on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances in Sri Lanka
Today, People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL) stands in solidarity with the Tamil families of the disappeared in Sri Lanka to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.
White van abductions and government-sanctioned enforced disappearances are a tragic but ubiquitous part of Tamil history in Sri Lanka, which notoriously has one of the world’s highest number of enforced disappearances. More recently, thousands of Tamils were disappeared into state custody at the end of the war in 2009, despite surrendering into government control alive.
Despite threats and harassment from the government, Tamil mothers, fathers, and loved ones of the disappeared have held near-constant vigil since 2017, demanding answers from the government, the United Nations, and the international community. Over 100 family members have died, without ever finding information about their disappeared family members.
PEARL echoes the demands of the families of the disappeared for international accountability and action on Sri Lanka, as it is now abundantly clear that such accountability will not come from the state. The administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who served as Defense Secretary at the end of the war in 2009 and is directly implicated in these disappearances, has stymied any criminal proceedings for both recent and emblematic cases. The government has also claimed that all missing persons that surrendered in 2009 are now dead, but has given no information about the cause or circumstances surrounding these alleged deaths. The government-run Office of the Missing Persons is an ineffective, politicized and partisan institution which has been repeatedly rejected by the families of the disappeared.
International actors must take action through both international justice and investigation tools as well as bi-latral actions actions to compel Sri Lanka to account for the thousands of missing Tamils. This includes the requirement to suspend favourable trade relations such as GSP+ trade concessions, COVID-19 funding, and aid packages until Sri Lanka makes meaningful progress on accountability for the victims of enforced disappearances. The notorious Prevention Against Terrorism Act (PTA),which is often used to legalize these enforced disappearances, must be repealed. Ultimately, true justice will come from self-determination and a permanent political solution for Tamils in Sri Lanka.
For too long, the plight of the Tamil families of the disappeared has been used as a speaking point and a prop for politicians and the international community. The international community must now look closely at how it engages with Sri Lanka and align its actions to be committed to the promise of accountability, transparency, and justice.