The 2006 Senchcholai Massacre: An Ominous Sign Of An Impending Human Catastrophe Engineered By An Evil Regime

sencholai_children-genocideBy Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah –

Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah

Whilst our eyes and ears are on the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL ) with the deadline for submissions set for October 30th 2014, Sri Lanka continues its game plan of non-cooperation, non-compliance and innuendo. Whatever happens around us, for the Tamils, this is not a time to waste away, for we have things to do, submissions to make – This is a time to remember, remember every detail, to keep in mind that the world itself is pre-occupied, as Edward Mortimer said, “with all the horrors taking place in Gaza, Ukraine, Iraq, and Syria, Sri Lanka has understandably fallen off the international radar.” [1] Lest we forget, the 14th of August 2014 marks the 8th anniversary of the Senchcholai Massacre. The 2006 Senchcholai Massacre: An ominous sign of an impending Human Catastrophe of Ginormous proportions, engineered by an evil regime. 

Much of the sorry spectacle that the Rajapaksa government is involved in right at this hour, is centered round the government’s refusal to give access to  OISL  investigators to enter Sri Lanka; not to mention it’s vilification of High Commissioner Navi Pillay as showing “personal bias” [2]; its move to expand the mandate of its Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Missing Persons ,creating an unwanted distraction from the real thing, the OISL, the Center for Policy Alternatives (CPA ) stating that the Commission’s primary task of investigating and inquiring into thousands of missing persons in Sri Lanka will be severely curtailed by (this expansion).[3]“; the widening of its scope by Gazette notification to include violations of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, where no mention is made of whether it included Sri Lankan Government violations; in contrast namely the specific mention of, “the alleged recruitment of child soldiers and suicide attacks, to the criminality of financial and other resources obtained by the LTTE”; its appointment of international figures to its Commission, whose Chairman Sir Desmond De Silva has been discredited for his “sham” report relating to a “controversial” case pertaining to  Northern Ireland[4] and for his partisan remarks biased in favour of the Sri Lankan government[5] compromising his independence that would disqualify him under international norms – De Silva expressing the view, ” that blame for the civilian casualties during the final phase of the war lies squarely at the door of the LTTE”[6]; its attempt at crushing dissent and its encouragement of extremist forces in the Buddhist clergy known for its involvement in promoting mob violence,  [7]in hate crimes and the possible intimidation of potential witnesses to its crimes.

Just as much as the Sri Lankan government wants to deviate from any investigation of the crimes it committed, it is critical that who so ever holds any information and or evidence, or have been victims and or been witness to crimes, make their submissions to OISL without fail and without delay.

Undoubtedly the Senchcholai Massacre was  genocidal and evil in intent; it was unpardonable; it went unpunished even as the Rajapaksa government claimed responsibility for it – it is eight long years since the Vallipunam Senchcholai Massacre of 61? people mostly school girls – little did I realize as much as it was gruesome it was ominous – the tell tale signs that things were going to get worse not better were there. I shiver at the thought that we were so complacent, not knowing the sheer brutality of the enemy.

We didn’t know that a deadly but grand scheme was in the works to annihilate a people fighting against subjugation, to silence once and for all their cry for freedom and that the Senchcholai Massacre was yet another precursor. It was unimaginable; it was inconceivable but true that a government which perpetrated the massacre of the innocent: young school girls in 2006 at Senchcholai – what I described as “Sri Lanka’s shame” had no shame anymore to pursue and kill more of the innocent: tens of thousands of them; men, women, the elderly and children in 2009, without an iota of regret. Such was the prevailing culture of impunity still continuing, condoned rather than condemned by a world that overlooked the heinous crimes of a terrorist state as necessary intransigencies on the false and flawed premise the state was fighting terrorism.

Looking through the souvenir which we published in 2007 to mark the 1st anniversary of this appalling tragedy, organised by the Canadian Tamil Women’s organisation, to not only remember those who perished in the massacre but to educate the world on the true facts behind the slaughter and to seek justice for the truly innocent young lives that were killed and injured by a bunch of bloodthirsty murderers in uniform acting on the orders of a evil regime, I started to read the transcript of my speech made at the event – a speech I had delivered, standing in front of a huge mural of a woman throwing her arms up in absolute helplessness, expressing a loss so irreparable, realistically depicting the, “pain and outrage” we Tamil women felt.

I thought it most timely that the world be reminded about that most dastardly act that took place at Senchcholoai that preceded Mullivaikkal which would surely form part of the OISL, like so many other crimes, coming within the purview of the specified “time frame”[8] under investigation – the period covered by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) between 22nd February 2002 and 15th November 2011.

