Remembering the Trinco-5, eleven years on

By Together Against Genocide (TAG), Monday, January 09 2017
Waves of grief are like the sea. I will never stop seeking justice for my son. – Dr Manoharan  
 
It is with deep sadness that we remember the deaths of Manoharan Ragihar, Yogarajah Hemachchandra, Logitharajah Rohan,  Thangathurai Sivanantha and Shanmugarajah Gajendran
 
It is now 11 years since the five Tamil students were extrajudicially executed by Sri Lanka’s Special Task Force (STF) as they celebrated the day after the new year, on a beach in Trincomalee.

The ongoing Trinco-5 case  and Colombo High court’s recent acquittal all of the defendants charged with the assassination of MP Nadarajah Raviraj in 2006 should serve as a reminder of the entrenched impunity across all sectors of the government, military and the so called Colombo elites. It should also be a reminder of the systematic failure of Sri Lanka’s criminal justice system.

Despite the persistent and courageous efforts by Ragihar’s father Dr.Manoharan and international Human Rights organisations including TAG for justice, there have been no criminal prosecutions for the murders.
 
A Sri Lankan website reported on 8 March 2015 that DIG Kapila Jayasekara, who was in charge of Trincomalee police division and the Superintendent at the scene of the massacre, has been appointed as the DIG for Colombo South. 

TAG has been involved in the campaign for justice for the Trinco-5 since its inception.

In 2010 TAG urged the Permanent People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka to rule that the Trinco-5 killings constitute war-crimes under the Common Article 3 of the 
four Geneva Conventions of 1949 to which Sri Lanka is a contracting party. TAG also urged the Tribunal 
to take steps to urge the international community to prosecute the perpetrators of this 
crime, and their superiors under the doctrine of command responsibility. 
 
Our submission to the Tribunal, including an affidavit by Ragihar’s father, Dr.Manoharan and key officials implicated in the executions can be read here.

In 2011 TAG assisted with evidence gathering and funded the legal team behind Dr Manoharan’s lawsuit against Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa in the United States under the Alien Tort Claims Act and Torture Victims Protection Act (ATCA/TVPA). The United States government filed a ‘Suggestion of Immunity’ on behalf of President Rajapaksa, and the court found this binding. In dismissing Dr Manoharan’s suit, the court said “The court does not take this step lightly. The plaintiff’s complaint contains shocking allegations of human rights abuses and violations of United States and international law. The courts dismissal of this claim is in no way a reflection of the merits of the plaintiff’s case or the defendant’s defenses.
 
In 2014, TAG turned over evidence to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Investigation into Sri Lanka (OISL).  The OISL released its report in 2015 and said of the Trinco-5 executions:   “Based on the information collected by OISL, there are reasonable grounds to believe that security force personnel, including STF personnel, killed the five students. 
 
…Thirteen STF Officers were arrested in 2006 but released shortly afterwards. They were then re-arrested in July 2013, only to be (re)released again in October 2013. The STF commander at the time was identified at the crime scene; he was not, however, among the STF officers arrested. On the contrary, he remains in the area and has since been promoted.  In October 2014, the Government stated that the trial had been suspended in order to locate witnesses abroad. “
 
…This case demonstrates again the challenges in pursuing accountability for such alleged crimes at the domestic level in the context of Sri Lanka…
 
Cover up and witness Intimidation
Dr Manoharan’s public campaign to expose the cover up by officials and in search for judicial justice, resulted in death threats and warnings against him and his family. One of his sons was threatened by two police officers on the streets. A Minister bribed Dr Manoharan with a home in Colombo if he would drop the case. In fearing their lives, Dr Manoharan fled the country with his family.  

They knew we were going to court with the case, and said if their ‘forces’ would be judged and found guilty, we would be killed. The letter was signed from the Vigilant group for the Elimination of the Enemy.
 
… There was a constant presence of 13 or 14 soldiers outside our house, if we had any foreign visitors once they had left we would be interrogated and questioned as to why they were visiting, what conversations we had and what we had told them.

… The Minister for Human Rights, Mr Samarasinghe, telephoned my home sometime in April 2006 and spoke to me. He said words to the effect, “Look you need to move on after this accident, it was a tragic incident because the forces thought those boys were LTTE. I can tell you that families of victims of crime should be able to get some form of compensation and we can arrange for you to get a nice house in Colombo for you and your family. We can find a nice school for your children. (Dr Manoharan’s witness statement to TAG)
 
Journalist Subramaniyam Sugitharajah, who was working part time for the Tamil-language Sudar Oli published a photograph which showed that the men had died of gunshot wounds. Mr Sugitharajah was killed on 24 January 2006 by an unidentified gunman.

Witnesses to Trinco-5 who have left Sri Lanka, continue to fear for their families back home. A number of witnesses have come forward to TAG alleging intimidation, including severe torture by the security forces as recently as 2012.

One witness, Mrs. K testified that, a few days after the executions, she was repeatedly contacted by state authorities asking about her involvement with the men at the beach (two of whom were her friends). She changed her mobile number and was repeatedly called on the home landline instead. These calls persisted through to 2009. She further testifies that despite changing jobs, telephone numbers and location of residency from 2009 to 2010, the authorities persistently found her and continued to harass and threaten her. She testified that she was picked up by state security services in 2012, accused of providing a witness statement on the Trinco-5 executions and subsequently tortured in detention.

TAG’s 2015 report Sri Lanka’s Silenced Witness and Victims documents the threats faced by witnesses or victims seeking justice.