All in one day
by International Truth and Justice Project Sri Lanka, South Africa, May 15, 2018
Johannesburg: Sri Lanka’s Office of Missing Persons is duty bound to
question war-time military leaders over hundreds of cases of enforced
disappearance that took place on the final day of the civil war in
2009 if it wants to recover the truth abouth these cases. Among those
who disappeared were at least 29 Tamil children, last seen with their
families in the custody of the Sri Lankan Army on or arouund 18 May
2009 in what are regarded as classic cases of enforced disappearance
in accordance with international law.
“This is the largest single group of enforced disappearance in Sri
Lanka’s history – hundreds of people disappearing at the same time and
place with multiple eyewitnesses both inside and outside the country,”
said the International Truth and Justice Project’s Executive Director,
Yasmin Sooka. “We have written to the Office of Missing Persons saying
this is the first case they should investigate if they are serious
about criminal accountability for enforced disappearance. They can
start by questioning Major General Shavendra Silva and General Jagath
Jayasuriya, whom eyewitnesses say personally observed the surrenders
and those security forces in whose custody they were placed.”
The 58th Division of the Sri Lankan Army has to date steadfastly
refused to hand over a list of surendees from the final day of the war
to families who filed a habeus corpus case in Sri Lanka1.
The 58 Division, which is named in the UN Investigation as accepting the
surrenders, was led at the time by alleged war criminal, Major General
Shavendra Silva, who has been promoted by the current Government to
Adjutant General of the Sri Lankan Army. Eyewitnesses indicated that
Silva was present at the Wadduvakkal Bridge on 18 May and even shook
hands with the LTTE politcal wing leaders who surrendered and shortly
thereafter were summarily executed. Silva reported to General
Jayasuriya who is also said by eyewitnesses to have been present at
the Wadduvakkal Bridge watching the surrenders of LTTE cadres led by a
Catholic priest, all of whom subsequently disappeared in the custody
of the security forces. General Jayasuriya has been accused of alleged
war crimes in 4 lawsuits filed by the ITJP in Latin America where he
was Ambassador until he fled home to evade justice.
The ITJP’s disappearance website is recreating the surrender list that
the Sri Lankan Army is witholding. It currently contains 280 names and
can be viewed online in Tamil and English at:
“We urge anyone with information or photos to contact us by email in
English or Tamil,” said the ITJP’s Executive Director Yasmin Sooka,
“this is by no means a complete list or a perfect one but it is a
start and what it reveals is that the extent of the crime is much
larger than previously known.”
The ITJP concedes there could be some duplication in names because
families report loved ones missing using their birth names while
former comrades tend to use noms de guerre. The group says that is why
it’s important to add photographs were possible and urges members of
the public to contact them regarding any corrections. The design of
the site deliberately leaves grey boxes empty to signify that this is
not a final list but rather a work in progress.
Each name is just a tiny glimpse of the human suffering that enforced
disappearance leaves behind. The daughter of V. Balakumaran sent this
message to be included on his page on the website:
“I always wanted to be with you appa. Since April 2009, we have been
living without you with a wounded heart. You are one of the most
important tamil leaders which is the fact no one can deny. And I
strongly assure that you are the best father who showed us how to live
a simple life regardless of how famous a leader or a person is and
lived by an example. You always wanted me to be independent,
courageous and a strong girl who withstands anything. But I couldn’t
withstand the agony and depression after your disappearance. You are
the strength which gives us every single reason not give up on any
circumstances. We won’t give up on you appa. We miss you so much which
words can’t explain. We strongly hope that one day you will fill our
eyes with tears of joy with your presence. We also hope and pray for
every family who lost their father, son daughter,or siblings to be reunite
Your Ever loving Daughter”.
Those named on the ITJP list are believed to have been taken into the
custody of the Sri Lankan Army on or around 18th May 2009 before they
disappeared. Some have been reported as disappeared by their families
in Sri Lanka. Witnesses are also in several countries abroad where
they have given sworn testimony to the ITJP about who they saw
surrendering to the security forces2.
