The 30th of August passed just as another day for many of us but it was not so for the families of war ridden North and East in Sri Lanka. “No justice done for Disappearances and Abductions!” They say this even after 8 years elapsed for what the government call the Victory of War!
Hundreds of enforced disappearances committed since 2006 have already placed Sri Lanka among the countries with the highest number of new cases in the world. The victims are primarily young ethnic Tamil men who “disappear”-often after being picked up by government security forces in the country’s embattled north and east, but also in the capital Colombo. This trend was extended to Journalist, Political and Human right activists as well.
In the face of this crisis, the previous and present government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated an utter lack of resolving to investigate and prosecute those who are responsible. Families complained about their failed efforts to get the Sri Lankan authorities to act on the cases of their “disappeared” or abducted relatives.
The cost of this failure is miserably high. It is not only measured in lives brutalized and lost, but in the anguish suffered by the survivors-the spouses, parents, and children who may never learn the fate of their “disappeared” loved one. And it is felt in the fear and uncertainty that remains in the communities where such horrific, unpunished crimes take place.
Under international law, an enforced disappearance occurs when state authorities detain a person and then refuse to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or the person’s whereabouts, placing the person outside the protection of the law. Government security forces and are believed to have been responsible for tens of thousands of “disappearances” during 1987 to 1990, and two-decades-long civil war between the government and the LTTE.
Enforced disappearances have again become a salient feature of the conflict. Figures released by various governmental and nongovernmental sources suggest that more than 10000 people were reported missing during last decade. Some are known to have been killed, and others have surfaced in detention or otherwise have been found, but the majority remain unaccounted for. Evidence suggests that most have been “disappeared” or abducted. “Disappearances” have primarily occurred in the conflict areas in the country’s north and east-namely the districts of Jaffna, Mannar, Batticaloa, Ampara, and Vavuniya. A large number of cases have also been reported in Colombo.
In the great majority of evidence indicates the involvement of government security forces-army, navy, or police. The Sri Lankan military, empowered by the country’s counter-terrorism laws, has long relied on extrajudicial means, such as “disappearances” and summary executions-in its operations against LTTE members and political activists.
In a number of cases, family members of the “disappeared” knew exactly which military units had detained their relatives, which camps they were taken to, and sometimes even the license plate numbers of the military vehicles that took them away.
In other cases, groups of about a dozen armed men took victims from their homes, located near army checkpoints, sentry posts, or other military positions. While eyewitnesses could not always identify the perpetrators beyond doubt, they suspected the military’s involvement, as it seemed inconceivable that large groups of armed men could move around freely during curfew hours and get through checkpoints without the military’s knowledge.
Relatives frequently described uniformed policemen, especially members of the Criminal Investigation Department (CID), taking their relatives into custody before they “disappeared.” The police claimed that these individuals were needed for questioning, yet did not say where they were being taken and did not produce the required “arrest receipt.” After these arrests, the families did not manage to obtain any information on the detainees’ fate or whereabouts.
By this repeated attempt to abduct and forcibly exile Frontline Socialist Party Politburo member Kumar Gunaratnam and abduction and disappearance of Lalith and Kugan who were political and Human Right activists in North and East were best examples that the abductions and disappearances were extended to political activists as well.
The involvement of the security forces in “disappearances” is facilitated by Sri Lanka’s emergency laws, which grant sweeping powers to the army along with broad immunity from prosecution. Several provisions of the two emergency regulations currently in force create a legal framework conducive to “disappearances.” People can be arrested without a warrant and detained indefinitely on vaguely defined charges; there is no requirement to publish a list of authorized places of detention; and security forces can dispose of dead bodies without public notification and without disclosing the results of the post-mortem examination, thus preventing proper investigations into custodial deaths.
Enforced disappearances are a continuing offense-meaning the crime continues to be committed to the whereabouts or fate of the victim becomes known. The continuing nature of the crime takes a particularly heavy toll, with family members left wondering for months or years or forever whether their loved one is alive or dead. Some of the “disappeared” reappear as corpses showing signs of execution or torture, or turn up alive in detention in police custody or army camps, or simply turn out never to have been disappeared after all. But the great majority never turn up again and are presumed dead, victims of extrajudicial execution or other death in custody.
A critical factor contributing to continuing “disappearances” in Sri Lanka is the systemic impunity enjoyed by members of the security forces and pro-government armed groups for abuses they commit.Police still do not investigate most of the cases and rarely follow up with families on the progress of cases, claiming they lack sufficient information to identify perpetrators and locate victims. However, family members say that even when they provide details to the police that should at least give a start to an investigation-such as the license plate numbers of the vehicles allegedly used in the abductions and the names of people or military units the family believes were involved-police do not follow through.
In the year 2015, the so called governance concept brought by the present capitalist government against the previous Mahinda Rajapaksha regime promised the citizens that they will introduce new laws to investigate the abductions and disappearances and punish the culprits. However, no such actions were taken proving the fact that there is no ideological difference between the previous and present capitalist regimes on abductions and disappearances of oppressed. Recently few nationalist groups who played a major role in the victory of present regime protested against the new laws.
Even though the laws couldn’t resolve the oppression on the people who fight for their rights and the capitalism at least there was a hope that the reforms will be done within the legal framework. Some left wing parties also gave that hope to the voters. However, it was again proved the fact that justice will not be dispensed for the victims of the abductions and disappearances.