Tuesday, 19 May 2015

The high-profile case of Thayaparajah

Re-appearance of a man missing for over four years




by Shamindra Ferdinando

Foreign Minister, Mangala Samaraweera, recently assured the Colombo-based diplomatic community of the Maithripala Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration’s determination to address contentious issues, especially missing persons, restoration of land to rightful owners and post-war national reconciliation.

Minister Samaraweera gave his assurance on May 12, in the wake of US Secretary of State John Kerry emphasizing the utmost importance in having the missing persons issue addressed without further delay. The briefing at the Foreign Ministry was attended by senior representatives of 24 diplomatic missions in Colombo. Kerry asserted that the resolution of missing persons issue was crucial to achieve post-war national reconciliation.

Those demanding accountability, on Sri Lanka’s part, for deaths, and destruction, as well as disappearances, cannot decline help to find the missing persons.

Sri Lanka should seek international assistance to investigate cases of missing persons. The project can be undertaken, under the auspices of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), to verify accusations, directed at the government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). In fact, a thorough investigation, jointly conducted by the GoSL and the international community, can establish the truth.

The high profile case of Kathiravel Thayapararajah reported in the wake of the LTTE’s battlefield defeat in May, six years ago, underscore the need for a comprehensive international investigation. The previous government pathetically failed to investigate the matter. Having perused ‘The Kerry visit: Points to ponder, irrelevance of Vietnam factor’ in Midweek last week, UPFA MP Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha suggested a detailed report on the disappearance and re-appearance of Thayapararaja.

India can facilitate investigations into Thayapararaja’s case.

The then 28-year-old Kathiravel Thayapararajah disappeared, in late September, 2009. Since the Sri Lankan military brought the war to a successful conclusion, in May 2009, there had been a spate of accusations regarding disappearances, both in the Northern Province, as well as Colombo. Thayapararaja’s disappearance attracted the attention of many, including the Colombo-based diplomatic community, due to him being the director of a US - funded project, in Kilinochchi, the nerve centre of LTTE operations.

In a report, dated September 24, 2009, Tamilnet alleged that Sri Lankan intelligence services (an obvious reference to the Directorate of Military Intelligence-DMI) had ‘extra judicially’ executed Thayaparajah during the second week of September, of the same year. The Tamilnet claimed Thayaparajah’s wife, Uthayakala, had taken refuge at an organization in Colombo, managed by the Church. Uthayakala had been also looking after the only child of her sister.

Tamilnet revealed that the then US Assistant Secretary of State, Robert Blake, has inquired about the missing person, through the US Embassy in Colombo, after having received a complaint from a human rights organization. The website didn’t identify the human rights organization.

A section of the social media alleged Thayapararajah had been killed by Sinhala Nazis.

No less a person than Ramu Manivannan, head of the Department of Politics and Public Administration, University of Madras, in controversial ‘Sri Lanka- Hiding the Elephant,’ alleged that Thayapararaja had been picked up by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), and the Special Forces, and was killed by an assassin, working for the Sri Lankan military. Having declared that Thayapararaja had been killed, on September 15, 2009, Manivannan went to the extent of claiming that Thayapararajah’s wife, Uthayakala, and some close relatives, had identified the body. According to the author, the government had cremated the body and handed over the ashes to Uthayakala as she wasn’t prepared to accept the body. The book dealt with alleged genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity. The Ilankai Tamil Sangam, an association of Tamils, of Sri Lankan origin, promoted the book, in a big way, with Prof. V. Suryanarayan, of ‘South Asia Analysis Group,’ reviewing it in August, 2014. Suryanarayan had been former Senior Professor, Centre for South and Southeast Asian Studies, University of Madras.

Prof. Suryanaarayan said: "In the introductory chapters, Prof. Ramu Manivannan has raised a very pertinent question – the contradiction between the principle of absolute sovereignty of the state and the global Responsibility to Protect (R2P). During recent years, R2P is rapidly gaining ground as an important axiom in International Humanitarian Law. It is a simple, but at the same time, a very powerful idea. At present, the primary responsibility of protecting the people against mass atrocities and genocide lies with the State. State sovereignty implies responsibility to protect, not to kill. But when the State is unable, or unwilling, to abide by this primary responsibility, it is the duty of the international community to step in and uphold this principle. The primary tools of the international community are persuasion and support. But when this fails, the international community must think in terms of international intervention to prevent catastrophe and genocide. R2P was unanimously adopted by the UN General Assembly, in the world summit, at 2005. But much more remains to be done before it becomes a universal axiom. The brain behind the R2P is Gareth Evans, the former Australian Foreign Minister, who played a stellar role in bringing peace to war torn Cambodia

I would like to conclude the review with the famous lines of Pablo Neruda: "Perhaps this war will pass like others which divided us; leaving us dead, killing us along with the killers; but the shame of this time puts its burning fingers in our faces; who will erase the ruthlessness hidden in innocent blood?".

