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12 years on: No justice for abducted and murdered TRO Workers

Photograph @arjunan

Twelve years have passed since 7 TRO workers were abducted by Sri Lankan government-backed paramilitaries in Batticaloa. The kidnappings, which took place on the January 29 - 30, 2006, are yet to lead to a prosecution. 

The paramilitary Karuna group was accused of abducting the aid workers before torturing and murdering them. 

Below is an extract from a statement released by the aid organisation, a year after the disappearance.

"It is with great sorrow and condolences to the families that TRO now believes that our co-workers were executed soon after being abducted by the GoSL-affiliated “Karuna Group” paramilitaries. Recent news reports state that they were tortured before being murdered and their bodies disposed of."

"To date the Sri Lanka Police and security forces have yet to conduct any meaningful investigation or inquiry into these disappearances. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka investigated the case and made a report to its head that has never been released. In addition to not thoroughly investigating the abduction of the TRO aid workers the GoSL has also not listed their case among the 15 cases that the President’s “Commission of Inquiry” will investigate."

"The atmosphere of impunity that exists in Sri Lanka has lead to a steady decline in the status of human rights and the safety of humanitarian workers on the island."

TRO Statement, March 15 2007

See the full statement here.

The 7 who are missing and believed dead are:
Mr. THAMIRAJA VASANTHARAJAN.
Mr. SHANMUGANATHAN SUJENDRAN
Mr. KAILASAPILLAI RAVINTHIRAN
Mr. ARULTHAVARASA SATHEESKARAN
Ms THANUSHKODI PREMINI
Mr. THANGARASA KATHIRKAMAR
Mr. KASINATHAR GANESHALINGAM

Taking place as the LTTE were preparing to engage in talks with the Sri Lankan government in Geneva, the incident drew condemnation from many including the United States, who said on the day after the abductions,

"The U.S. Embassy is concerned about the reported January 30 kidnapping of five members of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO) at Welikanda in Polonnaruwa District. The Embassy urges the relevant authorities to rapidly investigate these allegations. The Embassy again calls on all parties to exercise restraint and calm, especially in the run-up to the cease-fire talks in Geneva."

United States Embassy, Colombo
January 31 2006

See more from a leaked US Embassy cable here.

The Sri Lankan government meanwhile, maintained that the abduction, alongside other reports of human rights violations were being “diligently investigated”.

"The murders of youth in Trincomalee, the reported abductions of members of the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization, TRO, the assassination of Parliamentarian Joseph Pararajasingham and all other reported incidents are being diligently investigated by our law enforcement authorities and we are taking all necessary action to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice."

Opening Statement by Minister Nimal Siripala deSilva, Head of Delegation, Government of Sri Lanka at the opening session of the talks between Government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE
22 February 2006

See the full opening statement here.  

 

 

The week after the abductions the TRO stated,

"What is especially troubling to TRO has been the reaction of the media, civil society, the government and the law enforcement authorities to the two kidnappings TRO has been the victim of this past week."

"The question, however distasteful must be asked, “Would all of these actors’ responses be the same had Sarvodaya, Sewalanka or any other “southern” NGO been the victim of these crimes.” We are all registered under the same Social Services Act."

Arjun Ethirveerasingam, TRO Project Development Manager,
Tamils Rehabilitation Organisation, Colombo
3 February 2006

See the full speech here.

 

In a series of statements issued in the aftermath of the abductions, the TRO went on to say

“It appears that a campaign of terror has been unleashed on TRO personnel in the NorthEast.”

The US Embassy in Colombo noted in a leaked cable,

“The TRO office in Batticaloa has been hit with grenades and gunfire on three separate occasions over the past year; in the most recent incident a security guard was killed.”

The aid agency continued to be targeted by paramilitary and government forces after the abductions, with attacks on their Colombo and Trincomalee offices.

See more in a 2007 TRO press release here

 

Also see our earlier post: Double standards on the TRO (08 February 2006)

"More importantly, however, any hopes amongst the Tamils that the international community would intervene in their interests have again been dashed. Like its response to the sabotaging of last year’s tsunami deal by the Sinhala extremists, the international community has remained noticeably muted on the TRO abductions. At a time when wide-scale condemnation might have ensured the swift return of the missing aid workers, the international community chose to remain pointedly silent. Aside from a request by the US for a state investigation, there has been no official criticism."

"And no one actually expects an investigation of any worth, given Sri Lanka’s poor record and the identity of the suspected perpetrators of the abductions - indeed no state sponsored investigation into abuse by its security forces has resulted in a single successful conviction during the history of the ethnic conflict."