SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS DURING 1990
AI INDEX: ASA 37/02/91
This document summarizes Amnesty International’s concerns about
continuing human rights violations in Sri Lanka during 1990. It
describes reports of thousands of “disappearances” and
extrajudicial executions by government forces in the northeast.
An unknown number of others were detained in the area. The Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were reported to have killed hundreds
of civilians and prisoners, including policement who had
surrendered. In the south, “disappearances” and extrajudicial
executions continued to be committed by government forces and “death
squads” linked to them, but on a lesser scale than in 1989. At the
end of the year, about 9,000 political prisoners remained in
detention without trial for alleged connections with an armed
Sinhalese opposition group. The government took no steps to clarify
the fate of the many thousands of people who had “disappeared” in
the south since 1987, nor of over 680 people who “disappeared” in
the northeast in previous years.
This summarizes an eight-page document, Sri Lanka: Summary of
Human Rights Concerns during 1990 (AI Index: ASA 37/02/91), issued
by Amnesty International in February 1991. Anyone wanting further
details or to take action on this issue should consult the full
INTERNATIONAL SECRETARIAT, 1 EASTON STREET, LONDON WC1X 8DJ, UNITED
EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: ASA 37/02/91
No. of words:
1 Easton Street
London WC1X 8DJ
SUMMARY OF HUMAN RIGHTS CONCERNS DURING 1990
Thousands of people “disappeared” or were extrajudicially executed
in the northeast by government forces, many being tortured and then
killed in custody. An unknown number of others were detained in
the area. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were reported
to have killed hundreds of civilians and prisoners, including
policemen who had surrendered. In the south, “disappearances” and
extrajudicial executions continued to be committed by government
forces and “death squads” linked to them, but on a lesser scale
than in 1989. At the end of the year, about 9,000 political prisoners
remained in detention without trial for alleged connections with
an armed Sinhalese opposition group. The government took no steps
to clarify the fate of the many thousands of people who had
“disappeared” in the south since 1987, nor of over 680 people who
“disappeared” in the northeast in previous years. 1
Indian troops, who had been responsible for the security of the
northeast since July 1987, completed their withdrawal by late March.
Following heavy fighting with rival Tamil groups, the Liberation
Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) — the “Tamil Tigers” — took control
of Northeastern Province and continued negotiations with the Sri
Lanka Government about the future administration of the province.
Members of the Eelam People’s Revolutionary Liberation Front
(EPRLF) and allied groups, who had controlled the provincial council
under Indian patronage, fled the area.
In June the LTTE captured numerous police stations in the east
and took prisoner hundreds of police officers who surrendered (see
also below). Fighting ensued between government forces and the LTTE,
who evacuated major towns in the east as government forces moved
in. Most of the Jaffna peninsula, where about 200 government
1The government announced the establishment of a commission of inquiry to
look into future reports of “disappearances” in mid-January 1991. See Sri Lanka:
Commission of Inquiry Announced to Investigate New Cases of “Disappearance” (AI
Index: ASA 37/04/91) of February 1991.
soldiers and police remained besieged in Jaffna fort until
September, remained in LTTE control at the end of the year.
In October the LTTE issued an ultimatum to Muslims in Mannar,
Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi and Jaffna districts to leave the area or
be killed: tens of thousands fled.
In the south, the government said in January that it had
destroyed the armed opposition Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP),
People’s Liberation Front. According to government figures, the
JVP had murdered 6,517 people between late 1987 and March 1990.
There were markedly fewer reports of killings by the JVP than in
1989. However, when 15 members of a village “vigilance committee”,
which had reported on suspected subversives to the security forces,
were murdered in Matara District in July, the killings were
attributed by the government to the JVP.
3. Human Rights Concerns in Northeast
3.1. Reports of Extrajudicial Executions by Government Forces
Government forces in the northeast reportedly committed
thousands of extrajudicial executions of defenceless civilians in
areas they had regained, using counter-terror tactics similar to
those employed in the south in 1989. Victims were reportedly shot,
bayonetted, stabbed or hacked to death; some were said by witnesses
to have been burnt alive. In eastern areas, besides helping the
army round up suspects, Muslim Home Guards also reportedly committed
Victims’ bodies were regularly left in the open. The identities
of many remained unknown; others, presumably killed in custody,
were identified as people who had been detained by security forces
days earlier. Some had been burnt beyond recognition or mutilated.
