The UN Human Rights Commissioner’s Office Investigation on Sri Lanka(OISL) report has documented in detail the sequence of events in which several senior leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam(LTTE) who surrendered with white flags according to pre-arranged terms of surrender were summarily executed.
It is believed that three top LTTE leaders who surrendered along with 60 other tiger cadres and 40 civilian relatives of LTTE members were killed by the armed forces. All of them were unarmed and walked slowly with white flags in terms of a pre-arranged surrender.
Among the victims of this particular incident of extra-judicial executions were the LTTE Political wing chief Nadesan, the head of the LTTE peace secretariat Pulidevan, the LTTE Police chief Ramesh and Nadesan’s wife Vineetha who was of Sinhala ethnicity.
The OISL report also states that President Mahinda Rajapaksa, his brother Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and former Lankan envoy to the UN in New York Palitha Kohona had full knowledge of the envisaged surrender of LTTE leaders, members and civilians.
The report says a number of intermediaries at a national and international level who were involved in facilitating the surrender are fully aware of the Govt officially sanctioning the surrender exercise.
The OISL report also states that though it was guaranteed earlier that the surrender would be undertaken with the Red Cross and/or Religious leaders as witnesses no such arrangement was made on ground subsequently.
The following are relevant excerpts from the UN report relating to the white flag surrender incident involving Nadesan, Pulidevan, Ramesh, Vineetha and other LTTE members and civilians.
Allegations of extrajudicial executions in the final phase of armed conflict
OISL has documented a number of alleged extrajudicial executions committed by members of the security forces, which are thought to have occurred during the last week of the armed conflict from 11 to 18 May. The Government has asserted that many LTTE cadres were captured by the security forces, the following surrender throughout the last months of the armed conflict and were transferred to detention facilities or to “Protective Accommodation and Rehabilitation Centres”. However, on the basis of the available information, there are reasonable grounds to believe that a number of military cadres, who had laid down arms and were thus hors de combat, were unlawfully killed after having surrendered unarmed to the security forces. There are also reasonable grounds to believe that a number of LTTE cadres, such as those belonging to the political wing, and other individuals not or no longer taking direct part in hostilities, including children, were also extrajudicially executed.
Whether or not the individuals were LTTE fighters or persons taking no direct part in the hostilities, such a distinction would not be relevant once the individuals had passed into the custody of the armed forces.
OISL received information from witnesses about so-called white flag ‘surrenders’ taking place in two locations in the final days of the armed conflict, one to the north of Vellamullivaikkal where people ‘surrendered’ to 53rd and 59 Div. and one to the south near the Vadduvakal bridge where they surrendered to 58th Division. The cases described below are those where OISL received strong and corroborated information from witnesses as well as photographic and video material in the case of specific individuals or groups of individuals.
Balasingham Nadesan, Vineetha Nadesan and Seevaratnam Puleedevan
Despite earlier public statements that the LTTE would never surrender, LTTE figures engaged with the Government and a number of intermediaries in negotiations for the ‘surrender’ of political wing cadres and a number of others believed to be a mix of LTTE cadres with military and non-military functions, and other persons not taking direct part in hostilities.
The LTTE political wing leaders, Head of LTTE Peace Secretariat, Seevaratnam Puleedevan and Head of the LTTE Political Wing, Balasingham Nadesan began informing intermediaries about their plans for surrender. Although the details of the surrender were not discussed openly, some of the cadres close to Nadesan and Puleedevan were reportedly aware of some planning and communications with others about it from 13 May. At this point, Puleedevan and Nadesan were in Vellimullivaikkal together with among others LTTE Police Chief, Ilangko (Ramesh), Nadesan’s wife Vineetha, Nadesan’s head of security Kangan, and other political wing cadres and their families.
OISL has substantial information, including testimonies of those who were directly involved in Colombo and abroad, witness accounts, SMS records and other material showing communication and negotiation for the ‘surrender’ of groups and individuals associated with the LTTE from 13 May onwards.
According to several witness testimonies, on 14 May, Nadesan and Puleedevan expressed to local as well as foreign intermediaries their intent and that of other LTTE cadres to lay down arms and surrender. This intention was communicated the same day to Basil Rajapaksa, brother of the President. Later that day, Tamil MPs who were in contact with Nadesan and Puleedevan also reported to Basil Rajapaksa, that the LTTE had laid down arms and ceased fighting. Basil Rajapaksa responded that the army was already making announcements and dropping leaflets that people should hold up white flags and walk towards the military.
