Human Rights

Leading archaeologist calls for accountability on mass grave

An expert archaeologist in Sri Lanka who investigated a mass grave in the central town of Matale says that there should be accountability for the deaths of over 150 people whose human remains were unearthed last year.

The skulls and partial skeletons were discovered in November 2012 by construction workers building a biogas facility at the main government hospital in Matale.

Following reports submitted by Professor in Archaeology Raj Somadeva and Forensic medical specialist Ajith Jayasena, who investigated the unearthed human remains, Matale Magistrate Court has confirmed that the deaths can be dated to a period when a Sinhala youth uprising was defeated by Sri Lanka’s military.

The time of the killings were determined by ‘material objects’ identified by the investigators. On the basis of archaeological and forensic evidence provided by experts Matale Magistrate and Additional District Judge Chaturika De Silva has said that the bodies were found to be of those killed between 1986 and 1990.

The Sinhala youth uprising led by the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) during the period was crushed by  state armed forces in 1989. The number of unaccounted youth at the time under the rule of United national Party (UNP) was estimated to be over 30,000.

Professor Raj Somadeva says that no evidence could be found to demonstrate the Matale mass grave deaths were due to natural causes or an epidemic.

Therefore, ‘I have said in my report that there should be someone who is responsible for this mass grave,’ the Uppsala University archaeology scholar told JDS by telephone.

Judicial Medical Officer Dr. Ajith Jayasena has earlier told BBC that the mass grave should be regarded as a crime site as it was not a regular place of burial.

"Evidence of decapitation, dismemberment and concealment" indicates that "crimes were committed," Dr. Jayasena told Al Jazeera.

Raj Somadeva of the Kelaniya University’s Postgraduate Institute of Archaeology said that the bodies were buried ‘not in a manner that is characteristic of any Sri Lankan community’.

“Some were found by themselves. There were other bodies stacked in groups of six and four. Only skulls of some of the deceased could be found. Only partial skeletons in some other cases,” he added.

‘Gota’s War’ on Matale

Sri Lanka’s powerful defence secretary was the military commander in Matale a few years into the JVP uprising, reveals a biography released last year. In ‘Gota’s War,’ Journalist C. A. Chandraprema says that on the 1st of May 1989, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa was promoted as ‘the commanding officer of the 1st Battalion of the Gajaba Regiment’.

“With this promotion, he was posted to Matale as the district coordinating officer tasked with bringing the JVP under control. The first Gajaba Battalion, which had been in Trincomalee for nearly one and a half years, was brought down to Matale,” Chandraprema writes in chapter twenty eight ‘The Second JVP Insurrection’.

He also records that senior Sri Lankan commanders accused of war crimes during the offensive that defeated Tamil Tigers militarily in 2009, assisted Gotabhaya Rajapaksa in the crushing of the JVP in Matale district.

“Lieutenants Shavendra Silva, Jagath Dias and Sumedha Perera were among his company commanders in Matale,” says ‘Gota’s War’. Until the military defeat of the JVP in 1989 the present defence secretary has ‘remained the security coordinating officer of Matale,’ and in January 1990, ‘he applied for three months leave and went to the USA to see his family’.

The JVP and its breakaway group Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) who suspect that the destiny of their former comrades and their loved ones could be established from the Matale mass grave remains, have called for a ‘thorough inquiry’.

Meanwhile, a senior official of the presidential committee appointed to investigate disappearance during the period says that the UNP government prevented the publishing of evidence provided by members of the public. Former Secretary of the Special Commission of Inquiries on Disappearances, MCM Iqbal told JDS that the government ‘intentionally removed evidence given by victims on mass graves and torture chambers’

“The commission was barred from publishing those details for a further thirty years,” he added.

© JDS

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Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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