Focus/Spotlight

Trinco 5: No letup in battle for justice

By Easwaran Rutnam

It came as a surprise for some, a shock for others, and relief for the accused. Trincomalee Chief Magistrate M. Hansa acquitted 13 Special Task Force (STF) members who were accused of being involved in the murder of five Tamil youth on the Trincomalee beach on 2 January 2006.

The suspects were acquitted on the basis that there was insufficient evidence against the 13 STF members.

The killing was initially blamed on the LTTE, but it was later discovered that the Police STF was likely involved.

The case, popularly known as the “Trinco 5” case, is among high profile murder cases in Sri Lanka which drew the attention of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and others in the international community.

The ruling last week has now raised fears that the case will die a natural death and justice will not be served.

However, The Sunday Morning learnt that the families of the victims are determined to continue to fight for justice.

Meanwhile, human rights groups said the authorities have failed to ensure justice and accountability for conflict-related crimes.

“This was a test case for the Sri Lankan Government to show its commitment and capacity to ensure justice and accountability for conflict-related crimes, and the fact is the authorities have failed. Political leaders that insist there is no need to comply with Sri Lanka’s pledges to include international involvement in transitional justice have just been proved wrong,” Human Rights Watch South Asia Director Meenakshi Ganguly told The Sunday Morning.

Amnesty International has been leading the campaign to seek justice for the Trinco 5 victims.

Amnesty International South Asia Director Biraj Patnaik noted in a tweet that justice had been denied yet again to the families of the Trinco 5 murder.
“When will this travesty of justice end?” he asked.

On 2 January 2006 at about 7.30 p.m., seven youths, all 20-year-old graduates of Sri Koneswara Hindu College, chatted among themselves near the seafront in Trincomalee. According to eyewitness accounts, a grenade thrown at the youths from a green three-wheeler (or motor trishaw) exploded and injured three of them.
Soon thereafter, 10-15 uniformed officers, allegedly with the elite Police STF, arrived in jeeps. The officers put the wounded youth into their jeeps, beat them with rifle butts, and then pushed them onto the road. The officers then allegedly shot the young men, killing five and wounding two.

The Army Commander in Trincomalee initially reported to the media that seven members of the LTTE were killed or injured when grenades they were carrying exploded accidentally.

A government post mortem later determined that the five died from gunshot wounds. Three were shot in the head, while two died from shots to the chest and abdomen which were apparently received while trying to flee.

In July 2013, STF officers were arrested over the incident.

Among the five youth killed was Ragihar Manoharan. His father Dr. Kasippillai Manoharan has been fighting for justice over the death of his son.

Those close to Dr. Manoharan told The Sunday Morning that he and the families of the other victims killed on 2 January 2006 are determined to intensify the battle to seek justice.

Most of the family members of the five youth fled overseas after fearing for their lives.
The Sunday Morning reached out to some of the family members, but they were in shock over the outcome of the case last week and did not wish to speak to the media.
The Sunday Morning learnt that some family members who are overseas are considering the possibility of taking the matter to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

The case is also likely to be raised at the UNHRC in Geneva, most notably at the 43rd session next March.

Last year, the Government said that the case of the murder of the five Tamil youth in Trincomalee was progressing using the Skype technology.

Then, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake said that the case could not progress as the main witness was overseas and was not in a position to support proceedings.
However, he said that the case was now progressing as new reforms have allowed the use of Skype to gather evidence.

However, The Sunday Morning learnt that the family members of the victims had refused to testify via Skype from the Sri Lankan High Commission in London.
Instead, they have joined calls for an international investigation into the murder, saying they are prepared to go before an international court or a hybrid court.

Meanwhile, lawyers in Colombo working with the families of the victims are also looking at raising concerns over the investigations with the Attorney General.