Author Topic: Cablegate: Extrajudicial Killings Of Red Cross Workers Make Headlines... (2007)  (Read 804 times)

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Sri Lanka: Extrajudicial Killings Of Red Cross Workers Make Headlines Before Rajapaksa Speech In Geneva
OriginEmbassy Colombo (Sri Lanka)
Cable timeWed, 6 Jun 2007 11:08 UTC
ClassificationCONFIDENTIAL
Sourcehttp://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/06/07COLOMBO805.html

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 05 COLOMBO 000805
 
SIPDIS
 
SIPDIS
 
DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS
MCC FOR S GROFF, D TETER, D NASSIRY AND E BURKE
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 06/05/2017
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PHUM MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS OF RED CROSS WORKERS MAKE HEADLINES BEFORE RAJAPAKSA SPEECH IN GENEVA
 
REF: A. COLOMBO 561
     ¶B. COLOMBO 733
     ¶C. COLOMBO 463
 
Classified By: Ambassador Robert O. Blake, Jr., for reasons 1.4(b,d).
 
¶1.  (C) SUMMARY:  The issue of abductions has again taken
center stage in Sri Lanka as President Rajapaksa prepares to
travel to Geneva to deliver a speech to the International
Labor Organization on June 15 and meet with Louise Arbour.
On June 1, President Rajapaksa announced a new committee
designed to aid family members of abductees obtain
information.  However, he also publicly dismissed 90% of
reported abduction cases as fictitious, attributing them
instead to things such as elopements, tax evasion and foreign
employment.  Also on June 1, two Tamil Red Cross employees
were abducted and killed.  Their bodies turned up a day later
more than 50 kilometers away.  Human Rights Commissioner
Jayawickrama told EmbOffs that the government has resolved
880 of the approximately 1100 abduction cases reported in
¶2006.  But ICRC statistics show there are still hundreds of
unresolved abductions cases.  The number of such cases
increased approximately tenfold from 2005 to 2006; 2007 is on
track to be twice as bad as 2006.  In a meeting with the
Human Rights Minister, the Ambassador urged that the
government work with the organizations tracking abductions to
reconcile the figures and take the actions needed to stop
abductions.  End Summary.
 
NEW COMMITTEE TO HELP ABDUCTEES' FAMILIES
-----------------------------------------
 
¶2.  (C)  On June 1 President Rajapaksa met family members of
some of those who have disappeared, announcing a new
committee to look into inquiries submitted by families
regarding their missing relatives.  The committee will be
coordinated by the capable Human Rights Minister Mahinda
Samarasinghe and will include several members of Parliament
who have been active in calling for action on abductions
since many of their constituents were victims.  (Previously,
families had generally sought information through
interventions by members of Parliament or other politicians.)
 After President Rajapaksa's meeting with the family members,
the Presidential Secretariat issued a statement quoting the
President as saying that according to the research of
"One-Man Commission" Mahanama Tillekeratne (ref A), nearly
90% of those reported as abducted had returned.  The
President reportedly added that in "a large number of these
cases police records showed that the alleged victims had been
domestic servants who left the homes of employers, instances
of eloping by lovers, and husbands or wives who left home due
to domestic disputes."  (Note: The cases Embassy is familiar
with do not fit these profiles.  Moreover, it appears highly
unlikely that the proportion of cases that can be accounted
for in this manner even approaches ninety percent.)
 
TWO RED CROSS WORKERS ABDUCTED AND KILLED
-----------------------------------------
 
¶3.  (C) Also on June 1, armed gunmen claiming to be police
officers abducted two Sri Lankan Red Cross employees from
Batticaloa at the Colombo train station.  The two Tamil
workers were part of a larger group of six Red Cross
employees in Colombo to receive training on tsunami relief
efforts.  They were separated from the other four by the
gunmen, who said that they were needed for questioning.  The
bodies of the workers were discovered the following day in
the central town of Ratnapura by the local news affiliate,
which displayed the bodies on television.  The killings come
approximately one week after the government of Sri Lanka
 
COLOMBO 00000805  002 OF 005
 
reassured international NGOs that its workers were safe,
despite increasing threats from paramilitary factions.
 
¶4.  (C) On June 5, 2007, the Daily Mirror published an
article quoting police sources stating that they believe the
Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) or "Karuna group" was
responsible for the Red Cross employees' killings.  In the
same article, TMVP Peace Secretariat Chief Mahesh (ref B)
denied TMVP involvement, claiming that the one of the
victims, Mahadevan Chandramohan, was his cousin.  Mahesh's
relationship to Chandramohan, not verified by the Daily
Mirror, is doubtful.  In any case, Chandramohan probably
lived in LTTE-controlled territory until recently when he
left to take employment with the Red Cross.
 
