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ISSN: 2572-0899
Global Journal of Nursing & Forensic Studies
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Comparison of Deaths due to Lethal Weapons During and After Civil Strife in Sri Lanka: A Medico-legal Analysis

Vidanapathirana M1*, Dasanayake PB2, Ilangarathne Banda YMG3, Vadysinghe A4, Ratnaweera RHAI5 and Siddhisena KAP6

1Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka

2Judicial Medical Officer, Base Hospital, Panadura, Sri Lanka

3Judicial Medical Officer, Base Hospital, Kuliyapitiya Sri Lanka

4Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka

5Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Ruhuna, Sri Lanka

6Department of Demography, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka

*Corresponding Author:
Vidanapathirana M
Department of Forensic Medicine, Faculty of Medical Sciences
University of Sri Jayewardenepura, Sri Lanka
Tel: 0094772988227
Fax: 0094112801480
E-mail: [email protected]

Received Date: November 14, 2015; Accepted Date: January 12, 2016; Published Date: January 20, 2016

Citation: Vidanapathirana M, Dasanayake PB, Ilangarathne Banda YMG, Vadysinghe A, Ratnaweera RHAI, et al. (2016) Comparison of Deaths due to Lethal Weapons During and After Civil Strife in Sri Lanka: A Medico-legal Analysis. Glob J Nurs Forensic Stud 1: 101. doi: 10.4172/2572-0899.1000101

Copyright: © 2016 Vidanapathirana M, et al. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

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Abstract

The death due to lethal weapons is a growing concerned issue in Sri Lanka. The objective of the study was to examine and compare the deaths caused by lethal weapons during and after civil strife. A cross-sectional study was conducted on deaths caused by lethal weapons over 10 years from May 2004 to May 2014. Periods before and after 19th of May 2009 were considered as cut off point for “during” and “after” civil strife. A total of 3,100 Post-mortem reports were perused and 198 (6.3%) deaths due to lethal weapons were found and of them, 55% were during and 45% were after civil strife. Among them, 84% males, 68% married and 61% were unemployed. Deaths occurred outside home (55% of during and 70% of after), due to multiple assaults (74% of during and 57% of after) on head (40% of during and 25% of after), with sharp weapons (59% of during and 74% of after), and these differences were statistically significant at p<0.05. The presence of many similarities indicated that both groups learnt basis in a society that breeds violence. After civil strife, deaths had a higher chance to occur outside homes with sharp weapons due to assault on chest and neck. It is better to review the number of existing firearms and explosives and provide the permission only for those who need. Non-explosive lethal weapon use after the civil strife needs to be further investigated in order to develop evidence based interventions.

Keywords

Lethal weapons; Deaths: During and after the civil strife; Injuries

Introduction

Deaths due to lethal weapons increased during civil strife in Sri Lanka. The three decade old Sri Lankan civil strife killed about 80,000- 100,000 people between 1982 and 2009 [1]. Lethal weapons are specially designed instruments for offensive or defensive purposes, capable of producing great bodily harm or death from the manner it is used or intended to be used, such as knife, sword, gun, pistol, bombs or the like [2]. These are used in communal, military and terrorist attacks. Explosive lethal weapons are usually used in military or terrorist attacks. In community violence, mostly non-explosive lethal weapons are used.

