By Nimal Vinayagamoorthy –
On the 30th of August 2020, marked as the UN International Day of the Disappeared, a group of Canadians determined to get Justice for the Disappeared Tamils started a long march of 424 kilometres. Their aim was to reach the capital city of Ottawa and to hand over a petition to the Canadian Prime Minister, Mr. Justin Trudeau, on the 14th of September 2020.
The civil war in Sri Lanka, seeking the right to self-determination, was fought for nearly three decades ending in a massive genocide of the Tamil people on the 18th of May 2009. The current President of the country was the then Defence Secretary and the present Prime Minister was the President. In the past eleven years since the ending of the genocide, there has not been a single case of a disappeared person returning home.
The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka, a documentary of Channel 4, clearly shows how thousands of Tamils suspected of links with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), were taken into custody by the Sri Lankan armed Forces and transported to undisclosed locations by buses and army trucks. The families of those taken as suspects are witnesses to the arrests and with a glimmer of hope await the return of those who surrendered.
For nearly four years the Mothers, sisters and wives of those disappeared people have been protesting against the government in the North and East seeking their safe return. The previous government which came to power promising accountability and justice as well as complying with the UN conventions on Human Rights, severely failed in its task to seek the truth on behalf of the human rights loving people around the world.
This government comprises of perpetrators of genocide and war criminals who have committed the most heinous crimes against humanity. The entire world knows that Sri Lanka is a land of impunity. As the world progresses towards a better civilization and increases the value for human rights, the International Community must promptly remember its promise to the Tamils to seek accountability.
As done in Sri Lanka’s peace talks in the 2000s, initiated by the international community with Norway’s lead, international governments and experts need to intervene to grant Tamils in Sri Lanka with their right to decide their political destination.
The 2006 International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, now ratified or signed by 107 States, has spurred growing awareness of this issue, an increase in legislation criminalizing the practice, and mechanisms for the search of those disappeared. But in many countries, there are still unfulfilled promises, and the passage of time does not erase the intense suffering and anguish of those who do not know what happened to their loved ones.
The pains of the members of the families of the disappeared cannot the expressed in words. The terrible space of uncertainty where grieving feels like a betrayal of loved ones who might still be alive. There is no body to bury, no corpse to confirm the death; maybe, just maybe, an abducted son or husband or mother could still be alive, held in a secret prison somewhere. That’s an idea that gives hope, but it’s also an awful thought, almost unbearable – the possibility that a loved one is enduring the semi-existence of life in a clandestine prison, surviving torture and starvation.
There have been many reports on torture camps brought out by the International Truth and Justice Project. They have listed out torture camps which are still operational and with no access to any human rights groups as they are in the high security zones controlled by the armed forces.
Sri Lanka has the dubious distinction of having the second highest numbers of enforced disappeared people after Iraq. In a civilised world there is no place for a nation that does not provide justice to its own people and treats the non-Sinhalese as unwanted people of the island.
Though the previous government set up the now defunct Office of the Missing Persons, nothing substantial came out from this effort, other than buying time for Sri Lanka at the UN.
Sri Lanka has dared to pull out of its commitment to the UN resolutions 30/1, which it had co-sponsored in October 2015 and UN resolution 40/1 of March 2019 seeking extension by a couple of years. It is notable that none of the UN member nations have advised or condemned Sri Lanka against this act.
By doing this Sri Lanka would join an elite group of countries including Israel and North Korea, not to comply with the UN resolutions, here the notable difference is Sri Lanka had co-sponsored the resolution and got enormous monetary benefits from the UN as well as the European Union.
As one the original sponsors of the UN Human Rights Council resolutions 19/2 of 22 March 2012, 22/1 of 21 March 2013 and 25/1 of 27 March 2014, it becomes the duty of Canada to seek justice on behalf of the Tamils who form one of the largest diaspora groups in the country.
Canada as the world knows is a peace loving, justice seeking democracy which has strong roots in supporting and promoting human rights around the world. It is time Canada becomes the torch bearer to seek accountability and Justice from Sri Lanka for the genocide of the Tamils.
The Walk for Justice is a reminder to wake up the hearts of those who respect human rights across the world. It is a walk to rekindle the hopes of millions of suppressed nationalities seeking the Right to Self Determination, it is a wake up walk to set right the problem of Enforced Disappearance, not only in Sri Lanka but also in Egypt, Pakistan, Turkey, Argentina, Chile etc.
It is also a walk to uphold democracy and seek Justice for people who seek freedom for their nationalities. It is a walk to give hope not just to the mothers, wives and sisters of the disappeared in Sri Lanka but across the globe. Sri Lanka needs to know that this denial of the genocide of Tamils cannot go on for long, all the like-minded people of Sri Lanka irrespective of their ethnic affiliation come out in the open and speak the truth. This menace of disappearance must disappear.
*The Author is a Member of the TGTE and seeks a peaceful political solution to the Tamil Right to Self Determination.