History and Legal Framework
by Sophia Bisping, International Centre for Ethnic Studies, 2023
Between 1992 and 2022, at least 32 mass grave sites were uncovered in Sri Lanka. Of the few investigations conducted, none were successful in fully identifying victims, establishing stable narratives of events preceding each grave, or prosecuting responsible actors. Knowledge about the sites was scattered across multiple sources, making it difficult to gain a comprehensive understanding of this issue. This report consolidates the available information on each site. It clarifies the challenges to Sri Lankan investigations by providing historical context and synthesizing prior findings. It then situates this data within domestic and international legal frameworks regulating the discovery, investigation, and commemoration of mass graves. Accurate knowledge and legal contextualization of the issue of mass graves are equally important to a sustainable post-conflict reconciliation in Sri Lanka. This report further discusses best practices in the management of mass grave sites in post-conflict societies based on theoretical perspectives and international precedents of transitional justice. As part of a larger project led by the International Centre for Ethnic Studies, it is hoped this will help lay the groundwork for a better public understanding of mass graves in Sri Lanka.