Feature Article

'No new evidence' - Koneswary inquiry

[TamilNet, Friday, 05 February 1999, 23:59 GMT]
The Kalmunai Magistrate Mr.Anton Balasingham at the conclusion of the re-opened magisterial inquest proceedings into the death of a mother of four children, Murugesapillai Koneswary of Central Camp, Ampara district, reaffirmed his earlier verdict of homicide.

"The verdict of homicide returned by me on 17.6.1997 will stand. I direct the Police to submit any new evidence that they receive in future" said the Kalmunai Magistrate.

The first magisterial inquest was held in June 1997 following the death of Murugesapillai Koneswary in May 1997.

KoneswaryThereafter Mr. Joseph Pararajasingham, Batticaloa District Parliamentarian made a complaint to the President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunge, that he had received information that the deceased was allegedly raped and murdered by security personnel. He requested the President to order a fresh inquiry into this incident.

In his initial report Mr. Pararajahsingham said, 'Murugesapillai Koneswary (35) mother of four children, was gang-raped and murdered by policemen attached to the Central Camp police station in the 11th Colony in the border of the Batticoloa-Amparai districts. It appears that from evidence of relatives and the husband of the deceased that the offenders of this crime, after raping this woman, had thrown a grenade into her abdomen in order to cover up any medical evidence of rape.'

Dr. Kumuthini Thurairatnam who carried the post mortem said in her testimony that "the explosion had ripped the body from left armpit through left thigh, including her genitals".

"I believe that the cause of death was bleeding due to blast injuries," she said.

Following reports in the local media that the deceased woman had been raped and murdered by the police a fresh inquiry into the incident was ordered by the Assistant Superintendent of Police, M.J.A. Sathyan.

The body of the deceased was then exhumed on the orders of the Magistrate. The Judicial Medical Officer, Colombo, who held the autopsy said in his report that the cause of the death was due to bomb explosion, but he could not find any evidence to say that the grenade that caused her death, had been placed inside her private parts.

It was impossible to prove that she had been raped as the explosion had destroyed the medical evidence, said legal sources.

Mr.Pararajasingham, MP for Batticaloa district and Sunday Times journalist Mr.S.S. Selvanayagam were also summoned to give evidence at the re-opened inquest proceedings.

At an earlier hearing of the re-opened inquest in November 1997, Mr Pararajahsingham had said that the police were trying to intimidate him and the Sunday Times journalist by calling them as witnesses. "Witnesses to what" he asked, adding that this was sheer harassment.

Several villagers, including the deceased woman's son, who were willing to appear as witnesses in the inquiry, were threatened by the police. At least two crucial witnesses did not appear in the inquiry due to police threats, according to legal sources.

"If the Police can harass a member of Parliament in this manner, what can ordinary people who have to give evidence in this case do?" asked Mr. Pararajahsingham, referring to reports that the police had intimidated Central Camp villagers.

A human rights activist working in the eastern parts of the island said of the police intimidation of witnesses in the case, "this is nothing new as far as the human rights violation cases in the east".

She said that the security forces had also threatened her for helping affected women.

"If those who work in the non governmental women's organisations feel unsafe, how could ordinary people come forward to testify, and who can give them protection" she asked.

The issue of rape by security forces first received widespread attention after the death of Krishanthy Kumaraswamy, a 17 year old school girl from Jaffna in late 1996.

Krishanthy was last seen being stopped by army personnel at a checkpoint in Chemmani. Her mother, brother and neighbour, who went in search of her at the checkpoint, also disappeared. Their bodies were later found in a shallow grave nearby, it was alleged that Kirishanthy had been gang raped before being killed.

The case sparked widespread concern and received a lot of coverage. However, a report by the United States Committee for Refugees commenting on the case said that, "... while the intense media attention drew attention to the problem in Jaffna, its focus diverted attention from the pervasiveness of the problem".

Sherine Xavier of the Home for Human Rights, a non-governmental organisation working in Sri Lanka said that the death of Koneswary had not received as much attention as that of Kirishanthy Kumaraswamy.

One human rights activist said that the speedy arrest and conviction of the accused in the Kirishanthy Kumaraswamy case may have been due to Government efforts during that period to show that normalcy had returned to the Jaffna peninsula. Government forces moved into the peninsula in October 1995 leading to the displacement of 500,000 civilians.

During 1996 civilians started to return to Jaffna, the death of Kirishanthy Kumaraswamy occurred in late 1996.

By early 1998, following Amnesty International reports of a record number of 'disappearances' in the peninsula, it became apparent that the situation in Jaffna was not normal.

In July 1998, one of the accused in the Kirishanthy trial said that up to 400 other bodies were buried at the same site in Chemmani where Kirishanthy' s body had been found.

Human rights workers point out that allegations of a mass grave are being investigated through the normal magistrate's courts in Jaffna whereas the Kirishanthy case was presented before a panel of judges, only the fourth case in Sri Lanka's history to be presented in this way.

It is unfortunate that the death of Koneswary Murugesupillai and the allegations of a mass grave have not been given the same priority as the Kirishanthy case, said legal sources.

 

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