Ex-leader of Sri Lanka dropped police investigation

Adeyemi Adeyemi
Adeyemi Adeyemi

Global Courant

Activist groups accuse former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of tampering with police records to hinder mass murder investigations.

Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused of tampering with police records to obstruct investigations of mass graves discovered in an area where he was a military officer at the height of a bloody Marxist uprising in 1989.

In a report released Thursday, activist groups including the International Truth and Justice Project, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka and Families of the Disappeared said that despite hundreds of remains being unearthed in about 20 mass grave excavations in the past three decades, no action has been taken to identify the victims and return their remains to their families.

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According to the report, tens of thousands of remains may still be buried in undiscovered mass graves.

None of the numerous Commissions of Inquiry set up by successive governments of Sri Lanka was commissioned to investigate mass graves. Instead, efforts to uncover the truth were hampered, the report said.

When mass graves were discovered and investigations began, judges and forensic experts were abruptly transferred, families’ lawyers were denied access to sites, no attempt was made to find living witnesses, no post-mortem records were collected and, in the very rare cases in which someone was convicted, they were later pardoned, it said.

“It is a story of a lack of political will – an inadequate legal framework, a lack of coherent policies and insufficient resources. For the families of the disappeared, it is a story of unsolved tragedy; the bereaved are forced to live and die without ever finding their loved ones,” it said.

Rajapaksa’s alleged role in the excavations of mass graves was an example of political interference, it added.

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According to the report, Rajapaksa, a powerful defense official at the time, ordered the destruction of all police records older than five years at police stations in the region after mass graves were discovered in 2013 in the Matale district of central Sri Lanka.

The mass graves are believed to date from the time of a violent Marxist uprising in 1989, when Rajapaksa was involved as a military officer in operations against the rebels in the region.

The report called for action against Rajapaksa and senior police officials involved in the alleged obstruction of the investigation.

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Rajapaksa was elected president in 2019 but was forced to resign last year amid angry public protests over the country’s worst economic crisis in history.

Sri Lanka has faced three major armed conflicts, including a 25-year separatist civil war, since gaining independence from the British 75 years ago.

An agency set up in 2017 to track down details of those reported missing in the conflicts received 21,374 complaints, including from family members of security forces.

The report recommended that special laws and policies be introduced to manage mass graves and excavations, including their identification, preservation and investigation.

It also recommended strengthening forensic capacity in the country, establishing an independent prosecution service to ensure that prosecutions resulting from excavations are carried out in an impartial manner, and establishing a competent unit to investigate other potential mass graves. to investigate.

Ex-leader of Sri Lanka dropped police investigation

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