11 June marks the 23rd anniversary of one of the deadliest massacres committed during the 30-year civil war in our country. That day in 1990 also marked the commencement of what was later known as Eelam War II. The LTTE ended the months-long peace negotiations with the Ranasinghe Premadasa Government with the killing of hundreds of policemen.On that day, the LTTE ordered all police stations in the Eastern Province to be vacated and the Inspector General of Police instructed the police officers to surrender. They laid down their arms after being promised subsequent release. Over 800 policemen were taken to the Vinayagapuram and Trincomalee jungles, their hands tied, lined up and shot by the LTTE. A few managed to escape but 774 police officers were massacred in cold blood.
These policemen and their families join tens of thousands of others who have been extra-judicially killed in Sri Lanka and those who have not been given justice. While there is much controversy when families of victims of State violence demand justice one assumes there should be no qualms from any quarter if there is an attempt to deliver justice for these officers of the State. Yet, even after 23 years since the massacre there has hardly been any attempts to bring to justice those who orchestrated this crime.
This single most brutal incident demonstrates that the inability of the Sri Lankan judiciary to deliver justice for the crimes of extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances are not because of any national security imperative as some would wish to portray. Today, there is an Office on Missing Persons established for the very purpose of getting to the bottom of over 100,000 cases of missing persons due to numerous conflicts, both in the North and the South. The case of the 700 policemen is a classic case of enforced disappearance carried out by a non-State actor which had effective control of a territory and therefore criminally responsible for its actions.
If looking into disappearances committed by the State is too hot to handle for the OMP it could have at least started with an investigation into the massacre of the policemen. To date it has not done so. Not a single grave has been found, analysed for DNA and remains identified providing some closure for the victims’ families. In 2016 the State acceded to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED Act of 2016) and has now accepted enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime. Through this act the State also accepts that families of victims have a right to not only find their loved ones, even remains of them if they are dead, but also to know the circumstances of their deaths.
The leaders of the LTTE in the Batticaloa district at the time of this brutal massacre are well known to all. At least one such leader is living in the South under political patronage. If there was an interest by the Government or the law enforcement authorities he could at least be questioned for the role in the massacre. To date that has not happened.
The Sri Lankan State and its judiciary has proven time and time again that they neither have the willingness nor the competence to deal with cases of enforced disappearances. The fact that they cannot deliver justice for the killing of its own officers proves this point without a shadow of a doubt.