VI. Fate of the Missing

While the families of those abducted and “disappeared” share the hope that some day their relatives will return home, Sri Lankan human rights groups are pessimistic, especially in cases where victims have been missing for many months.

Some victims of abductions for ransom are released after the ransom is paid, but this usually happens shortly after the abduction. Many such cases are never reported to the authorities or human rights groups, and thus are not reflected in overall statistics on the missing.

A number of those who “disappear” may be detained in army camps and official detention facilities, such as the high-security Boosa prison in Galle. Others may be held in camps operated by the Karuna group or the EPDP. The LTTE also has its own detention facilities in the areas under its control.

Many families shared with Human Rights Watch information, sometimes well substantiated, that their loved ones had been taken to specific camps, at least initially.221 In none of these cases did the military or an armed group admit to the families they were holding their relative.

In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, the family found the name of their “disappeared” relative on the list of Boosa prison detainees published in Thinakuran  newspaper on February 8, 2007.222 However, when the family came to Boosa prison to look for their son the prison officials could not produce him.223

Those abducted for the purpose of forcible recruitment by either the Karuna group or the LTTE are likely to be held at the groups’ military bases or training camps and participate in military operations. Their relatives, however, do not have an opportunity to see them or maintain any contact, and have no clarity on their fate.

Sadly, in the great majority of “disappearance” cases, the victims are presumed to be dead. Sri Lankan human rights defenders and journalists believe that many of the “disappearances” result in extrajudicial executions, while some may die as a result of torture during interrogations while arbitrarily detained.

As explained above, the existing legal framework and the history of mass graves discovered in Sri Lanka in the past add credence to such somber conclusions.224

In January 2008, the bullet-riddled bodies of 15 men and one woman were found in shallow graves in a government-controlled area of Anuradhapura district. Local officials reported that the victims had been tied up, blindfolded, and shot.225 Sri Lanka's Defense Ministry said the victims were civilians who had been searching for their cattle and were killed by the suspected LTTE. But local residents told the media that there had been no reports of such a large group going missing in the area.226

Many other bodies showing the marks of torture and execution have been found in different parts of the island throughout 2007. Some of these people had been reported missing, while others were never identified.

For example, on February 3, 2007, the Virakesari newspaper reported the discovery of a dead body showing “assault injuries” in Raja Veethy, Kopay. The victim was identified as 21-year-old Jeyakumaran Mayooran from Mootha Vinayagar, Jaffna.227 According to a report by a Jaffna-based NGO, 15 army personnel accompanied by two EPDP members had arrested Mayooran at his home on January 31, 2007. His family inquired about Mayooran at the Nelliady camp, but the military denied holding him.228

According to a January 28, 2007, report in the Asian Tribune, the bodies of five victims who had previously “disappeared” were discovered in the course of a week. Two of the victims, 23-year-old Selliah Janachchandran and 24-year-old Selvarajah Sriskantharajah, were found dead in Thalavai, in Batticaloa district. Both men reportedly had been abducted by Sri Lankan army soldiers on the previous day.229

In its January 2, 2008, response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry on the status of investigation into this case, the national police confirmed that these two persons were found dead on January 23, 2007.230 According to the police, the bodies had gunshot wounds, but “there was no evidence to substantiate that the deceased have been abducted by the Sri Lankan army the previous day.”231 They added that “further inquiries are being conducted by Eravur Police.”232

The other three corpses were discovered in Jaffna. In Inuvil local residents found the burnt remains of 32-year-old Nagenthiram Arumaithasan, who, according to his wife, had been abducted by what she believed to be government soldiers the previous week. Police discovered another body, with hands bound and cut wounds, in Pannakam, Jaffna. The body was that of 35-year-old building contractor Veerasingham Ratnasingham, who had gone missing on January 22, after he left home for the Agriculture Department in Nallur.233

The same week, according to the newspaper, local residents saw people in a white van dumping a body in Chunnakam, Jaffna.234 On January 22, 2007, this body was identified as Daniel Santharuban. The victim’s parents had earlier registered a complaint with the Jaffna Human Rights Commission stating that their son had been abducted on January 16, 2007, by a group of men in a white van near Chunnakam junction.235

In its January 2, 2008, response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry regarding these cases, the national police confirmed that Kopai police discovered the body of Nagenthiram Arumaithasan (spelled Nagendran Arumathas in the police response) on January 25,2007. According to the deputy inspector general, the Kopai police questioned “the relatives and the persons in the vicinity, but could not gather any valuable information,” and inquiries “are being continued.”236

Regarding the case of Veerasingham Ratnasingham, the national police responded that Ratnasingham had been reported missing to Manipar police on January 24, 2007. Vaddukoddai police then discovered his body on January 26, 2007. According to the response, the police “are conducting investigations to arrest the persons responsible for this murder.”237

In its response to Human Rights Watch, the national police also stated that on January 15, 2007, Chunnakam police received a complaint regarding the abduction of Daniel Santharuban committed by “unidentified persons who came in a van.” After his body was discovered by the police on January 22, 2007, police officers “visited the scene and conducted appropriate investigations to identify the persons responsible but without success due to lack of evidence.”238

The police also noted in its response to Human Rights Watch that while these murders have taken place in government-controlled areas, “every now and then the LTTE cadres infiltrate the area under cover and disguise,” and thus it is possible that these attacks have been carried out by the LTTE “to wipe out the informants of the Government and members and sympathizers of other Tamil groups opposed to the LTTE.”239

