The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has written to the President Maithripala Sirisena urging, particularly in his capacity as Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation, to ensure the right of families to engage in memorialisation activities and also the security of persons who engage in such activities.
We publish below the letter in full:
His Excellency Maithripala Sirisena
President of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
Memorialisation and Reconciliation
The Human Rights Commission has received a complaint from Rev. Fr. Elil Rajendran of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) Mullaitivu, who has been summoned numerous times by the police to be interrogated in relation to a memorialisation activity he had organised to remember those who lost their lives during the latter stages of the armed conflict. The memorialisation was to be established by carving the names of those who had died on stones to be placed at a permanent memorial in Mullaivaikkal, Mullaitivu.
On several occasions the police had summoned Fr. Elil to appear at different police stations (Mullaitivu and Vavuniya) for questioning about the event. The police had also sought and obtained a judicial injunction to prevent the event from taking place. Following the court order the police had summoned Fr. Elil and had requested him to submit all names that were to be carved on stones for memorialisation to ensure there were no names of LTTE cadres.
Fr. Elil complained to our Commission that repeated questioning by the police at police stations and at his residence on this ceremony constituted harassment and placed fetters on his freedom of movement, expression and association- rights which are enshrined in the Constitution of Sri Lanka. Further, the questioning of Fr. Rajendran’s elderly parents has caused them great distress and anxiety.
After a thirty year armed conflict Sri Lanka is at present attempting to rebuild ethnic relations and work towards reconciliation. In this process it is important that all communities have the space and ability to mourn the loss of their loved ones and remember them. Hence, memorialisation is an important and integral part of the reconciliation process. In Sri Lanka we have built many memorials to commemorate the soldiers who have lost their lives during the armed conflict. Likewise, all communities should have the right to construct memorials to remember their family members and loved ones. The fact that the person who died was a LTTE cadre should not be used as the reason to deny the family to mourn and remember their loved one. Every family has the right to remember and memorialise their loved ones irrespective of their status or political beliefs.
The Commission is of the view that allowing families the space to do so would enable them to feel they too have, and are able to exercise their rights as citizens of Sri Lanka, and are part of a common journey towards reconciliation. Denial of such an opportunity will only serve to deepen ethnic divisions and hamper reconciliation efforts.
In this spirit, the Commission requests Your Excellency, particularly in your capacity as Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation, to ensure the right of families to engage in memorialisation activities, and also the security of persons who engage in such activities.
We set out in the attached annex the chronology of events as provided to the Commission by Rev. Fr. Rajendran.
Dr. Deepika Udagama
Cc: Hon. Prime Minister
Hon. Minister of Law & Order
Hon. Minister of Co-existence, Dialogue and Official Languages
Chairperson, Office of National Unity and Reconciliation