The Office on Missing Persons (OMP), which assisted the investigation into the human remains at the Mannar mass grave site, said that it would provide financial assistance to carry out carbon dating of the skeletal remains as part of its continued support to the investigation.
From December 18 to 20, the OMP observed the process of selecting six bone samples for radio carbon dating at the Mannar mass grave, located near the Sathosa Building in Mannar.
In a statement, the OMP said yesterday the samples from the Mannar mass grave site will be sent to a laboratory abroad which specializes in bomb pulse carbon-14 technique.
“In cases where the skeletons belonged to persons who died after World War II, bomb pulse carbon-14 dating can provide a narrower range of time periods in which the deaths occurred. Six samples were selected to represent the different areas and vertical layers of the site. Human remains had been excavated from the site as complete skeletons and as commingled bones. From complete skeletons, a tooth and a section of the femur bone was selected. From the commingled bones only the femur or where it was unavailable a tooth. The samples were extracted, cleaned, dried, sealed and labelled over the course of three days. Following the samples being tested at a laboratory and the results being submitted, a preliminary combined excavation report including the test results and other findings will be submitted by the investigation team to the Magistrate Court,” it said.
The process of selecting samples was carried out in the presence of Mannar Magistrate T. Saravanaraja. The team carrying out the sample selection included representatives from the Consultant Judicial Medical Officers, the Post Graduate Institute of Archaeology from the University of Kelaniya, the Police and the Government Analysts Department. OMP Commissioners Mr. Mirak Raheem and Mr. K. Venthan were present as observers. Lawyers representing families of the disappeared and a member from the Citizens’ Committee were also present as observers.
Consultant Judicial Medical Officer, District General Hospital Mannar, Dr. S. Rajapaksha said that after 118 working days they have unearthed 278 skeletons, which includes remains of men, women and children.
“There is some damage to the bones, but it is only upon further investigation that we can determine if these are ante-mortem or postmortem injuries, and whether it relates to the cause of death. Our task has been to gather evidence to determine the cause of death, time since death, the contributing circumstances and the specific identity of the individuals in this site, and also determine if all the skeletons are from the same historical period or different periods, while ensuring the integrity of the site and chain of custody of remains and other evidence.” Dr. Rajapaksha heads the investigation team and is assisted by Professor Raj Somadeva who leads the archaeological team.
Prior to the sampling process, the OMP recommended guidelines for selecting and recording the samples and the OMP recommended measures to secure the chain of custody of samples.
OMP Chairperson Saliya Pieris said the OMP remains committed to establishing the truth about circumstances in which persons went missing and their fate. “It is imperative for the OMP to assist the investigation of the remains excavated at the Mannar mass grave,” he said.
The OMP’s application to act as an observer was accepted by the Honourable Mannar Magistrate on 4th June 2018, and it has been observing the process of excavation since.
Since July 2018, the OMP has been supporting the costs of food and lodging of the excavation team and provided additional funds for covers to protect the grave site from the monsoon rain.
“We have sought to impress on the authorities the need to maintain high standards and ensure public confidence and trust in the investigation process,” Mr. Pieris said. (Lahiru Pothmulla)