In Amparai District, where the Special Task Force (STF), a police
commando unit, was especially active, bodies – some without heads
– began to be washed up on the beaches from September.
During the army attack on Kayts and Mandaithivu islands to
the west of the Jaffna peninsula on 22 August and following days,
soldiers were reported by witnesses to have deliberately shot
innocent civilians in their houses or who had taken refuge in air
raid shelters. One eye-witness reported how a whole family,
including a 55-year-old man, his 49-year-old wife, their two sons
and one daughter were shot in their home along West Street, Kayts
by members of the fourth or fifth army unit that arrived. Some army
units were also accused of taking away civilians from refugee camps
whose bodies were later found down the road with multiple stabbing
wounds in the neck.
In Amparai District alone at least 3,000 Tamils were reportedly
killed or “disappeared” between June and October, many of whom were
believed to have been victims of extrajudicial execution. In
Batticaloa and Vavuniya, too, widespread extrajudicial executions
were reported after government troops moved in.
Reprisal killings of Tamil civilians by Muslim groups in the
east, some of whom were apparently armed by the government, were
reported in August after hundreds of Muslim civilians were killed,
apparently by the LTTE.
The security forces and government alike refused to
acknowledge that many defenceless people had been deliberately
killed. Government statements referred only to atrocities committed
by the LTTE and the deaths in combat of “Tamil Tigers” and security
3.2. Reports of “Disappearances”, Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
by Government Forces
Thousands of men and women reportedly “disappeared” in the northeast
after widespread arbitrary detentions by government forces, and
were feared to have been killed in custody. Victims included babies
only months old with their mothers, children under ten and men and
women over 70 years-old. In Batticaloa town alone over 1,200 people
had reportedly “disappeared” between June and October.
Among those who “disappeared” in the Amparai area were several
Tamil policemen who had been released by the LTTE in June but who
were arrested later that month by the STF apparently with the
assistance of local Muslim homeguards. The body of a Tamil policeman
who had earlier been captured and released by the LTTE was recognized
among six bodies found outside Kalmunai hospital at the end of June
after government forces had regained control over the town on 21
Government security forces often refused to acknowledge
individual detentions and the authorities, despite widespread
detentions of Tamils, did not disclose how many political prisoners
were being held in the northeast nor whether any had been charged.
Any person suspected of contact with the LTTE, including even
minimal contact during the period the LTTE controlled the area,
was at risk of detention, “disappearance” or extrajudicial
execution. Members of Tamil and Muslim armed groups which opposed
the LTTE aided the security forces in identifying LTTE suspects,
and in some areas the armed cadres of certain Tamil groups were
deployed alongside government security forces.
3.3. Reports of Abuses by the LTTE
In the northeast the LTTE were allegedly responsible for hundreds
of killings, including the murder of many hundred Sinhalese and
Muslim civilians. For example, in August the LTTE reportedly killed
27 Sinhalese civilians who they dragged from a bus near Trincomalee
and about 140 Muslim worshippers in mosques at Kattankudy.
The LTTE also reportedly tortured and killed prisoners2, killed
or imprisoned numerous members or sympathizers of rival Tamil groups
and imprisoned Tamil and Muslim civilians for ransom. The relative
of one young man who has been held by the LTTE since April 1990
wrote to Amnesty International that he had not been able to see
his son but that he has been made to understand that he, along with
members of the EPRLF who had been taken prisoner by the LTTE, is
forced to construct bunkers.
Among those killed in LTTE custody were 113 policemen from
nine police stations in Batticaloa and Amparai districts who had
surrendered to the LTTE on 11 June. One policeman from Kalmunai
police station who had managed to escape with injuries reported
how all of them had been blindfolded, their hands tied behind their
backs, taken into the jungle south of Tirrukkovil, forced to lie
on the ground and shot by local LTTE cadres. Further killings of
surrendered policemen took place in Trincomalee district. For
instance, on 13 June LTTE cadres who had taken over Kinniya police
station shot dead 24 Sinhala policemen inside the station after
having ordered their Tamil and Muslim colleagues to come out. The
total number of policemen killed in LTTE custody is believed to
number several hundred. Not all of those taken into captivity were
killed, however. Some Tamil policemen among them were reported to
still be in the custody of the LTTE at the end of 1990, and some
Outside the northeast, the LTTE was widely suspected of
responsibility for the assassination in Colombo of Sam Thambimuttu,
2Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions lays down a number
of minimum provisions for the humane treatment of prisoners taken
in armed conflicts not of an international character, such as is
presently taking place in the northeast of Sri Lanka. It for instance
prohibits the killing and torture of any persons taking no active
part in hostilities and those placed hors de combat as well as the
taking of hostages and any humiliating and degrading treatment.
