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Dsappearances and the

strugge for truth and |ustce


by Ruk
- on 08/30/2014
30th August s the Internatona Day of
the Vctms of Enforced Dsappearances. Tens of thousands have
dsappeared n Sr Lanka n ast few decades|1|. On ths day, fames of
dsappearances n Sr Lanka w gather n Vavunya n the North, to once
agan pubcy appea to nd ther oved ones, at east know the truth of
what happened to them, and hod those accountabe to |ustce.
From the day ther oved ones had dsappeared, famy members have been
physcay gong to varous mtary camps, companng to the Poce,
Natona Human Rghts Commsson, Internatona Commttee of the Red
Cross (ICRC) and varous Commssons of Inqury apponted by the
government. Some have ed habeas corpus cases. Some have sent
compants to the UN Workng Group on Enforced and Invountary
Dsappearances. They share ther stores wth NGOs, awyers, researchers,
|ournasts, cergy, dpomats, potcans etc. They |on protests, semnars
and other such events. But todate, vast ma|orty have no answers.
I have got to know some fames cosey, accompaned some physcay n
ther search and been tryng to hep ther strugges n varous ways,
especay n hepng them to te ther stores to others who we thought
may care. I have seen rst-hand, ther pan, frustraton and fear, even as I
admred ther perseverance and courage to pursue truth and |ustce. It has
aso been a frustratng and panfu |ourney even for me, often endng up
feeng hepess and poweress and not knowng what to say when
confronted wth ther questons, pan and tears.
Sady, I have seen very tte empathy and support for fames of
dsappeared from the Sr Lankan government and vast ma|orty of Sr
Lankan peope. Instead, what these fames have got s threats,
ntmdatons, obstructons and nsuts. The few awyers, cergy, dpomats,
human rghts defenders, |ournasts that have been supportng them have
aso been sub|ected to threats, ntmdaton and nsuts, and I have aso not
been spared.
Dsruptng a "stenng and sharng" meetng of fames of dsappeared
(August 2014)
On 4th August, I was at the Centre for Socety & Regon (CSR), aong wth
some other human rghts defenders, awyers, cergy and dpomats. CSR s
ocated n the premses of a Cathoc church n the heart of Coombo. We
had gathered for a "stenng and sharng" meetng wth some fames of
Tam dsappeared persons. It was a sma, nvtaton ony, prvate gatherng.
|ust when some fames had started to share ther pans and strugges, a
mob ncudng some Buddhst Monks broke nto CSR and tred to enter the
meetng room where we were havng the meetng|2|. Some of us from
Coombo tred to stop the mob from gettng nsde the meetng room and
peaded wth them to eave. I saw the fames of dsappeared - chdren -
men - women, had eft the chars and were sttng on the ground, cowerng
n fear, wth some cryng and some cngng on to dpomats and Cathoc
ssters who were present. The Poce re|ected our appeas to provde
protecton to the meetng and fames of dsappeared persons and dsperse
the nvaders. Instead, the Poce asked the meetng to be stopped and
fames of dsappeared to be sent back home. We nssted that the Poce
shoud dsperse the mob whch had nvaded a prvate property and a
prvate meetng, but the Poce was ony wng to do that after more than
an hour ater.
Ths unfortunatey s not an soated ncdent, rather, ts pattern for the ast
severa years, whch appear to have ntensed snce the ast Internatona
Day of the Vctms of Enforced Dsappearances.
Intmdaton before the meetng (August 2014)
Before the meetng at CSR, some of the partcpants from the North had
receved ntmdatng cas from persons camng to be from the Crmna
Investgaton Dvson (CID) of the Poce. One of the North based organsers
of the event was asked by an anonymous caer whether he s takng
fames of dsappeared to Coombo. A fax was sent around by a person
fasey camng to be the man organser wth mseadng nformaton about
the event|3|. The fax fasey camed the meetng was to dscuss how to
send nformaton to the UN nvestgaton nto aegatons of war crmes and
asked meda to gve coverage to the event when t was actuay an
nvtaton ony, cosed door meetng. Poce omcers had aso vsted another
Chrstan nsttuton n whch the fames were to be accommodated on
4th August nght and had asked to be nformed once the fames arrve.
Later n the day, after the fames of dsappeared had eft the venue of the
meetng, the venue was vsted by the Poce to check whether any fames
had remaned.
