Amnesty International UK today expressed disappointment that despite six months of investigation, the United Kingdom authorities have not been able to amass sufficient evidence to determine whether it is possible to mount a successful prosecution of a Sri Lankan commander suspected of torture, hostage taking and war crimes. Vinavaamoorthi Muraliitharan, commonly known as Colonel Karuna, is suspected of abducting hundreds of teenagers to serve as child soldiers, and of having tortured, taken as hostage and killed hundreds of civilians in Sri Lanka.
Colonel Karuna was a prominent leader of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed opposition group fighting for an independent Tamil homeland in Sri Lanka. He left the LTTE to set up his own splinter group, the Tamileel Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal, or People’s Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (TMVP), which also has a political wing. Since March 2004, the group appears to have been operating with the support of the Sri Lankan Army to challenge the LTTE in eastern Sri Lanka.
Colonel Karuna was residing in the United Kingdom when he was taken into custody by British authorities in November last year on charges of immigration offences.
According to reports, Colonel Karuna was released from prison and transferred to an immigration detention centre late last night pending possible deportation.
Under international law, the UK must conduct prompt, thorough, independent and impartial investigations of allegations of torture, hostage taking and war crimes, including child recruitment and the use of child soldiers.
However, Amnesty International understands that the fact that the UK does have jurisdiction over war crimes and crimes against humanity was not made clear to victims and prospective witnesses.
Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said:
‘The police and the Crown Prosecution Service must make every effort to encourage anyone with information about any such crimes to come forward with evidence, by providing them with effective guarantees of their security.
‘Without such assurances witnesses may be reluctant to relay information about alleged crimes that the UK authorities are obliged to investigate.’
Colonel Karuna, like anyone suspected of a criminal offence, is entitled to be presumed innocent, until and unless his guilt can be proved beyond reasonable doubt in a fair trial. However, the organisation is aware of numerous allegations against him that merit thorough investigation.
Amnesty International urges the authorities to investigate thoroughly, promptly, impartially and independently all allegations of crimes committed by Colonel Karuna and his forces including:
· Torture committed after March 2004 when Colonel Karuna is believed to have allied himself with the state armed forces
· Hostage taking committed after 1988, including when he was a member of the LTTE
· War crimes and crimes against humanity including child recruitment.