in the South Asian context has primarily been about law and order. It has never been about investigation. The police have neither been taught nor know that their goal is supposed to be to value truth. The younger officer always learns about torture from his senior officer. He sees that the only thing that can save his skin is a confession. It doesn’t matter whether the person confessing has done anything or not, they just want the confession.

There is a formula that is used in investigations. Fa + L = C, where Fa, ‘force of assertion’ plus L, ‘leverage’, equals a confession. In that, the more force the officer applies onto a person, the more likely that the officer will get a confession for himself. And the officer learns that this is how he can do well at his job, how he can excel, so he feels he needs that confession at any cost. Truth is actually the biggest casualty and nobody bothers about that.

Once they have the confession they have to move onto another case, but the goal is just that, the confession. The role model for that officer is the senior police officer. You can see that the senior police officer has been trained by his senior officer and, if you asked them, they would say that nowhere along the way has anybody taught them the rules of scientific investigation or about how to conduct interviews and interrogations. These things are not known to us in the South Asian context. I have observed training sessions in several police academies and when I asked the trainees and officers which model they use for investigation, they would say, ‘What models are you talking about?’ There are well established models that are used by other police forces but they are not used much in South Asia.

For example, there is a model called the Reid model. It is a seven stage process where you lead a suspect through different stages to see whether they have done it or not, and at the end the closest you can come to is ‘yes, there is a possibility that he may have done it.’ You leave it there because you know that there is a possibility that you may be wrong. This is an area that is highly subjective, emotions are very volatile, and where your bias can affect you. What you see from this book is that there is nothing remotely like this used when dealing with suspects – or rather, in dealing with any person who is called to the police station. What they actually do is completely crude and, in a way, inhuman and barbaric. What scares me is that these officers are actually bigger criminals than the criminals outside. So are people going to say that they are managing their society with these people? Because someone whose thinking is warped can’t solve problems, someone who has no compassion for people should not be doing such an important job. How can a sane society be expected to have a police force like this? That is the question.

What this book does is to provide a considerable amount of evidence on a cultural model.

It establishes how normative it is, how deeply it has gone in, and it completely ridicules the idea that torture is linked with terrorism, ethnic violence or any other serious issue from which society faces danger. I mean, does society face a danger from someone who is suspected of stealing a bicycle? It is ridiculous. If you are taking torture to that level, it completely debunks this idea that torture is essential for maintaining society, for protecting it from terror or anything like that.

This is plain inhuman violence that they are doing to their own people.

The title of this book is Narrative of Justice. It is essentially a narrative of the absence of justice in the process of investigating crime. If we take it deeper, in the cultural model, something further gets revealed. In most of the cases, people are taken in for trivial matters. But then what we find is that, when it comes to serious crimes, these very same people don’t use the same method. There is almost an indifference to dealing with crime. Taking two examples from Sri Lanka: A DIG of police has now been arrested because he took three million rupees to kill a businessman, who had taken some 30 million rupees from another businessman. That businessman hired a policeman to assassinate the other. Another example: there was another case where one politician, along with a gang of drug addicts, shot at a group of people, including a prominent politician, and five people died. He is still a Member of Parliament.

In both serious criminal cases, nobody used violence on them.

The police keep a certain façade of doing some activities, filing cases, getting some confessions, and then putting them on paper. Whether, after three or four years, someone is acquitted etc., nobody is bothered. In virtually all these 400 cases, there are no trials. They don’t go that far. They aren’t bothered. They have to pass through the moment when there is a report of a crime. Some reports have to be filed about it so they get their promotion and they can remain in their job. If they don’t, they get into trouble. Within this cultural model, justice seems to be completely absent, and that is more shocking.

Torture is most often not used in serious crimes; rather, it is used for when someone is suspected of a petty crime. For serious crimes, crimes of mass violence or political crimes, the police hold off until and unless they feel that they have sufficient backing in case things go wrong. They tread carefully in those cases. When it comes to small crimes, most police officers are much more bothered about the numbers. They always say that there should only be a small number of crimes in their area – and by crimes they mean petty crimes. That is something that they think they can reduce by creating a climate of fear.

One of the most common things they say in India is, ‘They are no longer scared of us.’ They confessed and lamented about that to me when I was working there. ‘People are no longer scared of us.’ Making people scared of them has been the most dominant tool in their hands, and the more they use that indiscriminately, the more they are successful police officers in their own eyes.

It is partly about the numbers. The more they do it to a larger number of people, the more that they are successful police officers in their own eyes. Their self-image is much better if they have done it to a larger number of people.

In a police officer’s thinking, it would go like this: today, if I have slapped 10 boys, then I have done my job. But if I say that I have slapped one person who is involved in political crimes, then that doesn’t fit very well. So how many people have I slapped, how many people have I beaten, how many people have I put fear into? This is one of the primary ways a police officer actually retains their self-esteem in our countries. The number here matters a great deal.

We are dealing with something very serious. Something very deep, culturally; even the model of how police measure themselves. However they were beforehand, once they enter this work and become integrated into the system, their own self-image undergoes a transformation.

They have to slap, beat, torture people in order to be good at their job, and this is the way they to be a successful police officer. This is what is told to the new people who join by their seniors.

It is a police force who cannot actually be part of a sane society in any way. They cannot talk without violence; they cannot talk without slapping or hitting. A police force that cannot talk properly is a very sick police force.

What we are actually confronted by in this book and other evidence is the need for a complete shift of orientation in the policing system. In other words, it is not about crime investigation that you have to first agree on. First they must ask, ‘What is this for? What are the social objectives this serves?’ When those objectives are changed, then new kinds of models develop, people are trained and people operate within that model.

But we have created a certain model years ago, maybe by accident. Maybe they couldn’t run a system – when these systems were introduced by the British, they were a colonizing power and they had limited resources, and their own thinking was limited in their own countries, where there wasn’t policing as it is today. We should approach this problem by searching for what the cultural model is here and why, rather than to find a few patches of this or that solution. What is first needed is a societal discussion.

In India, there are two kinds of police stations. Some are old police stations, and some are the new ones coming up. How do you separate the two? The old ones only have police barracks. Why? Because during the British times, colonial times, and after, it was felt that it was best to separate the police from the local people as much as possible. If they were closer to the local people, they would be more compassionate. That was not allowed. Changing that idea in India has been a very tough issue. We still have some who say, ‘No, it should be separate, they should not be allowed to meet.’ Even today, some think that police are not supposed to mix and deal with people except for the purposes of spying and collecting information. They are not really supposed to try to understand because that is supposed to make you very subjective and very weak inside. You have a situation in the whole of South Asia in which there is a very deep rooted malady, where the police force is trained to produce only fear and psychosis in the population. That is what needs to be attacked in order to create a sane society. The longer it remains, the longer society remains unable to heal.

This book goes further than the police and goes into insights into the overall society. There are things that, in the modern sense, would be called ‘insanity’ and we somehow pretend to accept them, pretend not to notice, and we carry on. There is something sick and deep, and this can be the beginnings of a discussion with this kind of evidence placed in front of people. This requires very serious thinking about the society itself.

When the police is unable to discharge its functions, the society is one step closer to cracking down again, closer to anarchy, tribalism, baying for the blood of people, like what you see happening in Dehli recently with all the mass demonstrations taking place. Nobody trusts the police; everybody sees them as corrupt.

*Dr. Rajat Mitra is an internationally reputed Indian Psychologist

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Foreign Affairs

Weliweriya Shooting, Loved ones Bandyism And The Presidential Program

Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

Presidency, of course is the problem! We are all concerned about the day to day happenings in the country, not so much of the Deraniyagala killing, but mostly of the Weliweriya shooting at present. The latter has overtaken by the former. But we should not lose sight of the larger picture and the key structural issues behind our predicament, if we need to genuinely seek solutions to our problems. Only passing comments on structural issues, either way, might not be sufficient. What we are facing is a systemic crisis without any exaggeration.

The President has not come up with any apology or even a statement after the brutal Weliweriya shooting. After all he is the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces (not his brother!) in addition to being the Head of State and the Head of Government. It is unlikely that he would, except perhaps through his Secretary. That is the ‘immunity’ he enjoys under the Presidential Constitution. This is not to say that a statement or even an apology would ameliorate the situation.

‘Family bandyism’ of the Rajapaksas or MR’s split personality (smile and thuggery) might explain the specific nature of the regime, but not the generic character of the regime-system. Anyway, his personality has changed a lot after becoming the President and particularly after the end of the war. Perhaps it has lot to do with the happenings at the last stages of the war. There appears to be a serious deterioration in the ethical and moral premises of the regime and the personality.

The way the regime operates today is not so much different to the regimes operated under the presidential system previously, with some variations, except that the present situation is much worse than before. We are familiar with the way the situation of the ethnic pogrom against the Tamils was handled in July 1983 under JR Jayewardene regime. That propelled the beginning of the brutal war for two and a half decades. We are also familiar with the way the second insurrection was quelled in 1989/90 under the Premadasa regime not to speak of other atrocities. Of course the uprising had to be suppressed but not the killings of Wijeweera or others after taken into custody. The Matale grave yard is supposed to belong to that period. It is only recently that some security personnel of the former President CBK finally were convicted harassing and assaulting two prominent artists those days. Perhaps only sane President was DB Wijetunga for a brief period! But even he was insane in his utterances like denying any ethnic conflict in the country.

Are those just questions of personalities? I don’t think so. I would argue that the presidential system was primarily responsible of course along with the personalities involved. Parliamentary systems also could become degenerated and Prime Ministers also could act like authoritarian Presidents. Margaret Thatcher might be the best recent past example. But that is not a structural condition. It is also possible that ‘family bandyism’ exists even under a parliamentary system unless other measures are not taken and unless the political culture is changed. That is also our past experience before 1978.

Parliamentarianism and Presidentialism are not polar opposites. But there is a fundamental difference in terms of representative democracy and that matters most for accountability, transparency, responsibility and finally for democracy itself. We use representative democracy because direct democracy is not practical and also perhaps people are not interested. In a parliamentary democracy people elect a general assembly called Parliament for primarily legislative purposes and an executive emerges or selected within that which is again responsible for that Parliament. This is the best system.

The executive is crucial in the state structure, whether parliamentary or presidential, because it is the body which guides and directs the bureaucracy and the armed forces which can easily trample on people’s human rights and whose services (in the case of bureaucracy) are crucial in delivering or not delivering necessary services to the people including ‘clean water’ in the case of Weliweriya!

The judiciary could be structurally independent in both systems; however the tendency to trample on the judiciary is high (or almost certain in some countries) under the presidential system than in a parliamentary democracy. Sri Lanka is a clear example for both.

In a presidential system, there are two (confusing) electoral processes. One is to elect a Parliament primarily for legislative purposes. Then there is another process to elect a President for executive purposes directly by the people. Superficially, this may appear more democratic, but that is not the case. The distance between the people and the President is so vast and not punctuated by intermediary process. A President’s responsibility to Parliament is only nominal if at all. This is the dangerous aspect of a presidential system which can easily create authoritarianism or much worse as he/she controls the military and the bureaucracy. I am only outlining the barebones in this article.

In a parliamentary system, the executive functions are pinned down to extensive procedures and these procedures are effective unless there is something basically wrong in party politics. In a presidential system there may be some procedures (i.e. COPE in Sri Lanka) but those procedures may or may not be effective. Most Presidents might be laughing at them.

The main point is that there are inbuilt structural reasons for any presidential system to become authoritarian unless there are strong constitutional traditions in a country. This is the very reason why even the US presidential system was criticised by Woodrow Wilson although he didn’t make any attempt to change it! Presidential system in the US was an evolution, but when it was introduced in other countries the very purpose was to have a strong government or a strongly ruler disregarding the rule of law and human rights. The following was what JR Jayewardene said about democratic freedoms and rule of law when he argued for a presidential system in the country (Selected Speeches, 1944-1973, p. 91).

A democratic system of Government includes what are termed democratic freedoms, the freedom to vote, freedom of opposition, freedom of speech and writing, and the rule of law, among other freedoms. Do these freedoms alone satisfy the people? I do not think so.

Usually there is no denial on the part of anyone who believes or defends a presidential system that there would be a democratic deficit as a result of a presidential system. In the case of Sri Lanka, however, this deficit is colossal. The shooting at Weliweriya and the Presidential system are interlinked. As the popular saying goes, ‘there is no point in shouting that the snake is biting (kanavo, kanavo!),’ if you put the fellow inside your sarong.

There is another constitutional factor relevant to Weliweriya shooting. Who is the Member of Parliament for the Weliweriya area? What was he doing? No one can answer this question I believe. In the previous representative system, it belonged to the Gampaha seat and it was SD Bandaranaike who represented the people in the area in Parliament in 1977. Those days there was a close connection between the people and the parliamentary representative and in any local issue, the MP intervened or mediated. This has almost completely disappeared to the thin air under the present Presidential Constitution. I recollect during my young days in the Moratuwa electorate how close and how responsible the MPs behaved with the people. This is the same where I live now in Australia, the electorate called the Green Way. In Sri Lanka, this has changed to create an authoritarian system even MPs divorced from the people not to speak of the President.

When the presidential system was introduced to Sri Lanka it was mainly defended on the basis of an economic argument. I happened to interview President Jayewardene in April 1993 and he opined that it was also created to defend the country from possible separatism that time. He said that there was a call to ‘do a de Gaulle.’ But the experience has proved otherwise. The country became ripped apart after the introduction of the presidential system. One may argue whether this is a direct result or not. It may be true that the presidential system perhaps facilitated the defeating of the LTTE quickly, but at a particular cost to democracy. The saying goes that ‘when you fall into the pit you have to come out from the same opening.’

