Activist groups have accused former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa of tampering with police records to obstruct investigations into the mass killings.
Former Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused of tampering with police records to interfere with investigations into graves discovered at a site where he was a military officer at the height of a bloody Marxist rebellion in 1989.
In a report released on Thursday, activist groups including the International Truth and Justice Project, Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka and Families of the Disappeared said that hundreds of corpses were unearthed in about 20 mass exhumations. graves for the past three decades, no action was taken to identify the victims and return the remains to their families.
Tens of thousands of corpses may still be buried in undiscovered graves, the report said.
None of the many commissions of inquiry set up by successive Sri Lankan governments were mandated to look into the mass graves. Instead, efforts to uncover the truth have been thwarted, the report said.
When the mass graves were discovered and investigations started, judges and forensic experts were suddenly transferred, the families’ lawyers were denied access to the sites, no effort was made to find the survivors. witness, no post-mortem data was collected and, in rare cases where someone was convicted, they were later pardoned, it said.
“This is a story of lack of political will – an inadequate legal framework, lack of a coherent policy and insufficient resources. For the families of the disappeared it is a story of unresolved tragic; those who died were forced to live and die without ever seeing their loved ones,” it said.
Rajapaksa’s alleged role in exhuming mass graves is an example of political interference, it added.
The report said Rajapaksa, who is a powerful defense official, ordered the destruction of all police records older than five years at regional police stations after the graves were discovered in Matale district of central Sri Lanka in 2013.
The mass graves have been suspected since the time of a violent Marxist rebellion in 1989 when Rajapaksa, as a military officer, was involved in operations against rebels in the region.
The report called for action against Rajapaksa and senior police officers involved in the alleged obstruction of investigations.
Rajapaksa was elected president in 2019 but was forced to resign last year amid angry public protests over the country’s worst economic crisis in history.
Sri Lanka has faced three major armed conflicts, including a 25-year separatist civil war, since gaining independence from Britain 75 years ago.
An office created in 2017 to track details of those reported missing in conflicts received 21,374 complaints, including family members of security forces.
The report recommends the creation of special laws and policies to manage mass graves and exhumations, including their identification, preservation and investigation.
It also recommends strengthening the country’s forensic capacity, the creation of an independent public prosecution service to ensure that prosecutions resulting from excavations are carried out in an impartial manner and the establishment of a skilled unit to investigate other potential mass graves.