The ITJP’s website is based primarily on 5 different lists – two from
inside Sri Lanka and two collected abroad and a 2017 UN WGEID
complaint list that is public3. What is concerning is that while there
is some overlap between the lists it is not huge, indicating perhaps
that some families of LTTE cadres are still frightened to report them
missing or that the families are no longer alive to complain.
Particularly troubling is that it includes 29 children – several of
them under 5 years of age – who disappeared on or around 18 May after
surrendering with their parents.
“Sri Lankan civil society needs with one voice to demand to know the
plight of these children. Nine long years have gone by and their
grandmothers and mothers should not be left alone to stand on the
roadside demanding the truth while exposed to initimidation and
threats from the security forces4 ,” said Ms. Sooka.
On the final days of the war the Sri Lankan Army made loud speaker
annoucements urging Tamils to surrender, promising them an amnesty5.
As the UN report6 states, it is not relevant whether some of those who
disappeared were LTTE fighters or not, because they had already passed
into the custody of the armed forces and were hors de combat. We
reproduce below the section of the UN OISL report on war-end
Extract from OISL Report (A/HRC/30/CRP.2)
“Enforced disappearances at the end of the armed conflict
429. In spite of the Government’s persistent denials7, a body of credible
information has emerged supporting allegations that a significant number of
individuals, principally LTTE fighters who had laid down their arms, LTTE nonmilitary
cadres, their associates and family members, disappeared on 18 May 2009,
after they had crossed the Vadduvakal bridge “surrendering” 8 to the SLA.9
430. Some of these cases were reported to WGEID and reference to them is included
in its annual reports of 2012 and 2014.10 OISL received other testimonies,
including submissions from people who allegedly witnessed the surrender of former
LTTE cadres or civilians who have not been seen since11 . The LLRC itself
registered a total of 53 LTTE cadres who surrendered during the final days of the
war and were alleged to have disappeared at the time of its report.12 In May
2015, the International Truth and Justice Project Sri Lanka published a list of
110 names of individuals seen by eyewitnesses “surrendering” to the SLA on or
around 18th May 200913 .
431. Witnesses told OISL that after the initial screening process, some of their
family members were approached within a fenced holding area at Mullaitivu by
soldiers or Tamil informants who led them away. OISL was also told that those
individuals who acknowledged their link to LTTE were moved into separate lines,
away from their families, before being taken away.
432. Witnesses told OISL that the security forces gave them no information as to
where they themselves or those separated from them would be taken. Witnesses
(wives, mothers, grandparents) saw their loved ones being taken away, including
five children between the ages of two and 10.
433. The most widely documented case is the surrender of the group led by a
Catholic priest, Father Francis Joseph on 18 May. That morning, a number of
witnesses saw Father Francis in the holding area, together with14 a group of LTTE
fighters who were hors de combat and non-military cadres15 that had identified
themselves to the SLA at Vadduvakal.16.
434. He was seen facilitating the “surrender” of LTTE cadres directly with
security forces members, one of whom was believed to be a senior-ranking security
official with “a lot of security around him and a lot of badges on him”.
435. Shortly afterwards, Father Francis and the group were seen by witnesses
being led by the security forces to the road to the left of a first aid centre by
the screening post at Mullaitivu and down the road to the south.17 Some witnesses
saw Father Francis and the group of LTTE cadres boarding buses east of the last
holding area.18 Father Francis and other members of the group have not been seen
or heard from since.
436. Fourteen habeas corpus petitions have since been filed on behalf of 22
individuals (including five children), 13 in the Vavunya High Court (five on 20
March 2013, seven on 22 August 2013, one on 23 May 2014) and one in Mannar High
Court in June 2015. The 22 are: Father Frances Joseph; Muralitharan Nadesu, his
wife Muralitharan Krishnakumary and two young children; Mahalingam Sinnathamby
(alias Illamparithi), his wife Mahalingam Sivanjni and their three children aged
10, eight and three at the time; Sinnathurai Sasitharan (Elilan); Selliah
Vishwanathan; Ponnampalam Kanthasamy; Uruthirammoorthy Krishnamkumar; Kandasamy
Thushisankar; Thiyagajah Thinesh; Nadesamoorthy Vishnukumar; Mahendran
Murugathas; Thangabalasingam Vijayabaskar; Sivagnanam Gobalaratnam and his wife
Sivalingam Pathmalosini, Kalimuththu Sajeevan; and V.Balakumaran.
