University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna)

UTHR(J)

 

Appendix III, Special Report No. 30

 

ACF and the Question of Responsibility

 

Mr. Yogarajah’s Testimony Concerning his Sons in the Five Students and ACF Tragedies

 

February 2008

 

 

Introductory Notes:

 

There are several important questions for the ACF. Were they sensitive enough to the plight of their local staff in forcing them to go to Mutur on pain of losing their jobs, at a time when several among them had anxieties that in retrospect were well founded and nearly all other NGOs advised against it? Was correct procedure followed in sending the staff to Mutur, procedure in this case designed for a situation of Security Level 3? Why was the decision of middle level managers and lower level staff on Friday 28th July 2006 that Mutur was unsafe, because of hostilities nearby, simply vetoed by those at high level?

 

Was enough done once the danger became evident? Were the actions of ACF adequate in securing justice for the dead and respecting the rights of the families including assisting with access to legal representation, to information in Tamil, assisting in securing adequate Government compensation and facilitating protection from harassment or worse? Are the ACF adequately assisting in facilitating security and continued employment for staff involved in the collection of their colleagues’ bodies? providing comfort for the families? We wrote in Special Report No.23:

As for the ACF itself, we understand that they were operating on security level 3 after the troubles affecting Trincomalee last April. When the Air Force bombed Vattam in Mutur killing 4 Muslim civilians, an ACF vehicle distributing water was just 200 yards away. Security level 4 is one that prompts evacuation. At security level 3, all decisions to send the staff away from base, Trincomalee town in this instance, to work in an outlying area, we learn, must be routed through the head office in Colombo... 

Those sent to Mutur were normally sent in vehicles on Monday to stay over in Mutur until Friday when the vehicle would return. Those coming back in-between would use the ferry. Fighting between the LTTE and the Army was going on ten miles south of Mutur and there was fear that it could affect Mutur any time. The local staff members who were to go to Mutur on Monday 31st July did not want to go. We are told that two of them applied for leave and were turned down. About 5 food security workers were sent to Mutur on Monday.”

Kodeeswaran’s family, especially his mother, who knew the ill will of the security forces towards him did not want him to go to Mutur at that time. One of the girls, Kovarthani cried at home when she was asked to go. Ganesh, the driver, Konesh and Murali had also been against going. Ganesh and his daughter Kavitha died in Mutur.

The earlier Programme Manager who left in mid-June had ruled that no staff should be sent out of the base without consulting them on their assessment of the situation and had ruled that girls should not be sent to Mutur. All this was suddenly changed and the four girls who were sent did not return alive.

Regardless of any mistakes or negligence on the part of ACF the targeted killings of civilians, even during war, is not acceptable. These were not civilians caught in crossfire or killed in the shelling of the town. They were deliberately sought out, forced to kneel down on the ground and shot repeatedly leaving no survivors. Any attention given to the ACF should never detract from bringing to justice the perpetrators of this heinous crime. We will let Mr. Yogarajah speak on the tragedies involving two of his three sons.

Mr. Yogarajah’s Testimony

Part I The Five Students’ Affair, 2nd January 2006

Note: What Mr. Yogarajah calls the Army here must be read STF. There were no reports of army personnel being present at that place. Where Mr. Yogarajah saw them was very near the Old Police Station where they were quartered. This is yet another indication that the STF personnel who remained at the Old Police Station had come out to the Junction and switched off the light, while the group that was at the Clock Tower came along Fort Road to the Gandhi Statue. This further discredits Inspector VAS Perera’s claims about his movements, motives and the deployment of those under him.

Mr. Yogarajah: “My property is the third from the beach to the interior. Just 50 metres away and the beach could be seen from my house. We heard the bomb blast around 7.30 PM. My wife drew my attention to the blast and wanted me to go and have a look. When coming out on to the main road, I saw the army personnel at the junction. As I got close, they stopped me, hit me on my back and asked me to sit down. I fell down and lay with my chest down. I saw 20 to 25 persons there in that condition. There was a Navy checkpoint there at the Guest House corner. Naval personnel are usually there. As I squatted a powerful light that was by the side of the road was switched off. I think it was the Army that switched it off but I did not see who did it. A few minutes after the light went off, I heard several boys shouting, “Aiyo Amma”. Their screams lasted about five minutes. Then I heard gunshots. Yes, I marked that they were not shots fired upwards, but had the distinct pound of shots fired at the ground. I realised that a tragedy had taken place. I must have heard 20 to 30 gunshots. About 10 minutes later we were asked to get up and go back the way we came. There were also navy men there in blue uniform. They did nothing to us. It was persons in khaki who ordered us to sit, hit us and asked us to go. They could be the Police or the STF. Those who were made to lie on the road included women. I was the last to come there. I did not see them hitting anyone except for the fact that they punched me on my back.

