27 November, 2022

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The Fate Of 158 Missing Persons From Refugee Camp At Eastern University On September 5, 1990 Continues To Be “Unknown”

By Thangamuthu Jayasingam – 

Prof. Thangamuthu Jayasingam

32 Years Of Search & Agony With No End In Sight: The Fate Of Missing Persons (158) From Refugee Camp At Eastern University, Vantharumoolai On September 5, 1990 Continues To Be “Unknown”

When will I have to stop these writings of my memories of September 5, 1990 and the associated pains that  runs in me but more on the families  of the missing and its generations. When I watched the Schindler’s List movie little did I realize that we may have to do a movie on a ‘Vantharumoolai List’ of the fate of 158 which continues to be unknown. 

The politics of Sri Lanka was embarrassingly highlighted when the Aragalaya asked the 225 to step down and also acknowledged that we had been cheated by the rulers for the past 74 years. It is not any less to highlight that over the past 32 years since September 5, 1990  there had not been a trustworthy answer or approach by the state to the missing people of that refugee camp or to those who went missing during the period of war in any other part of the country. More than 1000 days have passed since the protest in Jaffna over similar issues and the government seems completely oblivious to these. They seem to have higher priorities of finding out who utilized the pool of the President during the Aragalaya and other such matters. 

Today’s newspaper headlines when read indicated that are more deaths (murders and assassinations) in the country at present  but the Police was too busy tracking those charged under Aragalaya and associated events. Even after 74 years of Independence the state does not seem to have its priorities, when if ever, the missing people will have their turn to have an answer for their losses?

As we approach the Geneva meetings, the question in the minds of the family and its generation is that ‘whether we will have answers to our simple question, what  happened to my relative, friend, partner or other, who went missing, especially when known have been taken by the  state machinery of Sri Lanka. Those who had been involved had been named and listed in the Presidential commission report nearly 25 years ago, where Justice Palakidnar chaired the mission. No one knows or are aware that any of those listed in the document as the  party  related to the missing have been summoned or questioned in relation to it. Lamps are lit each year and people mourn the loss of their loved ones, when will it end? There had been a saying that ‘God sees the truth but waits’ yet it seems even unfair for God to wait so long. 

We see that the country is calling for multiparty government to overcome the crisis which is welcome. The same call for unity of the communities was seen at the Aragalaya, and may be it is time that the grievances of the communities are settled/ accommodated so that Sri Lanka could walk a new path, away from the ethnic and religious politics that had ruined the country socially, ecologically and economically for sure. Neither can you climb Mount Everest with too much  baggage nor go to heaven /or obtain peace with loaded  unanswered questions of sins or impurity. Impunity may be granted by the governments but not by thy self. My submission is that it will eat from within like corrosion and one day you will submit to it sooner or later.  

I represent the feelings and wishes of 158 plus 18 of the Vantharumoolai refugee camp where I was Officer in Charge and all happened in front of my eyes, but also share the similar feelings of many more thousands all over the island of Sri Lanka, and wish their prayers to find an answer that is heard sooner than later. Many who had asked had already left the point of questions and the next generation has taken over its task and wish they have the answers; I do not know how long can I raise THIS QUESTION ?

After the Aragalaya led to governmental change, those who have taken over the government act as if it is business as usual, clamoring for governmental office and the power to hand out political patronage to their friends, relatives and supporters. So long as the protests, pleas and lamentations of the Sri Lankan people are ignored, and God remains patient, it is to Geneva that one may forced to turn once again, even though that may not be our preferred option, but internal.

*The author was Vice Chancellor of Eastern University and Professor of Botany. He is now an Attorney at Law appearing for victims of human rights violations. In 1990, he was officer in charge of the Vanthuramoolai refugee camp, having lost his own home.

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Latest comments

  • 6
    3

    Ask Gota he is back in Sri Lanka after countries treated him worst than a plague.

  • 10
    1

    Dear Jayasingam, 32 years is a long time, but not long from our point of view. You were right to point out that Aragalaya largely pinpoints history after 2019 and that may be why it was tolerated for a while. The country has long been at home with impunity. I was with you when we recorded the events of 5th September 1990 – https://www.uthr.org/Reports/Report7/chapter4.htm . On a subsequent visit your mother-in-law took us back to 1956 when she recollected their having to flee their native place of Padiatalawa around the Gal Oya Scheme as refugees. That too is a point where history can begin.

    As for Eastern University in 1990, we have passed the point of blaming the State. We have to blame ourselves. We largely know what happened. We know that the man with supervisory responsibility was Brigadier Karunatilleke at Valaichenai and those above him. General Gerry Silva’s denial on 8th September 1990 when he visited Eastern University was an admission. He was no less guilty, but people were prepared to let him off as a good Catholic from St. Joseph’s College – ‘no, he would not have given such a terrible order.’ For some time people focused on Munas, a handy Muslim name of whom little else was known except a rumour that he and his group of killers drank human blood from their victims. That is how our society works. After the war we found Zahran to cover up hosts of attacks on Muslims.

