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Toronto family calls for war crimes investigation into niece’s death after capture by Sri Lankan troops

Stewart Bell | 17/11/13 11:19 AM ET
More from Stewart Bell | @StewartBellNP

Philip Cheung for National PostRangini Ravi, holds a wedding photo of her niece, Shobana Shoba (Isaipriya) (pictured right), a Lieutenant Colonel in the Tamil Tigers media/propaganda wing. Human rights groups are calling for an investigation on Isaipriya's execution at the end of the Sri Lankan war.

Warning: Graphic details

TORONTO — A Toronto family is calling for a war crimes investigation into the death of a relative after a video emerged suggesting she was executed by Sri Lankan troops on the last day of the country’s civil war.

The footage shows Shobana Shoba being captured alive by soldiers on May 18, 2009. Photos taken later that same day show her near-naked body splayed on the ground, hands bound behind her back.
After seeing the video, broadcast by Britain’s Channel 4, Ms. Shoba’s aunt Rangini Ravi, a Toronto nurse, was “100 per cent sure she was executed,” and said an international investigation was needed.

Allegations of extrajudicial killings were among the reasons cited by Prime Minister Stephen Harper for boycotting the Commonwealth heads of government meeting that wrapped up in Colombo this weekend.


In a conference call with reporters on Sunday, Deepak Obhrai, who represented Canada at the event, repeated the Prime Minister’s call for an independent investigation into abuses alleged to have occurred at the end of the conflict.

“Denying it is not going to solve the issue,” said Mr. Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary for foreign affairs and international human rights. He said that during a trip to northern Sri Lanka, he had asked locals whether reconciliation had occurred since the fighting stopped. “The collective answer was no.”
At the three-day summit, British Prime Minister David Cameron gave President Mahinda Rajapaksa until March to begin a “credible, transparent and independent” probe of war crimes allegations. Otherwise, Britain would ask the United Nations Human Rights Council to conduct an investigation, he said. Asked if Canada supported Mr. Cameron’s timeline, Mr. Obhrai said, “He’s made his call and we’ll see where it goes.”

Though the Sri Lankan army says Isaipriya died in battle, this new video suggests she surrendered and was killed

Both sides were accused of abuses during the final stage of the Sri Lankan conflict. While government forces allegedly shelled civilian areas and abducted opponents, the rebels recruited children and assassinated rival politicians.

Accounts of wartime atrocities have surfaced increasingly since 2009 but the video of Ms. Shoba, a member of the Tamil Tigers propaganda wing also known as Lieutenant Colonel Isaipriya, may be compelling evidence of a war crime.

In the video, she sits topless on the shore of a lagoon as soldiers surround her. They wrap her in a white cloth and help her to her feet. She looks stunned but uninjured. The soldiers appear to suspect she is the daughter of the rebel leader, Velupillai Prabhakaran.

“Oh, I am not her,” she replies, smiling. Hours later, her corpse was photographed. She had a bloody gash on her face. Her * were exposed and her legs were bare and spread apart.

“The images strongly suggest that she was killed while in the custody of the Sri Lankan security forces,” said Yolanda Foster of Amnesty International, adding the case was not an isolated incident.
Witnesses have come forward with accounts of extrajudicial executions, rapes and sexual assaults by Sri Lankan security personnel in the final months of the conflict, she said. She said there was also evidence of abuses by the Tamil rebels, also known as the LTTE.

“But without an independent international investigation into this and other alleged evidence of war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan security forces and the LTTE it is impossible to determine events absolutely,” she said.

The war ended the day after Ms. Shoba died, when the rebel leader Prabhakaran was killed. A Sri Lankan military spokesman told the BBC the video of Ms. Shoba’s capture was a fake meant to discredit the government ahead of the Commonwealth meeting. “That wasn’t acting,” countered Ms. Ravi.

In the dining room of her Scarborough apartment, she looked over family photos of Ms. Shoba — whose sister, grandmother and two aunts all live in Canada. “She was very pretty,” Ms. Ravi said.
One of five sisters, Ms. Shoba was born in Jaffna, the Tamil-dominated peninsula of northern Sri Lanka. 'She was a good singer and dancer,' but a heart defect often left her tired, the aunt said.
The Tamil Tigers recruited her out of her school but she was not a fighter. Instead, she became a news presenter on the Tiger television station. She also sang in propaganda music videos that glorified the rebels and their separatist cause.

She was last seen on 15 May 2009, as the Sri Lankan forces were making their final push into the rebel stronghold. The army listed her as having been killed in action on May 18, but the video shows that was not the case.

“Though the Sri Lankan army says Isaipriya died in battle, this new video suggests she surrendered and was killed,” said Frances Harrison, author of Still Counting the Dead,which documents the end of the war through eyewitness accounts.

“Furthermore the Isaipriya incident is not the only allegation of summary execution of surrendering Tamil Tiger rebels,” she said. But she said none of the troops who appear in such “trophy videos” has ever been investigated.

Also troubling was that her body, along with many others photographed around the same time, was naked. “The extent of sexual abuse of ex-female rebel combatants at the end of the war is something that needs more research.”

National Post