Between 16 and 18 May, a number of foreign intermediaries were involved in facilitating communication with senior representatives of the Government, primarily Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs Palitha Kohona, Senior Adviser to the President Basil Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Communications at this stage also included others, such as senior UN officials and foreign journalists.
According to witness testimonies, sustained efforts were made by intermediaries to have independent witnesses go to the planned surrender area and several options were discussed with senior representatives of the Government, as well as the UN, the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP) and others. The LTTE had rejected the idea of SCOPP officials witnessing and favoured independent witnesses because they feared they would be shot. Witnesses said that the ICRC was asked to be on stand-by to witness the ‘surrender’ but was reportedly never called upon to do so.
Tamil intermediaries also offered to go to the conflict area and witness the ‘surrender’. The Government rejected this citing security reasons and that it found it unnecessary as they had arranged for religious leaders themselves to go to the area. This option never materialized and Government officials simply gave instructions to intermediaries that the LTTE cadres should walk slowly towards the security forces with a white flag and comply with instructions.
On 16 May, while President Rajapaksa declared military victory, the LTTE issued a statement saying it was “prepared to take all necessary measures that would immediately stop the current carnage” and restated “its categorical position to enter a political process facilitated by neutral international parties and find a meaningful solution to the ethnic crisis.”
According to a witness, on 17 May between 06:00 and 06:30 local time, Nadesan spoke to Basil Rajapaksa and was told that the LTTE cadres should walk a specific route to the Forward Defence Lines to surrender holding a white flag high and that the other civilians should travel separately. The senior LTTE leaders may also at times have been in direct contact with senior military officers on the ground.
Initially, negotiations had focused on a larger number of LTTE cadres and civilians, but during the night between 17 May and 18 May Puleedevan communicated the intent to surrender of three high-level cadres, “40 ordinary cadres and 60 civilians.” Nadesan and Puleedevan told intermediaries that the security forces continued shelling, which made it impossible for them to come out, as instructed, with a white flag. The intermediaries themselves on several occasions heard heavy fighting, including artillery fire, in the background when speaking to Puleedevan and Nadesan.
Several international intermediaries sent SMS messages during the night between 17 and 18 May and early hours of 18 May to senior members of the Government saying that Nadesan and Puleedevan were ready to surrender. Sources linked to the security forces were also aware, during the night between 17 and 18 May, of the imminent surrender of senior political wing leaders, Puleedevan and Nadesan specifically. On 18 May, in the early morning witnesses heard heavy gunfire/shelling in the background of their phone conversations with Puleedevan. The last contact between international intermediaries and Puleedevan was just after 06:00 local time on 18 May when Puleedevan said he was with Nadesan and ready to go out from the bunker.
On 18 May 2009, the Defence Ministry announced that LTTE leader Prabhakaran and several other senior LTTE leaders had been killed in the fighting and the Sri Lankan Government formally announced its military victory over the LTTE and complete territorial control over the entire country. According to the official website of the armed forces, Puleedevan and Nadesan (along with Col. Ramesh) were killed in fighting by the 58th Division on 18 May. But this version of events is countered by information gathered by OISL and others that certain high-level LTTE leaders were summarily executed despite assurances from the Government that they could safely surrender.
OISL has received testimonies from a number of witnesses, who report independently seeing Nadesan and Puleedevan, unarmed (wearing civilian clothing – a few specify that they were wearing white shirts and sarongs) and carrying a stick with a white cloth (possibly a veshti) surrendering to the security forces. The specific location and the details of the surrender vary to some degree. At least six witnesses indicate they saw Puleedevan and Nadesan just north of the Mullivaikkal bridge in the morning of 18 May 2009 consistently detailing the location of these sightings on the A-35 road towards Vadduvakal bridge.
