SRI LANKA: Safety must be guaranteed for experts working on mass graves exhumation

From: Amnesty International <>

Date: Thu, 29 Oct 1998 15:12:42 -0500

* News Release Issued by the International Secretariat of Amnesty International *

News Service 211/98

AI INDEX:ASA 37/27/98

29 October 1998

Sri Lanka

Safety must be guaranteed for experts working on mass graves exhumation

The government of Sri Lanka must guarantee the safety of forensic

experts to enable international observers to participate in the

exhumations of the alleged mass graves at Chemmani, Amnesty

International said today.

The organization welcomed the Attorney General's invitation to send a

forensic expert to observe exhumation at Chemmani, Jaffna, but it warned

the operation was being held up by the government's failure so far to

provide assurances of full cooperation and security for all those

participating in the exhumations.

The graves are believed to contain the bodies of between 300 and 400

people who "disappeared" after being arrested by the army in mid-1996.

During a recent visit to Sri Lanka, Amnesty International delegates met

with the Attorney General and officials of the Ministry of Foreign

Affairs, Ministry of Defence, police and the Human Rights Commission

(HRC) and discussed the pending exhumations of the mass graves.

The Attorney General told the delegation that a lot of preparatory work

had been done. He also clarified that part of the delay in the

commencement of the exhumations was due to fears for the safety of local

forensic experts and of the soldiers convicted in July of the murder of

Krishanthy Kumarasamy and three other "disappeared" people.

These soldiers would need to be taken to Jaffna to make a statement

before the magistrate in charge of the investigations and exhumations

because they are among the main sources for both the police and the HRC

with regard to how bodies were brought to the site and how and where

exactly they were buried. At the time they were sentenced they had made

a statement to that effect and have since given detailed information to

both police and HRC.

The HRC told Amnesty International that after finding the allegations of

the soldiers to be credible, it had requested the United Nations (UN)

for international experts to assist local forensic experts with the


Following an exchange of correspondence with the office of the UN High

Commissioner for Human Rights, the Chairman of the HRC in late September

wrote to the President of Sri Lanka asking for the cooperation of the

government and the guarantees described above. Amnesty International

understands that as yet no response has been received from the


The organization is calling on all authorities involved to consult and

coordinate in order to proceed with the exhumations at the earliest

opportunity but without jeopardizing the process of truth and justice

which the relatives of the "disappeared" are waiting for.

Amnesty International also had discussions recently with a

representative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in London

about the Chemmani mass graves and has sought assurances from the

leadership of the LTTE for the safety of the forensic experts and others

involved in the exhumations and investigations. These assurances are

still awaited.


In an earlier statement, Amnesty International had called on the Sri

Lankan authorities for a parallel police - HRC investigation.

"After our discussions during the visit, we are strengthened in our

belief that such a joint effort would be in the best interest of the

victims and their relatives as well as the overall truth and justice

process about what happened to the estimated 540 people who

"disappeared" in Jaffna in mid-1996," the organization said.

The HRC can focus its investigation on the identification of the remains

and on publicly reporting on the results of the investigations. It also

has the powers to recommend adequate compensation to the relatives of

any identified victims in the mass graves.

On the other hand, the involvement of the police and Attorney General

department in the exhumation and investigation will ensure that the

evidence collected is admissible in any cases brought against those

found to be responsible.

According to normal legal procedures, a key role will be played by a

local magistrate who will be in charge of the investigations, including

exhumations. Death threats allegedly issued by the LTTE against

magistrates in Jaffna have recently resulted in the closure of most

courts. Amnesty International has also requested the LTTE for assurances

for the magistrate's safety.


Amnesty International, International Secretariat, 1 Easton Street,

WC1X 8DJ, London, United Kingdom


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