President Rajapaksa has gone beyond de Galle or Jayewardene. In fact he has virtually ‘done a Mugabe’ with the 18th Amendment. With the massive military and the bureaucracy under his beck and call he hopes to continue to be the ruler of this country like President Mugabe in Zimbabwe unless it is stopped through a broad and a strong opposition through democratic campaigning. What is important is to end the vicious cycle of violence and violations by terminating the presidential system by an authentic parliamentary system with a fair system of devolution of power.

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Foreign Affairs

Sri Lanka: Beware Of A Quasi-Military Rule!

Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

The Rajapaksa regime increasingly appears to consist of twin forces within it, one civilian and the other military. The so-called UPFA government or the Cabinet is only a façade for the regime which is based mainly on the military and the bureaucracy. The UPFA even with the old left parties within it only have a decreasing influence on the civilian part of the regime. The Parliament with a feeble opposition appears to supply humour and entertainment to the cynical public these days. These are the culminating results of the presidential system and the recent subjugation of the independence of the judiciary as part of that same culmination. Just recollect how the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) behaved on the question of the impeachment of the Chief Justice. It was farcical and demeaning to the hilt.

The most alarming immediate development is the deployment of military troops in quelling a civilian protest in Weliweriya on 1 August without any justification or the backing of even emergency regulations. In a protest of villagers, asking for clean water, the military intervention has killed 1 civilian and injuring 15 others. The question has been rightly asked who gave the orders. There is no point in asking even the person responsible to resign because that will not happen in current Sri Lanka. A participant in the protest explained the brutal behaviour of the troops equating it to the LTTE attack on the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy in 1988, reminiscent still in the public mind.

The military intervention in civilian life is reported to be a daily occurrence in the Jaffna peninsula very much pervasive and brutal. As the civilians have been so much subdued without much room to engage in peaceful protests like the Weliweriya villagers there has been no much opportunity so far for the military to use its fire power at least openly. One occasion to the contrary was when the university students peacefully engaged in remembrance or heroes day celebrations in December 2012. The harassments and brutality were quite extensive.

What has to be realized in the current context is that the people in the North or in the South are facing the same common enemy and that is the emerging danger of a military or a quasi-military rule in the country destroying all norms of human rights and democracy.
These are developments particularly aftermath of the end of the war and hopefully there would still be possibilities of turning the situation around peacefully and resurrecting democracy with the international good will and even assistance. After all, Sri Lanka is a member of the international community and the United Nations with obligations on human rights, democracy and rule of law. No one should shy away of working towards international solidarity on the Sri Lankan question.

It was understandable when the military strategy dominated the civilian affairs prior to the end of the war in May 2009 and after the LTTE completely broke away from the peace process in July 2006. The country was fighting against a ruthless menace of terrorism. However, as a democratic country, even during the war there were certain international norms that the government and the military should have observed. If the declared ‘zero civilian casualty’ was a genuine proclamation, then after the war that should have been accounted for through independent and reliable investigations of the alleged and obvious deviations from the international humanitarian law. That was not done.

It is a known fact that during the period between 2006 and 2009, the military in the country became doubled in numbers and equipped with high-tech equipment and training. What was obviously neglected was the education or training on human rights and humanitarian law. After the war there was no effort to demobilize the military. Instead it appears that the ordinary soldiers are being politicized and used for other missions. Although in the past the military in Sri Lanka has been a professional army with high professional standards, it is obvious that these have deteriorated especially among the middle and the lower ranks thereafter.

If the government wanted to maintain a disciplined and a professional army after the war, the first thing should have been done to investigate the slighted allegation against any wrong doing during the war particularly between 2006 and 2009 and punish or discipline the perpetrators accordingly. That is the period that matters most for the discipline and the calibre of the military at present. It is also a well-known fact that although the President gave promises to the UN Secretary General on the subject of accountability in May 2009 that promise was not fulfilled for some reason and this reason can be identified as the influence of the military wing of the regime over the civilian leaders.

Weliweriya is not the first occasion that the defence establishment unleashed its strong arm tactics against the civilians in the South not to speak of the much concealed military oppression in the North. In February 2012, the STF was deployed against the protest of fisher folks in Chilaw and killed one, seriously injuring 8 others. The most alarming was the military deployment for the prison riot at Welikada in November 2012 killing 27 and seriously injuring 40 others. It was a gruesome operation violating all international norms on the treatment of prisoners.

There are arguments that the regime or its security establishment is intervening in this manner to maintain and establish law and order in the country. This is not at all a reliable argument. If that is the case, then at least the police should have been intervened in preventing over 75 well- orchestrated goon attacks on religious places of the Muslim and Christian communities in the country during the last three years. At least the perpetrators should have been punished. The newest attack was on 19 July in Mahiyangana. There are all indications that there is close association between the defence establishment and the Sinhala extremist forces that are unleashed against the religious minorities.

These are also the two sectors that have been agitating against the holding of the elections to the Northern Provincial Council. Although the civilian political wisdom has prevailed on the question of holding of the NPC elections for the time being it is not clear in what ways that the attempt would be scuttled by the military wing of the same regime in the future. The most bizarre phenomenon in the current situation in Sri Lanka is that both the civilian and the military wings of the regime are led by the same family! It is most unlikely to perceive a serious split within this family given its past and its kinship cohesiveness.

Therefore, while the regime and with it the ruling politics will oscillate between civilian and military directions from time to time, the general course until the regime is democratically changed would be more and more towards a quasi-military rule in the country.

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Foreign Affairs

Facing Death Threats Ahead Of Check out To Commonwealth Meeting

Callum Macrae

Callum Macrae

When you announce that you are going to apply for media accreditation for a routine international political event like the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) you don’t normally expect a rash of death threats – or to find a senior diplomat from the host country threatening on twitter that he will “make sure you don’t get a visa”.

But this year’s CHOGM is no ordinary event.  It is being held in Sri Lanka – whose government is accused of some of the worst war crimes of this century.  A country marked today by increasing repression of its Tamil minority and a brutal clamp-down on any government critics, particularly among the press and the judiciary.

When David Cameron controversially announced that he would be attending CHOGM despite calls for a boycott, Alistair Burt, the foreign minister with responsibility for Sri Lanka, went on record to say:  “We will make it clear to the Sri Lanka Government that we expect them to guarantee full and unrestricted access for international press covering CHOGM”

The omens for that “guarantee” do not look good.

I have now directed three films looking at the events of the last few months of the civil war.  The first two were commissioned and broadcast by Channel 4, building on the work of Channel 4 News.  The latest, effectively the culmination of three years of investigation, is No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a 93 minute feature documentary, supported by C4, BRITDOC and others. The films have had a huge impact, winning a number of awards, being cited by the UN and even seeing the team nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In No Fire Zone we use some of the most disturbing video evidence ever recorded, to chronicle how, just four years ago, the Sri Lankan government announced a series of grotesquely misnamed No Fire Zones, encouraged hundreds of thousands of Tamil civilians to gather there for safety – and then systematically shelled them, also denying them adequate food and medicines.  Perhaps 40,000, perhaps – as one UN report suggested – 70,000 or even more civilians died, most killed by government shelling.  The predicament of the civilians was made worse by the Tamil Tigers who also stand accused of  committing war crimes and of preventing civilians from escaping the No Fire Zones.

It is fair to say the government of Sri Lanka does not like me – or others who have reported the truth from Sri Lanka, including C4 News foreign correspondent Jonathan Miller or former BBC Sri Lanka correspondent Frances Harrison, author of a book of Tamil survivors stories.

But when I revealed that I intended to apply for accreditation to CHOGM (as I did when it was last held in Australia in 2011), it provoked an astonishing series of attacks.  Comments published online included a series of clear death threats. One of the mildest, in response to my remark: “I trust the Sri Lankan Government will welcome me” read: “Absolutely white van is waiting at the airport.”  White vans are notoriously used in the abduction of government critics and are seen as a weapon of terror associated with extra-judicial killings and disappearances.

Another comment said I was welcome in Sri Lanka “only to go back in a coffin”.  And another said: “Callum Macrae – do not come to Sri Lanka. You will be abducted in a white van, and sent to meet Lasantha Wikremasinghe (sic).”  Lasantha Wickrematunge was the editor and founder of the Sunday Leader – a respected newspaper critical of the Rajapaksa regime.  He was shot and killed by unknown assassins in January 2009.

Then – a week ago, as I was touring with the film in Australia – Ambassador Bandula Jayasekara, a senior Sri Lankan diplomat in Sydney and former Chief media advisor to Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa, issued a series of threatening tweets in which he said he would “make sure you don’t get a visa” and accused me of being “hired by (Tiger) terrorists as a full time propagandist for the blood thirsty terror group overseas”.

Indeed, far from condemning the death threats against me, he seems almost to be encouraging the climate of hostility and suspicion which lies behind them.   Then last week the Sri Lankan government’s own media minister echoed his words saying: “press freedom… cannot be something that can be framed inside aiding terrorism or being a propagandist for terrorism. So, we will be 100 per cent cautious about who comes to Sri Lanka for CHOGM.”

As I write this the Sri Lankan government has issued a rather more conciliatory statement, suggesting that they will issue visas to those given accreditation by the Commonwealth Secretariat.

We shall see – and the world’s press will now, I hope, be watching very carefully.

*Callum Macrae – Director – No Fire Zone: the Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, Twitter: @nofirezonemovie

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Foreign Affairs

Double Requirements A New Definition By The UGC


Dr. Sankalpa Marasinghe

The phrase ‘double standards’ has been given a new definition by the University Grants Commission (UGC). This feat was achieved by the inconsistency in decision-making with regard to a very important function vested by the University Act in the UGC i.e. the granting of “Degree Awarding Status” to institutions of higher education.

The Institute of Technological Studies and the OASIS Hospital (Pvt) Ltd

In 2008, the above institute applied for “Degree Awarding Status” in order to establish a Medical Faculty which grants the MBBS degree. The application was forwarded to the UGC and at its 768th Meeting held on 20.11.2008, a subcommittee was appointed to make recommendations on the proposal to the UGC.

The Committee

The committee comprised the following most distinguished academics.

  1. Prof. M.T.M. Jiffry, Vice-Chairman, UGC (Chairman)
  2. Prof. Rohan Rajapakse, Member, UGC
  3. Prof. Sarath Abayakoon, Member, UGC
  4. Prof. Janaka de Silva, Member, UGC
  5. Prof. Rajitha Wickramasinghe, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya
  6. Dr. H.H.R. Samarasinghe, President, Sri Lanka Medical Council

Appointment letters were issued on 08.12.2008 and Dr H.H.R. Samarasinghe who was the President of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) back then declined to be a member of the subcommittee citing “Conflict of Interest”.

The Recommendations

The committee convened 4 times and subsequently forwarded its recommendations to the UGC. The UGC at its 772nd Meeting held on 22.01.2009, considered the subcommittee recommendations and made the following decisions.

The Commission having considered the recommendations made by the Committee decided that the application for establishment of a Medical Faculty attached to the Institute of Technological Studies and OASIS Hospital [Pvt] Ltd cannot be approved in the present form and the shortcomings of the application be conveyed to the Director-General, Board of Investment (BOI) of Sri Lanka.

The Commission also decided that the proposed degree programme should conform to the guidelines given in the documents published by the Sri Lanka Medical Council and the Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council.


It was further decided to convey the following to the Chairman, BOI, and the Chairman of UGC conveyed the same with a letter dated 11.02.2009

(A) The application does not give enough basic details regarding the following areas;

  • Whether the course is a traditional or integrated course.
  • Facilities available for teaching and learning, specially for clinical and para-clinical training, Library facilities.
  • Qualification framework and procedure for assessment.
  • Fees structure.
  • Quality Assurance guidelines and mechanism.




(B) The submitted names of the lecturers for the course are inadequate.

(C) The proposed degree programme should conform to the guidelines given in the following documents published by the Sri Lanka Medical Council and Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council.

  • Document on minimum standards required for medical schools in Sri Lanka (Sri Lanka Medical Council)
  • Benchmark statement for Medicine (Quality Assurance and Accreditation Council)

Deficiencies in Clinical Teaching

The Committee appointed to appraise the proposal cited the following as “shortcomings” in the process of reaching their conclusion.

a) The patient spectrum in private hospitals is much narrower than in government teaching hospitals. Hence methods to be adopted to ensure adequate coverage of medical conditions for undergraduate clinical training should be considered.

b) Private hospital patients may not be willing to be used for clinical teaching — i.e. examined by medical students (including internal digital examination of rectum and vagina, training in management of childbirth). The minimum number of such procedures required by a student and the feasibility of achieving this should be considered.

c)  Although there appears to be several medical and surgical units in the document, there are only two Paediatric units and one Obstetrics & Gynaecology unit. One unit in each of these disciplines will have to be reserved for final year training (equivalent to Professorial units in established medical faculties). The others are required for third and fourth year clinical training. If this is the case:

  • Where students will have the third and fourth year Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Paediatric clinical training should be specified.
  • There are only a few full time specialists in the private sector. It may be difficult for the private sector to find sufficient high quality specialists with academic credentials to cover wards/units in all the specialties required in a fully fledged teaching hospital. Most specialists who work in the private sector are employed in the government sector and are available in the private sector only after 4 pm, and too only in the OPD. Methods to overcome this problem should be considered.

d)      It is suggested that academic posts and qualifications for academic posts conform to those approved by the UGC.

e)      A significant part of the bedside teaching is done by Senior Registrars and Registrars (postgraduate trainees of the PGIM, Colombo, preparing for MD and MS degrees and Board Certification as specialists) in state teaching hospitals as consultants cannot be expected to be available around the clock: Such grades of full time “consultants-in-training” do not seem available in the private hospital. Details of such positions should be given serious consideration.

f)        Private hospitals usually do not receive the number of acutely ill patients seen in a casualty ward in a state hospital. Private hospitals also lack fully fledged set ups for accident and emergency care. The facilities indicated in the document seem inadequate. Consideration should be given to admission of adequate numbers of acutely ill patients and provision of adequate infrastructure for clinical training.

g)      The teaching of Community Medicine is field based. In a setting where primary health care is exclusively delivered by the state sector, the manner in which this subject is to be taught should be detailed.

h)      Forensic Medicine is a specialty that is almost exclusively under the purview of the government, sector. How such services will be accessed for clinical training should be considered and outlined.