According to the law of Sri Lanka, lethal weapons are the weapons that are listed under the “Knives ordinance of Sri Lanka” [3], “Firearm act of Sri Lanka” [4] and “Offensive weapons act of Sri Lanka” [5]. Sri Lanka suffered from civil strife for more than 30 years until it was defeated on 19th of May 2009. Though a significant reduction of crimes is expected after the cessation of the civil strife, still there are deaths due to lethal weapons reported every now and then. This may be due to the availability of lethal weapons even after the civil strife. As revealed from the literature, the government as well as LTTE have used explosive and non-explosive lethal weapons during the period of civil strife [1]. Further, these lethal weapons were smuggled by members of ‘under-world’ and flourished among members in the community. In addition, this leads to promote ‘contract murders by unknown m en’ in the community using such lethal weapons. The authorities apparently have realized the need to detect and destroy lethal weapons hidden in Colombo and its outskirts. Even after cessation of the civil strife, Sri Lanka is facing the consequences of the availability of such weapons in the community. Therefore, media reports that a wave of fatal crimes continuously occur in Sri Lanka despite the cessation of the civil strife. Thus the problem of using lethal weapons has emerged as a subject of public discussion in recent past. Thy main issue of this study was to examine to what extent the lethal weapons used during the war and how many deaths occurred due to lethal weapon injuries. For the comparison purposes, this study considered the deaths due to lethal weapons that occurred during and after the civil strife.

Therefore, this study was conducted to describe the nature and characteristics of deaths caused by lethal weapons during civil strife period and to compare those with the deaths that occurred after civil strife.

Methods

A descriptive cross-sectional study was conducted on deaths caused by lethal weapons over 10 years from May 2004 to May 2014 in identified tertiary care hospitals in Colombo, Gampaha, Galle, Kalutara, and Kandy. A total of 3,100 Post-mortem reports (PMRs) and medico-legal documents of five Forensic Medical Officers were perused to identify the deaths due to lethal weapons. Data were collected by the authors to a data collection form.

The five year period from 19th May 2004 to 19th May 2009 was considered as during civil strife and the five year period from 20th May 2009 to 19th May 2014 was considered as after civil strife period.

Sharp weapons, firearms and explosive weapons were considered as lethal weapons. The lethal weapons were also classified as “sharp weapons” or “other weapons” (firearms and explosive weapons).

The incidents that occurred in municipal and urban council areas were considered as urban and others were considered as rural. The location of the incident was classified as home or outside. The time of the incident was classified as day (06 am - 06 pm) or night (06 pm - 06 am).

In this study, the perpetrators were classified as known (relatives and known non-relatives) and unknown. Number of assaults using the lethal weapons was classified as single or multiple assaults (2, 3, 4, 5 or more than 5). The number of different types of lethal weapons used in each incident were classified as single or multiple types of weapons (2, 3 or more than 3). The site of most severe injury due to lethal weapon/s was classified as head or “other areas” (neck, chest, abdomen, back, limbs).

Unclaimed putrefied bodies of deaths due to lethal weapon injuries were excluded from the study. Permission from relevant heads of departments was obtained prior to the study.

SPSS software package 22 was used in the analysis of data. Chisquare tests were performed in bi-variate analysis and p-values<0.05 were considered as level of statistically significant.

Results

There were 198 (6.3%) deaths occurred by lethal weapons over the ten years period from May 2004 to May 2014. Of those deaths, 55% (n=109) were during and 45% (n=89) were after civil strife.

The age of the deceased ranged from 17-88 years with the mean of 38 years and SD 13.7 years (mean ± SD). Moreover, thirty four per cent of victims (34%; n=67) belonged to 30-39 years group; out of them 69% (n= 46) during and 31% (n=21) after civil strife.

The socio-economic and demographic features of the deceased such as sex, employment, ethnicity and marital status during and after civil strife and their associations are shown in Table 1.

    During (N=109)% (n) After (N=89)% (n) Total(N=198)% (n) P value
Sex Male 83(90) 85 (76) 84 (166) 0.591>0.05
  Female 17 (19) 15 (13) 16 (32)  
Race Sinhala 87 (95) 93 (83) 90 (178) 0.156>0.05
  Non-Sinhala 13 (14) 07 (06) 10 (20)  
Marital status Married   69 (75) 67 (60) 68 (135) 0.834>0.05
  Unmarried 31(34) 33 (29) 32 (63)  
Employment Employed 41 (45) 37 (33) 39 (78) 0.547>0.05
  Unemployed 59 (64) 63 (56) 62 (120)  

Table 1: Features of the deceased in during and after civil strife periods and their associations.

