ENFORCED DISAPPEARED TAMILS IN THE ISLAND OF SRI LANKA
You Are Not Forgotten
“With the government embargo on food and medicine tightening, Selvan had become too weak to flee any further. It was clear that he needed immediate medical attention. ‘Once he fainted our relatives took him to the army at the Vattuvakal Bridge,’ recalls Sarojini. ‘This is where my son was put in army custody.’ It was May 16th 2009. From that day onwards, she has been in a desperate search to find her son.”
This account of Sinthanaiselvan, or Selvan and his mother Sarojini in the Tamil Guardian reflects of thousands of families of the disappeared that happened in every stage of Sri Lanka’s 30-year civil war.
According to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance, Sri Lanka has the second largest number of enforced disappearance cases before the Group. As we all are fully aware, the Government of Sri Lanka employed enforced disappearance in a widespread and systematic fashion against the Tamils before, during and after the armed conflict. The infamous white van abduction became a symbol of enforced disappearance on the island. The Government and its forces employed enforced disappearance as a tool of terror to silence Tamil political aspirations.
Living without knowing whether your loved one is alive or not, is crueler than knowing that your loved one is dead. Certainty allows one to have closure, while uncertainty leaves you in agony forever. Uncertainty is the terrible plight of tens of thousands of Tamil wives, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends whose loved ones have been victims of enforced disappearance.
The United Nations General Assembly, in commemorating the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearance, observes that disappearance is an offense to human dignity and that, “The feeling of insecurity generated by this practice is not limited to the close relatives of the disappeared, but also affects their communities and society as a whole”.
The Tamil Centre for Human Rights in Paris documented 27,000 disappearances from 1956-2007.Counterinsurgency terror led to widespread enforced disappearances of Tamils in government-held territory in 2007-2009, which have not been thoroughly documented. 147,000 people remain unaccounted for from the LTTE-held territory in the last months of the war in 2009.
Not a single person has been brought to justice either domestically or internationally for these crimes. Impunity is pervasive. The 2015 Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka addressed the enforced disappearance issue and called for accountability. To relieve itself of international pressure, the Sri Lanka Government established the Office of Missing Person (OMP) without consultations with the victims, without the participation of international experts, without a requirement to inform family members of information uncovered and without a required link to any judicial procedure.The OMP has not yet become operational.
Reginald Cooray, the present Governor of the Northern Province, said on 27 May 2017, that Sri Lanka’s response to enforced disappearances would be limited to “certificates of missing persons”. The issuance of certificates alone is wholly inadequate to meet Sri Lanka’s obligations under international law. (https://www.tamilnet.com/art.html?catid=79&artid=38693).
In addition to those Tamil civilians who were disappeared, the fate of most of Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) cadres who surrendered at the end of the conflict remains unknown. In January 2016, Prime Minister Ranil Wickresinghe declared that most of the surrendered LTTE cadres were probably dead.<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pKkhLlBRzyc> No one has demanded that he divulge when, where and how he acquired that information. His statement falls far short of Sri Lanka’s obligation to provide the families of those disappeared with the truth about what happened to them. A first step in providing information to the families is to release the lists of all those who still remain in detention and to allow visitation to those detainees.
Another endeavor to release the lists of those who surrendered to the security forces as the war came to a close, was ordered from the security forces by Mullaitivu District Judge M.S.M.Samsudeen on Jan. 3, 2017.He was presiding over habeas corpus cases before the Mullaithivu Courts. In June, President Sirisena promised families of the disappeared he would order the release of lists of those who surrendered to or were detained by the Military at the end of the war. But the list of surrenders has yet to be made public.
The Government of Sri Lanka ratified the Convention on Enforced Disappearance in 2015, but the Convention has not been incorporated into the domestic law of Sri Lanka. The victims thus do not have any domestic remedy and it is unclear if the ratification will be retroactive. While ratifying the Convention, Sri Lanka refuses to ratify Article 31 of the Convention which allows aggrieved partiesto bring complaints directly to the Committee on Enforced Disappearance in Geneva.
In the absence of domestic as well international political or legal remedies, the mothers of some of the victims of enforced disappearance have been engaged in protest since January 2017. These peaceful protests have been the target of overt and covert violence by the Government of Sri Lanka and its security forces. We salute the resilience and the determination of the mothers of the victims.
The mothers’ struggle inspires the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) and has motivated us to join hands with them in the spirit of community and solidarity.
The TGTE is a Tamil Diaspora political formation of democratically elected members living in many countries outside the island of Sri Lanka dedicated to securing justice and freedom for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
According to the UN’s 2012Petrie Report, more than 70,000 Tamils were killed during the final stages of the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, while the Catholic Bishop of Mannar told the LLRC in 2011 that 147,000 people were unaccounted for. The TGTE launched a signature campaignin 2015 calling for an international investigation of the serious crimes committed during the final stages of the conflict in Sri Lanka. More than 1.6 million people signed the petition from all over the world, including Sri Lanka. So far there has been no investigation and no justice for the victims.
This website is an effort to honor those who have been subjected to enforced disappearance by compiling their information in one place in easily accessible form to remember, provide available evidence, and demonstrate the enormous scale of the tragedy for the Tamil People on the island and abroad. This website carries the photographs and basic details of the victims of enforced disappearance. This website will remain a living archive of the wickedness of enforced disappearance. This website will continue to question the conscience of humanity until justice is done for the Tamils.
To add information about a forced disappeared person, please visit the Contact page to send what you know to the Editor.
To add your organization to the Petition on enforced disappearance in the island of Sri Lanka, please visit the Signature page.