Consistency and persistence

A revised proposal was submitted by the Institute of Technological Studies and the OASIS Hospital (Pvt) Ltd and a subsequent panel which comprised the following distinguished members denied the requested “Degree Awarding Status” on 2nd September 2010, yet again.

  1. Prof. Rohan Rajapakse         Vice Chairman UGC
  2. Prof. H. Abeywardana          Member of UGC
  3. Prof. Janaka de Silva             Member of UGC
  4. Prof. Lalitha Mendis              President SLMC
  5. Prof. Rajitha De Silva             Dean Faculty of Medicine, University of Kelaniya

It is pertinent to note that the Institute of Technological Studies and the OASIS Hospital (Pvt) Ltd had the OASIS Hospital which was a fully functional private hospital at the time of applying for the “Degree Awarding Status” and it had not just an OPD with less than 15 patients per day but many disciplines including Surgical, Medical, Gynaecology and Paediatric wards. But it is evident that the high-profile academics of the committees appointed by the UGC were of the opinion that even such an institute is inadequate for an accepted undergraduate training for an MBBS degree.

A different Fortune

However, another institute which was established at or around the same time period had a “different turn of fortune”. Yet another BOI approved project, the South Asian Institute of Technology and Management (SAITM) which also incorporated the word “Technology” (strangely) applied for a Medical Faculty with “Degree Awarding Status” to grant MBBS degrees. The fortunes of SAITM were such that it was granted “Degree Awarding Status” in 2011 by Gazette notification. This was of course way before the institute even started an OPD service in April 2013 which the institute called the “Teaching Hospital”. Unlike the unfortunate OASIS hospital which did not recruit students before it was given recognition, the second institute had already recruited four batches by the time it was granted “Degree Awarding Status”. The four batches, however, were not included in the Gazette notification as the law cannot be applied retrospectively.

Many are wondering what made the very UGC which denied the OASIS hospital in 2009 and 2010 “Degree Awarding Status” was so “convinced” to grant the same to SAITM. Questions are being asked how the latter had fulfilled the same requirements raised by the two expert panels with regard to facilities and training. It is pertinent to know how an institute which still does not have a functioning hospital, can provide the correct “clinical mix” of patients for 10 batches of medical students?

How has the said institute overcome the “obstacles” cited by the two subcommittees with regard to patients and compliance in private sector?

It was revealed at a recent submission to the Supreme Court (SC/FR/512) the actual permanent teaching staff of SAITM comprises many non-medical professionals (A/L teachers, paramedics etc.) and many of the doctors were either MBBS or MD (Russian) qualified doctors. Even some senior lecturers were without post-graduate qualifications. What happened to the suggestion (d) of the subcommittee which specified that It is suggested that academic posts and qualifications for academic posts conform to those approved by the UGC.”?

Questions to answer

Were there any new “strategies” proposed to be employed by SAITM to avert the obstacle of providing clinical teachers without the services of Post Graduate trainees such as Registrars and Senior Registrars?

What were the proposals to overcome inadequacy of teaching in Forensic Medicine and Community Medicine?

In the face of the Health Ministry’s stern decision NOT to allow government hospitals to be used by a private business venture to profit and the GMOA very clearly and rightfully objecting to the use of state hospitals jeopardizing the teaching of state university students, it is unlikely that the said shortcomings are fulfilled by this institute.

The only possible answer would be that the wisdom of those who “recommend” such institutes to be granted “Degree Awarding Status” would have been much, much higher than those who made the former.

*Dr Sankalpa Marasinghe; Medical Officer, Castle Street Hospital For Women

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Foreign Affairs

Gehanu Gathiya And Pirimikama: Desegregated Gender Relations In Rural Sri Lanka

Arjuna Seneviratne

Arjuna Seneviratne

Over the last nine years, as a facilitator, activist and developer working with rural communities in Sri Lanka on systemic environment management, agriculture, fisheries, rural climate response, rural disaster prep and mitigation, aid effectiveness and development sustainability through civil, government, private, media, academic organizations and  trade unions, I had, for quite some time, been looking for a rather elusive link. As each year slid into the next, I began to feel the same type of frustration as scientists searching for the missing link between man and African tree frogs whose DNA apparently most closely resemble ours. I also began to lose hope. Until that is, I realized I was searching for the wrong thing in the wrong place.

This particular Dodo I was after is so deeply entrenched as being real in the minds of people that its existence has almost been taken for granted. It’s called masculinity and femininity and their classic associative links to males and females respectively. You see, a whole barrel load of development paraphernalia from funds to expertise to beneficiaries to goals are supposed to even out real or imagined disparities and inequalities and equip human beings to acquit themselves equitably. One of the more vociferously articulated differences was supposed to be those between men and women with women generally assumed to be sitting on the lighter end of the balance due to the said associative links and the power dynamics that supposedly arise from it with men snarling and drooling like tigers over women who were cowering and whimpering like rabbits beneath them.

Now, since its existence is so universally taken for granted I should have at the very least been wading knee deep in the stuff if not actually drowning in it.

However, the fact of the matter is that I walked the length and breadth of rural Sri Lanka over a decade without coming across any evidence of it at all. This, to put it very mildly, was a cause for great concern on my part. That I, and many kindly, well meaning and completely silly donors and experts were fighting a mirage was not only obvious but also the least of my issues.  I was more worried that that sort of shadow boxing against an invisible or even unreal opponent could do some serious damage to a very large number of very real human beings completely innocent of the desire for differentiation, contention or outright war over an artificially enforced schism. This Hutu-Tutsi-itis or Blueeye-Greeneye  Syndrome or whatever silly else one wishes to call it, was downright dangerous so I explored the  actual dynamics of male-female relationships in rural communities in the country to find out how their heads were wired or disengaged with respect to their specific anatomies and the way those anatomies interacted with each other in socially cohesive groups.

Well, simply put, masculinity and femininity, matriarchies and patriarchies as they have been classically defined have little or no meaning in Sri Lanka.

Instead, what we have here are two qualitative factors “pirimikama” (positive attributes associated with the male principle) and “gehanu gathiya” (negative engagement strategies associated with the female principle). Both arise not from cultures or traditions or as resultants of interactive modalities but rather from Buddhist-Hindu karmic theory. Two very important facts that need to be noted here are a) that there is no concept of “gahanukama” (positive attributes associated with the female principle) or “pirimi gathiya” (negative engagement strategies associated with the male principle and b) that “pirimikama” and gehanu gathiya” are used when talking about the characteristics of both males and females with no tying of “pirimikama” to men or “gehanu gathiya” to women.

The conclusion is quite clear: Men and women are just that. Men and women. There are no classic attributes tied into the specific anatomies. The female and male principle as yielded up by karmic theory is applied without favor to both anatomical males and anatomical females with respect to individual occurrences of each entity. I must stress this. The application is individual – not collective. In the minds of rural communities, every human being displays specific trait combinations and the composite determine the personality of the individual, the type of strengths and weaknesses they have, the types of abilities they can use as a community and failings that need to be understood as a community. These types of individual dynamics shape the way in which the community optimizes the use of their individuals for the sustenance of the community which in turn is supposed to sustain the individuals that constitute that community. Rather than blanketing a specific set of SWOT results to an anatomical division, they SWOT the individual against the requisites of the community and the weightage of the composite male-female principles perceived in each individual that the community have to work with.

Does this essentially mean that rural societies are free-for-alls akin to urban communities where anyone can be anything in any situation with respect to anyone? Not at all. While attributes are not specific to gender, responsibilities and roles are and these are classic.  The two most important are based on the principles of protection and equity which are the core drivers of social cohabitation in rural communities and they are primarily passive in nature.  These have morphed into security and equality for urban communities and are primarily aggressive in nature. The one leverages individual strengths for collective good and the other leverages legislative mechanisms for individual good.

The responsibility of protecting the family socially and economically is assigned to men and the responsibility of protecting and educating the children to young adulthood is assigned to the women.  Men earn and women utilize what is earned. Women support men in their livelihoods and men as a group takes communal decisions on advisement from the women as a group. Responsibility of educating young males in livelihoods is for the men and educating young females for marriage is for women. Men do not attempt to look after the young and women never take on the task of protecting other women since both of these are considered beyond the innate skills sets of men and women respectively.

No rocket science here.

It is all pretty common knowledge except for the fact that there is a naiveté amongst urban segregationists who firmly “believe” that it is the men who exclusively control the family purse, that it is men who exclusively determine the course of a community and that inequality is equivalent to inequity. All three are observations that have arisen in the minds of people in the process of urbanization and despite their validity with respect to urban communities they are fallacious when applied to the rural populace.

Seems pretty cool but  does this mean that rural populations are a benchmark, a baseline, a valuable real-o-meter to measure sustainability or stability of social groupings?

Emphatically no. No on two counts. One, it is just one system and not the only system. Two, that system, like all systems fails as well under specific circumstances.

That the rural system, which has withstood centuries of internal and external impacts and upheavals, is under serious threat, shuddering and breaking apart at its seams is a fact. Climate, energy, food and money crises and their packaged outcomes – conflict and war have had rather charming impacts of the stability of these communities. None of these were of their making. Like gender segregation, all of that can also be laid squarely on the shoulders of urbanites that haven’t lifted a finger to plant a cucumber or catch a mackerel but have eaten their way through almost all of that which was produced by rurals and pastorals. Be that as it may, restabilizing it would require using its own system of checks and balances – not external interventions. The core silliness is to attempt to apply the rules of one social system or order to right the wrongs of another system. This where this imposition of alien ideas such as masculinity or a femininity to Sri Lankan rural cultures fails and fails miserably.

Where then lies the problem with rural communities? While there are many issues that are internal (such as migration, loss of resources, destabilized environments, loss of livelihood options etc.) and external (war, consumerism, development initiatives, resource capture etc.) arising out of the multiple crises that cause those communities to destabilize, going by the testimony of the Afghan woman in my previous post, chief among them is the weakening of the ability of men to fulfill their roles and responsibilities.

Clearly, there is recognition amongst women in rural communities of the mediocrity of their men these days. Maybe it’s gambling, non-traditional enforcement of monogamy, alcoholism… whatever… but the lessening of the man has put a lot of unfair and uncalled for pressure on the woman. Additionally, and dangerously, when a woman steps into the shoes of a man who is weak it makes that same man react in accordance with his frailty, spitting and foaming at the mouth, kicking and screaming, condemning, judging, manipulating, subjugating, raping, murdering, revealing his inadequacies in naked, inglorious silhouette for the world to see and condemn. However, it must be noted that the fact that this occurs, at least for rurals and pastorals in Sri Lanka results less in a sense of emancipation and more in a sense of tragedy. It is not a situation that calls for women to overtake men but one that calls for both sorrow for their lot and shame for the lot of their men. For these people, a weak man is not to be condemned, ignored or marginalized but rather, to be worried over … and over… and over. Reading between the lines of that brutally honest Afghan woman warrior, the reversal of this tragic situation is laid squarely on the shoulders of men. If they are strong in their maleness the women can be equally strong in their femaleness resulting in resilient, united, strengthened, sustained societies.

That, is a tough ask for both men and women given the spectrum of issues that assail them these days in rural Sri Lanka. However, it is when it is darkest that there arises the highest qualities of human beings amongst such societies. For example, it is when such a resurgence or re-enabling of a man is impossible to engineer that there rises in Sri Lankan rural communities the “dhiriya katha” (courageous woman) who takes on a large number of the attributes of “pirimikama” because the men have been overtaken by “gehanu gathi”.  Or, it is when the entire system is compromised that there rises the “yugapurusha” (the man of the era). This particular phenomenon is highly lauded in rural communities and the “diriya katha” is awarded the same level of recognition as a “yugapurusha” and both of these have historically led their communities. That leadership is vested in them for the qualities they depict and the enabling energy they bring towards stabilizing their communities and ensuring its protection and equitable interrelationships – not for the type of anatomy they possess.

Again, there is nothing very special here. Everyone knows all of this.  The danger lies in the fact that such dynamics are in the process of being forgotten to the detriment of the country as a whole.

In a recent news item the Speaker, Chamal Rajapaksa stated the following to the women’s parliamentary group:  “Women taking the lead sometimes obstruct work in progress. This is not something I am saying. When women take the lead there is a tendency to not listen to anyone else. It is like this in a lot of places. It becomes difficult to work. If a woman is in charge of a District Secretariat or Divisional Secretariat or any other high office, they have a tendency to exert their authority over that place. So because of that, sometimes justice is not done”.

What the Honorable speaker says it correct.  Over the last nine years, I’ve seen examples of this nauseating condition in many females hailing from all sorts of social settings from urban to rural and all sorts of institutions from international donor agencies, academic institutions, CSOs, PSOs, TUs etc. and their chief victims have been other women. However, I have seen it more these days among men in high office in all institutions both state and otherwise. One doesn’t need to be the coming genius of the 21st century to clearly understand that the men in positions of power in Sri Lanka these days obstruct work in progress, do not listen to anyone, exert their authority over a place and make it difficult to work. Also, their chief victims are women as well. While it is convenient and fallacious to attribute such mindsets exclusively to women, what the Honorable speaker should remember is that in Sri Lanka, there are many “pirimi” (men) with “gehanu gathi” controlling many of the socio-economic aspects of the nation and the reduction of the potency of Sri Lankan society as a whole could very well be tagged to this state of the collective national psyche.