As seen in Table 1, 84% (n=166) of the deceased were males; out of them 83 percent (n=90) were during and 85 percent (n=76) were after civil strife.

According to Table 1, among the deceased, the majority (90% or n=178) were Sinhalese and the remaining non-Sinhalese were comprised of 8% (n=15) Tamils, 2% (n=04) Moors and one Malay. Sinhalese were found 87% (n=95) during and 93% (n=89) after civil strife.

It is conspicuous that 68% (n=135) of the deceased were married whilst out of them 69% (n=75) during and 67% (n= 60) after civil strife.

Sixty one percent (61%; n=120) of the deceased were unemployed whilst out of them 59% (n=64) were during and 63% (n=56) were after civil strife (Table 1).

Features of the vicinity of the occurrence such as place and time of occurrence of deaths during and after civil strife and their association are shown in Table 2.

    During (N=109)% (n) After (N=89)% (n) Total (N=198)% (n) P value
Place At home 45 (49) 30 (27) 38 (76) 0.035<0.05
  Outside 55 (60) 70 (62) 62 (122)  
Time Day time  51 (56) 53 (47) 52 (103) 0.841>0.01
  Night time 49 (53) 47 (42) 48 (955)  

Table 2: Features of the vicinity and Time of occurrence of deaths during and after civil strife and their associations.

As shown in Table 2, regarding the place of occurrence of deaths, 38% (n=76) occurred at home and the rest at outside. Further, of home incidents, 45% (n=49) occurred during and 30% (n=27) after civil strife. In contrast, fifty five percent of during and 70% of after civil strife deaths occurred outside home and this difference was significant (χ2=4.426, p=0.035<0.05). This depicts that there is a higher chance of getting lethal weapon deaths outside home than that of home in both during and after civil strife. This shows that there is more hazard incidence occurred outside home.

When the time of occurrence of deaths is considered, fifty two percent (52%; n=103) occurred at daytime and the rest at night. Out of the incidents that happened during daytime 51% (n=56) occurred during and 53% (n=47) after civil strife (Table 2).

There was a significant difference between the deaths occurred in urban and rural. The majority of death incidents (91%; n=180) occurred in rural areas. Moreover, out of those incidents, 95% (104) during and 85% (n=76) after civil strife (Figure 1). Contradictory, in the case of urban areas the most deaths occurred (15% out of 20%) after civil strife. Thus this urban rural difference was statistically significant at 95 percent confidence interval (χ2=5.952, p=0.015<0.05). This depicts that the number of incidents in both during and after civil strife are clearly discerned in rural areas (Figure 1).

nutrition-food-sciences-death-occurrence

Figure 1: Death occurrence by rural or urban.

The characteristics of assault such as perpetrator, weapon, number of weapons and number of assaults during and after civil strife and their associations (Table 3).

    During (N=109) % (n) After (N=89) % (n) Total (N=198) % (n) P value
Perpetrator Known 69 (75) 75 (67) 72 (142) 0.314>0.01
  Unknown 31 (34) 25 (22) 28 (56)  
Weapon  Sharp 59 (64) 74 (66) 66 (130) 0.023<0.05
  Other  41 (45) 26 (23) 34 (68)  
Num. weapons  Single 94 (102) 91 (81) 92 (183) 0.497>0.05
   Multiple 06 (07) 09 (08) 08 (15)  
Num. assaults  Single  26 (28) 43 (38) 33 (66) 0.012<0.05
   Multiple 74 (81) 57 (51) 68 (132)  

Table 3: Features of assault during and after civil strife and their associations.

Types of perpetrators were relatives (16%; n=32), non-relatives (51%; n=101), self-inflicted (5%; n=09) and unknown (28%; n=56). According to Table 3, perpetrators were classified as known (72% ; n=142) (relatives, non-relatives and self-inflicted) and rest unknown (28%; n=56). Out of unknown perpetrators, 31% (n=34) were during and 25% (n=22) after civil strife.

