13 dead bodies were uncovered in a mass grave in Mullaitivu during excavation efforts on the 6th of July. The remains were found in an area falling under the jurisdiction of the Kokkilai Police division.
The bodies were both female and male. They were initially discovered on 29th June by construction workers from the National Water Supply and Drainage Board prompting excavation efforts.
The recovered uniforms found around the site suggest that the remains belong to former Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres. The Mullaitivu Magistrate Court and Judicial Medical Officer oversaw the excavation and exhumation process, which was closely observed by representatives from the United Nations, families of the disappeared, activists, and media.
In addition to the human remains, various objects such as pieces of plastic and wires were also found in proximity to the remains. At the end of the first day's excavation, a total of 13 bodies were identified, raising the possibility of uncovering additional remains in the same grave.
If the site is confirmed to be a mass grave, it would be the 33rd such discovery on the island and the 14th in the North-East region. In light of the findings, it is crucial to follow the guidelines outlined in the report on the History and Legal Framework of Mass Graves in Sri Lanka, released by the International Center for Ethnic Studies. The report emphasizes the necessity of protecting suspected mass grave sites until a thorough investigation can be conducted.
Past experiences have revealed the consequences of neglecting this responsibility. For instance, at the Mannar site discovered in 2013, contamination compromised the potential for meaningful forensic analysis. Similarly, in the Duraiyappah stadium in Jaffna and the General Hospital in Matale, constructions were permitted on top of the sites without adequate completion of the investigations.
MP Selvarajah Kajendran when speaking to the media at the excavation site said “the people in the surrounding villages are acutely aware of the history of this area. Particularly that in 1984 the Kokkuthoduvai area saw the forced displacement of the Tamil families that lived here by the military. From then until the end of the war, this area was filled with army camps. This history and the discovery of this mass grave has agitated the villagers in this area.
Additionally MP M. A. Sumanthiran said “even though it is welcome that this excavation is being conducted in the presence of the Magistrate Court Judge and the Judicial Medical Officer, it does not look like the excavation team are following any technical procedures. There are many guidelines and laws that dictate how such an excavation should be carried out and from what I can observe, the excavation and the recovery of the human remains seem very haphazard. For example, the area does not seem to be very well cordoned off and there are many people living and working in the area that seem to be walking in and out of the site. Similar discrepancies were found with the mass grave in Mannar.
This area is also known for its concentration of intelligence officers. Even during the excavation there were many of them filming and photographing the excavation. How is this site going to be secured from the evidence being tampered with? It also looks like it may rain soon, and how is this site going to be secured from the elements? It is clear to me that the state is not interested in finding the entire truth around this particular site. We can even say that the state intends to cover up any of the truths that may emerge out of investigating this mass grave site.
Moving forward, discussions among the Mullaitivu Magistrate Court Judge and relevant stakeholders will take place next Thursday July 13th to determine the operational procedures for the continuation of the case.