The King is naked!” shouted the boy. An awkward hush fell across the crowd as excited murmurings ceased. Faces turned first to the youth sitting on his father’s shoulders and then to the Monarch. The child was triumphant. He had been the first to see, or at least to say, the remarkable truth. The king visibly stiffened at the small piping voice. The King’s guards faltered at their reins and their horses reared causing the great palanquin to halt momentarily before lurching ahead. The King pitched forward in a most undignified manner. Only a quick step saved him from toppling over. The King did not turn back to look at the boy who had dared lift the blissful veil of ignorance. It is a part of a bedtime story everyone heard in their childhood. It came to mind recently, because of the way the Sri Lankan government responds to allegations regarding disappearances.
It has been two years since Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared. Prageeth became the main symbol of disappearances for three reasons. First, he was the first Sinhalese to be abducted and then disappear under the Rajapaksas, second – he had some journalist friends and third – he actively participated in the presidential campaign of common opposition candidate Sarath Fonseka and disappeared two days prior to the 2010 presidential election. But there have been thousands of disappearances over the last 3 decades. This speaks volumes of the impunity with such acts are committed.
Vairamuththu Varatharasan, a 40-year-old truck driver and father of five, was abducted from his home in Colombo on January 7, 2007, and has not been seen since. His wife told Human Rights Watch: “A group of about 20 men – some in police uniforms, some in civilian clothes surrounded the house. One policeman came inside and asked for our identity cards. I went into one of the rooms to get the identity cards. By the time I came out of the room, my husband was not there; neither was the policemen. I ran out and spotted a van parked in a dark place on the road. I ran to the road, but by the time I got there, the van started and left.” Most of the victims are ethnic Tamils and Muslims. In many cases, the security forces “disappeared” individuals because of their alleged affiliation with the LTTE. Clergy, teachers, humanitarian aid workers, and journalists also were targeted – not only to remove them from the civil sphere, but also as a warning to others.
Now Prageeth Eknaligoda’s “hero” prisoner Sarath Fonseka has spoken: the military is behind a spate of abductions. The BBC Sinhala service quoted Fonseka as telling reporters outside court on Friday, January 20, that the current security forces commander in Jaffna, Major General Hathurusinghe, was responsible for the spate of abductions and disappearances in Jaffna.
Jaffna Security Forces Commander Major General Mahinda Hathurusinghe told The Sunday Leader last week that Fonseka was making baseless allegations while serving a prison sentence on several charges. Major General Hathurusinghe said that police records clearly indicate there were no “mass scale” abductions taking place in Jaffna and that the incident involving two JVP dissidents is being investigated. JVP dissident group supporters Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganathan went missing in Jaffna on December 9 last year and have not been heard of since. “The army is assisting the police to investigate the incident regarding the two missing people. But that is an isolated incident. If you speak to the police you will find there are no abductions taking place on a daily basis as some claim,” Major General Hathurusinghe said.
Who should we believe? Fonseka or Hathurusinghe? I suggest that you believe Fonseka. He was the “god father” of the abductions when he was the darling of the Rajapaksas. He knows how this abduction mechanism works. Since he was the Army Commander he may yet have military sources. According to a leaked US diplomatic cable Mangala Samaraweera confirmed that the Government uses a group called the “Lion Cubs” to engage in extrajudicial activities.
The cable is classified as “SECRET” and recounts details of a meeting the US Ambassador to Colombo had with then Sri Lankan government MP, the SLFP Treasurer and Leader and District Organizer of Matara District, Mangala Samaraweera on February 26, 2007. The cable was written on February 28, 2007 by US Ambassador to Colombo, Robert O. Blake.
The Ambassador called on Ex-Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera at his residence on February 26, at Samaraweera’s request. “Samaraweera said rumors of him conspiring with former President Chandrika Kumaratunga are baseless. Samaraweera confirmed for the first time that special cells have been established within military intelligence to abduct LTTE sympathizers”, the US ambassador to Colombo updated the Secretary of State.
Under the subject “SRI LANKA: EX-FOREIGN MINISTER COMPLAINS OF HARASSMENT BY GOVERNMENT” Ambassador Blake wrote, “Ambassador commented that the President and the Defense Secretary reportedly believe that their military strategy, including abductions and harassment of suspected LTTE sympathizers, is working to make Colombo more secure and to degrade LTTE networks. Samaraweera confirmed that the Government uses a group called the ‘Lion Cubs’ to engage in these extrajudicial activities. It is widely rumored in Sri Lanka that Army Commander Fonseka, with the knowledge and approval of Defense Secretary Gothabaya Rajapaksa, has set up special cells within military intelligence to go after suspected LTTE cadres and sympathizers in Colombo, Jaffna and other places. We have also heard reports of a similar shadowy group called the ‘Hambantota Cats.’ The recently-appointed Cabinet Minister for Environment has publicly called for the use of extralegal means to root out LTTE sympathizers. Samaraweera lent credibility to these reports by relating grisly details about the methods these groups use to dispose of the bodies of their victims at sea.” (see colombotelegrah.com for the leaked cable )
So, Fonseka was the head of the “Lion Cubs”! Forced disappearances were seen by the state as a legitimate means by which to deal with terrorism. Sri Lanka has the second highest number of disappeared people in the world, according to a new study by the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. “Sri Lanka has the second highest unresolved cases of disappearances registered with the Working Group on Disappearances. This means 1 ,000s of unclarified cases, 1,000s of families without closure,” Yolanda Foster said. Amnesty International’s Sri Lanka expert Yolanda Foster made the above remarks at an interactive meeting organised by Freedom from Torture, London. ( click here for the full speech.)
In September 2006, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said he would invite “an international group of eminent persons” to Sri Lanka to act as observers of the government’s investigations into alleged abductions, disappearances and extrajudicial killings.
“The decision… is reflective of the government’s commitment to fully investigate such allegations and bring the perpetrators to justice. It is also a response to attempts at discrediting the government of Sri Lanka, the security forces and the police with regard to human rights violations and allegations of lack of adequate investigation into such violations” the president’s office said. The Rajapaksa government has set up an array of special bodies tasked with monitoring and investigating “disappearances” and other human rights violations. None have yielded concrete results.
Whom are they trying to fool? The international community or the Sri Lankan citizens? The whole world understood. It is crystal clear, Mahinda Rajapaksa, once a rights advocate, has now led his government to become one of the world’s worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances.
The King is naked isn’t he? The little voice was right.