*This post is somewhat of an anecdotal exposition of continuing research into gender relationships in Sri Lanka. I need to also thank my wife, Manju Dharmasiri, who earns four times as much as I do and is the chief breadwinner of the family who contributed invaluable insights into gender realities in Sri Lanka and whose insistence on not taking high office in her workplace and  her rationale for it that started this line of inquiry on my part

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Foreign Affairs

Role Of Religion And Religious Men In The Method Of Reconciliation

Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana thero

Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana thero

There is perhaps total consensus that religion is one of the major factors that exerts influences on the people: nurturing, moulding, and contributing to the development of their character. But religion by itself is not able to exert this influence. This happens depending on how it is communicated to the people. This religious communication is done by the religious men. Therefore, in discussing the issue of reconciliation, which involves both inter-religion and inter-religious harmony, the role of religious men has to be examined very carefully.

There are many religions in the world, and among them there are a number of world religions. I am not focusing my attention on all religions and all religious men, but on Buddhism and the Buddhist monks. This is mainly because I am a member of the community of Buddhist monks.

Buddhism is one of the world religions. It has influenced peoples of different nations and cultures throughout a very long period of over two and a half millenniums. From ancient times Buddhism has served as a reconciliatory force bringing together different factions divided on various grounds and issues: political, ethnic, social, economic, and so on. Sri Lanka itself bears evidence to this. It is with the introduction of Buddhism that the country became united and commenced its forward march to progress in all spheres of life. The world history shows similar histories in countries like Myanmar, Korea and Japan. This shows that Buddhism is a teaching that unites people. It is very necessary to understand this factor when communicating Buddhism.

There are certain factors that contribute to make Buddhism a unifying force. Basically one has to understand that Buddhism is for the ending conflict and for establishing peace. In Buddhist technical terminology these two objectives are explained as dukkha and its nirodha, which means cessation. Dukkha, usually translated into English as suffering, is in fact a term impregnated with different nuances of meaning. The term ‘Dukkha’ covers all human problems: pain, discontentment, dissatisfaction, dejection, conflict and so on. Hence, Buddhism can by simply explained as a teaching dealing with ‘human problems’. Though nonhumans, including animals, are not left out, the main focus is on the human being and his problems. This has to be born in mind when communicating the Buddhist teachings.

While Buddha claims that his teachings present an assured way of completely terminating and bringing about the cessation of all human problems, he explains how difficult it is to attain this state. This is the highest ideal; yet there are states below this ideal level which are harmonious, peaceful, and satisfying. While Buddha says that he presents an assured way to peace, he does not say that what he says is the only truth. He knows very well that if he said so, that will lead to conflicts and disputes. Such a claim would not be conducive to the peace, harmony, and well-being of the masses for which he urged his clergy of disciples to disseminate his teachings. Such a claim would be very divisive; leading to religious fundamentalism and even leading to destructive wars as evidenced by history.

The Buddha spoke about the separate identity of Buddhism. Yet he never attempted to impose Buddhist identity on other religions. Instead, he strove firmly to keep the masses in the track of religion without using discriminatory methods to veer them away from non-religion, especially pure materialism which denies all morals and ethics. In one of the very well-known discourses in the Majjhima-nikaya, namely, the Alagaddupama Sutta, he makes the following insightful observations:

“Some learn the teaching only for the sake of criticizing others and for winning debates, and they do not experience the good for the sake of which they learned the teaching. Those teachings, being wrongly grasped by them, conduce to their harm and suffering for a long time”.

To explain this wrong grasping of the religious teachings and consequent harm that befalls, he cites the simile of one who wrongly grasps a snake by the tail. When grasped in the wrong manner, the person who grasps it is bitten by the snake which causes his death. This is quite an effective simile to all religious men who wrongly grasp religious teachings, perhaps being inspired and urged by misconceived ideas.

Such grasping nullifies the purpose for which religions are preached. Religions are for unity, harmony peace, understanding, trust, and so on. It is mostly through wrong communication by over-enthusiastic, perhaps, well-meaning communicators of religious teachings that religions turn into destructive forces. The Buddha said in the already quoted discourses, that religion should be considered as a ‘raft’ that helps to tide over the numerous problems of life, or dukkha, as Buddhism puts it. One is admonished not to carry the religion on his head, or to load it on his shoulder, but to use it as a device to solve problems.

It is just blind and dogmatic clinging to religion that makes one veer towards religious fundamentalism, decrying all other religions, and communicating religious teachings in the wrong way, inciting the ‘faithful masses’ to all kinds of destructive and disruptive activities. This is happening all over the world.

Religious communicators have to perform their role with caution and insight, without being tempted and misled by personal considerations. Religion should not be made a political instrument nor should religious men become politicians or tools of politicians. It is true that it is very difficult to be above politics in the present political contexts. All have political views, mental inclination towards a particular political system, political views etc. But such views and inclinations should not be mixed up with religious teachings, especially with Buddhist teachings. The Buddha was never a politician, though he presented a political theory for the good of everyone to assure all the enjoyment of all main human rights and privileges.

Emperor Asoka of India adopted such a tolerant religious policy that was conducive to forge unity among all peoples of different faiths. He explicitly stated in his Edicts that one who disparages other religions is disparaging his own religion. Politicians should not entice religious men to serve their political needs. Such an attitude is very harmful in the long run. This makes the Buddhist monk’s role as communicator of the Buddha teaching a very tricky and a difficult task.

Religious men should realize that their task is to bring about unity among those who are divided. This role of the clergy, communicators of the teaching of the Buddha, has been very vibrantly described in a discourse called the Samannaphala Sutta of the Digha Nikaya. This description explains the proper way such bhikhus should use their speech and says that “he should be one to be relied on, dependable, not a deceiver of the world, …a reconciler of those who are disunited and one who encourages those who are united, one who is delighting the unity and concord, and speaking up for peace”. Such should be the role of a good religious teacher.

This very clearly shows how Buddhism serves reconciliation and how a monk should work for the reconciliation of the divided if they really wish to be the sons of the Buddha. When the Buddha sent out the first sixty missionaries to communicate his new founded teaching, he requested them to preach the teachings for the good, well-being, and happiness of all.

This, ‘happiness for the many’ does not mean the happiness of the majority. Those who wish to follow fundamentalism and also wish to work under particular political directions could interpret this admonition in this narrow sense. But, the Buddha has made it very clear that all our actions have to be for the good of oneself and for the good of others. This morality goes far beyond the ‘narrow’ political interpretation of democracy. Buddhism is a democratic teaching, but this democracy does not mean the imposition of the majority view on the minority.

There is no question that the Teaching of the Buddha, his Dhamma, should be for the good and benefit of all. Buddha has shown that this could be done by getting hold of the dhamma in the proper manner, not as a political slogan, not as a propagandist cry, but as a message of peace and harmony. The Buddha has intervened not as a political negotiator but as a spiritual teacher to avert war between clans. It is well known that when the two clans, the Sakyans and the Koliyans, arrayed themselves, fully armed, to wage war against each other over the issue of sharing water of the Rohini river, the Buddha intervened and explained the futility and dangers that follow war. His attempt was to drive sense into warring parties and reconcile, and advice them not to act in a partisan manner that would further ignite the issue.

The Dhamma communicators have a duty to protect the Dhamma. But the protection of Buddhism should not be extended to the imposition of Buddhist identity and sentiments on other religions and religious men. Desecrating Buddhism and showing violent disrepute to Buddhism has to be stopped, and the members of the Sangha have a duty to do so. But this has to be done not by using force, violent behavior, and engaging in disruptive activities, but in a Buddhist way; in a peaceful way. If Buddhist clergy takes the law into their hands, totally disregard natural justice, rule of law and such other basic principles, the whole society will gradually break down, plunging the whole country into darkness and into a miserable state. To protect Buddhism is to live according to Dhamma. Living according to Dhamma itself is an inbuilt kind of protection for those who follow the Dhamma.

Religion is not the only factor of conflict and disunity. There are many other factors. So, in a multi- religious, multi-ethnic society beset with such conflicting issues, all are stakeholders in this process of reconciliation.

It is not only the majority population that bears the responsibility of working for unity and harmony. All minorities are duty bound to cooperate and integrate themselves with the majority. And, of course, the majority merely on the ground of the majority, should not try to dominate or impose their will on the majority or deprive the minorities of their due. Extremism and fundamentalism should be shunned by all, including the minorities. The majority should behave in a way that will not make minorities feel that they are being oppressed and deprived of their legitimate dues. Similarly, the minorities should not make undue demands and use their minority positions as a ruse to gain extra mileage.

It is in this state of conflicts that religion and religious men of moderate thinking and views can effectively play their roles. While properly communicating the essence of the respective teachings to devotes, they should specially impress upon the politicians regarding the role they also should play as ‘reconcilers’. If politicians fail to play their role properly, but use religion and religious men to achieve their own ends, then the whole process of reconciliation is bound to fail. With this observation, I conclude.

Thank you very much for your patient hearing.

*Ven. Prof.  Bellanwila Wimalarathana thero, Chancellor, Sri Jayewardenepura University. Speech delivered by Ven. Prof. Bellanwila Wimalarathana thero at the National Conference ‘the Role of Religion in Reconciliation’ on July 23, 2013.  

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Foreign Affairs

Scripting The Welikade Massacre Inquest And The Fate Of Two Dissidents

On the afternoon of 25th July 1983, 35 Tamil prisoners held under the PTA or Emergency Regulations were massacred in a prison riot. What was more remarkable was the second attack on the surviving prisoners two days later, killing another 18 prisoners after strong protests from abroad and measures had apparently been taken to protect the survivors.

Both massacres were documented in the UTHR(J) publication Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power; Myths, Decadence and Murder[1].  It adduced strong reasons pointing to a section of the government of the day as prime mover in the crime supported by some members of the prison staff. Among the latter it identified Jailor Rogers Jayasekere a supporter of the ruling UNP from Kelaniya, the former electorate of J.R. Jayewardene, who was then president. The old Kelaniya electorate was in 1983 represented by Ranil Wickremasinghe (Biyagama) and Cyril Mathew (Kelaniya), who were both instrumental in the July 1983 communal violence, particularly the latter.

N. Thangathurai and Kuttimani Yogachandran amidst prison guards

N. Thangathurai and Kuttimani Yogachandran amidst prison guards

An army contingent stationed at the prison had a direct radio link to Army HQ, where during both prison attacks the Security Council was meeting with President Jayewardene himself present. We are clear that the Army unit at the prison was ordered not to intervene and on the first occasion, Lt. Mahinda Hathurusinghe further prevented the injured prisoners being removed to hospital and ensured that they were killed or died through neglect or suffocation after being piled one on top of another.

Arrogance of Power points to political interference in the inquest proceedings. The Government had armed itself with enough draconian powers to dispose of the bodies without an inquest, although the bodies having been taken to the Hospital mortuary created a problem. Because of international interest Secretary/ Justice, Mervyn Wijesinghe, persuaded the Government to hold inquests in both instances. To this end the reluctant Colombo Magistrate Keerthi Wijewardene was told by Wijesinghe to hold the inquests. The inquest verdicts, while routinely admitting homicide and calling upon the Police to conduct further investigations were also crafted to rule out state complicity and culpability. They long remained the Government’s defence and the last official word on the subject.

The supplementary information here comes from two sources. One is Lalanath de Silva, the son of Alexis Leo de Silva, then Superintendent of Welikade Prison who passed away in 1995. The other is Nuvolari Seneviratne who was the Lieutenant in charge of the army unit outside Welikade Prison during the second massacre on the 27th. But first a note on the ‘Truth’ Commission.

Judicial Censorship of SP Leo de Silva

In July 2001, President Kumaratunge appointed the Presidential ‘Truth’ Commission on Ethnic Violence headed by former Chief Justice Suppiah Sharvananda, with S.S. Sahabandu and M.M. Zuhair as additional members. It was mandated to inquire into the nature, causes and the extent of gross violations of human rights and destruction property in violence between January 1981 and December 1984. With regard to the violence of July 1983, Suriya Wickremasinghe, who had done extensive work on the prison massacres, appeared before the Commission. We give below in her own words her assessment of what was achieved and what it failed to achieve on the question of the massacres:

Where the Welikade massacres were concerned for instance it did hardly any – if any – investigation of its own. It relied on me (CRM) for practically everything (for instance,  even the inquest proceedings were supplied to it by us) and seemed more than happy with just our material. What it should have done is taken our material as a starting point and then followed up from there, with all its powers of investigation and summoning witnesses, which we didn’t have. For instance it could and should have tried to obtain the statements recorded by the police after the 1st massacre. The instructing attorneys in the 35 civil cases filed by dependents of victims (assisted by CRM; it was in pursuance of these that we tracked down and interviewed survivors) called for these time and again in preparation for the trials, but were met with evasion after evasion by the Police. The cases never came to trial because they were eventually settled, state paying some compensation but without admitting liability.

“By the time of the ‘Truth’ Commission, I guess I was exhausted with putting the facts before them and it was probably partly my fault I did not press sufficiently for follow-up, or possibly I thought it would be no use. Welikade was only a small part of the Commission’s whole remit.  In its report the Commission did pay  CRM and me a handsome tribute,  which was certainly gratifying, but we had really hoped that it would investigate further and uncover information which we had not already found out for ourselves.

