Enforced & Involuntary Disappearances in Sri Lanka

by Kumarathasan Rasingam, October 14, 2018

Tamil families of disappeared have been engaged in continuous and indefinite protests in five locations in the North and East for about 550 days. Mothers, wives, sons, daughters and relatives are on the streets in day and night in the hot sun, dust and rain demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. One of their primary demands is that President HE Maithiripala Sirisena keep the promise he made to them on June 12, 2017 to “release lists of persons who surrendered to the Armed Forces in the final phase of the war.” See https://srilankatwo.wordpress.com/2017/06/14/president-sirisena-promises-families-of-the-disappeared-that-lists-of-forcibly-disappeared-will-be-released/

The desperate families mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers had to resort to continuous roadside protests to find disappeared family members.

The protesters are continuously searching for their loved ones, despite numerous challenges, including abuse by Sri Lankan Security Forces and Military Intelligence. Some of them sold their houses, jewels and other properties to pay the “Security Forces Middleman” who promised to get their loved ones back.

Out of desperation to bring attention to the United Nations, United Nations Human Rights Councils and the International Community, they held hunger strikes while continuing their protests.

They continue to live with the pain of not knowing what happened to their sons, daughters and husbands they suffer imagining what would have happened to them?

  • Are they alive?
  • Are they tortured and or killed?
  • Are their daughters got raped?

International Law recognizes that the families of the missing have the ‘RIGHT TO KNOW THE TRUTH’ with respect to the fate of their loved ones.

Ms. Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaratunga, a former president and now head of the new Government’s Reconciliation Office, told a journalist recently that an estimated 65,000 people are thought to have gone missing in the conflict since 1983. See https://www.reuters.com/article/us-srilanka-protest/families-of-people-missing-in-sri-lankas-civil-war-march-in-silence-idUSKCN11523W

International Movement Against All Forms of Discrimination and Racism [IMADR] submitted a written statement on “Arbitrary Detention in Sri Lanka.”  Some of the Recommendations are:-

(a) Fulfill the provisions laid out in UNHRC Resolution 30/1.

(b) Guarantee the protection of human rights in its counter-terrorism measures in compliance with international standard and best practice.

(c) Immediately investigate the alleged cases of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment in detention.
See http://imadr.org/arbitrary-detention-srilanka-hrc39-2018-ws/

Due to international pressure, the Sri Lankan Government established an Office of the Missing Persons [OMP], but the OMP itself became meaningless, when its Section 13 [2] mentions that the findings of the OMP could not be used in any civil or criminal cases for seeking justice.

Repeated requests to include UN and other international experts to be included as Commissioners of the OMP were rejected by the Government. Adding insult to the injury, Sri Lankan government included a former Security Force Officer as one of the Commissioners to the OMP.

The OMP is the latest of numerous Commissions of Inquiries appointed by successive Sri Lankan Governments. According to Government more than 60,000 complaints of disappearance have been received by these Commissioners since 1994. Despite promises made in the past, the Government has failed to publish key reports of previous Commissions, such as the reports of the Mahanama Tilekaratne and Paranagama Commissions, the latter having functioned under both the previous and present Government.

Relatives of the missing persons remain doubtful that the OMP will help trace the missing. This is the 10th Commission set up to investigate disappearances. None of the Commissions have solved a single case.

Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, a Lawyer who works with families of the disappeared, says there is not a lot of public trust in the office.

“I think one of the reasons is that families were not consulted in the process” says Jegatheeswaran, from the Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research.  “I think having a Military Representative was a huge blow to the families’ confidence. When military were often the perpetrators in disappearances that happened during the armed conflict how can the family of the disappeared feel confident going before somebody who is a military official and was part of the Military during this period of conflict.”
See https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/abduction-forced-disappearance-sri-lanka-missing-thousands-180513080341106.html

Journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared without trace on January 24, 2010. One of the reasons for his disappearance is that he had evidence of use of chemical weapons by the Security Forces.  His wife Sandhya confirms this.
Despite some progress on the disappearance of Prageeth Eknaligoda, there has been zero progress on this case and thousands of others.

“In 2008, Prageeth wrote and informed the diplomats about the Sri Lankan government’s usage of chemical weapons against the people in the north,” she told the BBC.  https://www.bbc.com/sinhala/news/story/2011/01/110128_prageeth_galle.shtml  See also https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jan/29/sri-lankas-missing-thousands-one-womans-six-year-fight-to-find-her-husband

The Office on Missing Persons released its Interim Report recently . It is doubtful whether the Sri Lankan Government will take this seriously because the President has vowed to protect the Security forces. His speech in the United Nations clearly shows that he is determined to protect the Security Forces even though they have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity.

While derailing investigations into all war crimes and human rights abuses during the final phase of war, President Maithripala Sirisena, addressing the 73th session of the UNHRC, urged the world to look at Sri Lanka ‘with a fresh pair of eyes’.

President Sirisena has openly ordered the Police to refrain from arresting top ranking military officers over killings and abductions that took place under the previous government.

Just two weeks before he addressed the UN General Assembly, Sirisena berated IGP Pujith Jayasundara and top officers of the CID for attempting to arrest Chief of Defence Staff Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne over killings and abductions of 11 youth.

He called upon the international community to look at Sri Lanka from a fresh perspective and consider the “tremendous progress” made by his government towards reconciliation, restoration of democratic freedom, human rights and the rule of law [All of which according to International Investigators Reports were not fully implemented.]  See https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/man-who-derailed-investigations-into-war-crimes-allegations-wants-the-world-to-look-at-sri-lanka-with-fresh-pair-of-eyes/

The office on Missing Persons

Interim Report

Investigation and Prosecution

i) Expedite and give highest priority to prosecutions and other ongoing cases involving enforced disappearances.

j) Investigate all incidents of arbitrary arrest, torture and deaths in custody.

k) Ensure that state officials including members of the armed forces and police who are named as suspects or accused in criminal actions relating to abductions and enforced disappearances are suspended pending the final determination of such cases. In particular, ensure that suspected officials are not transferred, promoted or offered any other office in the armed forces, police or the public service while cases against them are pending.

l) In order to guarantee proper identification of human remains, expedite ongoing reforms to the legal framework pertaining to inquests into deaths and related protocols, and ensure a multidisciplinary coordination system between institutions responsible for search, recovery and identification.

m) Provide adequate material and human resources to law enforcement officials, the Attorney-General’s Department as well as the judiciary to investigate, prosecute and punish perpetrators of enforced disappearances.

n) Require state officials as well as the public to report the discovery of bones and other human remains.
See http://srilankabrief.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/OMP-Report-and-Recommendation-English-Final-Version.pdf

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