Witnesses described three surrender groups, the first group led by Puleedevan and Nadesan; the second by the LTTE Police Chief Ilangko (Ramesh, not to be confused with military commander Col. Ramesh in the following section), a witness and two other LTTE cadres; and the third group comprised of four cadres. They all were unarmed and held white flags, Nadesan held the flag for the first group and Ilangko (Ramesh) for the second group. There was a distance of 20-25 metres between each group. The witnesses saw the first group comprising of Nadesan, Nadesan’s wife Vineetha, Puleedevan and another unidentified person surrendering in the Vadduvakal area north of the bridge and being surrounded by soldiers in SLA uniform. Three witnesses independently state they saw the dead bodies of Puleedevan and Nadesan (one witness also recognized Vineetha Nadesan among the dead) on the south side of the bridge on 18 May.
OISL is in possession of high-resolution electronic photos of a group of dead bodies, among them clearly identifiable are Puleedevan, Nadesan, and Vineetha Nadesan, as well as a number of recognizable but unidentified men and possibly a young woman (face outside the frame of the photo). According to a forensic pathologist, the colour digital photographs are all amateur ‘trophy-type’ images which show groups of bodies, individual bodies and include images of head and shoulders. Despite their amateur nature, these photographs capture many injuries, patterns of blood flow, disturbance of clothing and post-mortem changes. The resolution of the images is mostly sufficient for professional diagnostic purposes, particularly where there are images documenting the same scene from different angles. The information provided by the images is inevitably incomplete because in no case has the entire surface of the body been photographed in a manner to photo-document the totality of the injuries present on the bodies. Nevertheless, the injuries that are visible can be seen clearly and are undeniable.
Estimates based on these photos indicate there were about a dozen bodies lined up. This, together with plastic sheeting laid on the ground nearby, suggests that the location is a temporary site for the collection of the dead rather than the place of death. The matting beneath one of the bodies (Nadesan) may have been used to carry the body to this location. All male bodies are in undergarments, one has a prosthetic leg next to his body. Various brightly coloured clothing items are partially covering bodies or around bodies.
Although the exact time and cause of death cannot be definitively determined based on the photographs, the following are some of the conclusions suggested by the forensic observations related to the bodies of Nadesan, and Puleedevan: photographs of Nadesan’s body showed that cause of death would be at least one and possibly three gunshots to the front torso. With regard to Puleedevan, the analysis identified multiple gunshot wounds to the torso entering from the back and exiting the front, as well as gunshot wounds to both arms. Given that the multiple gunshot wounds to the torso are from back to front, the forensic analysis suggests that a similar trajectory for the right arm wound could only be achieved with the arm twisted, with the right hand behind the back. The analysis also noted that the left wrist appears to show a ligature impression mark associated with bright red bruising of the skin. According to the analysis, taken together, the pattern of injuries indicates that Puleedevan was shot multiple times in the back, almost certainly whilst his arms were restrained behind his back. Based on this forensic analysis of photographic as well as video material, witness testimonies and open sources, OISL concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that LTTE senior political wing leaders Balasingham Nadesan and Seevaratnam Puleedevan, as well as Nadesan’s wife Vineetha Nadesan, may have been executed by the security forces sometime after 06:00 on 18 May. However, further investigation is required to determine the full facts as to what happened and who was responsible for the killings.
The LTTE political wing members demonstrated clear intent to ‘surrender’ and according to witnesses, complied with Government instructions to walk slowly towards the security forces unarmed, in civilian clothes and waving a white flag. OISL further concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Government of Sri Lanka possessed the requisite knowledge about the intent to surrender to have been able to convey this to the ground forces in time for them to ensure protection. Intermediaries made multiple attempts and a sustained effort to convince key government figures to allow for an independent witness to the surrender, which was rejected.
This is a case study dealing with just one of Sri Lanka’s many known torture sites and is based on 46 detailed testimonies from survivors and a wealth of supporting documentation. The report documents horrifying physical and sexual abuse by the military and interrogation rooms equipped with manacles, chains, pulleys and other instruments of torture. At the end of the civil war in May 2009, the camp was used to interrogate and torture large numbers of people suspected to be members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam or LTTE. It was still being used as recently as December 2016 for illegal detention and torture.
Several of the violations occurred when General Jagath Jayasuriya was the commander of the site. Instead of being held accountable for these serious crimes he was promoted and rewarded by becoming army commander in July 2009. After the change of government in 2015, he was given a diplomatic posting to Brazil from where he is also accredited to Argentina, Chile, Peru, Colombia and Suriname.