- Karuna was accused over the deaths and abductions of many
- UN probe noted Karuna brought significant intelligence
- Abuses documented in HRW’s 2007 report
by Easwaran Rutnam
Vinayagamurthi Muralitharan alias Karuna Amman started off as a top leader of the LTTE. He then made headlines when he split from the LTTE and led the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pullikal (TMVP). Karuna later joined the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) and was a Deputy Minister in the Mahinda Rajapaksa government.
Today Karuna Amman is behind bars. He was arrested last week for allegedly having in his possession a government owned bullet-proof vehicle. The former Deputy Minister has appealed against the arrest and his case will be heard tomorrow.
While being investigated for the misuse of state resources, human rights organizations hope the authorities will investigate Karuna Amman for alleged human rights abuses.
Similar calls were made in the past but since Karuna Amman was working with the former regime, those calls fell in deaf ears.
Karuna Amman was accused over the deaths and abductions of many during the war, including when he was in the LTTE.
In 2013, Human Rights Watch had said that LTTE forces under Karuna’s command were directly involved in some of the worst crimes of Sri Lanka’s 26-year-long armed conflict, which ended in May 2009.
In June 1990, 400 to 600 police officers who had surrendered to LTTE forces, many of whom may have been under Karuna’s control, were bound, gagged, and beaten.
The LTTE then executed the Sinhalese and Muslim police officers among them. Karuna had admitted that the LTTE committed these killings in an interview with the BBC, but claimed he was not at the scene. Under the legal principle of command responsibility, though, Karuna could still be criminally liable for the massacre even if he was not physically present.
In another case, in July 1990, Karuna’s forces stopped a convoy of Muslims traveling in the Eastern Batticaloa district and executed about 75 people, including women and children. In August 1990, Karuna’s forces killed more than 200 civilians in two incidents in the Batticaloa district.
The LTTE widely recruited and used children as soldiers, which Human Rights Watch documented in a 2004 report, “Living in Fear: Child Soldiers and the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka.” Karuna’s forces played a prominent role, routinely visiting Tamil homes to tell parents to provide a child for “the movement.” The LTTE harassed and threatened families that resisted, and boys and girls were abducted from their homes at night or while walking to school.
After Karuna broke away from the LTTE, his forces continued to operate with the complicity of the Sri Lankan government security forces. The Karuna group, as it was known, abducted children for use as soldiers in Sri Lanka’s eastern districts, taking boys from their homes, work places, temples, playgrounds, public roads, camps for the internally displaced, and even weddings. These abuses are documented in Human Rights Watch’s 2007 report, “Complicit in Crime: State Collusion in Abductions and Child Recruitment by the Karuna Group.”
The Karuna group eventually joined forces with the military and helped push back the LTTE’s stronghold in the east. After that, Karuna entered politics. He was a member of parliament from 2008 till 2015 when the government changed.
A UN-led investigation, the report which was released last year, noted that Karuna Amman brought with him significant intelligence and military advantage when he left the LTTE.
The report said that the LTTE and the paramilitaries engaged in a campaign of targeted killings against each other, as well as abductions and attacks on civilians, the Karuna Group acting with apparent collusion with the government.
The UN investigations team gathered information indicating that the Karuna Group played a vital role in providing intelligence on the LTTE after the split, and allegedly became engaged in covert activities against the LTTE and those suspected of having links with LTTE, reportedly acting alongside, or on behalf of SLA, SLN and STF in particular.
Towards the end of the armed conflict, and in its immediate aftermath, Karuna Group members helped the security forces identify LTTE cadres who had laid down arms and were amongst the thousands of civilians leaving the Vanni. They also performed a similar role in IDP camps. Karuna himself was brought to the Nandikadal lagoon to make the initial identification of the corpse of LTTE leader Vellupillai Prabhakaran.
As with enforced disappearances, it was the emergence of the Karuna Group in the Eastern Province from April 2004, alongside other paramilitary groups such as the EPDP (which had been operating in the Northern Province for some time), which changed both the scale and the nature of unlawful killings, particularly in the Eastern and Northern Provinces.
In the East, following the Karuna split, observers noted a prevailing sense of fear among the civilian population as a result of the brutality of the killings, which had not been seen since prior to the ceasefire period in Sri Lanka.
The UN reported that the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings had also noted that “many people – notably Tamil and Muslim civilians – face a credible threat of death for exercising freedoms of expression, movement, association and participation in public affairs”.
The Karuna Group formed the Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal (TMVP) which was officially registered in 2007. The TMVP contested the Eastern Provincial Council elections in 2008, winning a majority.