By Malinda Seneviratne –
When Premakumar Gunaratnam and Dimuthu Attygalle went missing and later resurfaced, the issue of abductions and disappearances as well as the primacy of the law and related matters once again took centre stage. While some claim that ‘international pressure’ on human rights and civil society activism were instrumental in the two reappearing, it is inconceivable that the Government, if it was indeed involved in the incident, had not calculated the repercussions.
At the end of the day, the shadowy ex-JVPer was reduced to some kind of prankster suffering from delayed adolescence, the JVP was pushed against the periphery of public notice and Gunaratnam’s party left rudderless and discredited on account of being led by someone confused about his identity and suspected of being an agent of a foreign government. Yes, the Australian High Commission also suffered a bit of egg-on-face.
If Gunaratnam’s case is to crest the banner of human rights it would be tragic, not least of all because the current champions of the cause are severely compromised on account of a long history of thieving and pandering to the designs of terrorists and violators of the self same rights, the USA for example. The new found love for the likes of Gunaratnam makes a sad story because many of these HR champions were in the thick of a gunfight with the JVP in the eighties, and were hand in glove with the LTTE and now with its rump. Gunaratnam calling for ex-LTTE cadres to join him completes the picture. It is not about human rights, but petty power games.
Human rights games are pantomimes, but victims are not players, even if they are used and abused for bucks and power. As of now, over 15,000 people have been recorded ‘Missing’ since the eighties, the vast majority of them during the UNP-JVP-OLD LEFT Bheeshanaya of 1988-89. Complaints made to international organizations about those gone missing in the last phase of the war more or less corresponds to the figures generated by enumerations.
Now it is well known that many of the ‘missing’ have taken on new identities and migrated with the ancient sob-story of persecution and Gunaratnam’s story is just an iceberg-tip in this regard, i.e. the multiple-identity racket. Some of them are also guilty of making others go ‘missing’. Some of the ‘missing’ would have died wearing military fatigues. Mothers will weep for sons, widows for husbands and children for fathers, but public sympathy will not go to those who created gaping holes in the hearts, minds and lives of other mothers, wives and children whose loved ones were killed by these people who subsequently went missing themselves.
On the other hand, 99 killers going missing is not reason enough not to find out what happened to the 1 innocent whose whereabouts are unknown. The relations and loved ones of that person need to know and it is incumbent on the state to leave no stone unturned in finding out what happened.
A nation that comes through tragic times and in particular a bloody armed conflict can and does get over the losses collectively. This is what happened in 1971 and in 1988-89 and also the tsunami of 2004. Personal loss is different. Collective closure is not salve for personal wound. Individuals need to get on with their lives and full knowledge of what happened is a prerequisite for this.
This Government has proved time and again that it has the resources to track down dangerous criminals, including underworld figures and terrorists. It is no easy task to find out what happened to 15,000 people, especially 20 years after many of them went missing. It seems that the painstaking work has started, especially with the census exercises. The people, especially those affected, must have a way of knowing what’s being done.Transparency and access to information is the surest way of stopping rogue elements from making tall claims that feed nefarious machinations against Sri Lanka.
The long struggle against terrorism is over. No one should go ‘missing’ now and if anyone does, the government will stand indicted for complicity or inability. The law cannot take cover by saying ‘we don’t know what really happened’, as was the case with Gunaratnam and Attygalle.
Finding what happened to those who are ‘missing’ is something that society as a whole owes those members who suffered and continue to suffer. It is something that the state owes the citizenry. It is something that the LLRC has recommended. It’s not part of some NGO conspiracy or a coercive tool employed by pernicious international actors. It is part of our nationalism, if we are to be worthy of being called a nation.
‘Missing’ happens through action. And inaction. It is a scar on culture and civilization. It means ‘failure’ at several levels. It is unaffordable. (courtesy the nation Editor’s blog)