Fase accusatons, dscredtng fames of dsappeared persons and ant-
dsappearance actvsts (August 2014)
The day after the CSR ncdent, one of the eaders of the mob made a seres
of fase accusatons aganst fames of dsappeared persons and ant-
dsappearance campagners n Sr Lanka. My photo was shown and I was
fasey accused of havng provded sheter to those revvng the LTTE. Rev.
Fr. Sathve, a ong tme supporter of fames of dsappeared persons, was
accused of havng beng chased away from the Church and havng no pace
to stay, an accusaton hs Bshop dened pubcy. The Cathoc Bshop of
Mannar, Rt. Rev. Dr. Rayappu |oseph, who has made a detaed submsson
on dsappearances to the Lessons Learnt & Reconcaton Commsson
(LLRC), ong tme ant dsapperances advocates Nmaka Fernando and Brto
Fernando were a branded as LTTE supporters and trators. Fames of
dsappeared persons who had attended the meetng were fasey accused of
a beng from fames of LTTE|4| members who had been ked.
Arrest of mother of dsappeared Tam boy (March 2014)
On 13th March 2014, Ms. Baendran |eyakumar, was arrested at her house
n the Knochch dstrct, Northern Sr Lanka by the Terrorst Investgaton
Department (TID) of the Poce and s presenty beng hed at the Boosa
Detenton Centre|5|. She and her daughter has been partcpatng n
campagns to nd out truth about dsappeared persons, ncudng
|eyakumars son, and both the mother and daughter had receved much
pubcty n second haf of 2013, due to ther partcpaton n an event wth
the UN Hgh Commssoner for Human Rghts on 30th August 2013 and ater
n November, when they partcpated n a pubc protest wth other fames
of dsappeared persons, n |ahna, when the Brtsh Prme Mnster vsted
|ahna. |eyakumar cams that her son dsappeared after she had
surrendered hm to the Army n 2009 and that the sons photo was ncuded
n a photo pubshed n meda, of a government detenton facty. She has
ed a fundamenta rghts petton aganst the arrest. The government had
camed that she was harbourng and supportng a person aeged to have
been revvng the LTTE. |eyakumar has dened the charges and the
government more than ve months after the arrest, the government has
not charged her. When I and a frend went to see what has happened to her
and her daughter, we were arrested and detaned by the Terrorst
Investgaton Department (TID) for two days. I cant say much about ths
beyond whats reported, as nvestgatons aganst me are st contnung
and the TID has obtaned a Court Order prohbtng me from sayng
anythng about ths after my reease.
Dsrupton of a human rghts festva focusng on dsappearances durng the
Commonweath Heads of Government Meetng (CHOGM) n Coombo
(November 2013)
On 14th November 2013, Bodu Baa Sena (BBS), a Buddhst extremst
group, dsrupted a human rghts festva organsed n parae to the
Commonweath Heads of Government Meetng (CHOGM) by the man
opposton party of Sr Lanka, Unted Natona Party (UNP) and cv socety
organsatons.|6|
Poce gets court order aganst vg wth fames of dsappeared persons n
Coombo durng CHOGM (November 2013)
On 14th November, the poce obtaned a court order aganst any type of a
protest n the Coombo cty on 14th and 15th November 2013, preventng a
vg that was panned wth the partcpaton of fames of dsappeared
persons.|7|
Obstructons aganst fames of dsappeared traveng to Coombo to
partcpate n a human rghts festva durng the CHOGM (November 2013)
Before the human rghts festva began,|8| on 13th November 2013, famy
members of the dsappeared from the North were prevented from traveng
to Coombo to partcpate n the human rghts festva mentoned above.|9|
Obstructon of a protest by famy members of the dsappeared n |ahna
(November 2013)
Poce beat, pushed and nsuted fames of dsappeared persons, Chrstan
cergy, potcans and actvsts durng a peacefu protest hed to draw
attenton to dsappearances, durng the vst of the Brtsh Prme Mnster to
the Northern cty of |ahna.|10|
Obstructon of a protest on dsappearances n the North (|une 2014)
A protest was reported to have been hed on 5th |une 2014 by the Tam
Natona Aance (TNA) and the Tam Natona Peopes Front (TNPF) wth
the partcpaton of fames of the dsappeared to pressure the government
to expedte ega processes|11|. Organsers camed that peope who took
part n ther protest were threatened by the mtary and tod not to |on the
protest.|12|
Deays n court cases reated to dsappearances
There have been numerous deays n habeas corpus cases ed by famy
members of dsappeared persons especay due to: the State not ng
ob|ectons n tme; Poce omcers and Mnsters summoned not appearng
before courts; State Counse not turnng up; Magstrate not beng present;
and more recenty, due to a decson by the |udca Servces Commsson to
appont a speca Magstrate to hear some cases|13|.