I went home and told my wife that there had been a calamity and that I would go to the Hospital. There was that heavy prompting within me that something had happened to our son Hemachandran and that one of the voices I heard was his. It must then have been about 7.50 PM. I got on to my bicycle and took an interior route.

Asked if he saw any vehicles while he was at the UC, Mr. Yogarajah replied, “I could see nothing because the lights were switched off. It was all very dark. I saw no movement of people or vehicles while I was there. Those who stopped me were wearing military-type uniforms. One man pointed the gun at us and shouted aloud in Sinhalese, “Okkama Kotti, vedi thiyanda ona” (All are Tigers, [and] must be shot). Some of the women there began screaming.

At the Hospital: I saw naval personnel here and there on my way to the Hospital and passed three or four of their checkpoints. They neither stopped me nor asked me anything. At the time I went there were no military personnel at the Hospital entrance. I saw some doctors standing looking at the entrance. I asked some of the kanganies (supervisors) if there had been an incident, to which they replied they heard there had been one, and that is why they are on alert. It was past 8.00 PM when a jeep arrived. It stopped at the entrance to the hospital building. I went near and peeped inside. I saw two bodies and nothing else at the back. Two policemen were seated in front. I climbed into the jeep from a side. I turned the bloodstained faces to see if either was my son. My son was not there. The kanganies came with stretchers when the vehicles with the victims arrived. I too helped to carry the bodies. Two jeeps arrived 10 minutes later. The first brought three bodies and the second, two. I got into the first as before. I could not recognise the faces, but my son was not there. In the third, I saw one, which from the features and the dress I recognised as my son. I began screaming.

Upon unloading the bodies the jeeps speeded away.

Inside the hospital, all seven bodies were laid out in a row. Two or three doctors came in. One doctor who spoke in Tamil noticed the twitching of the jaws in two of the bodies and ordered them to be taken to the clinic and the rest to the mortuary. My son was among those destined for the mortuary. I became fully conscious of the loss of my son. I stayed in the hospital for about an hour. Once my son’s body was taken to the mortuary, I sat outside for a short time and cried. I then went home.

Three days after the incident I went to the Hospital and saw Kokilaraj and Poongulalon, the students who were injured in the incident. They did not say anything, nor were they in a state to converse. I saw that they were in much pain. Two policemen for their security had been posted in the room of the ward.

A Point of Importance: I must make a note of importance. Near the place of the incident, under the Bo tree at the corner of the Gandhi statue and the Urban Council facing the sea, it is usual for a policeman to sit at a table. I have noticed this many times. I later learnt that it is his job to record the numbers of the vehicles going towards the Fort. He is usually there till 7 or 8 PM. He must have been there on the day of the incident. 

The Green Auto Rickshaw: Ten or twelve days after the incident, in January 2006, Balachandran came to my house in his auto rickshaw. He inquired about my loss, and then popped the information that the person who drove the green auto rickshaw from which the bomb was thrown at the boys is Hemachandran. He told me not to tell anyone. This auto driver Hemachandran has the nickname Aathavan by which he is usually called. Driver Hemachandran was well known to my son [also of the same name]. On occasions he has come home in search of my son. Driver Hemachandran is a chandiyan (a street fighter or thug), famed for rowdy actions, and had good police connections. These were well known. It was widely known that he was in danger [from the LTTE]. I told my son several times to avoid contact with him. Balchandran told me about the green auto rickshaw and of the danger to him if it came out, from the gate of my house.

Some time later I heard that Balachandran had been abducted and killed and his body was at Murugapuri. I went for the funeral the next day. The last time Balachandran met me he told me that his younger brother had died. I did not make detailed inquiries about it.

