It was the army that woke me on the 5th September 1990 and with it unfortunately they have taken away my sleep for 33 years. 158 persons they took/arrested from the Eastern University Refugee camp at Vantharumoolai, aged between 11 and 56 are still to be seen or acknowledged. Of the complainants of the missing 46 are no more and the others would become missing exponentially as their age catches on them. It will be the next generations that are going to tell the tale and make the cases of their missed generation to the politicos of the next generation or beyond. These are just facts but the sufferings undergone by each family is beyond description.
I know of families where the kid had not seen the father; suffered economically as the breadwinner had been lost; families who had been displaced subsequently; many who had spent large sums of money in search of their missing in any and every possible way from horoscope to visit to various sites in the country. Some had managed to slowly come above but many suffer in silence crying at nights to show a better face tomorrow. Painful compromises. The financial downfall in the country and associated issues have doubled their stress as they walk dead. It seems that they have gone missing from the screen of the government except to highlight at times that they care. The 2000+ day protest in Jaffna ignored by the state is a vivid example.
Many institutions and establishment had been formulated or assigned to look at some of the issues mainly to satisfy the larger world outside and its agencies. These include Office on Missing Persons (OMP), Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR), the proposed National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) and Office for Reparation (OR)
OMP officials come often when the politics so wishes, but had not seen to make a sincere impact. I reported all those officers from the Army who came to the refugee camp to the first Presidential Commission on Missing people of the Eastern Province and submitted all the documents we had from the camp meticulously recorded by the undergrads who remained in the camp as refugees. It is unfortunate that the records of the past are ignored and the new commissions seek for new information and report from the relatives of the missing. A clear indication of the ‘missing syndrome’ of the state is where information goes missing and also the case. Perhaps the files will close when the reported 158 are no more, as 46 have ‘gone’ already from the first group of reporting persons. I cannot understand why the data from the previous commissions are not processed and relief provided as appropriate, if any. May be after all it is just an exercise to please someone.
OR (Office for Reparation)
Reparations have been another issue that has been related to the missing persons and those affected but not associated to loss of a life in the process. People who lost lives were given Rs 50,000 initially and also the death certificate after a year for formalities sake. However later this was made into a certificate of missing but had the value of a death certificate for transactions. There were any thousands in the camp and we had given a document to the commission from the 10,000 families that sought refuge at the VRC (Vanthrumoolai Refugee Camp). I have not seen or known of any processing. The state had through various other means provided a maximum of Rs. 150,000 for housing damages/lost to the state sector employees and a compensatory loan for industries with a maximum of Rs 3 million. I was entitled to both but had taken only the first. I did not take the loan for the Cinema my father had put up, but the hassle I went through to get approval to prove that Cinema is an industry was an uphill task. Our Cinema was burnt, our house was vandalized fully, which had almost 8000 sq ft in area on both floors. In recent years it is reported, that tens and hundreds of millions of rupees had been doled out to politicians and assisted persons for loss of housing/houses burnt associated with ARAGALAYA. It remains a query whether both are citizens of the same country? In a time of economic collapse handing over millions (10-200) may not be seen as right by many, but true. Those from our list will have to await another century or the ‘system change’ for any relief. I myself feel that I must make an application to the Human Right Commission for inequality in compensation for loss of house through riots.
National Unity and Reconciliation Commission (NURC) and ONUR
Beginning as Truth and Reconciliation Commission it had been transformed to National Unity and Reconciliation Commission. Th loss of TRUTH seems significant as many were reluctant with the word and associated it directly to the possible punitive measures that may follow the truth. Though some aspects of truth seeking is in the document the loss f the word in the title seems significant. I am not certain how this would differ from ONUR (Office for National Unity and Reconciliation) except the fact that one is a commission and the other an office. It is yet to really find out how these are going to function given the political climate in the country.
Closer to elections there always tends to be ethnic and religious difference being highlighted. The recent phenomena have been the Buddhist statues /temples that are spreading across the country specially the North East. More and more archaeological monuments/sites that are discovered mostly related to Sinhala and Buddhist heritage. This is often followed by the tussle between communities, ministry spokesperson and at time the judiciary where even judiciary has been referred to as madmen by some parliamentarian. Those who have sought for the truth since long may have to await much longer periods for the truth if they so desire, which may be a long way off.
Reconciliation seems a long way from home. Recently on the 13th amendment the President stated ‘that it is part of the constitution and there is no need to talk about it but implement as a part’, later it became that there needs parliamentary concurrence and then later many fronts speak of various aspects.
Singapore elected a President of Tamil origin, Britain a Prime Minister of Indian origin, Americans have a Tamil contesting Presidential election. Already many Indians are in powerful positions. But will it happen in Sri Lanka? KW Devanayagam who should have been or could have been the PM gave way to Mr Premadasa of UNP. Mr Lakshman Kadirgamar who could have been the PM was never given a chance. Is reconciliation a possibility when racist leaders and religious leaders twist the political management or survive in the split that they make. Whether the commission and the office would be able to make a change is to be seen.
The sufferings of the families of missing persons of the 1990 incident I was witness to as a victim would be a token for memory but whether it will make way to a positive development seems a distant mirage. Many of the institutions that had been proposed had limited success as they do not have a clear mandate and associated power.
A sincere leader and a government focused in development of the state and not on themselves is the need of the day for us to rise from the ashes as Phoenix. But it seems missing like those missing being missed except in pro-missing.
*The author is a Professor Emeritus of Eastern University where he had served for 40 years and also was the Vice Chancellor of same. He is now an Attorney at law appearing for victims of human right violations. In 1990 he was the Officer in Charge of the Vantharumoolai refugee Camp of Eastern University being a refugee himself having lost him home and family business. He is also a Director of the National Peace Council