When contacted by us Lalanath de Silva told us: “My evidence before the Truth Commission was essentially about what I knew – things I heard and saw for myself – and things my father told me or discussed with me.  In July 1983 I was a young lawyer having been admitted to the bar in August 1982.  My father discussed many legal and other matters related to his duties and this incident with me.  

“If there was one thing he was ever so clear about – it was his duty as a Prison official with respect to all in his custody – namely that under the law they were committed to “safe custody” and that it was his bounden duty to keep them safe and well until they received due process.  That is why the Magistrate 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 andstopped taking any more evidence from my father.

In any event, my father told me that the AG’s department counsel 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 Welikade even 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 AGs 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.”

This clarifies the observation made by Suriya Wickremasinghe of the Civil Rights Movement who closely followed this case from the very outset. She observed the lack of continuity in Leo de Silva’s testimony as recorded in the first inquest report and felt that parts of it were missing.

The Magistrate entered a verdict of homicide, from a ‘general state of unrest’ among 800 prisoners housed upstairs in the Chapel Section, ‘which had ended up as a riot’. He further concluded that, “None of the prison officers or the army officers summoned thereafter could have done anything under the circumstances to prevent the attack. They have all been completely overpowered.”

The 2nd Massacre 27th July

Most people, especially Tamils, assumed that the first massacre was planned and executed on behalf of the government of the day and the second followed because the job was incomplete, with about half the PTA detainees remaining alive. Suriya Wickremasinghe, who more than anyone else has painstakingly studied the matter from the start, and tracked down and interviewed most of the survivors in different parts of the world, adds a note of caution. While she formed a strong impression that the second massacre became imperative to cover up the first, she feels the first massacre was not necessarily pre-planned at high level. Her reasoning is that following the inquest into the first massacre, the Magistrate had issued routine instructions to the Police to carry out investigations and the Police did question the survivors and start recording statements which contained some damning testimony. The survivors had become witnesses to the crime. We will return to the question of premeditation towards the end.

Suriya Wickremasinghe added, “Some survivors were circumspect and didn’t say much. Others came out with names – e.g. Manickathasan (of the PLOTE who was killed by the LTTE in 1999), told me he named two jailors. He said their names were written down in inverted commas in his statement. Prison staff were listening while his statement was recorded and one of them, a thin jailor whose name he did not know, advised him not so mention these two names, otherwise the people here will do the same to you. He also told the police when asked that he could identify the two convicted prisoners who had broken  down through the ceiling and come into their corridor…. This would explain why, if indeed it happened, it was felt necessary to import criminals from outside – Lt. Seneviratne’s testimony below – for the second occasion, to make sure the job was properly done.”

While some survivors felt safe after being moved to the Youthful Offenders Block, others felt that they were in even greater danger than ever because they were witnesses. They would not be allowed to live but they would die fighting. Suriya adds, “Therefore they started preparations to defend themselves – improvised weapons by twisting tin plates to form missiles, collected urine and chillie water from their gravy  in their buckets, got ready to entwine their canvas sleeping-sheets round the iron bars to hold the cell doors closed. That is why they were able to fight back and why some of them managed to survive.

During the morning the Chief Jailor informed Acting Commissioner of Prisons C.T. (Cutty) Jansz that another attack on the surviving Tamil PTA prisoners was imminent. (At the inquest, he also added plans for a mass jailbreak to the impending attack on PTA prisoners, which we now have good reason to believe, was prompted into the testimony by the AG’s Dept.) Jansz contacted Mervyn Wijesinghe, Secretary/ Justice and wanted moves to fly the surviving prisoners out of Colombo, as had been agreed after the first attack, expedited. For this purpose Jansz attended the Security Council meeting at Army HQ that afternoon.

We make some remarks about the layout that are necessary for the account below. The prison has an outer perimeter wall. At the entrance there is an arch fitted with a solid door with a small door built into it to admit visitors. The larger door is opened for vehicles. Inside one is in a covered way, a kind of tunnel. On either side of the tunnel are office rooms and visitors rooms. At the end of the tunnel is a second gate made of metal bars through which one could see into the prison compound. A public coin-operated telephone was on a side of this tunnel. The standard security procedure for vehicles entering the prison is that when they go in through the first door, that door has to be closed and secured before the other is opened.

Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne of the Field Engineering Unit led the platoon that was on duty outside the prison. His unit had arrived in the night following the first massacre and, at midnight, he took over duties at the prison from Lt. Hathurusinghe of Artillery. The latter left in the morning. Some of Seneviratne’s men were at the guardroom at the prison entrance. Lt. Seneviratne told us that the duty of the soldiers at the entrance was to check the papers of the vehicles coming into the prison and ensure that they were government vehicles. The identity checks were the work of the jail guards just inside the entrance. The soldiers communicated freely with the jail guards and passed on to him news of what was going on inside. The soldiers at the entrance told him that they heard from the jail guards that some of the official vehicles coming in were bringing in underworld figures. They did not go back out in the vehicles that had brought them.

Asked who the underworld figures were, Seneviratne replied, “I did not see them myself and there is no way my men would have known them. But the jail guards knew them as persons who had been in and out of jail. They told my men.” Through sensing the atmosphere and what his men learnt from the jail guards, Seneviratne confirms that plans to attack the Tamil PTA detainees were widely known in the morning. Jansz had acted on this, yet nothing was done to ensure security of the prisoners.

Lt. Seneviratne did not communicate the prospect of an attack to Army HQ. He says that his men were well equipped with weapons and riot gear, rigorously trained and they could have handled any riot. During the afternoon he and his men heard a commotion near the Youthful Offenders Block where the surviving prisoners were housed. This was also close to the entrance where they were. It was at this point, Seneviratne says, that he contacted the Operations Room at Army HQ by the direct radio link. This was about 20 minutes before the actual attack began (roughly 4.00 PM). He spoke to the junior duty officer whom he asked for permission to go into the prison and deal with the attack. The junior duty officer gave him a telephone number at Army HQ and asked him to speak to the senior duty officer (rank of colonel).

Seneviratne believes that he was the first to communicate the impending attack to Army HQ, from whence Jansz was then on his way back to the Prison Commissioner’s office. Curfew was declared at 4.00 PM. Jansz was told about the riot about 4.15 PM and he immediately phoned Brigadier Madawala at Army HQ, who as arranged earlier had agreed to keep a squad in readiness in case of attack.

Lt. Seneviratne went to the public call box inside the entrance and in the tunnel. Using coins collected from his men and the Chief Jailor who was at the entrance, he phoned the number giver by the junior duty officer and got hold of the duty officer who was in the Army Commander’s room at HQ. The duty officer told him that they were aware of the riot and were sending a back up team and asked him to stay out. Seneviratne asked to speak to the Army Commander. The duty officer told him that the President was also there and he could not speak to the Army Commander and insisted that he stick to the standing orders, failing which he would be court-martialled. The standing orders were not to go in to the jail at any cost, but to protect the jail from outside attacks only. The orders had nothing to say on the protection of prisoners.

Seneviratne told us that during this time he was in the tunnel with some of his men. They were able to move in and out through the small door attached to the big door in front. The second door with a metallic grill leading into the prison compound was closed but not locked. Jail staff were moving in and out of it into the tunnel. Some of his men who were with him fired at the attackers through the grill. Others had used an army truck and climbed onto the prison wall and fired from there.

The account in Arrogance of Power reflected the general perception that both prison attacks had been planned for just after curfew to prevent other prisoners escaping. There may also be another factor in the second. Arrogance of Power which also used Suriya Wickremasinghe’s analysis of the case, expressed surprise that neither the inquest proceedings nor the recorded testimony of prison staff made any reference to the whereabouts or role of Superintendent Leo de Silva or either of  his two ASPs. It wondered if Leo was on the premises.

His son Lalanath said, “My father was in and out of that jail all through this time.
I was at home and he spent most of his time, morning, noon and night in that jail.  That was not just during this period but that was his commitment to duty – The Prison Ordinance says that Prison officers are on duty 24 hours – he took that literally!  He would say to me “Prisoners come and Prisoners go, but I am in jail forever”

The second massacre took place minutes after my father had come home to get a late
lunch and a quick wash – he had spent the whole night in jail and pretty much the whole morning and noon.  He had barely come home (our home is the big house to the left of Welikade gate) when he heard shouting from inside the jail, the alarm siren etc and he ran back to the jail. Perhaps they all waited for him to leave?  The timing was incredibly too perfect. My father did tell me that on the second massacre he was pleading with the army to fire tear gas – and that it took him many appeals and even some shouting to get them activated

The back up team sent by Army HQ comprised a group of commandos under Major Sunil Peiris. He and his men came through the small door into the tunnel. Peiris inquired about the situation from Seneviratne briefly before rushing in. By the time the commandos took control the attackers had enough time to kill 16 of the 28 prisoners locked up in the cells on the ground floor of the YO Block and Dr. Rajasundaram upstairs. Another died later in Hospital, bringing the total to 18.

Major Peiris in testimony given to us said that fire from his weapon injured a prisoner whom he saw being carried away. Lt. Seneviratne told us that his men too had fired at the attackers from the gate and some were injured. These facts were not recorded by Magistrate Wijewardene who also conducted the inquest into the second massacre at the request of Mervyn Wijesinghe. Nor was any attempt made to identify the attackers whom, as Suriya Wickremasinghe who interviewed survivors noted, could have been identified by them, as they fought off several of them at close quarters. Many survivors told her that they could have identified some of the attackers if seen again. After asking the survivors whether they could identify the attackers, to which the answer was no, since the prisoners did not know the attackers by name, the Magistrate failed to follow up with, whether they could identify the attackers if they saw them again (for example at an identification parade). It was also remarkable that whereas the prison staff, who at the inquest identified with ease the mutilated bodies of the victims, invariably said that they were unable to identify a single of the convicted prisoners who took part in the riot!

Lt. Seneviratne Barred from the Inquest

The presence of underworld elements imported into the prison for the second attack, which Lt. Seneviratne spoke of, had been rumoured for a long time and strenuously denied by senior staff in the Prisons Dept. Also rumoured before and denied by Prisons staff is a hole reportedly made in the prison wall after the second massacre. Lt. Seneviratne said that after Major Peiris arrived, his men alerted him to a hole having been made in the prison wall by the cricket grounds. He said that he personally saw it about 5.00 PM and an Air Force truck was parked opposite the hole, with an air officer present. He did not make an issue of it but simply looked at it and left. He believes this was how the injured prisoners and the underworld elements brought in were taken out, adding that there is a path there that leads to Borella.

Lt. Seneviratne told us that following the massacre AG’s Dept men and men from the Army’s legal department. came to Welikade prison to discuss the inquest. The standing orders and the logbook in which the soldiers logged in the vehicles entering were removed. He said a group of about 20 of them wanted him to tell the inquest that there had been a jailbreak attempt by detainees. He was placed under enormous pressure, but he refused to testify that he was outside the prison controlling a jailbreak.

Seneviratne felt very bad about not being allowed to go into prison and rescue the PTA detainees. He told the others that they refused him permission to go in and rescue the prisoners, but now they wanted him to make some false testimony. He said that he would only speak the truth and say that what happened was sheer murder.

The AG’s dept. men told the army officers present to convince ‘your man’. When he refused repeated pleas to give in, Major Sunil Peiris stepped in and told the others not to harass him and if he won’t, he won’t. Peiris said that if they wanted someone from the Army to testify, he would. Seneviratne told us that he had trained with the commandos and during that time he had become friends with Major Peiris.

Peiris testified at the inquest the following day, but he did not give substance to any attempted jailbreak. He answered what must have been a leading question with, “I did not notice any prisoners attempting to break out… I initially gathered that the mass scale jail break had been contained…”

Seneviratne was hoping that as the officer in charge at the prison, he would be called upon to testify as Lt. Hathurusinghe had previously been, so that he could place the truth on record. But he was not. Major Peiris was presented as the spokesman for the Army’s role and the part played by those on duty outside the jail was ignored. Suriya Wickremasinghe with whom Lt. Seneviratne first made contact adds, “In fact even those who later studied the subject carefully overlooked this omission, or assumed that the army unit outside had been unable or unwilling to do anything as during the first massacre.”

After the awkwardness with Leo de Silva at the first inquest, the AG’s Dept. was very choosy about witnesses. Leo de Silva and his two deputies were not called. The Chief Jailor, fourth in order of seniority, was brought in as though he were in charge. Explaining his position, Chief Jailor Karunaratne said, “Up to this point… to the best of my recollection there were no officers superior to me in office in the compound…” Indeed, Leo had gone for a quick lunch, but had come as soon as the alarm was raised.

It is now easy to see that the combination of officials and lawyers from the Army’s legal unit and the AG’s Dept., along with a willing magistrate, had scripted the inquest proceedings. Having kept Seneviratne out of the inquest, Chief Jailor Karunaratne was given a story to explain why an army unit had to come all the way from HQ when Lt. Seneviratne who was on the spot was not utilised. Karunaratne said:  “I was also informed that some… prisoners in the remand prison had obtained possession of fire arms. I am now aware that in view of that situation some of the army personnel placed outside Welikade Prison had to go to the remand section to combat that situation.”

What Karunaratne could not say is that he was at the gate asking help from Lt. Seneviratne’s unit and gave him coins to call Army HQ to get permission, which was refused. He was thus scripted to explain the army unit’s absence with a fictitious riot at the remand section. He rather weakly explained the steps he took to prevent a mass jailbreak, sending his men everywhere except to the scene of attack.

Having failed to substantiate any jailbreak attempt, Magistrate Wijewardene still went undeterred to the scripted conclusion: “Both the army personnel and the prison officers had been hindered in the full utilisation of their forces to protect the victims of the attack by the intended mass jailbreak…However, prompt and efficient steps taken by the special unit of the Army under witness Major Peiris had effectively prevented the jail break referred to.” Major Peiris had been clear that there was no attempted jailbreak.

