By R.M.B Senanayake –
Last week a group of women from the North whose kith and kin had disappeared during or after the war and of whom they had no information, had planned a meeting in Colombo before taking a petition to be handed over to the United Nations Office. The Police in Vavuniya had stopped these women from proceeding to Colombo on the ground that there were other groups waiting to stone and manhandle them. As the US Embassy has pointed out these women were only exercising their right of freedom of assembly- a right guaranteed in our Constitution which the State is bound to protect and uphold.
These women complain that their loved ones had disappeared during the war and in the aftermath of the war and that they wanted to know what happened to them and whether they were still alive or not. Don’t the relatives of the disappeared persons have the right to know the truth about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones even if they are dead. Isn’t this a right recognized by the United Nations Organization. Despite their asking for names of persons in State Prisons and Centers of Rehabilitation, and since the State has failed to provide such information don’t they have the right to complain to the United Nations Organization? According to the 1992 Declaration for the Protection of All Persons Against Enforced Disappearances, ‘no circumstances whatsoever, whether a threat of war, a state of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked to justify enforced disappearances.”
The Ministry of Defense denies that there are any persons who have disappeared at the end of the war or thereafter. May be so but the women have to be provided with access to names of all all those who are in state prisons or rehabilitation centers so that they can satisfy themselves that their kith and kin are not among them.
Disappearances still occur in the country not only among the Tamil population but even among the Sinhalese. Such disappearances continue to be reported to the national authorities. But there are controversies both on the figures and on the nature of the practice of enforced disappearances. The present Chief Justice for example said that the missing cartoonist Ekneligoda had migrated and was living in a foreign country and hence it was not an enforced disappearance.
But even if the State denies that there were any persons who disappeared during the war and its aftermath shouldn’t there be a mechanism to inquire into the complaints of these women or whatever the evidence that they have with them? A Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappearances was established in Pakistan so that anyone who as evidence to claim that his or her kith or kin disappeared was allowed to state such evidence before this public body. Shouldn’t the Armed Forces, the Police and the Intelligence agencies, be called upon to counter and dispel any such wrong allegations by them? Shouldn’t there be some reparation measures and social assistance programs for the relatives of the disappeared?
A Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives. Such a UN appointed Working Group of Experts was appointed to report on the many allegations of enforced disappearances in that country. Two experts visited Pakistan in September 2012 and held meetings with State authorities, civil society organizations and relatives of disappeared persons in Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Quetta and Peshawar. They sought to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, with the objective of clarifying the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared, are placed outside the protection of the law. The Working Group’s mandate was purely humanitarian and ended in any particular case where the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person were clearly established. The Working Group continues to address cases of disappearances until they are resolved. The Working Group’s basic mandate is to assist the relatives of disappeared persons to ascertain the fate and whereabouts of their disappeared family members. For this purpose the Group receives and examines reports of disappearances submitted by relatives of disappeared persons or human rights organizations acting on their behalf. After determining whether those reports comply with a number of criteria, the Working Group transmits individual cases to the Governments concerned, requesting them to carry out investigations and to inform the Working Group of the results.
As a UN Report says the Working Group acts essentially as a channel of communication between the families of disappeared persons and Governments, and has successfully developed a dialogue with the majority of Governments concerned with the aim of solving cases of disappearance