1983 Slaughter of Welikada Prisoners

Slaughter of Tamil Prisoners inside High Security Jail & Genocide of Tamils in July 1983

by Kumarathasan Rasingam – Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org.

Post independence Sri Lanka brought in several official dispositions that gave preference to the Sinhalese majority. The Sinhala Only Act introduced by the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) government of S. W. R. D. Bandaranaike in 1956, for example, recognized Sinhalese as the only official language of the country. The 1950s also saw the launching of several development projects by the government. Many of these were irrigation projects, such as the Gal Oya, Kantale and Mahaweli, which involved the colonization of Tamil lands in the north and the east by the Sinhalese of the south.

The 1983 massacres in Sri Lanka are best understood within the context of the post-independent state of affairs that prevailed in the country at that time. Having obtained independence from its British colonial rulers on February 4, 1948, newly independent Sri Lanka was bestowed with a system of majoritarian rule. As such, members of the Sinhalese community who formed the majority of the population (over 10 million or 74% of a population of 15 million, according to the 1981 census) acceded to most positions of power. Meanwhile, Tamils, who represented the largest minority in the country (approximately 2.5 million or 18% of the population) and who, despite their minority status, had occupied high positions in business and administration during the British colonial period, lost a significant number of their jobs under Sinhalese rule.

The Vaddukoddai resolution was unanimously passed at the first National Convention of the Tamil United Liberation Front (TULF) held on May 14, 1976, and presided over by S.J.V. Chelvanayakam. The resolution “resolves that restoration and reconstitution of the free, sovereign, secular, socialist State of Tamil Eelam has become inevitable in order to safeguard the very existence of the Tamil Nation.” The resolution requests the members of the TULF to “launch without undue delay the struggle for winning the sovereignty and freedom of the Tamil Nation” and “calls upon the Tamil Nation in general and the Tamil youth in particular to come forward to throw themselves fully into the sacred fight for freedom and to flinch not till the goal of a sovereign state of Tamil Eelam reached”.

The unrestricted use of the powers defined in the PTA would serve to create a sense of impunity within the Sri Lankan forces who were almost exclusively Sinhalese. The absence of any concrete legal mechanism to overlook the use of such powers is also significant. Several international organizations voice their concerns about these provisions, stating that many dispositions of the PTA and its retroactivity were in violation to international human rights norms (Amnesty International 1983:283)

The Black July riots were well-planned and organized (Yogasundram 2006:310). As President Jayawadene and his government would later admit in a statement, “a pattern of organization and planning has been noticed in the rioting and looting that took place.” Minister of information, Mr. Anandatissa de Alwis later told reporters “some organized force set this [violence] in motion. We have to find out who it is […]. It was not a haphazard hit-and-run operation […]. Those who did the operation did not steal – the looters came behind them like scavengers” (The Guardian, July 28, 1983)

Fifty three Tamil prisoners were murdered whilst in government custody. Thirty five Tamil political prisoners (held in custody under the infamous Sri Lanka Prevention of Terrorism Act, which was described by the International Commission of Jurists as ‘an ugly blot on the statute book of any civilised country’) were killed within the walls of the high security Welikade prison, in Colombo, on 25 July. Two days later, on 27 July, 18 more Tamil political prisoners were killed within the confines of the same Welikade prison.

The Tamil prisoners who were massacred in Welikade in July 1983 were:

25th July 1983

  1. Kuttimani Yogachandran 2. N. Thangathurai 3. Nadesathasan 4. Jegan 5. Alias Sivarasa 6. Sivan Anpalagan 7. A. Balasubramaniam 8. Surash Kumar 9. Arunthavarajah 10. Thanapalasingham 11. Arafat 30. Anpalagan Sunduran 12. P. Mahendran 31. Ramalingam Balachandran 13. K. Thillainathan 32. K. Thavarajasingham 1420. S. Subramaniam 21. Mylvaganam Sinnaiah 22. G. Mylvaganam 23. Ch. Sivanantharajah 24. T. Kandiah 25. S. Sathiyaseelan 26. Kathiravelpillai 27. Easvaranathan 28. K. Nagarajah 29. Gunapalan Ganeshalingam . S. Kularajasekaram 33. K. Krishnakumar 15. K. Uthaya Kumar 34. R. Yoganathan 16. S. Sivakumar 35. A. Uthayakumar 17. A. Rajan 36. G. Amirthalingam 18. S. Balachandran 37. V. Chandrakumar 19. Yogachandran Killi 38. Sittampalam Chandrakulam 39. Navaratnam Sivapatham (Master)

27th July 1983

  1. Muthukumar Srikumar 10. Gnanamuthu Naveratnasingham 2. Philip Amirthanayagam 11. Kandiah Rajendran (Robert) 3. Kulasingam Kumar 12. Dr. Somasunderam Rajasunderam 4. Selachami Kumar 13. Somasunderam Manoranjan 5. Kandasamy Sarveswaran 14. Arumugam Seyan (Appu) 6. A. Marianpillai 15. Thamotharampillai Jegemogenandan 7. Sivapathan Neethirajah 16. Sinnathambi Sivasubramaniam 8. Devanayagam Paskaran 17. Sellay Rajeratnam 9. Ponnaiya Thurairajah 18. Kumarasamy Ganeshalingam 19. Ponnampalam Devakumar


Around May 1983, the government moved many political prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, including Nadarajah Thangathurai and Selvarajah Yogachandran, from the army camp at Panagoda to the jail at Welikade. Panagoda was a special prison, in an army camp in an outlying suburb of Colombo and conveniently situated for torture and ‘investigative interrogation’.

