Ilankai Tamil Sangam

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Association of Tamils of Sri Lanka in the USA

Sri Lanka's Shame

Massacre of Sixty-One Innocent Schoolgirls

by Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah, August 14, 2007

Sixty one of tomorrow’s potential leaders and intellectuals, the love and life of doting parents, guardians and siblings, the pride and joy of the Tamil Nation were murdered in cold blood by one cruel and barbaric State.

Speech at the Remembrance Day event to mark the

1st anniversary of the Vallipunam Senchcholai Massacre

Ladies and gentleman: I stand before you as a proud member of the Scarborough Tamil Women’s Organization; I am fortunate to be in the company of such committed and outstanding women.

Let me first extend my sincere greetings and gratitude to all of you for your presence here today.

Ungal Elorukkum En Anparntha Vanakkam

We welcome you today with heavy hearts as we remember this day one year ago when there was mayhem, bloodshed and carnage in the Vallipunam Senchcholai Compound in the Mullaitivu district of Thamil Eelam; it was so shocking, so horrific that you had to be there to know what happened; hear it not from me but from Juliet, 18 years of age, a survivor who escaped death with only shrapnel wounds on her hands. In her testimony to NESOHR, she said:

“We were in the 2nd day of our workshop on first aid and disaster management skills. More than 400 school girls were in attendance at the 10- day workshop. It was 7am. We were by the well when we saw the K-fir jets faraway and thought that they were heading elsewhere. Within seconds we saw them heading directly to our centre and suddenly started bombing our premises. As the bombs fell, the girls ran in all directions, and took cover by lying on the ground face down, hoping that the bombers will go away. But the Kfir jets returned….”

Continuing to describe her ordeal Juliet said “There was chaos within the Senchcholai premises with each round of bombing as more students were …wounded and more..killed. In between air-strikes the girls ..were running to other positions to take better cover. During lull periods they would run out and aid the wounded and carry them to safer locations. Rescue efforts got interrupted several times by a sudden return of K-fir jets. Many died on the spot, many were wounded, most had multiple injuries, some lost there their limbs, some had severe burns. I still have memories of the jets and the desperate calls of the girls for help.”

The massacre of sixty-one Tamil school girls and two staff members by heavy aerial bombardment of the Senchcholai premises by Sri Lankan President Rajapakse's men is the first such case ever to have been documented in the world in the new millennium attributed to government forces anywhere.

Additionally, 129 girls were injured. Those who were injured, those who escaped death, those who came in the aftermath as rescuers and those who are relatives are all still traumatized by this incident.  

Not only was this attack targeted, it was as Tamil National Alliance MPs called it“pre-meditated, deliberate and vicious… and clearly having genocidal intent.”

It is the first case ever heard of where a government not only boasted, but also claimed responsibility for such a despicable and cowardly act.

In my view, this is the most unforgivable act of state terrorism inflicted on young girls, each one of them just about to bloom into womanhood – the ambitions and goals they would have nurtured were destroyed with them.

 

True men in uniform are not only men of valor, in my estimate they’re decent and dignified in their conduct,so much so, they would rather die than ever hurt women and children knowingly.

 

Sixty-one of tomorrow’s potential leaders and intellectuals, the love and life of doting parents, guardians and siblings, the pride and joy of the Tamil Nation were murdered in cold blood by one cruel and barbaric State.

 

The Senchcholai massacre has all the makings of a crime against humanity which would justify the basis for a thorough investigation and facilitate the prosecution of the perpetrators at the highest level, starting from the Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse at the International Criminal Court (ICC). So we thought.

 

Under customary international law, a crime against humanity has the following 5 elements: The crime committed has to be:

 

  • One of a list of prohibited acts
  • Committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack
  • Pursuant to or in furtherance of a state or organizational policy
  • directed against any civilian population
  • with knowledge

 

I t could be said all of these 5 elements are satisfied in this massacre.

 

On all of these counts, Rajapakse and his men are culpable!

 

But the truth is that Sri Lanka is NOT a party to the Rome Treaty, therefore an action at the ICC would not be possible. Sadly, the ICC has no jurisdiction to hear the case since Sri Lanka has not ratified the Rome Statute. Karen Parker is known to have expressed concern over this.

 

It’s a well known fact that the Senchcholai compound was designated and respected as a “humanitarian zone” housing civilian population and was accepted as such by international agencies such as the UNICEF and the Red Cross, with the LTTE giving precise coordinates to the Sri Lankan Army through the good offices of these agencies. UNICEF had even held some seminars in the same building.

 

SLMM official Mr. Hendricsson rejected Sri Lanka’s official spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s allegation that it was a Tiger training camp. He said “we couldn’t find any sign of military equipment or weapons. It was not a military installation.” 

 

Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director, referring to the children who were killed said “these children are the innocent victims of violence.” The Sri Lankan government’s allegation that they were “Tamil Tiger Terrorists” has been found to be baseless. The young victims of approximately 18 years of age, following GCE (OL) and (AL) classes selected from 18 schools in the Mullaitivu and Vanni districts, were undergoing first-aid, leadership skills and disaster management training at Senchcholai. School Principals, civil servants, the Education Board and injured students together with NESOHR, ITRO, UNICEF and Amnesty International have all attested to this.

 

According to the NESOHR press release dated Oct 1, 2006 three of the injured girls taken to Kandy hospital (outside of the NorthEast) were placed under police custody, under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and removed to an undisclosed location for interrogation. Of the three, one of them was taken away from Kandy and is now under the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and two of them were sent back to Vavuniya District hospital where one died. The post-mortem revealed the student died of medical negligence while in Kandy; the other has been sent allegedly to Colombo for further treatment while remaining under the custody of the CID.

 

The two who were alive were coerced into making statements favourable to the Sri Lankan government and were paraded like captive animals on state television, traumatized not only by the ordeal of the bombing and injury, but by the anguish and humiliation of making an untrue statement under duress on national television.

 

I spoke to Father Karunaratnam of NESOHR to find out the fate of these two girls, Kasthuri Sripathy and Sumithra Balasingham. I was shocked and outraged to find out that, even though no charges were filed against them, they were still under police custody in Kandy and that Kasthuri is paralyzed and cannot walk.            

 

The Senchcholai massacre will feature as one of many incidents of “Shame’ for Sri Lanka.

 

It’s also such a shame that the State responsible; the police state; the rogue state; a failed state that is Sri Lanka has not been condemned by other States. When will Rajapakse, the Commander in Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and his men, the perpetrators who committed this dastardly act, the murderers who snatched these young lives in their prime, ever be punished and when would these young victims ever receive justice?

 

Ladies and gentleman, let me draw your attention to the mural on the stage. A woman throwing up her arms in a sheer state of helplessness depicted in the mural typifies our feelings of pain and outrage.

 

This outcry by women; led by women; using the intellect, the expertise and advocacy power of women, for women, will continue until justice is done.

 

As we cherish the memories of these precious young lives, let us vow to be loyal to the cause for freedom of our Motherland and loyal to those who are defending it.

Sources:

Crimes in Combat: the relationship between crimes against humanity and war crimes by W J Fenrick

NESOHR publications

Tamil and Sinhalese Media reports

Survivor’s Testimony