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Report: Law and War or War and Law?

April 7, 2009

The District of Vavuniya in a State of Lawlessness – Situation Report (August 2008)

By Sujith Xavier, B.A., LL.B., LL.M., Ph.D. Candidate

Osgoode Hall Law School, York University

Medawachchiya Check point

Welfare Centre - Sri Lanka



A recent visit to Vavuniya district (Vavuniya town, Vavuniya south, Vavuniya north and Cheddikulam) reveals troubling evidence of gross human rights violations. It is clear that the context is dire. The journey began in the early morning and by the time we reached Medawachiya some 5 hours later, we were officially ‘searched’ by the Police and Home Guards (now known as the Civil Defence Force1), on four different instances. In Medawachchiya, we registered at the train station with Police Officers and Home Guards (as requested we provided our destination address and home address). They ‘searched’ through our possessions rigorously, not even an elderly woman with a child of 5 years of age was spared. As no other means of transport were available, all travelers on their way to Vavuniya were forced to take a three wheeler to the bus station from the Medawachchiya train station (at a cost of approximately 200 Sri Lankan Rupees). At the ‘bus stand’, Special Task Force (STF) personnel searched our belongings again; while being searched, we noticed the presence of two youths, in civilian clothing, assisting the STF to identify potential risks. These ‘youths’ according to some members of our team were members of the paramilitary groups operating in the region; we could not ascertain the veracity of this claim. Moreover, on our return, we discovered that members of the Criminal Investigation Division (CID), a division of the Sri Lankan Police Force, were present in all of the train cars, traveling with the general populace. Upon our arrival in Colombo, the CID members helped the Sri Lankan Army officials identify potential suspects to spot check.


Among the mass of people waiting to pass through the Medawachiya checkpoint stood a woman carrying her young son along with three heavy bags. While waiting in the queue her son awoke and began to crying. Precariously, while carrying her belongings she comforted her child and awaited the compulsory checking that has become all too familiar.

A scar was visible on the child’s forehead, and it seemed as though the woman wastraveling back to her home after seeking treatment for her son. She reached the front of the line, placed her baggage on the table and the Home Guard, after removing almost the full contents of her three bags, left the items scattered on the table. Balancing her crying child the mother struggled to return her belongings back to her bags and walked towards the bus, one more checkpoint passed.


The full report is available for download here: Vavuniya Mission – Situation Report 2008 

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