I feel confident this grave crime, the massacre of innocent young school girls barely in their teens – a Crime Against Humanity – a part thereof – of crimes of greater magnitude, described as ‘mass atrocity crimes’ that also include genocide, would be firstly fully investigated; secondly, political as well as military leaders – those responsible for all such violations of international human rights and humanitarian law will be later charged in an international court of law, tried and convicted, notwithstanding the fact that Sri Lanka has not signed on to the Rome Statue and therefore cannot be tried by the International Criminal Court (a concern I share in my speech). Despite the concerns, I trust and leave the worrying to legal minds to work out this somewhat murky, blurry and untested area of law. In this regard, Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran Prime Minister of The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), talking to the Colombo Gazette opines that ” the Tamil Diaspora prefers to cooperate with a neutral investigation established by United Nations bodies,” adding the. the members of the Diaspora will argue for the establishment of a tribunal similar to the tribunal in the former Yugoslavia, as a further step.”

Extracts of my speech at the 1st Anniversary of the Senchcholai Massacre,  lest we forget; lest others forget:      

We welcome you today with heavy hearts as we remember this day one year ago when there was mayhem, bloodshed and carnage in the Vallipunam Senchcholai Compound in the Mullaitivu district of Thamil Eelam; it was so shocking, so horrific that you had to be there to know what happened; hear it not from me but from Juliet, 18 years of age, a survivor who escaped death with only shrapnel wounds on her hands. In her testimony to NESOHR, she said:

“We were in the 2nd day of our workshop on first aid and disaster management skills. More than 400 school girls were in attendance at the 10- day workshop. It was 7am. We were by the well when we saw the K-fir jets faraway and thought that they were heading elsewhere. Within seconds we saw them heading directly to our centre and suddenly started bombing our premises. As the bombs fell, the girls ran in all directions, and took cover by lying on the ground face down, hoping that the bombers will go away. But the Kfir jets returned….”

Continuing to describe her ordeal Juliet said “There was chaos within the Senchcholai premises with each round of bombing as more students were …wounded and more..killed. In between air-strikes the girls ..were running to other positions to take better cover. During lull periods they would run out and aid the wounded and carry them to safer locations. Rescue efforts got interrupted several times by a sudden return of K-fir jets. Many died on the spot, many were wounded, most had multiple injuries, some lost there their limbs, some had severe burns. I still have memories of the jets and the desperate calls of the girls for help.”

The massacre of sixty-one Tamil school girls and two staff members by heavy aerial bombardment of the Senchcholai premises by Sri Lankan President Rajapakse’s men is the first such case ever to have been documented in the world in the new millennium attributed to government forces anywhere.

Additionally, 129 girls were injured. Those who were injured, those who escaped death, those who came in the aftermath as rescuers and those who are relatives are all still traumatized by this incident.  

Not only was this attack targeted, it was as Tamil National Alliance MPs called it, “pre-meditated, deliberate and vicious… and clearly having genocidal intent.”

It is the first case ever heard of where a government not only boasted, but also claimed responsibility for such a despicable and cowardly act.

In my view, this is the most unforgivable act of state terrorism inflicted on young girls, each one of them just about to bloom into womanhood – the ambitions and goals they would have nurtured were destroyed with them. 

True men in uniform are not only men of valor, in my estimate they’re decent and dignified in their conduct,so much so, they would rather die than ever hurt women and children knowingly. 

Sixty-one of tomorrow’s potential leaders and intellectuals, the love and life of doting parents, guardians and siblings, the pride and joy of the Tamil Nation were murdered in cold blood by one cruel and barbaric State.

The Senchcholai massacre has all the makings of a Crime Against Humanity. But Sri Lanka is NOT a party to the Rome Treaty, therefore an action at the ICC would not be possible, the ICC having no jurisdiction to hear the case since Sri Lanka has not ratified the Rome Statute.

It’s a well known fact that the Senchcholai compound was designated and respected as a “humanitarian zone” housing civilian population and was accepted as such by international agencies such as the UNICEF and the Red Cross, with the LTTE giving precise coordinates to the Sri Lankan Army through the good offices of these agencies. UNICEF had even held some seminars in the same building. 

SLMM official Mr. Hendricsson rejected Sri Lanka’s official spokesman Minister Keheliya Rambukwella’s allegation that it was a Tiger training camp. He said “we couldn’t find any sign of military equipment or weapons. It was not a military installation.” 

Ann Veneman, UNICEF Executive Director, referring to the children who were killed said “these children are the innocent victims of violence.” The Sri Lankan government’s allegation that they were “Tamil Tiger Terrorists” has been found to be baseless. The young victims of approximately 18 years of age, following GCE (OL) and (AL) classes selected from 18 schools in the Mullaitivu and Vanni districts, were undergoing first-aid, leadership skills and disaster management training at Senchcholai. School Principals, civil servants, the Education Board and injured students together with NESOHR, ITRO, UNICEF and Amnesty International have all attested to this. 

According to the NESOHR[9] press release dated Oct 1, 2006 three of the injured girls taken to Kandy hospital (outside of the NorthEast) were placed under police custody, under the provisions of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and removed to an undisclosed location for interrogation. Of the three, one of them was taken away from Kandy and is now under the custody of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and two of them were sent back to Vavuniya District hospital where one died. The post-mortem revealed the student died of medical negligence while in Kandy; the other has been sent allegedly to Colombo for further treatment while remaining under the custody of the CID. 

