Feature Article

Colombo sabotaging mass grave investigations and Tamils learning lessons on ‘hybrid’ paradigm

[TamilNet, Sunday, 10 March 2019, 18:34 GMT]
The radiocarbon tests carried out on bone samples, which the SL authorities had dispatched to a US laboratory, as dating 377 to 615 years back has disappointed many people, who have valid reasons to believe that the recently exhumed mass graves in Mannaar are from the 1990s. The results obtained from Florida-based Beta Analytic (BETA) are being prematurely released by Colombo to imply that the period of the mass grave predates the genocidal war in the island by centuries. BETA has not issued an overall interpretation of all the samples or passed any judgement on the supplied samples as being adequate to conclude the core issue. Besides, there are several unanswered questions, most of them concerning the trustworthiness of the SL State-operated institutions handling the submission, as well as other artefacts revealing 1990s as the time of the crime.

Mannaar mass grave photographed on 37th day of excavation
Excavations at Mannaar CWE/Sathosa premises in July 2018

The entire excavation and forensic discourse on the alleged Mannaar killing fields must be an early lesson and a premonition to the dangerous paradigm negating international justice to the genocide-affected nation of Eezham Tamils.

The hybrid paradigm was induced by former UN High Commissioner Zeid Raad Al Hussein of Obama-Clinton ‘soft power’ legacy of the geopolitics.

Long before Zeid in 2009, former SL President Mahinda Rajapakasa who waged the final genocidal onslaught, experimented with this hybrid model to shy away from international investigations through the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). The oppressors and those who waged genocide are well aware of deceptions and sometimes the dangers of deceptions also going against them. However, as oppressed people subjected to a protracted genocide, Tamils cannot gamble with hybrid courts and similar mechanisms.

The organisations and political leaders among the Eezham Tamils, especially those who welcomed the ‘hybrid investigation’ proposal of the OHCHR in 2015 and those still clinging to the paradigm, should at least now realise the risks of the dubious ‘hybrid’ path, Tamil activists for alternative politics in Jaffna said.

Only an international investigation that doesn't provide influencing space to the institutions of the unitary state mechanism – and nothing else – should be acceptable to Eezham Tamils. It is the political reality as far as the island is concerned, they said.

Similar to BETA carrying out the laboratory tests adhering to ISO/IEC standards, there must also be a vetted international procedure for carrying out forensic anthropology on alleged mass graves wherever biased state-actors are alleged parties to the crime, they further stated.

* * *

BETA's Director Ronald E. Hatfield, outlining the analytical procedures and calibration information used during the radiocarbon dating says “[a]ll work on these samples was performed in our laboratories in Miami under strict chain of custody and quality control under ISO/IEC 17025:2005”.

Cover letter of BETA addressed to JMO
Cover letter of BETA addressed to JMO
“Conventional Radiocarbon Age and sigmas are rounded to the nearest 10 years per the conventions of the 1977 International Radiocarbon Conference. When counting statistics produce sigmas lower than +/- years, a conservative +/- 30 BP is cited for the result,” Hatfield further states in his statement accompanying the report package, which was addressed to the Judicial Medical Officer Saminda Rajapaksha.

The statement doesn't comment or pass any judgement on the mass grave as BETA has no way of verifying that the samples were not tampered with during the excavation or while in transport. As far as BETA is concerned, the JMO of the District Hospital in Mannaar is a client.

However, in a promo video of BETA's YouTube Channel, Ron has explained the instances when BETA chooses to advise a client that the sample is unlikely to yield reliable data. The video is embedded below for the enlightenment of the readers.

* * *

The response of the Tamil lawyers, issued on Friday follows:

Lawyers representing the Families of Disappeared Persons on the Report on the Mannar Mass Grave
Lawyers representing the Families of Disappeared Persons on the Report on the Mannar Mass Grave
Press release by the Lawyers representing the Families of Disappeared Persons on the Report on the Mannar Mass Grave

The Report of Radiocarbon dating Analysis from the Beta Analytic Testing Laboratory in respect of six skeletal samples has been received officially by the Magistrate Court of Mannar and made public.

As the Report contains modern technological inputs and related scientific findings which are specific to the field of Forensic Anthropology, we are in the process of consultation with professionals in the relevant fields in order to comprehend and decipher the material presented in said Report. We are also mindful that there are several constraints on us professionals before hastening to any conclusion.

In view of the extensive work that has been carried out so far and much more to be done in the future in this regard, we have to exercise caution in place of plain speculation. We also have to take into consideration that there are several more tests, which may also have to be referred to experts for analysis and report. Only on receipt of the reports of all such tests can any meaningful conclusion be reached regarding the age and position of such skeletal remains.

We are also mindful of the enormous interest and attention regarding the excavation of the Mannar Mass grave and we would like to inform all sections of the public and the Media that the Report that has been received is only in respect of one aspect of the mass grave and the analysis and report on the layers of the soil and the artefacts and materials discovered at the site are still due and that any speculations on the entire process based on the available Report alone may be premature and be prejudicial to the process that is being carried out under the directions and supervision of the court of Law namely the Magistrate Court of Mannar.