But if the prisoners were killed whilst at Panagoda, the government of Sri Lanka may have been directly implicated for the act of the army. Sections of the maximum security Welikade jail, however, housed a large number of Sinhala prisoners as well. The move from Panagoda to Welikade assisted the plan to murder the Tamil militants in custody, at an appropriate time and explain away the murder as a “prison riot”.

”Very few believed the story that these killings were the result of a prison riot. How did the other prisoners get out of their cells? Where did they get their weapons? And, most important who put these Island Reconvicted Criminals next to the détentes and in the same building? And when?  And even if one overlooked the first killings, how to explain the killing of a further seventeen Tamil détentes the following day?  What were the prison authorities doing….? Why didn’t they send the Tamil détentes to a safer place?… This coldly calculated murder of Tamil prisoners will be an eternal blot on the Sri Lankan government that nothing can wipe out. An army officer who had visited the prison morgue told me that the détentes must have been attacked with clubs and knives. Kuttimuni had been badly slashed…” (Eye witness account, Sri Lanka: Racism and the Authoritarian State – Race and Class, Volume XXVI, A.Sivanandan and Hazel Waters, Institute of Race Relations)

The post mortem inquiry into the death of the Tamil prisoners at Welikade, returned a verdict of homicide. Amnesty International reported in June 1984:

“Amnesty International has itself interviewed one Tamil detainee who survived the killing and has received a sworn statement from another survivor, both of whom state that some prisoners who had come to attack them later told the surviving detainees that they had been asked to kill Tamil prisoners. According to the sworn statement: ‘We asked these people as to why they came to kill us. To this they replied that they were given arrack by the prison authorities and they were asked to kill all those at the youth offenders ward (where the Tamil prisoners were kept)’. ”

No amount of sanctimonious expressions of sorrow or statements made before the Commission that the Sri Lankan Government was not proud of what happened at the Colombo jail would be acceptable to the civilised world, when up to date, the government has failed or neglected or refused to order an independent judicial inquiry into this unprecedented slaughter of those who were in the custody of the Government. (Statement by All India Women’s Conference at UN Sub Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, 24 August 1984)

An eye witness account of the Welikade Prison Massacre

From “Detention, Torture and Murder” by S.A.David, B.A. (Architecture) Melbourne, Diploma in Town Planning (Leeds, UK), the then President of the GandhiyamSociety, and published in November 1983. The writer was one of the lucky ones who escaped death in the infamous Welikade Prison Massacre in July 1983. He later escaped from the Batticaloa jail.

Under the Buddha Dharma regime  – Under Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] in Sri Lanka anyone can be arrested and detained without trial, anyone can be murdered and buried without inquest.

Although the Prevention of Terrorism Act refers to the whole of Sri Lanka its application has been reserved for the Tamils and particularly the Tamil youth.

Under the PTA of Sri Lanka a person can be detained for periods up to 18 months (renewable by order every three months) if the Minister has reason to believe or suspect that any person is connected with or concerned in any unlawful activity.  Includes even pasting posters on walls punishable with death.

The bitter pill of the PTA has been sugar coated with an apparently humanistic provision to allow appeal within twenty days of arrest to a Board of three members. This is purely to circumvent International human rights considerations. Yet in application of this provision diabolical intrigues are observed.

. Still Sri Lanka is a model democracy of the third world praised and supported by the Capitalist nations of the world led by America and followed by Germany, Japan, Britain and the White Common Wealth and the Arabs. This is a crying shame to the intelligence’ and conscience of 20th Century humanity.

There has been ridiculous instances when Judges of Courts have  ordered detents were taken to Remand Prison, their names entered in Prison Registers and then the provisions of the PTA invoked and the detents brought for torture to Army Camp. Such is the working of Buddha Dharmista in Sri Lanka.

It is to be noted even after 36 years none of the perpetrators were arrested or punished.  Not only this the Bindunuwewa Prison Massacre  killing 26 Tamil Prisoners took place on October 24, 2000, where a mob of a few hundred villagers armed with knives, rods and torches stormed the detention center. The Sri Lankan Army detachment that was posted there had been withdrawn the previous day, for unknown reasons.

Once the massacre started, the posted police personnel refused to intervene to stop it.

The Judicial system, the Military, the Police force is politicized in Sri Lanka where the culture of impunity is entrenched for these heinous crimes especially whenever the victims are Tamils.

It is a very sad state of affairs to note that the United Nations, UNHRC, UN Security Council, the International Criminal Court is ineffective in punishing these states that ignores the norms of the UN Conventions and escapes from any punishment.

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