Part II: On the ACF Tragedy

As far as I am concerned, the entire blame lies with the ACF organisation. It is because of negligence on their part that so many lives came to be lost. The first problem was the Tigers blocked the water. Following this the conflict between the Tigers and the Army intensified. The Trincomalee NGO Council came to the decision that employees of international NGO’s would not be sent for fieldwork until the conflict is resolved. The other organisations did not send any of their local staff for field work in this region. But my son’s organisation insisted that its employees must do field work. My son told me this. They were compulsorily told to work in Mutur. My son went to work on the morning of 2nd August. Normally he comes home before 5 PM. But on that day he did not come. The reason was that that there was a battle between the LTTE and the Navy at 3.00 PM, just outside Trincomalee harbour.  The movement of boats was stopped, so my son couldn’t come home. We telephoned his Mutur office at 7 PM. It was then that my son said that there are no boats and that he is staying at the Mutur office. He said that the LTTE had come in. But they had no fear. He added that the ACF organisation would come and fetch them and told us not to worry.

On the morning of 3rd August I went to my son’s office in Trincomalee. Several other parents in my position were also there. We spoke to one of the senior African officers. He told us that the NGO consortium has met, discussed and come to a decision on this matter. He said that they would go and fetch them back safely and that they were presently safe in their office. He told us not to be afraid and they would bring the Mutur staff safely. Some of the parents went home after this assurance. I with some of the other parents remained behind. That afternoon at 1.00 PM about 15 persons went with an African officer in two or three vehicles. I did not return home. I remained there with a few of the parents. The party that went returned about 6.30 PM. They told us that they could not go beyond Kiliveddy. The officer assured us that they would go the next morning and somehow bring them back. We went back home and contacted my son around 8.30 PM. My son told me that that they were all staying in the office and were hearing explosions outside. My son told me that their senior heads had told them to stay inside and they would fetch them. I told my son, in reply, “Don’t trust your senior officers. You get out of your office, go to the church and stay with the priest, that would be safe.” My son replied that the priest had come to see them and invited them all to come and stay with them, but they replied to the priest that their senior officers had promised to come and fetch them from the office. My son told me again, that staying at their office is quite safe and told us not to worry. That was the last time I spoke to my son. We heard on the evening of the next day that the people in Mutur had left in the morning. I went to my son’s office at 7.00 AM on the 4th morning, Friday. Those in the office told us, that a meeting had been called in the UN office to discuss the problem of the ACF staff. Following the meeting they said they would go and fetch the Mutur staff. They went for the meeting at 11.00 AM and proceeded to Mutur by vehicle at 1.00 PM. We waited in hope because the civilian population was leaving Mutur. Later some of the government officers who go to work in Mutur returned to Trincomalee. Some civilians also came back with them. They had walked to Killiveddy and taken a bus from there. This group of people had not encountered any problem with the Army or the LTTE. This was around 7.00 PM. But none of our children returned. Those who returned told us that many of those who set out from Mutur are stuck in Killiveddy. Those who came said that they were expecting the ACF employees to come with the people to Killiveddy but they had not come. We were shaken by what we heard. The ACF senior officers had been replying to us indifferently without serious concern because people from Mutur had even come away with their cattle and chickens. These officers told us that they would go again the following morning and they would definitely bring them back.

I couldn’t speak to my son that night because the telephone was not working. I went to my son’s office on the 5th morning. Two foreign officers were there including an African. I spoke to them and they said that they are trying to go. Time passed. And around 9.00 AM we heard that a member of the local staff in the office received a call from Kinniya. Because I was near the telephone, I heard what was said. I heard the voice saying that those in the office had been shot dead and their bodies were strewn outside. I then heard the local member of the staff repeating this message to a senior officer. This time there was no doubt. I was angry. I screamed and went forward to hit an expatriate officer. Other members of the staff restrained me. I passed out. When I regained consciousness my surviving son took me home in an auto rickshaw. 

I did not go to my son’s office after this. On the 7th some from the office came and told us that they are going to Mutur to fetch the bodies. The bodies were given to us on the 8th. Not all the bodies were in a state to be taken home. We decided to take the bodies directly to the cemetery and inter them.

Therefore the entire blame must be borne by the ACF administration. It is their negligence that led to this tragedy. They must give us an answer.