(London) - The British government should open a criminal investigation into a former Tamil Tiger leader in immigration detention, Human Rights Watch said today. Vinayagamoorthi Muralitharan, known as Colonel Karuna Amman, was a leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) until he split to form his own group.
Human Rights Watch said the case provides an important opportunity for justice for victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
“Karuna has a long and horrific record of abuse that demands justice,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “His arrest in the UK is a golden opportunity to bring justice for the victims of his many atrocities.”
On November 2, 2007, UK immigration authorities arrested Karuna, a rebel military commander who has long been linked to the summary execution and torture of civilians and the use of children as soldiers. Until leaving the LTTE in March 2004, Karuna was the Tigers’ top commander in eastern Sri Lanka, and the reputed number two in the LTTE hierarchy. Because he had been given a de facto amnesty by the Sri Lankan government and his armed group fought against the LTTE in recent years, it is unlikely the Sri Lankan government would prosecute him.
Tamil Tiger forces under Karuna’s command were directly involved in some of the worst crimes of Sri Lanka’s ongoing civil war. In June 1990, some 400 to 600 police officers in the east who surrendered to the LTTE were bound, gagged and beaten. The Tamil Tigers, including forces under Karuna’s control, then executed the Sinhalese and Muslims among them. In July 1990, Karuna’s forces stopped a convoy of Muslims traveling in Batticaloa district and executed about 75 people, including women and children. In August 1990 Karuna’s forces killed more than 200 civilians in two incidents in Batticaloa district.
In 2004, Human Rights Watch investigated the Tamil Tigers’ recruitment and use of children as soldiers (https://www.hrw.org/reports/2004/srilanka1104/). Karuna’s forces played a prominent role, routinely visiting Tamil homes to tell parents to provide a child for the “movement.” The LTTE harassed and threatened families that resisted, and children were abducted from their homes at night or while walking to school.
After Karuna broke away from the Tamil Tigers his armed group operated with the complicity of the Sri Lankan security forces. The Karuna group, as it was known, engaged in abduction of children for use as soldiers in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts, taking boys from their homes, work places, temples, playground, public roads, camps for the internally displaced, and even a wedding. These abuses are documented in the Human Rights Watch report “Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group,” published in January 2007 (https://www.hrw.org/reports/2007/srilanka0107/).
British law permits the prosecution of individuals for serious violations of international law, including torture and war crimes, committed abroad. For example, in 2005 UK courts convicted a former Afghan warlord, Faryadi Sarwar Zardad, for acts of torture and hostage-taking in Afghanistan.
“The British government has shown that it can successfully prosecute those who have committed serious abuses abroad,” said Adams. “Karuna is one of the worst human rights abusers ever to end up in custody in the UK. We expect the government to fully explore all legal possibilities for prosecuting Karuna.”