Post massacre fortunes of SP Leo de Silva and Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne

Despite their large difference in age and having been in two different services, they had something in common. They instinctively respected the spirit of the law and found murder galling. During the fateful 48 hours at Welikade, which scarred their lives and virtually ended their careers, they moved in close proximity of each other, but perhaps never met. If they did, Leo would have been deeply distrustful of Nuvolari.

Leo’s son Lalanath said, “My father was convinced beyond a shadow of doubt that the Army set the prisoners up.  Keep in mind this was a response to 13 soldiers being killed in the North by the LTTE. Here was a way to kill “LTTE” personnel right in Colombo. My father believed that by commissions (rousing prisoners to revolt) and omissions (refusing to cooperate to quell the riot and blocking emergency treatment for injured Tamil detenues after the first massacre) the Army was vicariously responsible for the events.”

Leo, as he confided to his family, continued in fear of grievous harm from the army units guarding the prison . He took the precaution of swearing an affidavit before his son, an all-island JP. He would leave the truth on record in a situation where the courts found no place for it. After all that happened and the position he took trying to save the lives of injured Tamil detainees and the court scenes where he protested to a rude and angry magistrate that he would speak the whole truth, a further incident related by his son enhanced his fear:

After the massacres, he was walking to the jail from home once after dark, when he was challenged by an army officer. Upon giving his name and rank, the officer verbally signalled him to pass, but continued to point the gun at my father. Under normal practice the gun is lowered once permission to pass is given. My dad was angry at this insult. He went up to the officer and reminded him that he (my father) was of the rank of a colonel in the army and the correct thing was for him to lower his gun and salute him. The officer did not salute him but did lower the gun and stand to attention.”

In the affidavit, he affirmed his belief that the army personnel stationed outside the prison were instrumental in encouraging prisoners to attack Tamil PTA detainees. According to his son, “It was very clear to my father that during the first massacre, prisoners appeared confident that the Army would not intervene and that the Prison guards themselves neither had tear gas nor other effective means for mass crowd control.”

As the head of the prison, Leo de Silva felt it incumbent upon him to carry out an internal inquiry and identify the culprits responsible. In this he was thwarted by an order from the Commissioner of Prisons, Mr. Delgoda. He was a marked man given that the Government was determined to cover up the Welikade massacres. Leo de Silva was obstructed and finally pushed out at the age of 56. The prisons come under the Ministry of Justice, and Dr. Nissanka Wijeratne, who was then Minister for Justice refused him the extension of service that is routinely given annually after the age of 55. He was denied his pension and promotion as well. As a young lawyer, Lalanath had to file a fundamental rights case for him – and it was in a settlement they got there that his full pension was restored and his back wages were given on the basis of a promotion.

For Leo it was towards the end of his exemplary career, and being thrown out in that manner is a bitter pill for anyone. For Nuvolari Seneviratne, it was but the beginning of his career. He was then only 22 years old. He soon realised that by refusing to play along at the inquest according to the script, he angered many in the Army. Relations between him and his commanding officer Major (later Colonel) Jayantha Jayasinghe plummeted. The latter found himself blamed for not being able to get his subordinate to go along with their story.

Seneviratne and his men felt frustrated and unhappy that they had been prevented from going into the jail and rescuing the prisoners under attack. To many this would seem a very unusual attitude after what people saw from the Army at that time and especially from Lt. Hathurusinghe’s unit that was at the prison during the first massacre. Hathurusinghe was also in touch with Army HQ, but his unit went into the prison and were spectators to the massacre and also, later, prevented the injured from being taken to Hospital.

Generalisations could frequently be unjust. There were many soldiers, including from the ranks, who thought professionally, like in the case cited below. When the officer wanted a soldier to assault a prisoner, the soldier replied that an order asking him to shoot  was one he was bound to obey, but not one to assault a prisoner. When a platoon works and trains together, a rapport develops and when the commander sees a task as a challenge to their professionalism, the men are bound to fall in line.

In this instance Seneviratne and his men saw it as their duty to rescue the prisoners. And their frustration must have increased when after a crucial delay, Major Sunil Peiris was sent in to do the very job they were both trained and eager to do and could have accomplished expeditiously. Where the public was concerned, Seneviratne and his platoon were cast in a poor light and left there for reasons of state. It appears that Army HQ was taken aback when Seneviratne asked for permission to go into the prison and do his job. They strictly ordered him to keep out of the jail, unlike they did with Hathurusinghe and his men, who were allowed in on a sight-seeing expedition.

Seneviratne says that three years after the massacre, knowing that there was no future for him in the Army, he put in his papers. He was refused and by this time the talk among several officers was that it was better to keep him in the Army, rather than let him go out and talk. He kept on putting in his papers to leave the Army. His promotions were also stalled, but he was posted to the battle zones in the North. Some called him a Tiger, claiming that those killed at Welikade were all Tigers. (In fact an overwhelming majority of those killed did not belong to the LTTE, but Tigers had become a generic name for Tamil militants.) Seneviratne argued that many of those like Rajasundaram were in fact intellectuals.

Finally, Seneviratne says, General Kobbekaduwa in 1992, understanding his position was sympathetic and signed his release. But just afterwards, in August 1992, he was killed and Seneviratne’s release was withdrawn. At this time Seneviratne, who by then held the rank of captain, was in Weli Oya. Whenever he was with his commanding officer Jayantha Jayasinghe, tempers tended to flare up and sometimes they almost came to blows. The area was one where there was constant LTTE infiltration and Seneviratne felt that he was being sent on missions from which he was not expected to come back alive.

At one point Colonel Jayasinghe had his salary stopped although he continued on active duty for a further seven months. When he went home on leave, Jayasinghe sent a message telling him not to come back. Without making a further issue of it, Seneviratne simply went away. It was in the year 2000 that he appealed to the Army Commander for a review to regularise his discharge from the Army. An inquiry was held, where some of his former brother officers supported him. The Commander regularised his departure and called for the payment of his arrears. Seneviratne says he was told unofficially to forget his back pay as the termination of his pay was improper and touching the matter would involve the Army in legal controversy.

The Standing of Seneviratne’s Testimony

A striking remark made by Seneviratne in the course of our conversations is that he would not be speaking out now, had he not seen the account of the prison massacres in Arrogance of Power, which concluded that there was no attempted jailbreak during the second massacre, contrary to what the Magistrate maintained. For, Seneviratne said, “No one would have believed me”.

One would soon realise that his fears were very real. Senior Prison Department staff have maintained over the years that there was no presence of outsiders during the second massacre and they dismiss the claim that a hole was made in the wall. The infirmity in their denials is that a proper inquiry was never held and  the culprits were not held to account. And after the kind of disaster that occurred, one would have expected some open accounting. On the other hand Commissioner Delgoda blocked Leo de Silva’s attempt to hold an inquiry and he alone appears to have paid dearly for his independence.

On the other hand Leo de Silva’s assessment has been that the Army was mainly to blame. His son told us, “I recall (and I said so to the Truth Commission) an army truck with soldiers cheering “Jayaweva” (Victory) speeding around the perimeter road of the jail even as the massacre was happening (I cannot remember if it was the first or second). I saw this myself through the rear window of our house – where my sister, mother and aunt were and prisoners could have heard this as well.” This incident we believe took place after the first massacre. Seneviratne vigorously denies that this happened on his watch.

The first day of widespread communal violence, July 25th, was soon after the killing of 13 soldiers in an LTTE mine attack in Jaffna. Besides, Leo de Silva’s personal experience with the Army too would have strengthened his assessment of the Army being the main instigators with tacit government support. However, the evidence we advanced in Sri Arrogance of Power points to both the communal violence and even the prison massacres having been planned well in advance.

The countdown in July, the President’s Daily Telegraph interview on fighting terrorism without impediments of the law and the orchestrated belligerence were pointers to the coming menace. Leo de Silva had even before the massacres called for the Tamil prisoners to be transferred, having sensed something nasty in the offing.

Evidence that Lt. Nuvolari Seneviratne was indeed a conscientious objector to what his superiors wanted him to do, is the fact of the AG’s Dept. shunning his testimony. Arrogance of Power had found this remarkable and in need of explanation.

We found Lt. Seneviratne’s evidence eminently credible, not jarring anywhere, but adding to our understanding of events. His answers to questions regarding difficult points in his testimony came across convincingly without hesitation. A second massacre had been anticipated. Acting Commissioner Jansz wanted the transfer of prisoners expedited. The President and the Army Commander knew the gravity of the situation at the prison. Whether or not Seneviratne’s advance warning to the junior duty officer was communicated to them, they sent a back up team after Jansz communicated with them. One finds it strange for an army that the junior duty officer should have asked Lt. Seneviratne to go to a public call box and phone the senior duty officer in the same HQ premises.

While the army unit at the entrance had been kept idle, the Magistrate was anxious to conclude that there had been an attempted jailbreak. Seneviratne affirms that his pleas to go to the aid of the prisoners were turned down and he was asked to do nothing and pretend that there was an attempted jailbreak, so giving the attackers more time. All this makes perfect sense if the Army HQ had connived in the crime. If not Seneviratne could simply have been ordered to go in.

We come to the controversial elements of his testimony. One is about outsiders getting into the prison since the morning in official vehicles and the hole in the wall. Lalanath de Silva who shares the skepticism of senior prison officials at that time, says of outsiders getting in, “It is also highly unlikely that this could have happened under my father’s nose. He was an extremely alert man and was fully conscious of this possibility.  Whether this happened when my father was not in the jail, I don’t know.” He suggested that blaming goons and thugs from the outside might suit the Army to deflect the searchlight from themselves. It is however well to remember that in the situation prevailing after the first massacre, Leo de Silva’s authority had been grievously undermined.

A strong indication of political machinations in the second massacre that Arrogance of Power has drawn attention to is a cabinet meeting that same (27th July 1983) morning reported in Sinha Ratnatunga’s ‘Politics of Terrorism: The Sri Lankan Experience’. The question of transferring the survivors of the first massacre out of Colombo to Jaffna prison had been raised. The author, who wrote the Migara column in the Weekend and was reputed for excellent inside contacts with President Jayewardene’s circle, reported that Ministers Lalith Athulathmudali and Ranil Wickremasinghe objected to the suggestion on the grounds that it would ‘further infuriate’ the Sinhalese. From what Lt. Seneviratne’s men told him, it would appear that even as these words were being uttered, underworld elements were being inducted into the prison in official vehicles.

We contacted S. Manoranjan editor of the Lake House Tamil monthly Amuthu from 1999 to 2001. In July 2000 Amuthu published an investigative report on the Welikade prison massacre. It said that a group of underworld figures led by Gonawela Sunil, a UNP thug from Kelaniya, had been brought into the prison to lead the second massacre.

Manoranjan told us that there were three journalists working on this piece. They had approached Mr. Ganeshalingam, a long time UNP stalwart in Colombo and subsequently mayor of Colombo, for help. He directed them to a former member of the UNP trade union JSS which earned notoriety at the time of the communal violence under the leadership of Minister Cyril Mathew, also MP for Kelaniya. It was this former JSS member who told them that goons from Kelaniya under Gonawela Sunil were brought into Welikade Prison to carry out the second prison massacre. This story had been in the rumour mill for a long time.

We may also note that at some level there was apparently unhappiness with leaving the Welikade Massacres case to rest with merely the highly publicised inquest reports of Magistrate Keerthi Wijewardene as the last word. Or perhaps this was simply the result of the internationally expressed outrage. The Appendix gives the copy of a letter provided to us by the Civil Rights Movement where A.R.B. Amarasinghe, who had by early 1984 succeeded Mervyn Wijesinghe as Secretary/Justice, requests the Chief Justice to nominate a judge of the Supeme Court to inquire into matters pertaining to the massacre. One question notably concerned the possible presence of outsiders who were neither prisoners nor prison officials.

The attempt to hold an inquiry did not get off the ground. The reasons must for the moment remain a matter of speculation. It does however tell us that the possibility of an unauthorised presence of outsiders was taken seriously in the aftermath of the massacres.

Seneviratne’s support for this charge of the involvement of outsiders in the second massacre comes totally independent of any other report and without frills. He did not know about the affiliations of the underworld figures, but reported the mere fact of what his men learnt from the jail guards they worked with. His report of the hole in the wall had also been previously rumoured and adds nothing to his verifiable and damning testimony about the massacre itself.

Other Dissidents in the Saga of Welikade Prisoners

Cases of other dissidents who come out with credit in the story of the PTA prisoners were given to us by Suriya Wickremasinghe. She was told of these during her extensive interviews with survivors and we give them as related by her:

–         The jail guard who successfully stood guard at the entrance to one of the wings in the Chapel building during the first massacre, blocking the doorway with his arms and legs spread out so that he formed an X. (Recounted to me by one of the survivors, who demonstrated how the guard had stood). Other survivors spoke of a jail guard, presumably the same one, who put his foot on the lock of the entrance to the corridor and said if you break this you have to cut my foot. It is correct that one of the wings housing Tamil prisoners in the Chapel Building was not broken into at all during the first massacre and all its inmates were thereby saved.

–         Even more significant, the soldier in army camp (Panagoda if I recall right) before the prisoners were transferred to Welikade, who told his superior, when refusing to assault a prisoner, that he can order him to shoot, but that he cannot order him to beat a prisoner.