RAJAPAKSA CONCERNED THAT RED CROSS KILLINGS
MIGHT HURT GSL'S IMAGE INTERNATIONALLY
-------------------------------------------
 
¶5.  (C) President Rajapaksa called Ambassador on June 4 and
said the killings might have been intended to embarrass him
before his trip to Geneva to speak to the International Labor
Organization (ILO) plenary on June 15.  He noted that there
had been similar killings just prior to previous trips
abroad.  He was unsure who was responsible, but, since
investigators so far had found that the abductors spoke Tamil
and English, he speculated that they may be involved with
either the Karuna group or the splitoff Pillayan faction.
 
¶6.  (SBU)  The Daily Mirror reported on June 6 that President
Rajapaksa visited the bodies of the slain Red Cross workers
to pay his respects and also met with representatives of the
ICRC and the Sri Lankan Red Cross.  According the report,
Rajapaksa has given police officials an ultimatum to find
"vital clues" leading to the killers within seven days, or he
will bring in foreign investigators to solve the crime.  The
Mirror also quoted Rajapaksa as stating "whoever they are,
the purpose is to bring disrepute and embarrass the
government."
 
¶7.  (C) In separate conversations with the President and
Human Rights Minister Samarasinghe on June 4, Ambassador
commended the government for establishing the new committee
to aid family members of abductees, but asked the latter
whether the committee would be able to get results.
Samarasinghe conceded that this was "the million-dollar
question."   He told Ambassador that the report of One-Man
Commission Tillekeratne was with the President for review,
and offered to brief Ambassador on the main conclusions.
 
¶8.  (C) On June 5, Poloff met with Member of Parliament and
Civil Monitoring Commission Director Mano Ganesan, who
pointed out that Colombo's main train station is located in a
heavily-guarded, high security zone.  Ganesan concluded that
abductions carried out there could only occur through police
complicity or incompetence.  Ganesan opined that the
government of Sri Lanka has lost some control over the
paramilitary factions it has secretly supported.  He argued
that the government's willingness to allow paramilitary
groups to operate extra-judicially has deteriorated into a
general sense of lawlessness among certain segments of
society.  Ganesan thought it was more likely that the
killings were aimed at LTTE supporters who had been targeted
for some time with no thought by the perpetrators into the
effect it might have on the President's international
appearances.
 
VICE-CHANCELLOR RAVEENDRANATH'S FAMILY
ACCEPTS REPORTS OF HIS DEATH
--------------------------------------
 
COLOMBO 00000805  003 OF 005
 
¶9.  (C)  The abduction and killing of the two Red Cross
employees is the highest profile case since the abduction of
Eastern University Vice-Chancellor S. Raveendranath who
disappeared on December 15, 2006.  The family held out hope
for Raveendranath's safe return for several months,
petitioning President Rajapaksa personally for help.
Published media reports state that the family has now
accepted that he is dead and are planning a Hindu funeral,
even though no body has been recovered.  Raveendranath's
son-in-law, Dr. Malaravan, told us that he has received
information that long before the recent split in the Karuna
faction, TMVP military commander Pillayan personally
kidnapped Raveendranath on Karuna's orders and killed him
after three days of torture in Karuna's Welikanda camp.  We
also have received a number of second hand reports that
Raveendranath was held, and killed, at Welikanda.  The family
still faces the hurdle of obtaining a death certificate from
the GSL before his pension can be released to the widow.
Currently, it is taking eight years from the initial police
report to obtain death certificates for those who are feared
dead, but for whom no body has been recovered.
 
MFA TOUTS ITS ABDUCTION INVESTIGATIONS
--------------------------------------
 
¶10.  (C) The government is working diligently to burnish Sri
Lanka's international image.  On June 4, Embassy received a
diplomatic note from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs which
documents Tillekeratne's investigation into 14 of the
approximately 350 abduction cases submitted by the Ambassador
to the Presidential Secretariat on March 20 (ref C).
According to the note, six persons have either left Sri Lanka
or applied for passports since their disappearance.  Five
have been traced by Jaffna police or have returned home.  Two
bodies of those on the list have been found with gunshot
injuries, and one has been arrested by the army and turned
over to the police.   The fourteen cases represent, of
course, only about four percent of the total we submitted.
The diplomatic note also discussed 96 cases submitted by the
NGO Asian Human Rights Commission, the status of
investigations by the Commission of Inquiry (CoI), the
situation of Internally Displaced Persons, the humanitarian
situation in Jaffna and other parts of the north and east,
humanitarian access and threats to NGOs, and Tsunami
reconstruction.  The Ambassador urged Human Rights Minister
Samarasinghe to use his new committee to gather information
on all previous abductions, investigate them, and most of all
put a stop to new abductions.
 
