By Sandya Ekneligoda –
Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of Prageeth Ekneligoda who involuntarily disappeared more than 1000 days ago, writes to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa and Opposition Leader and Leader of United National Party (UNP), Ranil Wickremesinghe, on behalf of the families of the disappeared in Sri Lanka, reminding them of the hardship faced by the families of the disappeared and urging action to bring about justice. The letter is also copied to S. Mahendran, Secretary, Committee for Investigating Disappearances, all Members of Parliament, Permanent Missions and the Media
This petition is being handed over to you a thousand (1000) days after the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda.
To be disappeared against one’s will, is among the most heinous crimes that can be committed against a human being. We, as families of the disappeared, face immense suffering and hardship due to the uncertainty and lack of information about the fate or whereabouts of our loved ones. Our suffering is prolonged and even more challenging than cases where there is information that family members’ have been killed or detained. We live in the belief that our loved ones are being held somewhere on this island and count the days, weeks and years for their return. For us, there is no closure.
The predicament we are left with can be seen in the case of Ranjan (name changed), who was abducted in September 2006 from Colombo and surfaced at a rehabilitation camp in Mannar this month (October, 2012). Nobody knows where he had been kept for the past six years. However, his case makes families of the disappeared, more convinced that our loved ones are still alive and are being held at secret State-run detention centres across the country.
Disappearances have been taking place in Sri Lanka for over 40 years and continue to be one of the most destructive elements in the current political system. An estimated 40,000 Sinhalese youth ‘disappeared’ during insurrectionist violence in other parts of the country, during 1980s and early ’90s. According to the official records, as of 1999, there were a total number of 26,877 disappearances in Sri Lanka. The current regime’s ‘counter-terror’ tactics can be best likened to the ‘Death Squads’ of the previous UNP government regime, active during the 1970s right through to the 1990s. State institutions including the police and the national human rights commission have failed to inquire into incidents and provide redress to victims/families. There has been no attempt to identity and prosecute those responsible for or these crimes. So far, there has been no accountability or justice for the victims of disappearances and their families through the years. There is no political will to prevent disappearances from taking place in the future.
Over 56 cases have been reported since October 2011 to March 2012 by the media alone. The government has verified 39 of these cases. Bishop of Mannar, Rev. Rayappu Joseph in a submission to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in 2011 placed the number of disappearances during the last phase of the war in 2009 at approximately 146,000.
These families must live in the hope that their cases will be investigated and their loved ones returned. Where the government fails, families rely on a strong local opposition, civil society and international intervention to pressure the government to take necessary action to combat disappearances and ensure justice to families. According to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, they have submitted 560 cases from Sri Lanka to the government between 2006 and 2011, including 126 requiring an urgent action procedure. Since its inception in 1980, the UN Working Group submitted 12,460 cases to Sri Lanka, out of which 5,671 remain outstanding. These statistics put Sri Lanka as the country with the second largest number of cases taken up by the UN body since its inception, with only Iraq having a worse record. However, there appears to be limited pressure on the government to investigate and ensure accountability in such cases.
An example of this can be seen in two statements made by former Attorney General, Mohan Peiris; once while leading the Sri Lankan delegation at the Committee Against Torture (CAT) in November 2011 when he stated that State intelligence officials had revealed that Prageeth Eknaligoda was residing in another country. Secondly in June 2012, seven months after the first statement, he stated that he has no information whether Eknaligoda was alive or not, and that the government does not know this either and that only God would know his whereabouts. Such an answer to any family of a disappeared person is unacceptable.
We believe that the combined force of the Executive President, Speaker of Parliament, Leader of the Opposition and the UN Secretary-General have the power to make deliberate progress in fighting disappearances and impunity in Sri Lanka. To this end, we appeal for your support to implement following recommendations by the Sri Lankan State:
* To facilitate a visit by the UN Working Group on Disappearances to Sri Lanka;
* To ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance;
* To implement the recommendations of the LLRC by appointing an independent commission to investigate disappearances in Sri Lanka;
* To ensure accountability for those subject to enforced disappearances by identifying and prosecuting those responsible and to provide information about all persons held in government detention and rehabilitation centres, and grant them access to their families.
* Provide support and livelihood assistance to families of the disappeared, particularly their children.
(Wife of disappeared journalist, Prageeth Ekneligoda)
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