–         Another survivor spoke very emotionally of a prison officer who was kind to them in Welikade and wanted me to convey to him his good wishes! This same survivor told me that if he ever sees again those who tortured him, he just has to kill them. This tale of regular assaults in army custody was a feature of almost all the testimonies, and they were very relieved when they were transferred to Welikade, where life was a comparative paradise until the 25th of July 1983. When interviewing these survivors, I was always in a hurry to hear about the massacres, but invariably  first let them get off their chest the account of what they had undergone up to then. It was also a standard feature that admiration at times indeed amounting to love for those who treated them humanely was as strongly expressed as hatred for those who did the opposite.

The Question of Premeditation in the Massacres

We mentioned earlier that to most of us who in 1983 were politically alive as Tamils, and to the community having been placed at the cross roads by the infamous events, nothing we read or heard ever caused us to doubt that both the prison massacres were planned and executed by elements in the government of the day. It happened after the Tamil PTA detainees had been transferred from military custody and other prisons to Welikade prison.

Premeditation is hard to prove as no proper investigation was conducted and some of the key witnesses have since died. Many would still argue after extensive research that the transfer of prisoners to fiscal custody had been demanded by the main Tamil parliamentary party, the TULF, because of complaints of assault and ill-treatment in army-custody. The first massacre could also be explained as a result of purely local instigation in response to the upsurge of anti-Tamil emotions outside, granting that some jailors (persons of officer rank in the prison service) were also involved.

Many of these questions were dealt with in Arrogance of Power. We summarise the essential points and add a few more. Arrogance of Power could not have been written, but for an exceptionally conducive environment prevailing under the early years of Chandrika Kumaratunge’s presidency. There was a war and there were serious ongoing abuses, but for all her shortcomings as a leader, she stated unequivocally that there was an ethnic problem and genuine political grievances among the Tamils that needed a federal settlement. She repeatedly spoke of July 1983 as an outrage that needed to be come to terms with. One cannot readily see that her appointment of a ‘Truth’ Commission to go into the events of July 1983 was calculated to derive political mileage. Given the quagmire into which local politics had entered, her position as a leader was a major step for this country, as seen by the ease with which her successor has slipped back into primordial Sinhalese nationalism, leading to much uncertainty.

The atmosphere prevailing in the latter 1990s gave unprecedented access to material and to serving and retired officers in the security services, who believed that the ethnic problem had been badly mishandled and were willing to talk frankly about their experiences. An especially important group of contacts was journalists who had been active during the mid-1980s and had informally hobnobbed with key ministers.

Not only were a number of them convinced that the a section of the government was behind the prison massacres, but also that Jailor Rogers Jayasekere was the key linkman. Senior members of the Prison Dept. confirmed this to us obliquely. The journalists knew Jayasekere, whose father had worked for President Jayewardene when he contested Kelaniya earlier in his political career, as a UNP hatchet man, who provided behind the scenes support when the party wanted to play rough. In the prison he was polite and English speaking but his party affiliations to the UNP – the ruling party then – were also well known.

Citing Gamini Dissanayake, a leading minister who was then being overtaken in importance by National Security Minister Lalith Athulathmudali, a leading journalist told us about Jayasekere’s involvement in establishing Sinhalese settlements in Tamil areas – Weli Oya in this instance. Jayasekere, he learnt was picked for the job of arranging for selected Sinhalese prisoners in Anuradhapura prison to be moved to Manal Aru in Mullaitivu (Weli Oya in Sinhalese) to pioneer a Sinhalese settlement. (This first group sent by Jayasekere was massacred by the LTTE in November 1984.)

Given Jayasekere’s background, it was eminently credible that the Welikade massacre was entrusted to him by leading members of the Government. Former detainees named two other prison officers who played a leading role in the massacres. They are Jailor Samitha (Rathgama) and Location Officer Palitha. There were also other reasons that added weight to the contention of premeditation.

A former prisoner in Welikade, now living abroad, told us that their being moved to Welikade had nothing to do with the request by the TULF. He said the TULF request was made 1½ years earlier and the prisoners themselves launched a hunger strike several months before to press this demand. This prisoner was moved to Welikade from Panagoda Army Camp as part of the movement to Welikade, which began on 3rd June 1983 and ended 11 days later on the 14th. The context of this movement was also the Public Security Ordinance, which was brought into force on the same day the movement began – 3rd. The former prisoner was among four who were released around 9th June. He believes they were released because there was nothing against them. Looking back he feels quite certain that the fate of the rest was already sealed. He points to the following, which seem to him significant in retrospect:

  1. Of the 72 Tamil PTA or ER detainees concerned in the massacre drama, 63 were concentrated in one place – in three wings on the ground floor of the Chapel Section – irrespective of status. Some had been convicted, some had court hearings in progress and there were those against whom charges had not even been formulated or whose offences, if any, were not even of a criminal nature and should have been released. [The remaining nine prisoners of standing were held at the Y.O. Block to which the survivors from the first massacre were then moved. There were also Tamil suspects held in other parts of the prison.]
  2. During the same period some criminal elements were moved from other prisons to the Chapel Section. Among them were Sepala Ekanayake and Akuna Santhre (Hemachandra) who were in Magazine Prison. The first took a prominent role in the second massacre and the second was a notorious killer.

This former prisoner suggested that A. Varadarajaperumal who was in Magazine Prison might have more information on this. At our request Mr. Varadarajaperumal sent us some notes. From his testimony, we gather no evidence that any prisoners were moved to the Chapel Section in preparation for the massacre. Akuna Santhre remained at Magazine. Sepala Ekanayake was transferred to the Chapel Section. His trial for hijacking commenced on 30th June 1983.

Varadarajaperumal was interrogated by an ASP from the CID on the 4th Floor around 1st April 1983. This police officer kicked him onto the ground, screamed at him that one day Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte (Colombo suburbs with a large Tamil population) will burn, as happened the coming July, and kicked him again.

Concerning Sepala Ekanayake, Varadarajaperumal said that at Magazine he used to be notably uncommunicative with Tamil prisoners and was also known to express strong anti-Tamil views among other prisoners. This was in marked contrast to his disposition towards the Tamil prisoners at the Chapel Section, where he cultivated a cordiality that was about excessive – greetings in Tamil and expressions of solidarity with their cause. Several Tamil survivors of the massacres refused to believe that he played a leading role in the second massacre. It is quite possible that those planning the massacre in the Chapel Section had recruited him and he was enjoying the deception of bogus cordiality with the intended victims. Appendix II gives a translated extract from Varadarajaperumal’s notes.

More pertinently, it must be remembered that the transfer to fiscal custody coincided with putting the PSO into effect with talk of getting tough on terrorism. Barely three weeks earlier, in May, sections of the Government had had unleashed communal violence against Tamil students at Peradeniya University (Supplement to Special Report No.19 Part-I).

On 12th June 1983, just as the movement of prisoners to Welikade was being completed, a report in the Island revealed that some in the Government were obsessed with these prisoners and proposed changes to the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Criminal Procedure Code giving the Army as part of routine law powers they already had under the PSO and various Emergency Regulations. The proposed amendments empowered the army personnel to use lethal force in respect of ‘terrorist suspects attempting to break jail or making a bid for freedom’. In the event of a suspect’s death, the only legal obligation was to make a report to the Attorney General’s Dept. on the circumstances of the death. This was the thinking reflected in the standing orders given to the army unit posted outside the prison.

A strong piece of evidence of premeditation comes from the fact that the communal violence of July 1983 was meticulously planned with the collection of electoral lists and assignment of UNP hit men to areas, behind the rhetoric of dispensing with the law to defeat terrorism. The attention the Government devoted to the PTA detainees in the run up to the violence (which was largely independent of the incident in Jaffna where 13 soldiers were killed) would make it highly remarkable if they were left out of the planning. The behavior of the army hierarchy during both massacres when the President was at Army HQ and the termination of the services of Superintendent Leo de Silva after he tried to hold an internal inquiry are further pointers.

The Curse of a Generation

To SP de Silva, Lt. Seneviratne and their families, it has been many years of pain living under a cloud of suspicion for crimes they tried to prevent, their honour tarnished. For the country itself it has been a steady erosion of values for a generation, taking a heavy toll on the honest and honourable. In the journey in time from Welikade to Mutur and Pottuvil, we have seen a host of crimes that would have been easily dealt with if our Courts, the Police and the AG’s Dept. were geared to bringing out the truth. With obfuscation having become the norm for these institutions, those committed to the truth need to go through a painful process of trial and error.

A more perfect account needs to stand on the shoulders of imperfect accounts. But the sanity of a society demands that the truth must be placed on record and those guilty understand the feelings of the others. Imperfect accounts have their place. It is through them that others feel motivated to respond and improve the stock of information.

For a generation we have been locked into a regime of crimes and counter-crimes. While those of governments may come to light, many years later perhaps, through conscientious objectors, such persons stand no chance in Tamil society. Crimes of the LTTE are far more likely to come to light in psychiatric clinics. Placing the truth on record has a necessary curative purpose, so that if not we in our time, another generation could at least see the light of dawn.

Acknowledgement: The Welikade Prison Massacre remains a live issue largely because of the Civil Rights Movement and Suriya Wickremasinghe.  They have been the chief repositories of its memory and we hope Suriya’s book on the events would be published before long. The reader would see that much of the information contained here and what appeared in Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power…owed critically to resources provided by her and CRM. Her editorial suggestions to this account were such as to help it stay within the bounds of evidence as against extrapolations and what we have taken for granted. We might add that she holds reservations about some of our conclusions. On a further note, Nuvolari Seneviratne who was at the time of the massacre a lieutenant in the Sri Lankan Army made contact with Suriya Wickremasinghe after seeing the account of the massacre in Sri Lanka: The Arrogance of Power… on our web site. We invite readers to send any further information to us at [email protected]. This would be passed on to Suriya Wickremasinghe. 

Appendix I 

Letter from Secretary, Justice, Amarasinghe to Chief Justice Samarakoon 

3rd January 1984.

The Hon. N.D.M. Samarakoon, Q.C.,

Chief Justice,

Chief Justice’s Chambers, Hulftsdorp,

Colombo 12.

Dear Chief Justice,

Welikada Incidents

Further to our discussion this morning, I shall be grateful if you would assist us by nominating a  Judge of the Supreme Court to investigate and report to the Hon. Minister of Justice on or before March 15th 1984 on the following matters:

1.                                          What were the significant and relevant incidents leading to the deaths of certain persons at Welikade Prison on 25th and 27th July 1983?

2.                                          What were the significant and relevant incidents and events which took place at Welikade Prison on the 25th and 27th July 1983?

3.                                          What were the significant and relevant incidents and events after the 25th and 27th July 1983?

4.                                          Did the prison authorities sufficiently discharge their duties and if not, who were the officers to blame and in what way?

5.                                          Were the physical facilities and security arrangements adequate, if not, in what way were they deficient?

6.                                          At the time of the incidents in question, were there any persons within the prison who were neither prisoners nor prison officials? If so –

(a) who were they?

(b) how did they gain admission?

(c) Were they armed and of so, in what     way?

(d) were they directly or indirectly responsible for the incident in question and if so, in what way?

7.                                          What steps if any, should be taken to prevent the recurrence of such incidents?

Yours sincerely,

Dr. A.R.B. Amarasinghe


Ministry of Justice.


Appendix II

A Note from A. Varadarajaperumal

Annamalai Varadarajaperumal (Varathar), along with Maheswararajah, an MA student at Jaffna University, and 10 other members of the EPRLF were arrested by the Police in Batticaloa on 31stMarch 1983, at what was essentially a political meeting. What the Police found were innocuous political materials. They were all imprisoned in Magazine Prison, Colombo, under the PTA and their detention was prolonged by the CID periodically reporting to the Magistrate that there was a delay in obtaining translations of their materials. Varathar was in Magazine prison nearby when the massacres took place in Welikade. Some of his experiences are described below:

Four days after our arrest we were taken to Magazine Prison. Maheshwararaja and I were kept in solitary confinement. A little later we were joined by Vamadevan from KKS, who was S.J.V.Chelvanayakam’s driver. I came to know him during the famous 1975 parliamentary by-election in KKS. He was arrested in Batticaloa in connection with the Chenkalady bank robbery in which he was involved with Paramadeva. Having been in prison long, he knew the other prisoners and the prison officials, whom he introduced to me. There were near us two prisoners held in maximum security conditions. They were Akkuna Santhre (Hemachandra) and a Muslim who was involved in several robberies in Maradana. Also held with us was Thanga Mahendran, a founder member of TELO in 1975.

The hijacker Sepala Ekanayake was separated from us by a tin fence. He hardly ever spoke to the Tamil detainees. A few days before the July 83 incidents a rich Tamil from Colombo was brought there in connection with foreign exchange fraud. It was he who gave us much information about Sepala and said that he used to vomit communal venom among the Sinhalese detainees.

It was customary for the prison superintendent to meet us on our first or second day in prison. When it was my turn to see the SP, I was in for a shock. He was Ratnayake, the Chief Jailer when I was imprisoned in Welikade H ward during 1975 to 1977. We then knew him as an arch Sinhalese communalist. But this time he struck me as a decent man. My impression was that there had been a genuine change.

I could sense that the events of July 1983 were planned and unleashed on the Tamil people and, by early April, plans were already known in intelligence circles. Two days after my arrest, 1st or 2ndApril 1983, I was taken to a room of an ASP on the 4th flour of the CID building. When I answered his questions about the Tamil struggle, he instantly abused me in filthy language. From where he was seated on the table, he kicked me and I fell against a corner. He screamed at me that one day Bambalapitiya and Wellawatte will burn and kicked me again while I was on the ground.