In June 2006, at least four bodies were discovered in Kopay, Jaffna, in the area controlled by government security forces. Authorities identified two of the bodies. One belonged to Vaitheesvarasarma Vengada Krishna Sharma, a Hindu priest who had been reported missing since May 26, 2006. At that time, his wife submitted complaints to the SLMM and the Jaffna Human Rights Commission. She suspected the army’s involvement, as her husband sometimes had confrontations with local military officials after his daughter was injured by a grenade attack. Sharma had earlier registered a complaint with the Jaffna HRC regarding death threats to him by the army. The other body belonged to Visuvalingam Paranitharan, who had reportedly been abducted a month earlier while he was riding on a motorbike on the Kopay-Neerveli road.240

In many other cases, however, the “disappeared” individuals have never been found either alive or dead. Some believe that, after the revelations of mass graves in Chemmani and Sooriyakanda, perpetrators are now more careful to dispose of the bodies. “Abducted people are killed, body parts severed and then taken to the sea and flung overboard with stones attached,” wrote one highly regarded Sri Lankan journalist.241 Local human rights activists interviewed by Human Rights Watch also believed that perpetrators now dispose of many bodies at sea.242

This scenario received support in March 2007, when the pro-LTTE website TamilNet reported that a mutilated male torso—with head, hands, and legs severed—was caught in a fishing net along the coast in Punguduthivu. The body was packed in a green plastic bag filled with stones and tied around with barbed wire.243 Two months later TamilNet alleged that the body belonged to the “disappeared” priest Fr. Jim Brown (see above).244

On June 15, 2007, the Embassy of Sri Lanka in the US disputed the TamilNet allegations regarding the identity of the body, stating that postmortem and DNA examinations proved that the remains did not belong to Fr. Jim Brown. The statement, however, did not dispute other details of the Tamilnet accounts and provided no further information on the authorities’ efforts to establish the identity of the dead person and the circumstances of the killing.245

In response to Human Rights Watch’s inquiry regarding this case, the national police stated that “DNA tests have proved that the torso is not that of Fr. Jim or his aide” and “further inquiries are being conducted to identify the victim.”246 They did not explain, however, what investigative steps have been taken by the police in this case in the course of more than nine months since the discovery of the body.

Human Rights Watch is not aware of any recent cases where the discovery of bodies of people previously reported as abducted or missing has led to the identification and prosecution of the perpetrators.

221 All of the camps referred by witnesses as facilities where relatives might at some point have been detained are mentioned in the case descriptions in the Appendix I to this report.

222 “A List of People in Prison under the Prevention of Terrorism Act,” Thinakuran (Colombo), February 8, 2007.

223 Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Sivakumar Jathavakumar, Colombo, March 4, 2007. For more information see Appendix I, the “disappearance” of Sivakumar Jathavakumar (case No 64).

224 For a detailed discussion on the Emergency Regulations and their role in the crisis of “disappearances,” see Chapter III. For information on mass graves discovered in Sri Lanka, see Chapter II.

225 Amal Jayasinghe, “Sri Lanka Probes 16 Bodies in Shallow Graves,” AFP, January 25, 2008.

226 “Sri Lankan Bodies in Mass Graves Hard to Identify: Hospital,” AFP, January 26, 2008.

227 Reproduced by HHR-Sri-Lanka, February 2007 Newspapers Summary, (accessed October 15, 2007).

228 The report is on file with Human Rights Watch. The name of the NGO is withheld for security reasons.

229 “Over a Dozen Civilians Killed in Past Seven Days,” Asian Tribune, January 28, 2007.

230 Response of the national police to Human Rights Watch, January 2, 2008. In the letter, the names of the dead are spelled as Selvarasa Sri Skandarajan and Selliah Janachandran. Human Rights Watch’s letter of inquiry and the response from the police can be found in Appendix II to this report.

231 Ibid.

232 Ibid.

233 “Over a Dozen Civilians Killed in Past Seven Days,” Asian Tribune, January 28, 2007.

234 “Over a Dozen Civilians Killed in Past Seven Days,” Asian Tribune, January 28, 2007.

235 Report by a Jaffna-based NGO, on file with Human Rights Watch. Name of the NGO withheld for security reasons. The case was also reported on the EPDP web-site, see “Dead Body of an Abducted Person Found,” EPDP News Flash, January 23, 2007, (accessed October 15, 2007).

236 Response of national police to Human Rights Watch, January 2, 2008. Human Rights Watch’s letter of inquiry and the response from the police can be found in Appendix II to this report.

237 Ibid.

238 Response of the national police to Human Rights Watch, January 2, 2008. Human Rights Watch’s letter of inquiry and the response from the police can be found in Appendix II to this report.

239 Ibid.

240 Information on the Kopay exhumations was provided to Human Rights Watch by a Jaffna-based NGO. Name of the NGO withdrawn for security reasons. It was also reported in the Sri Lankan media.

241 D.B.S. Jeyaraj, “An Overview of the Enforced Disappearances Phenomenon,” April 13, 2007, (accessed September 17, 2007).

242 Human Rights Watch interviews, Jaffna, February 26, 2007, and Colombo, February 19, 2007.

243 “Mutilated Body Caught in Fishing Net in Punguduthivu,” TamilNet, March 15, 2007, (accessed October 15, 2007).

244 “Pungkudutheevu Body Identified as Belonging to Fr. Brown,” TamilNet, May 31, 2007, (accessed October 15, 2007).

245 “DNA Tests Prove the Human Remains Are Not of Fr. Jim Brown or His Aide,” Statement by the Embassy of Sri Lanka, Washington DC, June 15, 2007, (accessed October 15, 2007).

246 Response of the national police to Human Rights Watch, January 2, 2008. Human Rights Watch’s letter of inquiry and the response from the police can be found in Appendix II to this report.