Colombo Telegraph

A Question Of Hope: Holding On To The Final Straw Or Letting Go?

By D. Da Silva

‘We were on the run because of shelling while we were walking towards Puthukuddiruppu, one moment my husband was still next to me, the next moment I couldn’t see him because of all the smoke. I was not sure if he was injured by shelling but I knew that if I with my children would stop running that we would be the next victims.  I just prayed that he would be fine and once this all would be over, we would meet again’ until now her husband has not returned home, he is one of the 5,671[1] that is still missing.

Family members of disappeared Tamil people holding pictures of their relatives protest during the visit of U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, in Jaffna, Sri Lanka, Tuesday, Aug. 27, 2013. Pillay is in Sri Lanka for seven days during which she will meet government officials, human rights activists and travel the country’s former war zone where thousands of civilians were allegedly killed. Photo: AP

In the same week of the visit of Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, the Sri Lankan government was summoned by the Sri Lankan court to investigate the cases of 2,550 missing persons.  In response the additional magistrate Nirosha Fernando ordered the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) to launch a broad investigation into the disappearances of missing persons in North and East[2].

Over the past years there have been numerous of protests organized by families of missing persons to get attention from the international community to address this issue on higher levels. Since the government of Sri Lanka didn’t take any action to investigate these cases. Recently the actions taken against the protesters by either the CID or police are becoming more concerning. It remains fresh in the memories of many people that travelled all the way from Jaffna or Mullaitivu Town on the 6th of March, to participate in the protest in Colombo but were detained in Vavuniya by the police and were forced to stay overnight in Vavuniya on order of the military. Which later claimed that it had made the decision in the best interest of the protesters, it had not been safe for them to travel late night to Colombo since there was a risk of Sinhala retaliation against the protesters[3].

And again the army strikes, yesterday while Navi Pillay traveled from Jaffna to Mullaitivu through the A9 protesters, around 30 families[4], had gathered near the Paranthan (Kilinochchi) bus station to get her attention and address their individual cases of their missing family members. But before Navi Pillay arrived the families were chased out by the SLA army and ordered not to come back. Upon the arrival of Navi Pillay the junction was back under control of the SLA and there were no incidents.

In the meanwhile the Registration of Deaths, act no. 9 of 2010[5], which gave the families of missing persons the opportunity to obtain a death certificate and be eligible for compensation, will expire on the 10th of December 2013. Therefore government authorities are raising this issue among their districts to ensure that families file the case, they planned to put up banners in the areas to inform the people.  Which might lead to more families that are willing to file for death certificates because they are being pressured by the expire date of the ACT.

But there remains hope that their loved ones are being found either alive or death. On the 15th of August 17 bodies were found in a well in a recently released area in Vademarachchi East, Jaffna. Upon return families reported to a local newspaper, that they found death bodies in their well. The incident was reported to the police and army and the army had strongly requested the owners not to share this information in order to keep the incident silent. At least 17 families will now know that their loved one passed away and this will give them the opportunity to grieve and have peace with it.

When a loved one goes missing and there is no evidence of their death, there is still hope left that this person will return home one day. If your husband went missing in 1997 when he went for a quick visit to the barbershop and his name one day suddenly appears on the list of people being in custody. And even though you travelled all the way to BuZa Colombo to find out that he is not registered there, you still have hope because his name was on one of the lists of people that are still a life but kept in custody. By registering the death of their family member might indicate that you gave up on maybe your husband or daughter and ones you filled for registration there is no way back, there is no hope anymore that they are being kept in a rehabilitation camp or at BuZa. Therefore still thousands of families are not ready to register the deaths of their loved ones because they don’t want to give up hope on that small chance that their loved ones will return back home, one day.

[1] According to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) of the UN Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights



[4] According to Tamilnet:


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