Six years on, no justice for Sri Lanka's massacred aid workers

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 3 Aug 2012 14:43 GMT
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NEW DELHI (AlertNet) - It was a massacre that shocked the world's aid community.

Seventeen aid workers murdered outside their office in Sri Lanka's northeast. They had been executed at point-blank range with automatic weapons in the worst attack on humanitarian workers since the 2003 bombing of the United Nations compound in Baghdad.

Six years on, justice for the families of the local aid workers employed by the group Action Contre La Faim (ACF) remains elusive, rights activists say, calling on the United Nations to independently investigate the killings.

"The sixth anniversary of the summary executions of 17 aid workers has brought the Sri Lankan government no closer to obtaining justice for the victims," said James Ross, legal and policy director at Human Rights Watch.

"President (Mahinda) Rajapaksa’s callous indifference to the suffering of the aid workers’ families will be a sad hallmark of his administration."

The "Mutur Massacre", named after the town where the killings took place, occurred on Aug. 4, 2006 - during Sri Lanka’s civil war between separatist Tamil Tiger rebels and forces belonging to the majority Sinhalese-ruled government.

The mostly ethnic Tamil aid workers were providing water and sanitation to survivors of the 2004 tsunami when a battle erupted after Tamil Tiger fighters launched an offensive against government troops to take control of Mutur.

Trapped in their office, the aid workers lost radio contact with their head office.

"RIDDLED WITH ERRORS"

Two days later, the bloated bodies of 15 men and women were discovered lying face-down in the ACF compound with bullet wounds to the head and neck. Two other bodies were found in a vehicle nearby. They were killed possibly trying to escape.

No one has been held accountable for the murders, let alone been arrested and charged, says Paris-based ACF, which now runs a campaign called "Justice for Mutur"

"Following the Mutur massacre, ACF closely followed three national-level judicial proceedings. The proceedings, which spanned two years of investigations, were subject to continuous delays and have been riddled with errors," said ACF in a statement in March ahead of a meeting of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

"After the departure of international observers, ACF withdrew from the proceedings and left the country in March 2008 to advocate for a full international investigation into the crime to bring the guilty parties to justice."

A 2008 report by local rights group, The University Teachers for Human Rights, blamed Sri Lanka's security forces for the massacre and accused the government of an outright cover-up.

The Sri Lankan government has denied responsibility and has blamed fighters belonging to the defeated Tamil Tigers, which lost the war in May 2009.

Human Rights Watch said given Sri Lanka's "poor record of investigating serious human rights abuses", the U.N. should create an independent investigation into violations during the 25-year-long civil war in Sri Lanka, including the ACF case.