Having graduated from the University of Peradeniya, in 2000, Thayapararajah joined the Advanced Technological Institute, Vanni Institute of Technology (VanniTech), in Kilinochchi, as its director, two years after the inauguration of the Institute, in June, 2003. The Institute provided Information Technology education to youth, and was developing as a sought after institution of study in the North. Funded by Tamil expatriate technologists from Silicon Valley, VanniTech was registered as a US federal tax exempt. The International Tamil Technical Professionals’ Organization (ITTPO), a non-profit charitable organization, based in San Jose, California, provided the required funds to setup VanniTech meant to introduce and advance high-tech education in Northeast Sri Lanka, establishment of a technological research and development center for high-tech innovations, and the creation of a technically competent workforce for future enterprises.

The US - based group was taking advantage of the Norway - arranged Ceasefire Agreement (CFA) to establish its presence in the LTTE-held Vanni region. The project had the backing of the LTTE, and some members of the VanniTech staff worked closely with the LTTE. Thayapararaja had closely associated with senior LTTE cadres, including intelligence wing personnel. In fact, VanniTech was to provide required expertise to enhance the LTTE’s domestic weapons manufacturing project.

The then UNP government turned a blind eye to what was happening. VanniTech had been nothing but prefect cover for clandestine LTTE project. The project paved the way for the LTTE to receive funds from Tamil Diaspora to further strengthen the VanniTech.

The Sunday Leader, in its May 18, 2015, edition dealt with Thayapararajah’s issue in an excellent piece, titled The ‘mystery’ of the missing LTTEer, by Camelia Nathaniel.

The Australian Government Refugee Review Tribunal, too, accused Sri Lankan of executing Thayapararajah. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights report, 2010, made unsubstantiated allegations as regards Thayapararajah’s case. Repetition of accusations revealed the readiness of those who had despised Sri Lanka’s victory over the LTTE to propagate unsubstantiated allegations.

University Teachers for Human Rights (UTHR), in a special report, bearing No. 34, released on December 13, 2009, too, accused the government of executing Thayapararajah. However, UTHR acknowledged that by 2008, Thayapararaja had to work closely with senior LTTE cadres, including Charles Anthony, in the backdrop of the LTTE taking control of the institution. The LTTE move should be examined, taking into consideration the army gradually taking the upper hand in the Vanni west region. A relentless multi-pronged army advance east and west of Kandy-Jaffna A9 road caused chaos in the rapidly shrinking area, under LTTE control.

Having alleged that Thayapararajah had been arrested by the CID and Special Forces team, the UTHR report, bearing the number 34, said: "At some point some place Thayapararajah received gunshot injuries in circumstances unknown to the family and was taken to the Kalubovila Hospital Colombo, on 13th September. The family was informed the same day that they ought to come as he was in a serious condition. As Uthayakala was scared she sent her grandmother. He died on 15th September. His wife, her old grandmother and one of the children identified the body. As no one was prepared to arrange a funeral, the body was cremated and the ashes given to Udayakala. The lawyer, who represented Thayapararajah, says there are two engineers and a doctor still at the Avissavela camp."

"Thayapararajah had an injury in the chest area. Some felt that Thayapararajah was shot by an assassin, working under the security forces, privy to the information that Thayapararajah was to be escorted by the Police to a court in Colombo. Another possibility is misfire from a weapon carried by the escort or he was shot when he tried to escape. The escort had no intention of killing him is suggested by the fact that they warded the injured man in hospital and tried to save him – he was alive for two days".

Then, much to the embarrassment of those who had been accusing Sri Lanka of executing Thayapararajah, the VanniTech Director emerged in Tamil Nadu, in early May, 2014. Thayapararajah had been accompanied by Uthayakala and three children. The previous government never bothered to take up the Thayapararajah’s case with India. The External Affairs Ministry slept on it. The ministry never realized the need to examine the circumstances under which Thayapararajah had gone underground, since September, 2014, until he, along with wife and children, surfaced in Tamil Nadu, over five years later. Thayapararajah’s disappearence and re-appearance hadn’t been an isolated case. There could be thousands of ‘ Thayapararajahs’ in the world and every one of them categorized as ‘missing.’

The Tamil Nadu police arrested a group of Sri Lankans, including Thayapararajah, in Dhanuskodi, for illegally entering the country. There had been 10 persons, including five children in the group. Thayapararajah had been 28 years of age when he disappeared and was 33 when he reemerged. The Indian media identified the children, accompanying Thayapararajah, and Uthayakala, as Diyaroan 12, girls, Dilany 6, Dilshiya 4.