    We are still evading command responsibility. Things are set to remain the same for many scores of years. Why has Gota not been arraigned in a court of law?

    • 5
      1

      Why the missing 158 is not at the priority list of the Human Rights Commission at Geneva.

      Is it because of the time factor?

      We put it aside in the back burner and forget!

      ‘Command Responsibility” and cover up are” the worst crimes that should never be ignored.

      It should be pursued relentlessly until justice is done for these crimes against humanity. need not be ignored.

      It is not the ordinary soldiers, but those at the topmost are answerable.

    • 0
      0

      ” Things are set to remain the same for many scores of years.”
      That is being very pessimistic.
      Countries have transformed from far worse than ours to rank among the most caring and prosperous communities much faster.
      May not be in my lifetime or even yours. But this cannot and will not go on forever.

      • 0
        0

        Yes” this cannot and will not go on forever”. What more can be worse than what is now? To think, 75 years is not good enough is very optimistic and to say ” may not be in my lifetime or even yours ” is even more encouraging. Unfortunately millions of not so fortunate people, having left with few months to years, will not feel the optimism in you.

        • 0
          0

          Then again, it’s not of any surprise. Here we have two witnesses, narrating their horrible experience and there are families and friends, of those missing ones , who may be still searching after 36 long years, you continue to intellectualize with your anti imperialist/ Capitalist comments.

  • 4
    0

    General Gerry Silva being married to a Tamil would have no doubt put him in a difficult situation with respect to the others in the security establishment, especially Munas a resident of Matale. Munas is a pseudonym. Did he [Gerry] or did he not give the order is the prime issue here. 1990s were lawless days. Command irresponsibility is the reason for the denial?
    I DO NOT WANT TO SPECULATE. Both the Essayist and Rajan Hoole would have undertaken a through study of the events relating to this sordid affair.
    I could well imagine the anguish of the essayist.

  • 4
    0

    Karma is a BOOMERANG and this immoral country deserves what it gets in return. Funny to see politicians and SB deny the disappearance after 2009, when it had begun much earlier. The country itself is a SHAM pretending to be functional, moral and lawful ( just like their prosperity and splendor). Years of excuses, denial, finger pointing, whataboutism . . . .. . . . . . Seen it all , Heard it all.

    • 1
      3

      “Karma is a BOOMERANG and this immoral country deserves what it gets”
      Rich coming from a defender of the worst murderous country on earth.
      *
      I wish his idea of the karma boomerang is true.
      I wonder when US imperialism will get what it well deserves for what it did in scores of countries across the globe over seven decades.

      • 3
        0

        Without his usual “WHATABOUTISM”, Retired Prof seems incapable of discussing “32 years of search and agony with no end in sight”.

        • 1
          0

          Hi boomerang, is that what you were discussing?
          Karmam!

          • 0
            0

            I was trying pretty hard to agree with your belief in a karmic boomerang– but one acting without discrimination.
            Grow up, when there is time.

            • 0
              0

              “I was trying pretty hard to agree with your belief in a karmic boomerang” , I am not impressed, try little more harder to get that inside your thick skull (or should I say degenerating brain cells) . “Grow up, when there is time” I may, but is there any time left for you.

          • 0
            0

            Retired, you mean Karmam as in Savam. Oh no, isn’t that (karmam) your living situation in Lanka today.

        • 3
          0

          chiv

          Sometimes people themselves do not know they have reached their second childhood.
          Can’t help it.

          • 0
            0

            Native, you just typed, what was in my mind. Aging in few not only makes them childish but brings out their insecurities, frustration and suppressed / negative emotions.

      • 0
        0

        karma is a bitch!

  • 1
    0

    Missing persons, with the suspicion that they were made to pass off, is a serious matter. The first thoughts of inquiry are who had the firepower in the locality and then its boss is focused upon. Will the repeated mentioning of this unravel the truth? The biggest stumbling block is the lack of acceptability of any investigator as impartial, which causes to remain in square 1 all the time. Another issue is the lack of meticulous investigators of integrity who can unearth clues leading to a correct conclusion. This can be more difficult if the incident is as old as 32 years. However, the Yahapalana government established the OMP, a creation initiated by the “International Community”. Did not that office scrutinize this matter? Unfortunately, its findings cannot be published. One must be bold enough to admit the existence of two serious matters. (1) Continued detention without trial for long periods to the extent that had the detainee found guilty of the alleged offence at the time of arrest itself he would have been released by now after serving the sentence. (2) Missing persons without any trace leading to the belief that they were denied the right to live.

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