FAO: Special Procedures / Lack of Redress for the Trinco 5 case in Sri Lanka.
I am writing to thank you for your statement on 5 February continuing to draw attention to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
Victims in Sri Lanka desperately need your help to ensure accountability. I write to you here about the Trinco 5 case — an emblematic example of impunity. I would like this statement read out when you have your meeting on victims’ rights on 1 March 2021.
My beloved son Ragihar was murdered by Sri Lankan forces on 2 January 2006. Since that terrible day I have campaigned for the truth about what happened.
The last time I heard from my son, Ragihar, was a mobile phone message. It just said “DAD”. That was 2 January 2006. My son was a good boy and was celebrating finishing his exams with friends on the Trincomalee beach. That day I heard a bomb blast on the beach and 3 of my other sons returned home immediately. Ragihar did not. Within minutes of the explosion I got a call from him which said “Daddy, the forces are surrounding me”. He meant the security forces. That was all he said. Then there was silence – just the last unfinished text.
I immediately rushed to the scene but was blocked by Navy guards who wouldn’t let me through. I heard voices crying in Tamil “Help us! Help Us! But I couldn’t see properly as the lights where my son had been sitting near the Gandhi statue had purposefully been turned off. I then heard gunfire and lights go down near the statue.
Because I’m a medical doctor who had treated the Navy I was able to get access to the mortuary. I wanted to know if one of the bodies taken was my son. When I entered, the first body | saw was my beloved Ragihar. He had five gunshot wounds.
While I was there a police officer wanted me to sign a statement saying my son was a Tamil Tiger. If I agreed, they would release his body immediately. I refused. My son was a caring person. Ragihar was a good student, a table tennis and chess champion and a coach.
The government claimed my son was killed in a grenade attack. But 3 of the bodies I saw in the mortuary had head wounds showing they had been shot in the back of the head. I have photographs and the doctor’s report confirms this. The entry hole was small and the exit wound was big indicating the boys were shot at very close range. They were executed — 5 young men whose whole lives were ahead of them.
That evening I made a decision. I would challenge the authorities to tell the truth. I had seen Sri Lanka’s Special Task Forces near the scene and wanted them to be investigated.
From the moment I spoke out I received death threats. My other sons were also threatened. The journalist Mr Sugirdharajan who came with me to the mortuary to take photos was gunned down a few weeks later. His photos disproved the army’s claim that the students were killed in an explosion. A Buddhist priest who condemned Ragihar’s murder was also killed. It was simply too dangerous for me and my family to stay in Sri Lanka. With heavy hearts we left in December 2006. We lost our friends, medical practice and property. But our biggest loss is Ragihar.
As a father it is my duty to search for the truth. I have given video testimony to a Commission of Inquiry that was set up by former President Rajapaksa to investigate my case more commonly known as the ‘Trinco 5’ case.
Nothing came of these efforts. The government showed a lack of political will to acknowledge the role of the security forces. I could not stand idly by and decided to take my search for truth to the Human Rights Council in Geneva lobbying UN member states to ask Sri Lanka to tell the truth.
The Trinco 5 case has been included in the 2015 OISL report on Sri Lanka as an emblematic case of impunity or in simple language — a state cover up. 15 years on, the case remains stalled. It was proceeding as a non-summary case in a Magistrate’s Court in Trinco but on 3 July 2019, the 13 Special Task Forces suspects were apparently released.
How can the government fail to effectively investigate this case? This is a very serious murder case. The doctor’s report from the mortuary acknowledges the gunshot wounds. I cannot have any trust in the Sri Lanka criminal justice system if they can’t offer families like mine some answers.
The government claims the case stalled due to the inability to track down witnesses abroad but a serious murder case like this deserves proper investigation and a number of witnesses in Sri Lanka could still be interviewed. The Trinco 5 killings have been covered up because the security forces were involved.
Before Ragihar died, he cried out to me for help… when justice is served — when Sri Lanka finally tells the truth about what happened to my son — then we can say that Ragihar’s call for help has finally been heard. The Trinco 5 case is a litmus test of whether the Sri Lankan justice system is fit for purpose, In the absence of viable domestic avenues in Sri Lanka for accountability the United Nations Human Rights Council must adopt a robust resolution on Sri Lanka.
Please join me in asking the Sri Lankan government to ensure the Trinco 5 case is properly investigated.
( The statement made by Dr. Manoharan at a side event under the theme of “Sri Lanka: It is time for action to halt the rollbacks on human rights and ensure accountability” by UN Special Procedures)