HRC COMMISSIONER TOES THE PARTY LINE
------------------------------------
 
¶11.  (C) According to Colombo Human Rights Commissioner D.
Jayawickrama, Tillekeratne has produced a more detailed
report in which he disposes of 880 of the more than 1100
abduction cases reported in 2006.  Jayawickrama was unable to
provide a copy of Tillekeratne's report, saying that we would
need to seek the report from Tillekeratne's office rather
than from the Human Rights Commission (HRC).  Relying on his
recollection of Tillekeratne's report, Jayawickrama
reiterated the reasons President Rajapaksa cited for the high
number of abductions.  He also added a few others, including:
people attempting to avoid tax liabilities, people defecting
to the LTTE or being abducted by the LTTE and people
departing for employment abroad without informing their
family members.
 
¶12.  (C) Jayawickrama noted that the HRC has ten regional
offices throughout Sri Lanka, and that its approximately 170
 
COLOMBO 00000805  004 OF 005
 
employees have access to detainees throughout the country,
with the exception of the LTTE-controlled Vanni.  When asked
if this included detention facilities operated by
paramilitaries such as the Karuna group, Jayawickrama said
no, because these were not government institutions, adding
"but we are in touch with them (the Karuna group)."
 
ICRC DEBUNKS GSL ABDUCTION CLAIMS
---------------------------------
 
¶13.  (C) EmbOffs also spoke to International Committee of the
Red Cross protection officer Christoph Sutter (strictly
protect) on June 4 to discuss the ICRC's access to detention
facilities.  Sutter confirmed that the ICRC enjoyed excellent
access to GSL detention facilities throughout the
government-controlled areas, adding that as far as the police
were concerned, the legal procedures for detentions were
generally being followed, that treatment was humane, and that
instances of mistreatment were quite rare.  Exceptions to
this were generally attributable to the elite STF police
units, the Special Tactics Forces.  Sutter stated that he
could not be sure the military was following the same rules
consistently, noting that the military security forces often
used paramilitaries for "special tasks" that they could not
carry out themselves.  Sutter stated that the ICRC did not
have access to paramilitary camps, such as Karuna's base in
Welikanda, but that he doubted that the paramilitaries held
many prisoners.  Instead, he believed that those taken by
paramilitaries were either turned over to the army, or more
often, killed.  Sutter observed that LTTE intelligence
operates in government-controlled areas, including the
capital, using the same techniques as the
government-supported paramilitaries.  He thought it
reasonable to assume that therefore a small percentage of the
abductions and extrajudicial killings in the South might be
the work of the LTTE.
 
¶14.  (C) Sutter provided EmbOffs with an internal ICRC
document graphing the numbers of disappearances, detentions,
international humanitarian law (IHL) violations and child
recruitments for 2005, 2006 and the first four months of 2007
(Embassy version of graph e-mailed to SCA/INS).  The charts
demonstrated that human rights indicators have deteriorated
dramatically in every category, with the exception of child
recruitment.  For example, the ICRC documented 149
disappearances in 2005, 1134 in 2006 and 571 in January-April
¶2007.  The graphs also showed 50 IHL violations (such as
torture) in 2005, 1064 in 2006 and 677 in the first quarter
of 2007.  As a result, Sutter concluded that although police
appear to be maintaining international standards for
detention procedures, the number of cases falling outside of
formal arrest and detention procedures was a "significant
problem."
 
¶15.  (C) COMMENT: The GSL is getting the message that the
international community is serious about human rights.  What
is less clear is whether the GSL intends to make a genuine
effort to fix the problems.  For example, our civil society
interlocutors are quick to acknowledge that the number of
abductions, especially in Jaffna, fell significantly in the
wake of Assistant Secretary Boucher's visit there - but there
are indications that the incidence of violations is now
rising again.  Sri Lanka already has at least three
committees, multiple ministries and the HRC, all with
mandates to work on human rights issues.  We do not share the
President's assessment that the killings of the Red Cross
workers were meant specifically to embarrass him.  It seems
more likely that young, unsophisticated Karuna faction thugs
were carrying on their usual business of eliminating rivals
or suspected LTTE operatives without a thought as to what
 
COLOMBO 00000805  005 OF 005
 
wider ramifications their brutal acts might have.  At the
moment, the government is involved in a damage control
exercise over that incident, and is hoping to avoid
embarrassment when the President goes to Geneva.  The
President's willingness to meet UNHCHR Arbour is encouraging,
but much more remains to be done on human rights.
BLAKE
***

Source/Full cable: http://wikileaks.org/cable/2007/06/07COLOMBO805.html