15 Apr 2011

Sri Lanka: one man’s search for justice for his son

As the UN prepares to publish a report into atrocities committed in the Sri Lanka civil war, Channel 4 News hears the story of a man who has been fighting for justice since his son was killed in 2006.

Ragihar, Dr Manorharan's son who was killed in Sri Lanka (Amnesty International)

Independent groups believe that at least 20,000 civilians may have died in the period of appalling violence which dominated the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, as the Government’s security forces battled with the Tamil Tiger insurgents.

The UN is preparing a report into atrocities committed by both sides during the war in Sri Lanka, particularly in the final few months.

For many Sri Lankans, the wider picture of international law violations represent human tragedies, deaths and disappearances of family members, for which no one has ever been held to account.

Human tragedy

Dr Kasipillai Manoharan is a 70-year old doctor from Sri Lanka. He has been trying to get justice for his son’s murder – which he witnessed – for the last five years.

His son Ragihar was killed by security services in Sri Lanka in 2006. After a grenade blast, his son and four other students were shot.

I know I can’t get back to my son but I am now fighting for justice for all communities. Dr Manoharan

Dr Manoharan told Channel 4 News: “My son was killed by security forces. I lost my son. It was a really cruel murder. I know I can’t get back to my son but I am now fighting for justice for Tamils and for Sinhalese, for all communities.”

He has been trying to get justice for his son ever since an initial cover-up suggested that Ragihar died in the grenade blast. As Dr Manoharan has pictures of his son’s body, showing a gunshot wound, he challenged this.

“My family and I have dedicated our lives to this, to justice. After his murder we challenged the case and we all of us got threats. I thought for a time my life was finished.”

Read more in the Channel 4 News Special Report on the Sri Lanka war 

He was forced to leave the Sri Lanka, and has continued campaigning. He recently went with Amnesty International to present a petition with 50,000 signatures to the UN demanding an international inquiry.

“I hope to see an international inquiry for this case but not just for this case, for all the young, all the civilians dead. That is what I am fighting for, in my life. Every politician, journalist, figure I meet, I tell them I want a judgement for my case.

“He was not political, he was a good sportsman, a good boy. I lost him. That’s suffering. I want a judgement on this and I hope the UN will release their report – I have a right to see that report and so do all the civilians in Sri Lanka.”

Watch the Amnesty International Report into Dr Kasipillai Manoharan’s quest for justice and visit to the UN below.

Yolanda Foster, Sri Lanka expert at Amnesty International, who accompanied Dr Manoharan to New York, told Channel 4 News that his case was emblematic of many Sri Lankans.

“This is an example of an educated, middle class Tamil family who happened to live in the east. They had no political connections whatsoever and yet tragedy struck them. Their son was gunned down by security forces – the killing of an innocent boy.

“The case is emblematic of the impunity in Sri Lanka – even today security forces can get away with almost anything because the Government has taken no steps to hold individuals on either side to account.

“How this case relates to the gross abuses at the end of the war – we see a connection between Dr Manoharan’s son and this. No one has been held to account. During the war there were gross violationsby both sides – almost two years later there is still this culture of denial. Even today Government officials insist despite mounting evidence that they committed no violations during the conflict’s final months.”

Channel 4 News understands that the UN report could be published within the next 10 days. Campaigners hope it will be the first step towards justice and a judgement for Dr Manoharan, his family and the thousands like him in Sri Lanka.