In Magazine Prison there were Sinhalese communalists among the prison staff and also some very decent people. When the violence began on 24th July, one jail guard told me with deep feeling that this country has been pushed back 50 years. On the 25th when the first Welikade massacre took place, we were locked up earlier than usual. It was on the radio that we heard of what had happened. When we were let out the following morning, Vamadevan warned me that Akuna Santhre, who was friendly with us until that day, was gritting his teeth and looking at us with a twisted face. He told us not to talk to him. Communalism had got even into this veteran prisoner, notorious murderer, robber and social outcast. Sensing the situation was bad we asked SP Ratnayake to move us to where the other Tamil detainees were. A few hours later Maheshwararaja, Vamadevan and I were joined with the other Tamil political prisoners.

There was curfew on the 26th. No new restrictions were placed on the prisoners, but the prison officers were alert and maintained control of the prisoners.

On the 27th of July we were all suddenly locked up a short while after lunch.  We were afraid that a massacre might be unleashed in our section. We requested a jail guard to allow us all in the lobby. This was refused and we were unable to contact the SP. When we were locked up in our cells in threes and fours in the evening, a jail guard who was a communalist searched the cells carefully and took away all objects that could be used in our defence. We heard the sounds coming from the Welikade during the 2nd massacre. About 10.30 or 11.00 PM, the doors were suddenly opened and senior prison officials came into the lobby. We were asked to collect our things. We were taken to the office and our properties were returned to us. It was like a dream. We didn’t know what was happening.

As we were being taken out Superintendent Ratnayake came to me and was visibly very upset. He apologised for what had happened to Tamil prisoners and added that we were being moved to a safe place. One prison official told me that there had also been plans to use Sinhalese prisoners in a similar massacre at Magazine prison on the 27th, and we should be grateful to SP Ratnayake for being alive up to this moment. We were taken to the office of the Commissioner in charge of Welikade and Magazine prisons. There were military vehicles around. I saw Deputy Commissioner H.G. Dharmadasa issuing instructions to prison officials. I knew him as the Superintendent of Bogamabara prison, Kandy, when I was there 10 days 1976. Tamil political prisoners who had spent several years there regarded him a gentleman. When I saw him I felt comforted.

Finally we were taken to Katunayake airport in a closed vehicle. We sweated and some among us urinated inside. It was hours before soldiers took us out one by one to urinate.  We had been through an agonising time with much uncertainty. It was when finally the aircraft touched down in Batticaloa that we cried and hugged each other. We felt we had come home. I related this to H.W. Jayewardene at the 1985 Thimpu talks, when he would not accept the idea of a Tamil Homeland. I pointed out that they had themselves sent Tamil people to Batticaloa, Trincomalee and Jaffna after every instance of communal violence.


*University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna) Sri Lanka – Supplement to Special Report No.25 – Date of Release:  31st  May 2007

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Foreign Affairs

The Day When The Rule Of Law System Collapsed


Basil Fernando

What happened on July 23, 1983 was not the event of a single day in history. The impact of that day lives on and with each passing year the situation of the rule of law in the country has become worse.

The 1978 Constitution was quite incompatible with the rule of law and democracy. Since then there have been several events which challenged the law as well as the traditions that had prevailed up until then. There were the cases brought against Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the former Prime Minister and her close collaborators. There were constant physical attacks on opposition political meetings, including the physical attack on the late Dr. Ediriweera Sarachchandra, one of the county’s best known intellectuals. Then there were the constant attacks on the trade union movement which culminated in the sacking of all the workers who participated in the nation-wide general strike of 1980. Relentless attacks on the freedom of the press continued. And then there was the 1982 referendum to prevent the election for the parliament so as to allow the Members of Parliament elected in 1977 to continue for another term of six years.

All this and many other moves on the part of the J.R. Jayewardene regime shook the foundations of democracy and the rule of law. However, the older traditions did not die easily. The people still believed that the earlier framework of the law and democracy was still valid and there was strong resistance to Jayewardene’s scheme.

When the news of the ambush and killing of 13 soldiers in the north came to the ears of President Jayewardene he was shrewd enough to see that, “another great opportunity has come for him to push through his scheme”. The request to have all the funerals in Colombo was an invitation for a riot. He knew it and anyway, his Prime Minister, R. Premadasa, paying him a visit with the then Mayor of Colombo, Sirisena Cooray, had warned him that if the funerals were to be held in Colombo that day riots would break out all over the country. Their request was that he, as the president, should take action to prevent this. This, Sirisena Cooray records, was agreed to by the president. However, President Jayewardene was never known to be a man to keep his word. He let the funerals take place in Colombo and as predicted, riots did break out. However, no one was able to predict the extent to which the riots would spread and that Sri Lanka would never be the same again. Perhaps a simile is what the attack on the Twin Towers did to the United States.

This riot was no spontaneous event. The head of the state himself played a key role in letting the riot take place in his country. This is the very opposite of the notion of the role of a head of state in that it was his job to maintain peace. And when there was a threat of an extraordinary nature it was his task to take whatever measures necessary to maintain peace. But here in Sri Lanka the head of state did all he could to fan the flames.

Besides this, it was then, as it is now, the task of the police and the military to stop any breach of peace. However, in this instance it was the military that initiated the riots. Later investigations revealed the extent to which the military was involved in spreading the violence. The police complied with the requests to look the other way and took no steps to put out the fire.

Naturally the attack on Tamil business premises, homes and individuals spread, literally, like wildfire. The smoke arose from the capital city itself and the pictures of the houses burning and of the wounded people was seen around the world.

It is not necessary to go into the details of the horrors of the day which are quite well documented and which are also written in the memories of those unfortunate enough to witness the events. What is essential from the point of view of assessing the impact of what happened on that day on the rule of law system and democracy is that this violence was initiated with the blessings of the head of state and with the participation of the military and the support which was a result of the passivity of the police. Besides this the ruling party actively participated in attacking the business premises, houses and Tamil individuals. Therefore the claim that this was a riot initiated by the ruling regime with the full participation of state agencies may be fully substantiated.

It was the events of the day and the subsequent steps taken by the government to prevent any kind of measures to ensure accountability that resulted in the loss of faith in the capacity of the rule of law system to survive in Sri Lanka. Accountability of course was impossible when the head of state himself and the military was deeply involved in the causing of the riot and the violence that followed.

Ever since then, no government has taken any significant steps to restore the rule of law system from its collapsed state. Neither has the country’s judiciary made any decisive intervention to safeguard the rule of law system despite of the fact that their own legitimacy and their very survival depended on their ability to protect the system when challenged.

All subsequent events have, as is only to be expected, worsened the situation. Perhaps the only significant action that was taken to revive the rule of law system was the passing of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution with a rare consensus within the parliament. However, this attempt was thwarted in many ways and finally the passing of the 18th Amendment ended even the possibility of making a change for the better.

Thus, the requirement of the survival of the 1978 constitutional scheme, which is the complete displacement of the rule of law system, has been achieved. The executive president, whoever he may be, can take advantage of the situation without any fear that there is any law to stand against him.

I think it is not inappropriate to reproduce one of the poems which I wrote as the events were taking place then in July 1983.


Just Society

You burned the buildings

And put me in prison.

You threw their infants into fire

And called me inhuman.

You murdered in open daylight

And blamed me for wanting blood.

You turned my neighbour into a refugee

And said I was responsible.

You looted his hard-earned property

And called me a thief.

You imprisoned him and killed him

And named me a brute.

You befriended thugs and I their victims,

But you made me the accused.

I who was grieved

At my schoolmate,

My neighbour, my friend,

My guru and fellow worker,

When he died, when he went into hiding,

When he fled to escape the mob,

Suddenly departed to other lands

Empty handed, I, who cried holding his hand

At the harbour bidding him farewell,

Am now to bear this insult.

You say its peace

When you put the blame on the innocent.

You say its stability

When you protect the culprits.

You say its honesty

When you hide the reports,

And hush the inquiries,

Spreading falsehood among the nations

Having a laugh at a restless land,

Divided and wounded.

You sleep well

But I cannot sleep.

You eat well

I have lost all appetite.

You think you are successful

I know wounds of defeat

Will long live with me,

And the memory

Of this insult.

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Foreign Affairs

Freedom Of Speech In Sri Lanka: Colombo Telegraph And Groundviews

Padraig Colman Colombo Telegraph

Michael O’Leary

There are in Sri Lanka two main websites which give the opportunity for members of the reading public to participate in debate. Both publish high quality articles by distinguished contributors which shed light on many issues relating to Sri Lanka. Very often, great enlightenment is to be gained from a reading of the exchanges in the comment threads.

Commenters are allowed to participate using pseudonyms. Many claim that they must use false names because they fear for their own safety or the safety of their families. Many use the cloak of pseudonymity as license for frivolity or vicious abuse.

Moderation among moderators

The guidelines of Groundviews state: “The tone we seek in our online discussions is closer to the kind of collegial exchange you’d share with someone from your workplace, group of friends or home. That means focusing on the substance of arguments as opposed to their presenters. It also means avoiding insults and other forms of ad hominem comments…”
They say they will not tolerate: “comments that are off topic, defamatory, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy”.

Reactions to Marga Institute

I recently posted an article on Groundviews.

My main theme was the depressing nature of comments on what seemed to be a well-intentioned initiative by the Marga Institute. “Why should a plea for atonement, remembrance, mourning, accountability, reconciliation be met with anger? The Marga Institute itself was smeared, without any substantiating evidence, with being ‘sleazy’ government apologists.” I mentioned that Rwanda had achieved some measure of reconciliation, through, among other things, suppressing hate speech. However, I concluded: “Vicious verbal battles similar to those on Groundviews and Colombo Telegraph between Tamil separatists and Sinhala chauvinists would not be allowed in Rwanda. Censorship for the maintenance of ethnic harmony is a quagmire. It should not be tried in Sri Lanka whatever happens in Rwanda.”

Protect your identity

The very first comment revealed that my real name is Michael O’Leary. Several commenters who persistently attack me pounced on this “revelation”. “A man with multiple identities hiding behind multiple names!”
I asked GV editor Sanjana Hattotuwa about this. “I cannot recall when you asked me to keep it secret?” In a more recent e-mail, he seemed to be saying that, as I had made no secret of my real name in correspondence with him and others, and as others had subsequently commented on Groundviews “that your multiple identities are in fact well publicized on the web through your own blog”, it was perfectly legitimate to “out” me. Notice the smear implicit in “multiple identities”. I write under two names. My identity is consistent.

Sanjana clearly knows how to get in touch with me when it suits him. Would it have been so difficult for him to send me a message saying: “I have just received a comment which mentions your real name. How do you feel about that?”

Comments unrelated

Whatever about the ethics of “revealing” my “real” identity, my identity had nothing to do with the topic under discussion. At the last count there were 35 comments. Not a single one dealt with the subject matter of my article.


Comments continue to be made. However, two comments that I was informed about privately have still not appeared. The first was from someone I have met in real life. The second was from someone I have only encountered through comment threads. This is what the latter said: “I left a comment on GV asking why these people commenting under pseudonyms want you shut out from GV when they really don’t mind reading Veluppillai Thangavelu, Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah, E A V Naganathan, etc.

However, the comment got moderated out! Seems Sanjana Hattotuwa doesn’t want me questioning the hypocrisy and intolerance of “Dev”, “J Fernando”, “Pubudu”, “Inoka Karu”, etc. My comment was not slander, not racist, not irrelevant and so on. It was just two sentences of very good English! Anyways, I have little trust in men like Sanjana and Uvindu. I don’t think they practice the ideals they preach. I think they too seek power but not for the people they claim to speak for but for themselves. Please do keep writing.” Sanjana’s response was: “Given the sheer amount of comment spam the site gets daily (a common problem on the web, and unrelated to any specific individual), I cannot and do not check the Spam folder anymore. Legit comments do end up as tagged as Spam, for any number of technical reasons (e.g. the most common being an IP addressed associated with Spam. This does not mean said individual is a spammer, rather, that the IP range – which could be an office or even an internet service provider – has a history of originating spam comments).”

I leave it to readers to interpret that.

I told Sanjana, that I no longer wanted anything to do with Groundviews. However, I felt that I needed to rebut the slurs against my integrity. “Allow me a valedictory coda. Most of the commenters here do not discuss the article but engage in ad hominem attacks. This nicely illustrates the point I am trying to get across.”

Sanjana’s reaction to this was: “‘For someone who petulantly said he was ‘finished with Groundviews’ is there any reason to publish your comment?’” I said I felt I had the right to a final reply. He responded: “I see no reason to at all. You unilaterally and unequivocally said you are finished with Groundviews. The matter ends there for me. The web’s an open place – and you can follow the example of so many others over seven years and choose to raise your concerns in other web fora and channels. Good night and good luck”.  There is a very important distinction between me saying I do not intend to write for Groundviews anymore and Groundviews continuing to allow hostile off-topic comments while denying me the right of reply. The latter is censorship.
A distinguished person reacted to this fiasco by saying: “It is a sad day for Sri Lanka when a civil libertarian and crusading agency decides to display pique, throw away etiquette and gag arguments that do not suit its leanings.”

*The Nation is aware that both GV and CT are considered ‘controversial’ websites which tend to favor commentary by those who are regarded by some, especially those branded as ‘nationalists’ by the operators of the two sites, as being ‘traitors’ and ‘regime-haters’.  However, The Nation is of the view that argument should be bested by arguments.  The Nation futher believes that it is erroneous to adopt a ‘black-white’ position on anything.  While there are websites that are one-sided, these are found on both sides of the broad political divide.  While Sanjana Hattotuwa has contributed views for The Nation, we have used material mined off Wikileaks by Uvindu Kurukulasuriya.  The ‘multiple identities’ is not an issue for us.  We focus on content first, author later, if at all.

Editor-in-Chief – The Nation

Courtesy The Nation

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