Thayapararajah told Tamil Nadu police that he had worked as an Assistant Lecturer at the University of Peradeniya, in Kandy, after graduation from the same University, in 2005, as an engineer.

Sri Lanka is unaware of the whereabouts of Thayaparajah and his family. Are they still in Tamil Nadu or did they manage to find their way to Australia, or some other developed country. Thayapararajah’s whereabouts remains unknown. The Foreign Ministry should seek India’s help to track down Thayapararajah and seek a statement to establish the circumstances under which he went underground. The previous government made a serious effort to conduct investigations into alleged cases of disappearances. The government failed to realize that a thorough investigation would, in fact, help Sri Lanka’s defence in Geneva.

The US and its allies, including India, can furnish data in respect of those Sri Lankans who had received citizenship in their territories, accommodated in refugee camps, or in prison, at least over the past six years, to identify persons categorized as missing. Now that the Rajapaksas are no longer at the helm, Western powers shouldn’t hesitate to help Sri Lanka to establish the truth. It is not a secret that some of those who had secretly left Sri Lanka, over the years, received new identities, courtesy foreign governments, in some instances with Sinhala names for Tamils and vise versa. A case in point is one-time JVP heavyweight and Front line Socialist Party (FSP) leader, Kumar Gunaratnam, receiving Australian citizenship with a new identity. Australia issued a passport bearing the name of Noel Mudalige. The Island dealt with Thayapararajah’s case on several occasions. Let me reproduce a story, authored by the writer, and carried in the front-page of The Island, on May 14, 2004. The news item was headlined ‘Man whose ‘disappearance’ evoked Blake’s interest found with suspect’ with strap-line ‘Indian help sought to recover money from woman human smuggler’

The story: "Several Tamils have sought Indian intervention to help recover their money from a female human smuggler, Thayapararajah Uthayakala, now in the custody of Tamil Nadu authorities, for illegal, entry during the first week of May, 2014.

In a letter to the Indian Consulate in Jaffna, a group of Tamils has called for tangible action to enable the group to recover money collected by Uthayakala, formerly married to an LTTE cadre, promising employment in the UK. The victims alleged that Uthayakala had duped them by taking them to VFS Global UK Visa Application Centre in Colombo, where they handed over visa applications.

Having assured that they would be found employment in the UK, Uthayakala had collected millions of rupees from unsuspecting people, over a three-month period, before demanding additional US $ 2,000 each to prove authorities at the Bandaranaike International Airport (BIA) that they were genuine travelers.

A senior Sri Lankan official, familiar with the ongoing investigation, told The Island that Uthayakala had no intention of at least accompanying them to BIA. Instead, after having taken them to Amala Guest House, in Negombo, Uthayakala had collected US $ 2000 each from would be travellers, to the UK, and left directing the victims to follow her to the BIA. They had no option but to leave the BIA disappointed as Uthayakala couldn’t be found there. Although they knew they had been duped nothing could be done as the whereabouts of Uthayakala wasn’t known.

The official said that Uthayakala would have easily disappeared to some Western country if she was not arrested by Tamil Nadu authorities for entering the country illegally. Still she could have escaped if she didn’t attract the attention of the media by alleging large scale atrocities committed by the Sri Lankan military. Had she simply claimed economic difficulties, the Indian media wouldn’t have bothered with her or others in her group. She was among ten Tamils, including five children who landed at Arichamunai off Dhanuskodi, in the early hours of May 5.

Asked whether the government would conduct an investigation into human smuggling racket, the official said that there was a need for a comprehensive investigation. He said: "Thanks to the Indian media, we are able to identify Uthayakala’s second husband, Kathiravel Thayapararajah (33), whose disappearance, in September, 2009, prompted a section of the media, as well as some international NGOs, to accuse Directorate of Military Intelligence (DMI), of executing him. No less a person than the then US Assistant Secretary of State for South Asian Affairs and one-time US Ambassador in Colombo, Robert O. Blake, inquired about the missing person."

The University Teachers for Human Rights (Jaffna), the Australian Government Refugee Review Tribunal, Tamilnet and the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, among others, blamed the Sri Lankan intelligence for the disappearance.

Well informed sources told The Island that Thayapararajah had been closely connected to the LTTE, though he wasn’t involved in actual fighting on the ground. Having graduated from the Peradeniya University, Thayapararajah had joined a project run by Vanni Tech in Kilinochchi with the financial backing of the US based Tamil Diaspora. The project launched in 2003, during the Ceasefire Agreement, brokered by Norway, was one of those operations, undertaken by the Diaspora, though Thayapararajah joined the organization in 2005.

Meanwhile, another person living in Colombo has written to the Indian High Commission requesting Uthayakala’s extradition to Colombo to face an inquiry over an alleged attempt to extort money from him."