Justice for Mirusuvil: Much More Needed to End Impunity

By Together Against Genocide [TAG], Sunday, June 28 2015
Together Against Genocide [TAG] welcomes the prosecution of Sri Lankan Army Staff Sergeant Sunil Rathnayake for the murder of 8 civilians in Mirusuvil on 20th December 2000.
The Staff Sergeant’s prosecution is a step in the right direction to finding those responsible. Nevertheless, much more must be done to end impunity.
The Mirusuvil Massacre
The Mirusuvil Massacre took place 15 years ago under the United National Party (UNP) government of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe and the Presidency of Mrs Chandrika Kumaratunge.
TAG has been calling to find those responsible for Mirusuvil since our model indictment for the genocide of the Tamil people was filed with the US Department of Justice in February 2009.  The model indictment detailed 184 discrete acts of genocide during Eelam War III (19 April 1995 to 22 February 2002 [see https://www.tamilsagainstgenocide.org/Docs/Final800pIndictmentDocument.pdf ]. The Mirusuvil Massacre was just one of those acts:
In the Mirusuvil settlement, 9 Tamils were arrested, blindfolded, and killed by the SLA.  The dead, including a five year old child, were initially reported 'missing' after arrests by Sri Lanka Army soldiers. Their bodies were unearthed from a 2-foot deep grave in Mirusuvil area in the Thenmaradchi.  The dead included:
  • Sinnaiah Vilvarasa Farmer, 41;
  • Sellathurai Theivakulasingham Farmer, 21;
  • Vilvarasa Pirasath Student, 05;
  • Vilvarasa Piratheepan Student, 15;
  • Ravivarman;
  • Janasakthi;
  • Santhan;
  • Vilavarajah;, and,
  • Prasad Jeyachandra.
Local authorities suspected more civilian bodies were buried in areas surrounding Mirusuvil, according to a deposition provided by Jesutha, the young wife of one of the murdered civilians, Theivakulasingam. The sole survivor in the Mirusuvil massacre, Mr. Ponnuthurai Maheswaran, Thursday identified at the Colombo High Court all five soldiers of the Sri Lanka Army (SLA), who had been indicted for the murder of eight Tamil civilians.  They were returning to their Mirusuvil homes to search for belongings on 19th December 2000, according to legal sources. The accused soldiers included:
  • R.M.Sunil Ratnayake;
  • R.W.Senaka Munasinghe;
  • T.M. Jayaratne;
  • S.A.Pushpa Saman Kumara; and,
  • Gamini Munasinghe.
None were ultimately punished for murders.
Mirusuvil: The failure of the Sri Lankan Judicial Authority
Staff Sergeant Rathnayake was the only soldier, out of 4, to be prosecuted. 14 soldiers were originally arrested. 9 were released from all charges and only 5 had charges filed against them- only one was found guilty. The prosecution took far too long. The decision to arrest and try the implicated soldiers was made in 2002. Initial trial proceedings had taken place by November 2002. And, since then, no reason has been presented as to why it has taken so long to reach a verdict on the massacre. The Sri Lankan judicial authorities are clearly unwilling to proceed with criminal trials against the SriLankan Army [SLA].
Although one conviction has been secured, effort must be made to trace command responsibility to senior echelons of the army that were undoubtedly involved and to bring further prosecutions. In addition, compensation must be offered to the survivors and to surviving family members of victims.
Inadequacy of domestic mechanisms
Even though the war has ended, the racial hatred is far from resolved. The open support for the convicted soldier as a ‘War Hero’ clearly shows that racial tensions are still extremely high. This racial hatred prevents justice for the Tamil victims of this and other massacres. There is a clear reluctance among the majority ethnic Sinhala population to hold SLA forces responsible for their war crimes.
Our model indictment shows how the Mirusuvil Massacre is part of a series of coordinated actions intended to destroy the essential foundations of life of the Tamil people and to destroy this ethnic group in part:
Eelam War III featured 184 discrete genocidal acts or events. While killing, maiming, indiscriminate shelling and aerial bombardment remained pervasive, the GoSL preferred to implement more punishing conditions-of-life, rather than overt massacres, to cause the physical destruction of Tamil groups during this period. The brutal and notorious atrocities that earmarked the predecessor wars had provoked international condemnation against the GoSL and demands for international watchdogs. International eyes and ears made the diplomatic costs of mass killings in single incidents prohibitive. Thus, the Sinhalese government reverted to a great number of genocidal events but fewer casualties per event.
Justice will not be served unless the role of senior political figures at the highest levels of government including the then Prime Minister and President, in setting in motion the above systemic programme of persecution, is fully investigated.
Such an investigation is not possible domestically in the present political climate. TAG has no confidence in the domestic mechanism. In addition to the reluctance to try SLA soldiers, the sheer lack of political will to hold criminals to account fosters an atmosphere of apathy which is already propagated by the widespread corruption and poor witness protection. The Sri Lankan courts are incapable of administering justice. Therefore, it cannot be guaranteed that the state authorities will arrest and try those responsible for discrete acts of genocide.
Preventing further miscarriages of justice
TAG demands that the government of Sri Lanka, in the interests of administering justice, undertakes to do the following:
  1. Ratify the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court,
  2. Allow the Office of the Prosecutor to the ICC to investigate all instances of war crimes and other violations of international criminal law; and
  3. Co-operate with the United Nations  [OISL] investigation into human rights violations.
Finally, TAG urges the international community to:
  1. Refer the incidences of war crimes and other violations of international criminal law to the ICC,
  2. Urge the government of Sri Lanka to promote international justice; and
  3. Protect those who possess evidence of the atrocities committed in Sri Lanka.