The two who were alive were coerced into making statements favourable to the Sri Lankan government and were paraded like captive animals on state television, traumatized not only by the ordeal of the bombing and injury, but by the anguish and humiliation of making an untrue statement under duress on national television. 

I spoke to Father Karunaratnam of NESOHR to find out the fate of these two girls, Kasthuri Sripathy and Sumithra Balasingham. I was shocked and outraged to find out that, even though no charges were filed against them, they were still under police custody in Kandy and that Kasthuri is paralyzed and cannot walk.  

The Senchcholai massacre will feature as one of many incidents of “Shame’ for Sri Lanka. 

It’s also such a shame that the State responsible; the police state; the rogue state; a failed state that is Sri Lanka has not been condemned by other States. When will Rajapakse, the Commander in Chief of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces and his men, the perpetrators who committed this dastardly act, the murderers who snatched these young lives in their prime, ever be punished and when would these young victims ever receive justice?

Sadly Father Karunaratnam of NESOHR  was also later killed.

On that 1st anniversary, many Tamil women like me vowed in their hearts that, “this outcry by women; led by women; using the intellect, the expertise and advocacy power of women, for women, will continue until justice was won, whilst cherishing the memory of these young lives, we vowed also to be loyal to the cause for freedom of our Motherland and loyal to those defending it.

It’s noteworthy it must be said, “the mandate of the OISL requires it to investigate alleged serious violations and human rights abuses and other related crimes by both parties to the conflict,” and the stated, “legal framework that underlies the investigation  will comprise of all obligations assumed by Sri Lanka under international human rights treaties and those applicable under customary international law.” It also specifies in the case of the LTTE that, “although a non-state actor cannot formally become party to human rights treaties, it is now increasingly accepted that non-state  groups exercising de facto control over a part of the State’s territory must respect certain human rights obligations of persons in that territory.”

Again Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran[10], who has rejected outright any “local war crime probe” conducted by Sri Lanka, in response to a question put forth by the Colombo Gazette on the “expanded mandate” clearly elaborates on his position:

“The new mandate is deluding.  The mandate of the Commission is defined by the flawed conclusion in para 4.359 of the LLRC report. The LLRC was itself prejudiced and issued a report that was exculpatory of the crimes of the army. Para 4.359 contains summaries of the LLRC’s concluding observations, which are heavily partisan, fully exonerating the SLAF except for two minor instances.   Besides, the expected conclusions are contained in the mandate itself, as it is suggested that the killings of the civilians could be collateral damage proportionate to the task accomplished and that the defense of necessity  is applicable. I would also like to point out that while the mandate of the commission, when it comes to the LTTE, asks specific questions about “human shields” and “child soldiers”, it has no specific questions about the conduct of the Sri Lankan military, such as “did the SLAF fire heavy artillery on civilians and hospitals?” or “did the SLAF drop bombs on places where civilians were taking refuge?” or “whether the Sri Lankan Government used food as a weapon of war,” or “whether the SLA was engaged in forced sterilization”, he asks stating further, “thus, from the way the mandate is framed, it appears to cover up breaches of humanitarian law by the SLAF.”

Bishop Rayappu Joseph has refused to accept an invitation to make submissions to the Sri Lankan local probe citing, “his lack of faith in domestic mechanisms to resolve serious injustices that Tamil people have faced over the years, that there has not been even a shred of evidence to indicate that they have succeeded in tackling impunity (rather) have only served as eye-washers for governments in power..”[11]

It seems we have come a long way, when we realize that at long last, the investigative team appointed by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi  Pillay has started its work. Consisting of three eminent experts, Martti Ahtisaari, former President of Finland, Silvia Cartwright, former High Court Judge of New Zealand and Asma Jahangir, former President of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan  – they are to “play a supportive and advisory role, as well as independent verification throughout the  investigation,” with the assistance of  “special procedures mandate holders” covering  extrajudicial executions, disappearances, internally displaced persons, arbitrary detentions, violence against women and torture.

However gloomy thing are, in our search for justice for the tens of thousands slaughtered in Mullivaikkal; men women, elders and children (more than 146, 000 unaccounted for), not forgetting the 5 students from Trincomalee; the 17 aid-workers belonging to the French Charity, Action Against Hunger and the 8 aid-workers belonging to TRO,  to name but a few; who were killed execution style by Sri Lankan forces and the 61? mostly young girls in the Senchcholai complex  who were targeted and killed by Sri Lankan government shelling; all of which took place in 2006 – none of the perpetrators of these massacres have been brought to book yet – we can now cling to the hope that justice will be done one day and find solace in the words of Navi Pillay [12], “that even though Colombo had refused to cooperate, the investigation could still go ahead as there was a wealth of information outside the country…”[13]

We shall overcome and shall one day rest easy in our homeland when the world realizes as Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran said: “The mandate set up by the UNHRC covers both parties. However as the TGTE has repeatedly said, there is no moral equilibrium between the persecuted and the persecutor.”








[9] NESOHR publications





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