Police may interfere with rape and murder investigation

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 17 June 1997, 23:59 GMT]
Murugesupillai Koneswary, a Tamil mother of four children, was raped and murdered in her home by Sinhalese policemen on the May 17th, according to her neighbours. Amnesty International is concerned that the police may interfere with the investigation, reluctantly launched after local and international protests.

Amnesty birdMurugesupillai Koneswary's neighbours said they heard screams from her home, shortly after Sinhalese policemen attached to the nearby Central Camp police station, had entered the premises on the night of 17th May. The screams were abruptly cut off in a loud explosion. When the neighbours attempted to go to the house, they heard gunfire and fled back to their homes. Only Mrs. Koneswary's 2-year old was in the house at the time - her husband and 3 other children were out.

Mr. Joseph Pararajasingam, Batticaloa District MP, has protested to the Sri Lankan President, Chandrika Kumaratunga. He said that Mrs. Koneswary was gang-raped and then killed and the evidence of rape destroyed by a grenade being thrown at her genitals.

The Sri Lankan police first claimed that Koneswary was killed in cross-fire between the police and the Tamil Tigers. Local police are now claiming that a shell killed Murugesupillai Koneswary, said a neighbour who does not wish to be identified in fear of reprisal from security forces. Mr. Pararajasingam has dismissed these claims as attempts at a cover up.

Following an Amnesty International urgent action appeal and protests from Tamil MPs, President Chandrika has ordered an investigation: it is to be carried out by Sinhalese policemen.

Amnesty International said on Friday that the organization is concerned that the police may interfere with the investigation. "Local police may threaten the neighbors and other witnesses not to provide evidence to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), a special unit of the police to whom the inquiry has been entrusted"

The Amnesty statement also said "A police team is said to have gone to the area, from Colombo, to carry out the investigations or pressurize them to give evidence that would substantiate the police's version of events. The Sri Lankan police is predominantly Sinhalese.

Amnesty is also concerned that the CID may not be seen to be impartial, as they are part of the police, and that witnesses may be reluctant to come forward as a result. Intimidation of witnesses is routine in investigations of atrocities against Tamil civilians by Sri Lankan security forces. Sometimes the judicial system also interferes by transferring cases to remote court houses making it extremely difficult for witnesses to attend.

In other instances, an oppressive security blanket is thrown around the court, and witnesses (many of whom are the survivors of massacres by troops) have to walk along columns of vehicles filled with glowering Sinhalese troops and policemen.

Trials often drag on, with the resultant loss in detail in the recollections of witnesses. Sri Lankan troops arrested in connection with a massacre of Tamil civilians at Kumarapuram village (where at least 25 Tamil men women and children were dragged out of their homes and shot dead in February 1996) have been on 'trial' for over a year and a half.

The troops (all privates, none of the attending officers were charged) were arrested in a blaze of publicity to show that the international community that the Chandrika government was taking human rights seriously.

Since then, at least 700 Tamil civilians have disappeared in Jaffna peninsula alone, while murders, rapes and torture at the hands of Sinhalese security forces continue unchecked in the Tamil homelands. Amnesty international has highlighted some of the issues in urgent appeals and reports (including one aptly titled 'Wavering commitment to human rights').

In a related development, 'the 22 Special Task Force (STF) members arrested in connection with the killings [of 21 Tamil civilians] in September 1995 and released on bail three months later had allegedly returned to active duty' said the Sri Lanka monitor, March 1997, published by British Refugee council.

The paramilitary policemen were also arrested with much state-sponsored publicity intended to convince the international community that Sri Lankan government was intent on punishing violators of human rights. As with so many other sham trials organised by the Sri Lankan government, once international attention has waned, the perpetrators are allowed to quietly resume their duties.

The Tamil people of the island have no doubt that the government is insincere in its claims to be taking human rights seriously: they have first hand experience. To date, not one member of the armed forces has been convicted of atrocities against Tamil civilians, whilst Sri Lanka has arguably one of the worst human rights records in the world.


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