Msnformaton on dsappearances and damagng aegatons aganst ant-
dsappearance campagners on State Meda (February 2014)
When a communty based actvst n a ow ncome area n Coombo area
was abducted and reeased due to protests by hs communty, the state
owned and controedIndependent Teevson Network (ITN) portrayed t as a
case where the abductee had routney returned home, aegng that cams
of abducton were attempts to msead the peope by those who are part of
an nternatona conspracy to spread propaganda aganst Sr Lanka.|14|
Preventng fames of dsappeared person from attendng regous servces
(May 2014)
Mrs. Ananth Sastharan, Northern Provnca Councor from the Tam
Natona Aance and the wfe of an L.T.T.E eader who has been mssng
snce hs surrender to the Sr Lankan Army on 18th May 2009, has not been
aowed by the mtary to enter the Hndu tempe n Keermaa to conduct
rtuas and remember reatves ked n the war and her dsappeared
husband.|15|
Obstructons and harassment of those testfyng before the Presdenta
Commsson of Inqury nto dsappearances
Fames of dsappeared persons have aeged that the government had
obstructed, msed and harassed them durng hearngs hed n Northern
towns such as Knochch|16| and Mannar|17| by the Presdenta
Commsson of Inqury nto dsappearances. It has been reported that the
Crmna Investgaton Department (CID) nqures nto dsappearances after
many years of watng, had been schedued at the same date, tme and
pace that the Presdenta of Commsson of Inqury nto dsappearances
was beng hed. Mtary personne aegng to represent the Commsson
had gathered data from famy members of dsappeared, regstered them,
and requested them to sgn Engsh forms, whch they had done, despte
not understandng the content of the document. Omcas who dented
themseves as representatves of the Mnstry of Defence had prevented
omcers of the Lega Ad Commsson from observng the process from
19th|anuary 2014 onwards. Interpretaton had been ncompete, naccurate
and not comprehensve. Observers have reported havng seen nterpreters
pre-empt answers to questons and that they even argued wth
companants and were often hoste wth testfyng famy members.
Transcrpton of Tam testmones to Engsh prevents the fames checkng
the nformaton recorded from them. When the hearngs of the Commsson
was beng hed n Knochch n |anuary 2014, famy members of
dsappeared persons from Knochch dstrct were vsted n ther homes by
omcas aegng to represent the Commsson. They had requested and
recorded the persona nformaton of ther dsappearances cases and ater
summoned the fames to the mtary run "Harmony Centre", to meet
representatves of the varous Mnstres and government omcas, who
nformed that they woud be ohered compensaton for dsappeared reatves
and requested to n another form. Human rghts defenders who had
observed the Commsson sttngs had reported that ony nne fames
accepted compensaton aong wth a death certcate and that on the same
day, they were taken to attend a ceremony omcated by the son of the
Presdent, Member of Parament for the Hambanthota Dstrct Nama
Ra|apakse. More recenty, Commsson sttngs hed n a government omce
very cose to a mtary camp n Puthukkudyruppu saw the owest
attendance of fames of the dsappeared.|18|
2013 August 30th to 2014 August 30th
Last year (2013), on 30th August, hundreds of fames were |oned by the
UN Hgh Commssoner for Human Rghts, Ms. Nav Pay. She stened to
the pan and strugges of fames of dsappeared persons, and embraced
the women. She assured the fames of her support, and went on to
hghght what she had seen, heard durng her vst to Sr Lanka. She echoed
the cres of fames of dsappeared by nsstng on the need for truth and
accountabty on every occason. In her remarks at the press conference
hed the next day n Coombo, she quoted one of the women she shared the
stage wth on 30th August, who had sad that "Even when we eat, we keep
a porton for hm." Ms. Pay sad that she was extremey moved by the
profound trauma and resence of the reatves of the mssng and the dead,
and the war survvors. She had aso met fames of mssng mtary
personne and hghghted ther pght. She had recommended the new
Commsson of Inqury on Dsappearances apponted |ust before her vst to
be more ehectve than prevous ones and for t to cover dsappearances a
over the country. But ths has not happened one year down the ne. Nether
has the government actuay crmnazed enforced dsappearances n Sr
Lanka, despte promses to the Hgh Commssoner. Government had aso
gnored her recommendatons to ratfy the Internatona Conventon on
Dsappearances and to nvte the Workng Group on Enforced and
Invountary Dsappearances to vst Sr Lanka, a request that has been
pendng for 8 years. The Hgh Commssoner aso reported about
harassment and ntmdaton of human rghts defenders - ncudng a good
frend of mne, a Prest, who has been supportng fames of dsappeared
persons for a number of years. The Hgh Commssoner hersef was not
spared of abuse durng and after the vst, by varous government omcas,
Mnsters and pro-government mobs.