It also expressly forbids the carrying out of executions “without
previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court,
affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as
indispensable by civilized peoples”. The LTTE in February 1988
informed the United Nations and the International Committee of the
Red Cross that it would abide by the provisions of the Geneva
Conventions and the Optional Protocols I and II. The government
of Sri Lanka ratified the Geneva Conventions in 1959.
3 At the time of writing, AI learnt that on 10 January 1991
delegates of the International Committee of the Red Cross visited
43 policemen in LTTE custody in an unspecified place in the Jaffna
peninsula. They had been taken prisoner in June 1990. One of the
43 was reportedly released on request of the ICRC as he was in need
of medical assistance.
an EPRLF member of parliament, in May and for the murders in Madras,
India, of 14 EPRLF central committee members in June.
4. Reports of Human Rights Violations in the South
4.1. Reports of Extrajudicial Executions
In the predominantly Sinhalese south, hundreds of extrajudicial
executions and “disappearances” were reported, though this
represented a marked reduction from 1989. In June, scores of corpses
were found near former army camps, apparently the bodies of
prisoners killed at the camps before troops were redeployed to the
northeast. Bodies of suspected victims of extrajudicial execution
continued to be found in the following months.
The magisterial inquiry into the killing of Richard de Zoysa,
a journalist who had reported on human rights issues, was
discontinued in August and no action was taken against the police
officer allegedly involved. Richard de Zoysa’s mother and her lawyer
both received death threats in May when they pressed for a full
inquiry into his murder, and two police officers guarding the lawyer
were also warned to leave him or face death. Other human rights
defenders were also at risk: at least five members of parliament
who had raised human rights cases received death threats. In
September Kumaraguru Kugamoorthy, a radio producer and human rights
activist, “disappeared” after being abducted in Colombo by an armed
group believed to be connected with the security forces. His
whereabouts remained unknown at the end of the year.
4.2. Reports of “Disappearances”, Arbitrary Arrest and Detention
“Disappearances” continued to be reported throughout the year from
the south following detentions by uniformed police officers and
abductions by plainclothes squads believed to be attached to the
security forces. The victims included former JVP suspects who had
previously been detained but then released, and young Tamil men
apparently suspected of links with the LTTE. In Colombo and
elsewhere hundreds of young Tamil men were detained by both
uniformed and plainclothes personnel following the outbreak of
hostilities in the northeast in June. Many were released after
questioning but at least seven reportedly “disappeared”. The Eelam
People’s Democratic Party, an anti-LTTE Tamil group, reportedly
detained and interrogated suspects in Colombo themselves with the
assent of the government, before handing them to the police.
Detentions of JVP suspects continued in the south. Suspects’
relatives were at times detained in place of the wanted person.
In one reported case a six-year-old child was detained in October
by Kuliyapitiya police who had sought the father as a JVP suspect.
The child was later released and the father arrested. The father
spent one month in detention before his arrest was acknowledged.
4. Government Initiatives and Trials
The government took no steps to investigate the many thousands of
“disappearances” reported in recent years. Evidence mounted during
1990 of the massive scale of “disappearances” and extrajudicial
executions committed in 1988 and 1989, which is now believed to
number tens of thousands. In September, police confiscated details
of 533 “disappearances” from an opposition member of parliament
who was about to take them to a meeting of the United Nations Working
Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances in Geneva. The
papers were returned to him in October after he filed a petition
in the courts alleging infringement of his fundamental rights.
In January the government announced that detainees held
without charge or trial in the south under Emergency Regulations
would be screened for involvement with the JVP. Criminal charges
would be brought where there was evidence of serious involvement;
those marginally involved would be released on probation; those
believed to have been involved but against whom there was no evidence
would remain in detention for “rehabilitation”, though the legal
basis for such rehabilitation was unclear. At the end of the 1990
about 9,000 prisoners remained in detention without trial.