The types of lethal weapons were sharp, explosives and firearms. As shown in Table 3, 66% (n=130) were assaulted with sharp weapons (light sharp weapons or heavy sharp weapons). Of the total sharp weapons, 86% (n=112) were light sharp weapons such as knives and the rest were heavy sharp weapons (n=18) such as Ketta, manna and sword. The remaining 34% deaths due to “other weapons”, 29% (n=57) were firearms (50 rifles, five shotguns, two homemade “Gul Katas”); the remaining 5% (n=11) were explosives (seven high explosive and the remaining four were low explosive weapons).

Out of 11 explosive weapon deaths, during civil strife seven (all were high explosive weapon deaths; 6 grenades and one booby trap) and after civil strife four (all low explosive weapon deaths; three Hakka Patas and one homemade bomb).

After civil strife, out of 23 deaths due to “other weapons”, 19 were firearm deaths and the remaining four deaths were due to explosive weapons. Fifty nine percent of during and 74% of after civil strife deaths occurred due to sharp weapons and this difference was significant (χ2=5.181, p=0.023<0.05) (Table 3). This indicates that after civil strife, sharp weapons were more commonly used than firearms and blasts for homicides.

Number of lethal weapons used in each incident was one, two or three. In 92% (n=183) of incidents of deaths, one lethal weapon was used (during 94% and after 91%) (Table 3). The remaining deaths were caused by multiple weapons and in 6% (n=12) of incidents two lethal weapons were used whilst remaining three incidents, three lethal weapons were used.

Number of assaults using the lethal weapons was classified as single or multiple assaults (2, 3, 4, 5 or more than 5). Thirty three (33%; n=68) were assaulted only once (during 42% and after 58%) (Table 3) whilst noticeably 37% (n=74) were assaulted more than 5 times (during 64% and after 36%). As shown in Table 3, 68% (n=132) were assaulted multiple times. Seventy four percent of during and 57% of after civil strife were assaulted multiple times and this difference was statistically significant (χ2=6.378, p=0.012<0.05). This indicates that after civil strife, multiple assaults were more commonly used than single assaults in deaths due to lethal weapons.

Table 4 clearly shows the features of the injuries such as site, number of injuries and type of injuries during and after civil strife and their associations.

    During  (N=109) % (n) After (N=89) % (n) Total (N=198) % (n) P value
Site Head 40 (44) 25 (22) 33 (66) 0.020<0.05
  Other areas 60 (65) 75 (67) 67 (132)  
Num. of inj. One 15 (16) 27 (24) 20 (40) 0.032<0.05
  Multiple 85 (93) 73 (65) 80 (158)  
Type of inj. Sharp force    59 (64) 74 (66) 66 (130) 0.023<0.05
  Other inj. 41 (45) 26 (23) 34 (68)  

Table 4: Features of the injuries sustained during and after civil strife and their associations.

When the site of the most severe injury on the body was considered, the most common site was the head (32%; n=64) (Table 4), followed by chest (31%; n=61), neck (22%; n=44), abdomen 10% (n=19) and the remaining injuries were in limbs (5%; n=10). Head injuries were found in 40% (n=44) of deaths during and 25% (n=22) of deaths after civil strife and this difference was statistically significant (χ2=5.399, p=0.020<0.05). During civil strife, head of the body had a higher chance of getting injured.

Number of injuries sustained was single or multiple (2, 3, 4, 5 or more than 5). Out of multiple injuries 54% (n=106) had more than 5 injuries. Twenty percent (20%; n=40) had single injury; during 15% and after 27%. It is noticeable that after civil strife there were more deaths due to single injuries (Table 4). Eighty five percent of during and 73% of after civil strife victims sustained multiple injuries and this difference was significant (χ2=4.589, p=0.032<0.05). During civil strife, there was a higher chance of getting multiple injuries.