What does the future hod for those dsappeared and ther fames?
It has been physcay and emotonay dranng for me to have become
nvoved wth fames of dsappeared persons, but I hope to contnue to be
part of ther strugges. Ive heard other ant-dsappearances campagners
say the same. Irrespectve of us, I know the fames w contnue the
strugge to nd ther oved ones, and for truth and |ustce. But wth threats,
ntmdaton, restrctons, obstructons and nsuts ncreasng n reguarty
and ntensty, ts becomng more and more dmcut to contnue ths
strugge.
As the UNs nternatona nvestgaton nto aegatons of war crmes has
commenced, many fames of dsappeared are keen to gve testmony. Lke
the other fames of dsappeared who had gone before the UN, the
ntenton of these fames s not to go aganst the country, but to seek truth
and |ustce about ther oved ones, as ther prevous ehorts domestcay
has not yeded postve resuts. But as the Sr Lankan government and ts
supporters threatens acton aganst those who gve testmony to the UN,
ths mght be much more dangerous and dmcut. A ma|or accusaton
(totay fase) hured when a Buddhst Monk ed mob dsrupted the meetng
of fames of dsappeared at the CSR eary ths month was that the meetng
was to send nformaton to the UN nvestgaton. It w be upto the Sr
Lankan government, and the member states of the UN to support and
protect those who go before the UN nvestgaton.
Some other nterm and short term measures may be of hep for the
fames to contnue ther ong term strugge. Such as the "temporary
absence certcate" that that ICRC had proposed, whch w not compe
them to formay decare ther oved ones dead, but w enabe them to
overcome admnstratve hurdes n ssues such as and, pensons etc.
Interm nanca hep to fames of dsappeared to contnue ther strugges
and hep them, partcuary chdren survve, coud aso be mportant. Gven
that vast ma|orty of those dsappeared n recent past are from the North,
the Northern Provnca Counc coud consder settng up a speca vountary
fund for ths, and foow up on the ICRC proposa of "temporary absence
certcates".
Acknowedgement s somethng the fames of dsappeared are desperatey
seekng, and symboc events and monuments to remember the
dsappeared and serve as pont of reference for contnued strugge woud
be very vauabe. Ths s more mportant n the present context where the
government and many peope n Sr Lanka deny dsappearances. But ts
aso more dangerous and dmcut as the government doesnt seem to aow
any such monument and events for Tams.
Sr Lanka w never have reconcaton or astng peace, unt and uness we
know whats happened to our dsappeared brothers and ssters and those
responsbe are hed accountabe. Ths s not a task that shoud be eft to
fames of dsappeared and few of ther supporters. Rather, ts a task a Sr
Lankans and a peope who care about Sr Lanka shoud become nvoved
and support.
Notes
|1| The present Presdenta Commsson of Inqury ookng nto
dsappearances n Sr Lanka has reported recevng 19,284 compants from
a parts of the country t |uy 2014.
(http://www.ft.k/2014/07/19/dsappearances-commsson-receves-19284-
compants/ |accessed August 19, 2014|). The Presdenta Commssons of
Inqures whch ooked at dsappearances between 1988 to 1994 ooked at
37,662 (http://www.hrw.org/node/62398/secton/4#_ftnref13 , footnote 13
|accessed 21st August 21, 2014|). Accordng to Poce Head Ouarters
(quoted n a report n the Thnakkura newspaper of 1stSeptember 2008,)
1000 cvans had been abducted durng the rst 8 months of 2008, 1229
durng 2007 and 1,160 n 2006. The Lessons Learnt & Reconcaton
Commsson (LLRC) had receved compants of 3,596 dsappearances out of
whch, 1018 were ntay arrested by the mtary and the Charman of
another Presdenta Commsson to probe abductons, dsappearances and
kngs was reported to have stated that 711 dsappearances reported
between |anuary 2006 and February 2007, reman unresoved.
