Is there a procedure within the police detailing what action is to be taken when a missing person¡¦s complaint is received? As there is a current and ongoing case now with regard to the disappearance of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda, a journalist attached to Lanka E-News, it is a relevant question to ask on this occasion.
In many jurisdictions, a report relating to a missing person is a rare occurrence. However, Sri Lanka belongs to a small group of countries in which it is a common occurrence. Under these circumstances, there is even more reason for the public to be aware of the actions that the police will take once a complaint about a missing person is received.
Even in countries where reports of missing persons are not rare, most cases would refer to abductions relating to ransom demands. In such instances, the culprits are usually criminal gangs. The police, in many countries, have special procedures and special teams of officers who are trained to deal with such complaints. Once such a complaint is received, these special teams are activated and they perform their functions according to the methods that they have been trained in. Furthermore, there are usually methods of reporting by these teams to the highest police authorities who are thereby enabled to take any further actions that may be required under the circumstances. Usually, in dealing with missing persons, for ransom purposes, there are also procedures relating to publicity. Where information from the public is needed, the public is alerted through the media and centers are organised for the receipt of information on an urgent basis.
Judging from past experience in Sri Lanka cases of missing persons, for the most part, relate to abductions and clandestine methods of arrest carried out by the state agencies themselves. Broadly speaking, such ¡§disappearances¡¨ fall within two categories: Those that are done for counter-insurgency purposes and those which are more directly for political reasons. Abductions of persons from the JVP, particularly during the period 1988 to 1991, and those suspected of Tamil militancy, particularly relating to the LTTE, from the 1980s up to 2009, belong to the first category. Many of these persons have been later found in detention centers and many others also have ¡§completely disappeared¡¨, which really means that they have been extrajudicially executed.
There have also been a large number of persons who have been abducted with the particular view to weaken democratic political opposition parties and in this category abductions for the most part have had the intention of extrajudicial execution and exhibition of bodies in public places to create intimidation. The large numbers of disappearances from 1988 ¡V 1991 belonged to this category.
Looking into the abduction of Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda, it is more or less clear that his case does not fall within the category of persons who may have been abducted for ransom. Therefore, according to the facts available so far, it is most unlikely that it was done by a criminal gang directly for a criminal purpose. It is also clearly not a case of abduction falling within emergency laws or prevention of terrorism laws, as there is no allegation at all that Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda violated any of the laws relating to public security.
Thus, the only plausible reason left for Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda¡¦s ¡§disappearance¡¨ is that it was done for a political purpose. This is supported by many factors, such as the date of disappearance, the 24th of January, just two days before the presidential election; also, by the fact that as a political analyst, Prageeth Ekanaliyagoda had written several articles between November and January which were crucial months in the presidential campaign, and the content of his writings were clearly opposed to President Mahinda Rajapaksha; further, Lanka E-News was under attack in many ways during the days around the election on January 26th and all such attacks are generally perceived to be from the political sources supporting the government.
The question then is about the conduct of investigations by the police into a complaint of a missing person, where the main suspicion is against one or another government agency or an agency working for the ruling political regime. The problem that the Inspector General of Police is faced with is about his willingness to carry out the investigation; the capacity of the police service to do it, and the procedure they will follow into the investigation of missing persons whose disappearances are mostly attributed to such an agency.
It is under these circumstances that the Inspector General of Police is under greater obligation to demonstrate to the public that there is a genuine inquiry into the complaint. As this category of ¡§disappearance¡¨ has been a common experience in the recent past in Sri Lankan, the Sri Lankan police by now should have developed procedures, as well as expertise in dealing with these cases.
Here, the obligation of the police is primarily to begin the investigations by enquiries into intelligence units, paramilitary units or even criminal gangs that are likely to be used for the politically directed causing of forced disappearances. Thus, the Sri Lankan police should have such procedures for dealing with such cases and expertise that has been developed for doing so.
These are matters that the Inspector General of Police is under obligation to explain to the public.