Amnesty offers assistance for Chemmani investigation

[TamilNet, Wednesday, 19 May 1999, 10:47 GMT]
The human rights pressure group, Amnesty International, has suggested to the Sri Lankan government that two of its experts be present during the exhumation of an alleged mass grave site at Chemmani in the Jaffna peninsula.

The group said in a statement yesterday that such a presence would, "help to ensure that the exhumations are carried out according to relevant international standards."

The possible existence of a mass grave at the site was first revealed in July 1998 by Somaratne Rajapakse, a Sri Lankan Army soldier, while on trial for the abduction and murder of a Jaffna school girl and her family.

A magistrate flown into Jaffna by the Criminal Investigation Department has fixed June 16 as the date for exhumation to begin.

Amnesty has urged both the government and the LTTE to guarantee the safety of all investigators involved in the exhumation.

The government has said that the Chemmani investigation was being hampered by LTTE threats to Jaffna magistrates warning them not to participate in the exhumation.

The Amnesty statement released yesterday quotes letters sent by the LTTE representative to the magistrate saying that investigations should be carried out "by representatives of international human rights bodies and not by the local courts."

However, the statement points out that under the Sri Lankan judicial system "evidence has to be collected under the supervision of a magistrate. Otherwise the findings will not be admissible as evidence in court".

The human rights body says that unlike other countries where mass graves have occurred, Sri Lanka has not agreed to an international body that has authority to investigate and prosecute the perpetrators.

"Unlike other countries, such as the former Yugoslavia or Rwanda, the parties concerned have not agreed on an international authority under whose jurisdiction an investigation can be carried out and the perpetrators tried," said the statement.

Amnesty has also urged the government to "protect all witnesses, including Somaratne Rajapakse, the

soldier who initially revealed the existence of the mass graves."

In August '98 Amnesty released a statement expressing concern that the key witness had been attacked by guards at the Welikade prison.

"The attack on Somaratne Rajapakse appears to have resulted from his refusal to sign a written statement offered to him b the guards, reportedly on the order of "the Minister", to the effect that he had been emotionally disturbed at the time he made the statement to the High Court about the mass graves and that it had been untrue," said the statement.

According to the statement Rajpakse had sustained injuries when prison guards violently extracted from his mouth the statement that he had tried to swallow to preserve as evidence.

The human rights organisation also said in its statement released yesterday that the Human Rights Commission, established by the government, could play an active role in the exhumation process.

"HRC officers could play a key role by liasing with victims' relatives, by producing a public report on the investigations' findings and making recommendations for any compensation to be paid to relatives of people identified as victims of extrajudicial executions," said the statement.


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