Impunity Reigns in Sri Lanka: PEARL Report Examines Kumarapuram Massacre and Acquittals 20 Years Later

(Geneva, March 20, 2017) PEARL’s new report, Impunity Reigns in Sri Lanka: The Kumarapuram Massacre and Acquittals, provides an in-depth analysis of the Kumarapuram massacre case and, more broadly, examines barriers to credible prosecution of atrocity crimes in the Sri Lankan legal system. The massacre took place in 1996, when a group of soldiers from a military camp stormed the small Tamil village of Kumarapuram in the Trincomalee district and murdered 26 people, injuring 24 more. Twenty years later, in July 2016, an all-Sinhalese jury acquitted the six accused Sinhalese soldiers of over 600 charges, finding them innocent of these crimes.


The report details findings based on, among other things, interviews with victim-survivors from Kumarapuram and the lawyers who represented/assisted them; interviews with a broad cross-section of human rights lawyers in Sri Lanka; case documentation received from lawyers associated with the case; and a review of the Anuradhapura High Court judgment.


“While Sri Lanka continues to claim that it is capable of domestically prosecuting atrocity crimes without international involvement, the Kumarapuram case is an illustrative example of the many problems that make it incapable of credibly prosecuting these crimes,” noted Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, PEARL’s Human Rights Director. “These barriers are endemic to every stage of a domestic prosecution of atrocity crimes, particularly those committed by Sri Lankan state security forces against Tamil communities,” she added.


The obstacles to Sri Lanka’s successful prosecution of atrocity crimes, as demonstrated in the Kumarapuram case, include improper investigation and evidentiary issues; transfers of cases from Tamil areas, where the violations occurred, to predominantly Sinhala areas; intimidation and harassment of victims, witnesses and others involved in the case; the defendants’ right to choose a Sinhala-speaking jury trial; and lack of political will, politicization, and undue delays.


The victim-survivors’ anger at the outcome of the Kumarapuram massacre case is representative of the disenchantment justifiably and acutely shared by Tamils across the North-East in Sri Lanka. Resolution 30/1, adopted at the UN Human Rights Council in October 2015, included a provision for the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, and investigators in any accountability and justice mechanism precisely for these reasons. Successive Sri Lankan governments have demonstrated a lack of political will and ability to credibly prosecute systemic crimes against Tamils, a necessary prerequisite. to promoting confidence in an accountability mechanism.


For further information, please contact PEARL’s Advocacy Director, Mario Arulthas, at


The full report is available here.