[10 September 1990]
Today is the eleventh anniversary of the most gruesome one-day-massacre of Tamil civilians by the Sri Lankan army in Thamileelam. One hundred and eighty four unarmed and unresisting Tamil civilians were butchered in a single night’s orgy.
Most of the victims were women, children and the elderly – five infants (under age one), forty-two boys and girls (under 10), 28 elderly (over 60), and eighty-five women – a total of 160 (of the 184 killed that night).
At 5.30 pm, on 10 September 1990, Sri Lankan army personnel from the Sathurukondan Bois Town army camp entered four nearby Tamil villages (Sathurukondan, Kokuvil, Panniachchiady and Pillayarady), and ordered all residents to come out in the streets. One hundred and eighty five of them were then rounded-up and frog-marched to the Army camp. They were told that it is a routine investigation, and that they would be released after the questioning.
Within a few hours, however, all but one were killed.
Only one person, Kanthasamy Krishnakumar, survived the ordeal. According to him, all others were slaughtered with machetes, knives and blunt objects. He too was stabbed, but managed to roll out of sight in the semi-darkness and crept away to a nearby house. He was later admitted to the hospital. When the army personnel came looking for him at the hospital, he was spirited away from the danger to the residence of an American Jesuit priest, Fr. Miller.
S. Arunagirinathan, the President of the Batticaloa Peace committee and retired Government Agent, who interviewed Krishnakumar, reported, “After coming to know of this incident we recorded the testimony of the sole survivor Kandasamy Krishnakumar. We still have the audio recording. Later we brought this atrocity to the attention of the Batticaloa Brigadier Seneviratna. But he refused even to see us. Rest of the higher ranking Army officers also refused to talk to us about this incident.”
Subsequently an official enquiry (under Retired Judge Gopala Krishnar) was held.
At this enquiry the Officer-in-Charge of the army camp, Captain Gamini Warnakulasooriya said “On that day no search or arrest was conducted by us”. He also denied that any of his men had gone out of the camp on the day of the massacre.
However, at this enquiry, all other witnesses contradicted his testimony.
The sole survivor, Krishnakumar testified:
“On this day at around five thirty in the evening Army men both in civil and military clothing came and told that the officer in charge of the Camp wanted us to come to the camp for enquiry and so they took us. Elderly, Women, children and even babies were taken to the Sathurukondan Army camp.
After that, four of us were taken to the backside of the camp and blindfolded and our mouths were stuffed with cloth. Later they laid us on a wood brick and suddenly they started stabbing us with sharp knives. I laid there as if I was dead. I heard voices of agony and pain I can’t even describe, all around me.
After everything was all over I slowly opened my eyes and saw butchered bodies all around me. I then crawled my way through the dead bodies and hid myself among small shrubs. It was around 3 O’clock in the morning at that time. After exiting from that hell I came to the village and I was admitted to the hospital for treatment.
The army at this point in time came in search of me after having heard of my escape. I was handed over to Rev. Miller for protection by the Batticaloa Peace Committee. I lost my whole family in this incident. I am the only survivor.”
Another witness, Kanthiah Sivakkolunthu (37) testified:
“I am the Principal at the Kathaiyakkan Thivu School. On that day at around 11 in the morning a man wearing a red half sleeved T-shirt was going in a bicycle. He was new to the village and had a knife on the handle of the cycle. I immediately sensed that something was wrong and took my wife and children in a cycle to the Sathurukondan colony. At that time, I saw armed personnel both in civil and military clothing taking many civilians, including women, children and elderly. We stayed the day at the Sathurukondan colony. The army camp is situated about a thousand meters from my house. I heard cries of distress, shouts for help of women and children throughout the night. We also heard gunshots being fired and also saw a huge fire... Next day morning I went to my uncle’s house. I couldn’t find my uncle, aunt, nephew, niece or any of the children. All I saw was some splattered shoes of the children. In this massacre one and a half year old Subhosini, three-year-old Thulasi, seven years old Sulochana were killed. I heard that all of them were taken to the Army camp and were butchered.”