1. C.Ranitha Gnanarajah AAL
2. V.S.Niranchan
3. G.Rajakulendra AAL
4. K.S. Ratnavale AAL
5. V.Puvitharan PC

Lawyers Representing the Families of the Disappeared in the Mannar Mass grave

* * *

The Eezham Tamils, as a nation demanding international justice to six decades-long genocide, must be single-minded in mobilising and confronting the SL unitary system.

Outrightly rejecting all kinds of hybrid processes where the SL Archaeology Department or any other institution gaining a direct or indirect hand of manipulation, influence or space for evidence tampering is setting the path to justice on the right track. This message should go to the actors among the Tamils, who still keep welcoming the wrongly conceived UNHRC/OHCHR proposal of the so-called hybrid investigation.

The excavations of mass graves must be part of forensic archaeology, which is fully executed by an international authority without giving any space for influence or manipulation by the SL State and its institutions.

The anti-Tamil SL Archaeology Department was deeply involved in the exhumation process in Mannaar killing fields.

Tamil legal activists in Mannaar also say that the process of so-called selection of samples for testing was not transparent.

The lawyers representing the victims in Mannaar had already warned that evidence tampering could take place before or during the transport of the samples to a foreign laboratory.

Furthermore, the timing of the release of the BETA's test results, just before the deliberations in Geneva, also adds suspicion on the possibility of sophisticated evidence tampering before the samples were sent to US laboratory for radiocarbon dating.

Whether the incumbent UN Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet is also going to repeat the ‘intended’ failures of her predecessor, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, who brought the ‘hybrid’ paradigm in 2015, is something that must be carefully assessed by Eezham Tamils, before it is too late.

Although the USA is no more a direct player in the UNHRC, the Assembly and its mechanisms are still subjected to its indirect influence through the member states and those who table the draft resolutions.

On the ground, the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), was set up according to this paradigm. The OMP was also interested in ‘establishing’ that the mass grave in Mannaar was not connected to the times of war, the legal activists in Mannaar said.

Former SL President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga (CBK), who now heads the so-called Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), has her reasons to establish that the mass graves were not from her times of rule.

“Tamil people and their institutions should focus on demanding an internationally executed process of the entire excavation as a whole. There has been a systematic pattern of concerted deceptions on the part of the SL institutions since the discovery of the mass grave in Thirukkeatheesvaram in 2013. One has to look at the entire process since then,” said a lawyer who didn't wish to be named.

Crucial artefacts, such as a biscuit packet (cover) from a particular season and other belongings such as a female ring recovered from the mass grave were indicating the period of the mass grave to be recent and particularly from the early 1990s, the lawyer said.

During the early 1990s, the occupying SL military deployed large-scale torture and massacre, especially during the regime of CBK in Mannaar island as well as in the mainland of the district.

The skulls with holes indicating gunshot wounds and the position and pattern of the victims including such as adults embracing the children during the crime have been telling a different story than what the SL State wants to ‘establish’.

The first large-scale mass grave in Mannaar was exhumed in 2013-2014, and 87 human skeletons were unearthed at the locality, 75 meters from Maanthai junction towards Thirukkeatheesvaram. It was also an area that had been under the direct control of the occupying Sri Lanka Army since 1990. The excavated remains from Thirukkeatheesvaram are exposed to contamination as the Magistrate's court in Mannaar has been postponing the crucial decision of dispatching the excavated remains from there for forensic carbon-dating.

Through the latest move, what the occupying SL State has achieved is nothing else than diluting the process. It has expanded the ‘political space’ for more extensive speculations.

* * *

Mannaar mass grave photographed on 37th day of excavation
Excavations at Mannaar CWE/Sathosa premises in July 2018

More than 335 human skeletons have been exhumed from the mass grave, which has been excavated at the entrance to Mannaar city within the premises, where the now dismantled Cooperative Wholesale Establishment (CWE/Sathosa) building was located.

Among the 335 human skeletons found so far, 29 belong to children.

The premises were used by the SL military and were part of the ‘High-Security Zone’ during the times of war with a dreadful military base just across the street at the Co-op Secretariat building.

Massacre site
The location of massacre site and the former military post (1990-2018) [Satellite map courtesy: Google Earth. Legend by TamilNet]

The 212 Brigade that comes under Tha'l'laadi SL Army headquarters in Mannaar and the 215 Brigade headquartered in Uyilang-ku'lam were using the Co-op Secretariat as well as the CWE premises.

A special intelligence squad was stationed in the Co-op building. It was widely alleged that both the SLA brigades were operating the intelligence squad with a torture chamber.

The people of Mannaar had also witnessed that any civilian observed near the vicinity was wantonly gunned down by the Sinhala soldiers.

The occupying SLA handed the Co-op Secretariat back to civil authorities only in November 2018, after staying there for 30 years.

External Links:
BETA: Beta Analytic – Radiocarbon Dating Since 1979
ISO: General requirements for the competence of testing and calibration laboratories



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