In February President Premadasa repealed Emergency Regulation
55FF which had permitted police to dispose of bodies without
post-mortem or inquest. However, the remaining Emergency
Regulations still enabled security forces to dispose of bodies
secretly and extrajudicial executions continued. Several other
regulations were repealed or amended, but the emergency remained
in force at the end of the year.
In December, the government published proposed amendments to
the fundamental rights chapter of the constitution. The amendments
are yet to be debated and voted on by parliament. At first sight,
the proposed amendments would strengthen and extend the scope of
fundamental rights protection in Sri Lanka. However, they also
provide for the restriction of many rights, including in many cases
under emergency regulations as well as under other laws.
Restrictions would be possible on certain fundamental rights from
which, under Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and
Political Rights, there can be no derogations in any circumstances.
This includes the prohibition on retroactive penal legislation,
which under the proposed amendments could be restricted in the
interests of national security or of public order.4
Charges were brought against security forces personnel for
extrajudicial executions in only few cases. None were known to have
been charged in connection with “disappearances”. Among those
charged were eight police officers, who were charged with the murder
of 12 prisoners at Nittambuwa, Gampaha District, in February. A
prisoner who survived with injuries witnessed the executions in
a jungle clearing, and next morning led people to the site, where
the naked and charred bodies of the victims were found. The case
was widely publicized, and an inquiry was held.
The trial of three police officers accused of murdering
Wijedasa Liyanarachchi in September 1988 continued without
Five people charged under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)
and Emergency Regulations with a grenade attack on the parliament
building in August 1987 and other offences were acquitted. The court
4 See Sri Lanka: Proposed Amendments to the Constitution
affecting Fundamental Rights of January 1991 (AI Index: ASA
37/01/91) for AI’s comments in relation to the specific human rights
concerns which AI has raised in Sri Lanka.
found that their confessions had not been made voluntarily. On their
release in December, two of the defendants were immediately detained
under a fresh detention order and the state filed an appeal against
The Supreme Court awarded damages to several victims of illegal
detention and torture, including in April to a lawyer who had been
illegally detained in 1987 for 10 months, and in July to a
16-year-old girl who had been been illegally detained and tortured
in 1988. There were reports of the intimidation of people who had
filed fundamental rights petitions.
4. Amnesty International’s Recommendations and Actions in 1990
Throughout the year Amnesty International urged the government to
implement effective safeguards against extrajudicial executions,
“disappearances” and torture in all areas of the country. It urged
that independent commissions of inquiry be established into
reported extrajudicial executions and “disappearances”, that those
found responsible be brought to justice and that victims or their
relatives be compensated.
In May Amnesty International called for an immediate halt to
illegal killings and incommunicado detention by forces of the LTTE.
It also asked for assurances regarding the safety of several police
officers and an Assistant Government Agent of Jaffna who were
detained by forces of the LTTE at the end of October or beginning
of November 1990. No reply had been received by the time of writing.
In oral statements to the United Nations (UN) Commission on
Human Rights and the UN Sub-Commission on Prevention of
Discrimination and Protection of Minorities, Amnesty International
included reference to its concerns in Sri Lanka about extrajudicial
executions and incommunicado detention under Emergency Regulations
and the PTA.
In September Amnesty International published a major report,
Sri Lanka: Extrajudicial Executions, “Disappearances” and Torture,
1987 to 1990, which covered the period to June 1990, and a further
report including new violations committed by both government forces
and the LTTE which had occurred in the northeast since June. Amnesty
International publicly urged the government to take action to halt
the longstanding pattern of gross human rights violations and
introduce effective safeguards for human rights.
In December Amnesty International expressed concern that a
“Special Task Force” created by the government in November to
“monitor and deal effectively with all violations of human rights”
was not an independent body, and that its objectives placed too
great an emphasis on countering international expressions of
concern about Sri Lanka’s human rights record, rather than on the
full investigation and remedy of past and continuing violations.
In January two government ministers claimed publicly that
Amnesty International was a “terrorist organization” which had
funded JVP propaganda, but when challenged to do so they could
produce no evidence to support this false allegation.
In December a letter to Amnesty International from a
presidential adviser was published in a Colombo newspaper which
argued that “when security forces have to deal with terrorist groups
… excesses are bound to occur”.
Amnesty International told the government several times of
its wish to send a delegation to Sri Lanka to discuss its concerns,
but there was no response