Another witness, Vairamuththu Ariyavadivel (22) attested:
“On that day I had taken shelter in the jungle fearing the military. Since I thought that the Army won’t harm children I had left my siblings, Sothivadivel (7), Sharmila (9) at our house. They are also missing since the day of the massacre. I heard a lot of cries for help and mercy all through the night on that day...”
Ganapathippillai Arunachalam (73) testified:
“My two sons-in-law were killed by the army only two months before the Sathurukondan massacre. After that, in the Sathurukondan massacre I lost my wife, three daughters and seven grand children including a one-year-old. I lost my whole family – eleven members altogether.”
Augustinepillai Phillippillai (73) a Retired Electrical Foreman, said:
“Our grandson, Vijayakumar (8) was staying with us and had gone to play outside on that day. As he was missing for some time we went in search of him and we saw many people being taken by the Army and among them was my grandson. Sensing danger my wife and I hid ourselves... Among the crowd, 19 of my own close relatives were there. After coming to know those who were taken had not returned I along with my wife went near the camp searching them. It was around seven in the evening. We heard the women crying, pleading for mercy and children shouting and crying in distress and pain. We could not hear those voices after that and so we came back... Later the Bishop talked to the Brigadier and went there with the members of the Citizen’s committee, Sebamalai Geevaratnam and Singarasa to see what happened. Sivarasa later told that he saw his wife’s slippers and that of many children.”
According witness Kanthasamy Nagaratnam (39),
“Sixteen of my family members were taken on that day to the camp by the Army. On that day when the Army came, only women and children were mostly at home. The men had taken refuge in the forest. At around 5.30 Army took all those who were at home. After some time a lot of voices of distress and pain were heard from the Army camp.”
E. Vairamuththu (62) testified:
“My wife told me, ‘If the Army came they will only take the men, therefore you hide yourself. I will stay in the house; they won’t take women’. But I lost my wife who had saved me as they had taken her to the camp. After the Army left I went near the camp in search of her but I only heard people crying.”
Rasaiyah Ratnaiya (45), of Panichchaiyadi, said,
“On the day of the massacre about 60 Army personnel came at around 5.30 armed with guns. I took refuge in a small Palmyra plantation. The Army then took my mother, father and three children. I was thinking that they would be released after interrogation but even after eight they were not, and so I went in search of them near the camp. I heard a lot of people crying in pain and agony that I got scared and returned home.
Thousands of cases of such brutality against Tamil civilians are on record, and worse, are still continuing with total impunity. The UN Rapporteur on Torture in a report dated 02 February2000 (E/CN.4/2000/9) said. “Despite the long-term existence of legislation to punish torture, and the enactment of the Torture Act in 1995, this violation is reported to be still committed with impunity. No one has reportedly been convicted in relation to the crime of torture in Sri Lanka...”
US State Department in it annual reports on human rights in Sri Lanka, year after year, says – “Impunity for those responsible for human rights abuses also remained a serious problem. Little progress was made in resolving many cases of extrajudicial killing or disappearance. In most cases, there was no investigation or prosecution, giving the appearance of impunity for those responsible for human rights violations…”
Sri Jayantha, a human rights activist, said the following at a
conference held in Ottawa, Canada [May 1999]: “Since the war broke
out, the East (Sri Lanka) has been the scene of a particularly large
number of killings, with at least 9,000 being killed between 1990 and
1993 alone, with many incidents in which whole villages were attacked
and the inhabitants slaughtered. Dr.
Patricia Lawrence has observed that in many of the killings and
massacres the perpetrators considered their impunity so complete that
they did not even bother to bury their victims to hide the evidence. An
MP from the East who tried to bring the massacres to the attention of
the world in the early ‘90s was threatened by a key military official
for tarnishing the image of the Sri Lankan military.”
None of the perpetrators of the Sathurukondan Massacre were ever arrested, charged or punished.
Other High Profile Massacres of Tamil Civilians in Sri Lanka.
Note: This is not a comprehensive list of all the massacres.
SANGAM RESEARCH [10 September 2001]