When the types of most severe injury was considered, majority were cut injuries (40%; n=80), then firearm (28%; n=55), stabs (26%; n=50), blast injuries (4%; n=08) and lacerations (2%; n=05). According to Table 4, sharp force injuries (cuts and stab injuries together) were found in 66% (n=130); during 59% and after civil strife 74% and this difference was significant (χ2=5.181, p=0.023<0.05). After civil strife, victims had a higher chance of death due to sharp force injuries.

There was no significant difference in sex, race, marital status, employment, time of occurrence and type of perpetrator (p>0.05).

Discussion

Deaths due to lethal weapons such as explosives and firearms are common with underworld and terrorist activities [6]. In Sri Lanka, such activities were reduced with the cessation of civil strife in May 2009.

In this study, it was revealed that there were not only similarities but also significant differences in deaths due to lethal weapons during and after civil strife. Deaths occurred in rural areas during as well as after civil strife. Deaths due to firearms and explosives were more during civil strife. After civil strife, there was a significantly higher chance of deaths outside home due to sharp weapons.

According to the “Sri Lanka Police grave crime abstracts” for the year 2011, the total homicides were 707 [7]. In this study, an average of 20 cases reported per year and it is about 0.3% of the national prevalence.

The prevalence of lethal weapon injuries among all reported cases was 6.3%; deaths during were more common (55%) than after civil strife (45%). Firearm and explosive deaths have been reduced significantly (p=0.023<0.05) from 41% to 26% during post-war period.

Deaths of during and after civil strife were similar in many ways: it was found that the victims were males of 30-39 years, unemployed and married; assaults were carried out in rural areas (91%), outside home (62%), by a known person (72%), with sharp (66%), one lethal weapon (92%), for multiple times (68%); The most common lethal weapon was light sharp weapons (57%) such as knives. The similarities in both groups can be interpreted as an indication that both groups took their basis in a society that breeds violence.

According to Athukorala and Jayasuriya, the job opportunities have been increased after the war [8], however, in this study, most of the deceased by lethal weapons were unemployed.

After civil strife, there was a higher chance of dying outside home (70%) when compared with civil strife period (p=0.035<0.05). During civil strife period, people were afraid to move about freely. The LTTE’s military defeat in May 2009 was a pivotal event in Sri Lanka’s history. Consequently, it lifted the veil of fear that hung over daily life and impacted each and every Sri Lankan over three decades [9]. Therefore, after civil strife, people have more outdoor engagements and had significantly more chance of getting killed outside home. Contrary to a study done by Vidanapathirana et al. [10], though sexual assaults against male victims were more at home after terrorism, in this study, the deaths due to lethal weapons were more common outside home.

During and immediately after the civil strife, there was a cleansing of the underworld in Sri Lanka [11] and the number of attacks by unknown perpetrators of underworld or terrorist groups have been reduced or almost zero. Therefore, after civil strife, the perpetrator is more commonly known. Similar to the Sri Lanka police grave crime abstract for the year 2011 [7], the type of most common weapon used after civil strife was sharp weapons (66%).

It is known that the people in rural areas use to carry a knife in their possession but why was the number of deaths due to sharp force weapons more during post-civil strife period (p=0.023<0.05)? According to Handbook of Drug Abuse Information 2011, issued by the National Dangerous Drugs Control Board, alcohol consumption has increased from 67.1 million litres in 2006 to 75.2 million litres in 2010 [12]. Therefore, there is remarkable increase in consumption of alcohol during post-civil strife period in Sri Lanka. This also may have contributed for sharper weapon deaths after civil strife.

During civil strife period, prevalence of terrorist or under world activities were more and approximately 30,000 military personnel lost their lives, more than 25,000 became disabled and many thousands of civilians perished at its hands due to injuries of lethal weapons [10]. Similarly, in this study, deaths due to “other weapons” such as firearm and explosive weapons were more common during civil strife, than after civil strife.

