By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
The secret detention centre at the Naval Base in Trincomalee which was highlighted by the Northerners, NGOs, the Tamil Diaspora and human rights activists way back in 2010, was visited by the UN Working Group last week.
Speaking exclusively to Ceylon Today from the US, after returning from the Sri Lanka mission, Prof. Ariel Dulitzky, said “We were not on a mission to investigate but to monitor the policies the government undertook to implement.”
He nevertheless described the 12 chambers beneath ground level in the Trincomalee Naval Base as being below standard, and if that was a secret torture chamber, it is a violation of International Human Rights to run such operations. “Even officially a non-transparent camp should not be operating,” he added.
However, the UN Working Group with their ‘information book’, without any hassle, managed to walk straight into the camp and walked into the underground torture chamber.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) comprises Bernard Duhaime, Vice-Chair of the team, Professor at the Law Department in the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the University of Quebec in Montreal, Associate Professor of Law at University of Hawaii, Tae-UngBaik, and Prof. Ariel Dulitzky. They noted last week that Sri Lanka cannot carry through the work of the local mechanism on its own and that an international body must lead it with judges and prosecutors, lawyers and investigators flown down here.
They also expressed their concerns about the Criminal Code of Sri Lanka that does not include an autonomous crime of enforced disappearances nor recognizes enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity.
Speaking exclusively to Ceylon Today from the USA, Prof. Ariel Dulitzky said that Sri Lanka cannot handle the domestic mechanism by itself. He added that the Group would recommend to the UNHR Council that international prosecutors, lawyers and investigators should be on the truth seeking mission on enforced disappearances that took place in the past.
When asked whether, after having visited Sri Lanka, they would recommend to the UN Human Rights Council to let the country implement its own local mechanism, he said, “We will strongly recommend a strong international participation in the local probe, to the UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein. That mechanism should also include lawyers and judges. At this time Sri Lanka cannot carry out its own investigation alone.”
The team alleged that while they were in Sri Lanka, the persons they met were intimidated in the North. They said it was reported to the government and the officials assured them that the allegation would be investigated.
He alleged that persons who met them were questioned by the CID asking them, “what were the Working Group asking you”, “Why did you speak about your loved ones”, “why are you talking to them while you have two children in the house.”
He said however that the CID and Police denied this to the Missing Persons Commission.
Pertaining to the Trincomalee Camp, he said he believes there were many youth detained and not just 11 persons as the officials claimed. “Looking at the number of cells and the numbers that disappeared, there could not have been just 11 persons detained there nor could there have been just one such secret detention complex in the country,” he said.
“We believe there were many more people and the government should investigate this matter,” he added.
He said they had to follow the CID as they were conducting the investigations. He said that even the CID had gone there for the first time, this year.
Asked what had become of the 11 persons who were detained there, he said he was not sure but officials claimed that they would have been released. Dulitzky said he does not know if they were released or not.
Meanwhile, The International Truth and Justice Project – Sri Lanka (ITJP) in its report quoted some of the victims who were released from the secret camp in Trincomalee, who had said:
“I saw bloodstains and people’s names that had been scratched into the walls with a sharp instrument.”
“It is in an obscure section of the Dockyards and there never were any ICRC, IOM, UNHCR, journalists or other international organizations allowed in it in the entire 3 1/2 years we were there.” (Said a survivor there from 2009- 2012).
“A Lt. Commander did not personally hurt me but each time I was interrogated they told me that he had ordered them to do so.”
“When we were released years later, we were given an express order at the Dockyards by a Lt. Commander and other interrogators that we were not to tell anyone that we were ever there…”
“I could also hear men crying and screaming. To me it sounded like they were being tortured… I would hear these screams and crying every other day.”
ITJP also reported in detail on the Trincomalee secret torture site in July 2015 , giving the GPS coordinates for its location (GPS: 8’33’26’13 N, 81’14’32’87 E) and the names of naval intelligence officers whom witnesses say were in charge of the site. This information as well as detailed site sketches by survivors was shared by ITJP with WGEID in a confidential written submission before their visit to Sri Lanka.
There report also revealed that there were according to survivors, two portions to the torture site – one area was the 12 cells underground WGEID references where approx 60-69 people were held and behind that (and close by) another underground place where 30 very important prisoners were detained. It’s not clear if WGEID visited both halves of the site. So all together at LEAST 90-100 people were detained there from 2009-12, aside from abducted schoolboys from Colombo.
In February this year the Tamil National Alliance also highlighted about the Trinco detention camp.
Then TNA Jaffna District Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran highlighted that secret camp located within the Trincomalee Naval Base had separately held 700 Tamils and 35 Tamil families.
He told the ‘BBC Sandeshaya’ that the TNA requested the parliament to table a report on this regard after conducting an investigation.
Pic by Dumindu Wanigasekara