The mothers, fathers, relatives of the missing are on the streets for more than 1340 days on sit-in protest demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. They are holding EU, US & UN Flags and the pictures of their loved ones missing. The successive Governments have failed to take any action and the most expected Office of the Missing Persons [OMP] is now defunct after the new regime of Rajapaksas, although the OMP is toothless with no powers to prosecute charge or punish the culprit some people registered their names hoping for some sort of justice.
It is very unfortunate that the very old mothers, fathers and relatives are still pinning their hopes and trusting the UNHRC, UN and the International community to find justice and thee seems to be no progress or action to the burning problem affecting the elderly people.
At least the Government can come out with the truth whether they are dead or alive so that they can perform their last rights and move on. If they are alive the Government can at least release them if they have not committed any crime. Even if they have committed crime the Government can bring them to justice and sort out the problem.
Thousands of people have disappeared in Sri Lanka since the 1980s. A 1999 study by the United Nations found that Sri Lanka had the second highest number of disappearances in the world. Sri Lanka will not break its violent past until it reckons with the clear history of enforced disappearances and delivers justice to as many as 100,000 families who have spent years waiting for justice. Until the justice is delivered to these victims the country cannot begin to heal.
In June 2016, former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who was in office [Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation from 1994-2005], acknowledged receiving at least 65,000 complaints of disappearance.
Sri Lanka, having ratified the Convention has an obligation to investigate all allegations of disappearances and, where sufficient evidence exists, to prosecute those suspected of the crimes at all levels in proceedings which should be fair and without recourse to the death penalty. The Government must ensure that victims and their families are told the truth and that they are provided with full and effective reparation to address the harm they have suffered.
It is to be noted that one of the emblematic cases is the disappeared person Pregeeth Ekneligoda. He went missing after leaving his work on January 24, 2010.
The new Rajapaksa administration has halted legal proceedings initiated by the previous government against a Navy Officer accused of the enforced disappearances and allegedly killing of 11 youth in 2008 and 2009.
Given Sri Lanka’s long history of enforced disappearances, it is vitally important not to allow the government to simply dismiss these cases. UN member states and the Human Rights Council should call upon Sri Lanka to comply with its international legal obligations, protect victims and witnesses, and keep its UN pledges in a time-bound manner.
Should the government fail to do so, the UNHRC should take the initiative and adopt accountability measures leading towards international investigation and prosecutions.
1. The Sri Lankan government must release information, including the names, of those who surrendered to government forces in 2008-2009, and if any continue to be detained, must release these individuals as well.
2. The Sri Lankan government must provide information on all currently detained political prisoners, and release them in due haste.
3. The Sri Lankan government must provide information on all those who were kidnapped into or kept in refugee camps both before and after the war.
4. All ex-cadres who are currently being detained or rehabilitated must be released.
5. The ongoing Sinhala colonisation and land-grabs of Tamil lands must cease immediately.
The political and ethnic divisions in Sri Lanka are a maze that makes the advancement of truth and accountability difficult. Victims who stand up for their rights are labelled by their ethnic or religious identities. Tamil families of the disappeared are ignored by the Sinhalese Buddhist majority government and government officials.
For more than 1340 days, Tamil women, most of them of their ripe age are protesting [sit-in] protest on the streets demanding the list of those who surrendered, abducted, but the Government has denied having such lists, or the secret detention camps where prisoners could still be kept.
Sri Lankan Security Forces and intelligence agencies along with the Police have intensified surveillance and threats against families of victims of enforced disappearances and activists supporting them since Gotabaya Rajapaksa became President in November 2019.
“The families of Sri Lanka’s disappeared have spent years waiting for answers, but with Rajapaksas back to power, security forces are threatening them to drop their demands for truth and accountability,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human rights Watch. “The Government needs to stop the harassment immediately and abide by the pledges to uncover the fate of the ‘disappeared’ and provide justice to victims’ families,” she said.
The United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres raised concerns over the Sri Lankan Governments intimidation of human rights activists including those that have travelled to the UN Human Rights Council earlier this year labelling such activities as ‘ABSOLUTELY UNACCEPTABLE’
‘OHCHR received continued allegations of surveillance of civil society organisations, Human Rights defenders and families of victims of violations, including repeated visits by police and intelligence services, questioning organisations about, inter alia their staff and activities related to the UN’
The report comes as Tamil journalists and human rights activists, including families of the disappeared have come under increasing intimidation from Sri Lankan security forces in recent months, several activists have faced harassment and even arrests.
It is to be noted that under Sri Lankan law, not having a death certificate means that families cannot access property deeds, bank accounts or inheritances left by those missing relatives.
The questions raised by the relative of the disappeared are;
Why can’t you find our missing?
Why does it take so long to find our loved ones?
What happened to Father Francis who escorted the surrendering people?
The UN and other right groups have pressed the Sri Lankan government to establish a war crimes tribunal to investigate allegations of human rights abuses. Successive Sri Lankan governments have resisted such attempts, saying it is a domestic issue and the allegations should be investigated internally.