(http://groundvews.org/2013/08/30/sr-ankas-dsappeared-vst-nav-pay-
and-another-commsson-of-nqury/). The ICRC s reported to have
addressed 16,000 compants snce 1990, ncudng about 3,000 between
1st|anuary 2008 and May 2009
(http://www.sundaytmes.k/140302/news/new-aw-to-hep-fames-of-
mssng-peope-87614.htm |accessed August 19, 2014|). The UN Workng
Group on Enforced and Invountary dsappearances had receved 12,536
cases from Sr Lanka wth 5,731 remanng outstandng, both of whch are
the second hghest number t has receved n ts 34 year od hstory from
across the word (Latest report of the Un Workng Group, Ref. A/HRC/27/49
dated 4th August 2014, avaabe
athttp://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodes/HRC/ReguarSessons/Sesson27/Pages/
LstReports.aspx)
|2| http://groundvews.org/2014/08/07/mob-dsrupts-meetng-of-fames-of-
dsappeared-poce-government-hound-partcpants/|accessed August 18,
2014|
|3| http://groundvews.org/2014/08/07/mob-dsrupts-meetng-of-fames-of-
dsappeared-poce-government-hound-partcpants/|accessed August 18,
2014|.
|4| LTTE - Lberaton Tgers of Tam Eeam, a group thats banned as a
terrorst organzaton n Sr Lanka, Inda, Europe, USA, Canada, Austraa etc.
The UN, Sr Lankan and nternatona human rghts groups have accused the
LTTE of serous voatons of nternatona humantaran aw. The LTTE used
to honour faen members, cang them "great heroes"
|5| http://srankabref.es.wordpress.com/2014/04/represson-of-dssent-n-
sr-anka- |an-march2014-engsh28apr2014.pdf |accessed August 18, 2014|
|6| https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dPIkC-8O|UM |accessed August 18,
2014|
|7| http://groundvews.org/2013/11/14/commonweath-human-rghts-
prncpes-n-sr-anka-n-the-weeks-before-chogm/ |accessed August 20,
2014
|8| Mentoned above
|9| http://www.rghtsnow.net/?p=4028 |accessed August 19, 2014|
andhttp://groundvews.org/2013/11/14/commonweath-human-rghts-
prncpes-n-sr-anka-n-the-weeks-before-chogm/ |accessed August 20,
2014|
|10| http://groundvews.org/2013/11/16/brtsh-prme-mnster-and-tna-
eaders-shun-fames-of-dsappeared-n-|ahna/ |accessed August 19, 2014|
& https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6A-Yh3OdE|8 |accessed August 19,
2014|
|11| http://newsrst.k/engsh/2014/06/reatves-mssng-persons-stage-
demonstraton-muatvu/38670 |accessed August 19, 2014|
|12| http://sundaytmes.k/news/pro-ant-protests-muatvu.htm|accessed
August 19, 2014|.
|13| In the case of the dsappearance of Mr. Prageeth Eknagoda, Anura
Shantha |ayasundara, a Poce omcer faed to appear before the courts 11
tmes and the former mnster of Meda, Mr. Lakshman Yapa Abeywardena
twce. State Counse and a Magstrate had not turned up for some case
hearngs of habeas corpus cases ed by famy members of persons who
had dsappeared after surrenderng to the Army at the end of the war n
May 2009. These cases were aso deayed due to the state not ng
ob|ectons n tme.
|14| http://www.co4neg.net/newspage/tn-news/tn-7-news-15-02-
2014.htm (from 9.02 to 11.54). Mr. Samaradheera Sun, aso known as
"Wanathe Sun", had been abducted after he had a confrontaton wth the
Secretary of Mnstry of Defense and a brother of the Presdent), regardng
the dspute on governments proposed new housng scheme for resdents of
Wanathamua, Coombo (Detas avaabe
athttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEndUABOcVc |accessed August 18,
2014|& https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0|C0zFOIbgk |accessed August
18, 2014|)
|15| http://srankabref.org/wp-content/upoads/2014/08/Represson-of-
Dssent-n-Sr- Lanka-May-2014-Engsh.pdf , p. 15 |accessed 21 August
2014|
|16| http://groundvews.org/2014/02/13/hearngs-of-the-commsson-to-
nqure-nto-the-compants-regardng-mssng-persons/ |accessed August
19, 2014|
|17| http://tamnet.com/art.htm?catd=13&artd=37339 |accessed August
19, 2014|
|18| Based on testmony of an observer who has attended to a the
hearngs of the commsson n the North and the East
Posted by Thavam