Embedded journalist reveals how Sri Lanka army chief ordered a war crime

Details have emerged of Sri Lanka’s only Field Marshal allegedly commanding a war crime nine years ago during the final assault against Tamil rebels.

Wartime army chief Sarath Fonseka, who is currently a government minister, had ordered his commanders in the battlefield to violate the remains of slain Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) Supremo Velupillai Pirapaharan, reveals a journalist who was embedded with the Sri Lankan military in May 2009.

The order had been carried out.

On 19 May 2009 state television broadcast video footage of the dead Tamil leader in military fatigues surrounded by hundreds of government soldiers.

The body dressed in camouflage was discovered at 10.05am on 19 May by teams led by Sergeant Muthubanda and Sergeant Wijesinghe of the 4th Wijayaba regiment writes the news editor of the Sinhala broadsheet, 'Rivira'.

Infuriated by the parading of Velupillai Pirapaharan’s body in uniform, the army commander ordered to strip it off, says News Editor Tissa Ravindra Perera.

“Dress the fellow in a loincloth,” Sarath Fonseka had ordered commanders in the northern battlefield, while instructed them to provide security to two former LTTE members who were to be flown in to identify the body.

Brigade commander Chagi Gallage has taken the task of carrying out the order upon himself.

Gallage and journalists

Currently a Major General, Chagi Prabodha Gallage was commander of the 59th division during the final weeks of the war.

“Taking two journalists as witness alongside his personal bodyguards Brigadier Gallage flew like an arrow in his pickup,” writes Tissa Ravindra Perera.

Other soldiers tried to reach the officer’s vehicle to view the body.

“Brigadier Gallage who managed to shake them off after driving for almost 20 kilometers, entered a deserted army camp and got a sarong hanging from a clothesline in a neighboring house to dress Prabhakaran in a loincloth.”

He returned to Wellamullivaikkal in northeastern Sri Lanka, where the final battles were fought, to show the body for identification to two former LTTE cadres, Vinayagamoorthy Muralitharan widely known as Karuna and Velayutham Thayanidhi also known as Daya Master, flown in by helicopter.

The government later broadcast video images showing former LTTE eastern commander Karuna and LTTE spokesman Daya Master standing near the body of Velupillai Pirapaharan stripped off his military fatigues, and dressed in a simple loincloth.

“Instead of presenting the terrorist leader in uniform and making him a hero, the terrorist leader was clad in a loincloth to safeguard the dignity of the country,” says Tissa Ravindra Perera who declare that this “unknown secret” was revealed after nine years to “tell about the heroism of Brigadier Chagi Gallage”.

War crimes

Abusing the body of a dead combatant is a war crime.

The UN calls upon warring parties to treat the war dead with respect.

“Committing outrages upon personal dignity” constitutes a war crime in both international and non-international armed conflicts, says the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) referring to Rome Statute of the International Criminal Courts (ICC).

As explained underArticle 8(2) (b) of the Element of Crime (EOC), a document adopted by the Assembly of States Parties to provide clarity concerning the content of each crime listed under Rome Statute, the potential victims of such 'outrages upon personality can include a dead person’.

Denying that its military committed war crimes, the Sri Lanka government is vehemently opposed to appointing a special court with international participation, to investigate allegations.☐



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.