During civil strife, it was anticipated that even the security personal used their official weapon to kill others. In one incident, a home guard killed four of his family members with his official firearm over a family dispute. One soldier killed himself due to a grenade blast while attempting to kill his wife.

It was remarkable to see 26% (n=23) “other weapon” deaths such as firearms (n=19) and explosives (n=4) after civil strife. Even after civil strife and cleansing of the underworld groups, it is notable that there were 19 deaths due to firearm injuries. Out of those, 50% (n=10) were custody deaths; seven in prison even when the security forces retaliate armed prisoners, in another incident one prisoner was shot dead by the prison officers while he was escaping and two occurred while in police custody; one robber was shot while trying to escape and another robber was killed during a counter fire. Another firearm death was due to trap gun injuries to abdomen resulting peritonitis.

During post-civil strife period, there were no deaths due to high explosives weapons such as booby traps or grenades, but there were three low explosive deaths due to “Hakka Patas” and one homemade bomb. They are produced by primary explosive material available in fire crackers and cause pressure sensitive blasts [13]. One of them was an accidental death due to falling off of a “Hakka patas” from the “Atuwa”, while she was cooking and the other two were reported as homicides. Even though they are used to kill animals [14], sometimes, they are used for homicide purposes.

Majority was assaulted with one lethal weapon and none of the incidents had involvement of more than three lethal weapons. Since most murders were done single handedly, it is conspicuous that in majority of incidents, a single weapon was used. In gang murders, obviously less in number, tend to use multiple weapons. In one gang murder, although the police gave a history of shot gun injuries, there were both shot gun and riffled firearm injuries.

Majority of the deceased received multiple assaults. Further, multiple assaults were more commonly used during than after civil strife. This should be related to the significantly higher use of firearm and explosive weapons during civil strife period and it is obvious that when the firearms are used, people tend to fire multiple times.

When considering the site of the most severe injury, 85% were found in vital organs such as head (32%), chest (31%) and neck (22%). That indicates the higher degree of intention of the perpetrator to kill. During civil strife, head had a higher chance of getting injured than “other areas” of the body (p=0.020<0.05) and this could have been due to more availability of firearms which usually target the head, whereas, post-war dominant sharp weapons usually target the chest in the manner of stabbing or the neck in the manner of cutting.

Chest and neck been the target sites of cutting/stabbing with sharp weapons, during post-civil strife period, due to abundance of sharp weapon use, the “other areas” such as chest and neck had a higher chance of getting injured (p=0.020<0.05).

After civil strife, less number of deaths sustained multiple injuries (73%) when compared to the civil strife period (85%) (p=0.032<0.05) and this may have been due to significantly more use of non-mechanical, non-automatic, less sophisticated group of lethal weapons such as sharp weapons.

Among deaths due to lethal weapons, the most common type of injury was sharp force injuries (66%) while the most common injury was cuts (40%). Among post-war deaths, there was a higher chance of getting sharp force injuries than “other injuries” such as firearm or explosive injuries (p=0.023<0.05). This could have been due to reduction or non-availability of illegal explosive or firearm weapons during post-war period in Sri Lanka.

Conclusion

The presence of many similarities indicated that both groups learnt the basis in a society that breeds violence. During civil strife period, more deaths occurred inside homes in rural areas with “other weapons” such as firearms or explosive weapons to the head causing multiple injuries. After civil strife, deaths had a higher chance to occur outside homes with sharp weapons to “other areas” such as chest, neck etc. These differences of occurrence were mostly statistically significant at 95% confidence level.

The above findings lead to formulate better policies in future to manage the occurrence of deaths due to lethal weapons in Sri Lanka. It is better to review the number of existing firearms and explosives and provide the permission only for those who need. Non-explosive lethal weapon use in post-civil strife period needs to be further investigated in order to develop evidence based interventions.

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