437. In all but two cases, the individuals were among those last seen at
Mullaitivu holding area on 18 May. One individual was seen being taken away at
Omanthai on 18 May, another being taken away from the Mullaitivu holding area on
a tractor two days earlier because he was injured. All of the petitions state
that the disappeared were last seen in the custody of the 58th Division of the
Sri Lankan Army.
438. In response to the petitions, the SLA stated that it had not arrested or
detained the individuals. In some cases, it responded it had “acted lawfully and
ensured the safety and welfare of the civilians who came to the areas liberated
by the Army.” In other cases, it replied that “at all times, Sri Lankan Armed
Forces followed the applicable international norms governing warfare”. It also
claimed that many of those missing either died during confrontations with the
military or fled the country illegally and were living in western countries.
439. In its report, the LLRC expressed its “grave concern” about the “number of
representations concerning alleged disappearances of LTTE cadres who had
surrendered to or been arrested by the Sri Lanka Army particularly in the final
days”. “Family members of these cadres…stated that when they, along with their
husbands had reported at Army points, they had been told that their husbands were
required for investigation and were being detained, and the family members were
asked to proceed to the IDP camps. In some other cases, the spouses had seen
their husbands surrendering to the Sri Lanka Army. The Commission also heard
instances of families surrendering to the Army. The consistent theme that emerges
from these representations is that the last they had seen of their husbands was
their surrendering to the custody of the Sri Lanka Army, and had not heard or
seen them since then.”
440. The LLRC emphasized “the clear duty of the State to conduct necessary
investigations into such specific allegations, and where such investigations
produce evidence of any unlawful act on the part of individual members of the
Army, to prosecute and punish the wrongdoers.” It therefore noted that “the
launching of a full investigation into these incidents is an imperative.19
441. The Government is not known to have conducted any credible, thorough and
independent investigation into these cases to clarify the fate and whereabouts of
those taken away. In some of these cases, the Government claimed that the
victims were killed in combat, in spite of witnesses having seen them taken into
442. It is not clear how many individuals disappeared at the end of the armed
conflict. The lack of transparency and clear procedures for registering those
coming out of the conflict areas and separating them according to categories,
notably LTTE cadres and civilians, is an additional factor, which facilitated
disappearances. The initial screening and subsequent detentions were not
consistently monitored independently. As a result, the figures remain unclear and
a precise determination cannot be made whether others who were arrested during
the last stage of the conflict remain unaccounted for.
443. In light of the information available to OISL, the fate of a significant
number of LTTE cadres who surrendered at the end of the conflict, remains
unknown, and a number of witnesses have testified to the fact that their loved
ones remain disappeared. OISL therefore believes that an independent review of
the lists of individuals registered as “surrendees” is necessary, clarifying the
fate of each one of them.”
ITJP’s Chronology on Numbers regarding 18 May 2009 surrenders
2011: Human Rights Watch reported on 20 cases20.
2011:The LLRC registered 53 LTTE cadres who surrendered during
the final days of the war and were alleged to have disappeared.
2014: ITJP published a list of 110 names of individuals seen by
eyewitnesses “surrendering” to the SLA on or around 18th May
2009. This was later increased to 143 names.
2018: ITJP publishes website with 280 names.
Various Numbers Cited for Missing/Disappeared in Sri Lanka
1994: Three Commissions in Sri Lanka established 16,800 enforced disappearance cases.
2015: WGEID21 said it had 5,750 outstanding cases (previously 12,341).
2017: 20,000 estimated missing after the war end, say Government estimates22.
2018: SCRM says 16,000 “missing” of whom 5,100 are from the security forces23.
This appears to be the number of complaints received by the ICRC24.
2016: The Paranagama Commission is said to have received more than 24,000 complaints25.
2016: The chairperson of the ONUR says over 65,000 missing since 199426.
2018: Amnesty International says the disappeared number 100,00027.