AHRC HUMAN RIGHTS STATEMENT – Commemoration of the Disappearances in Sri Lanka

Commemoration of

“Thirteen years ago my son, who was 22 years old, left home telling me he would return in 15 minutes or so. He never did. We are still waiting. We know he will not come, but we are still waiting,” said a 57-year-old father who joined the commemoration of Disappearances Day for the second time at the Monument for the Disappeared in Sri Lanka at Raddoluwa in Seeduwa.

“When my mother [the boy’s grandmother] knew of the disappearance, she began beating her chest; and within 19 days she was gone,” he continued. “My father [the boy’s grandfather] developed heart problems soon, and he too was gone. My wife is inconsolable and is very sick, and I too have heart problems now. My three daughters, who were studying well earlier, refuse to study after the loss of their only brother. I had to get them married as I was not sure whether I would live. His disappearance was caused by a jealous neighbour who misinformed the people who were engaged in mass disappearances that my son was a rebel. Everyone, including the police, now admit that this was all false. Excuse me for talking like this. I feel a little relieved when I can talk like this. At home, we do not talk because it is too painful for the younger ones. If we mention him during a meal, we stop eating. We just cannot eat.”

These are the thoughts and feelings of just one of the many parents, family members and friends of the disappeared in the crowd of more than 1,000 people who gathered to observe Disappearances Day on Oct. 27, 2001. A delegation from Kwangju, South Korea, from the May 18 Foundation also participated at the event. Mr. Tenuwara, the artist who designed the monument, was among the crowd as well.

“The removal of a human being leaves a vacuum,” he said. “It is this that I have tried to show through my design. Empty space in the monument shows the shape of a human person. The space is empty as the person is no longer there,” he said at a press conference held at the conference venue.

It is this sense of a vacuum, of emptiness, that the father above was describing 13 years after the disappearance of his son.

The commemoration was a tearful event for many people. It was particularly so when the family members placed flowers near the pictures of their disappeared relatives. The plates containing their photos are pasted to a wall behind the monumentthe Wall of Tears. Presently, there are about 300 photos pasted to this wall.

The commemoration this year had many special features. Buddhist monks were given dhana by the relatives of the disappeared inside a Catholic church just behind the monument. Someone said that this is a historic event. Someone else rejoined that the grassroots meetings of the victims have the capacity to unite religions.

Another remarkable feature this year was a picture exhibition by Hong Sung-dam, a renowned Korean artist, who was a political prisoner under the military regime in South Korea. His pictures depicted the people’s pain during the Kwangju uprising in May 1980 against the military coup. He told the Sri Lankan audience that “our pain was very much like yours.”

A book of Sinhala poems, consisting of the poems submitted to the poetry contest last year, was also launched at the evening ceremonies. This poetry book with a beautiful cover is entitled Kadulu Mathakayen Obbata or Beyond the Memory of Tears. At the evening ceremony, prizes were also distributed to the winners – mostly school children – of the essay, poetry and painting exhibitions. Britto Fernando, the chairperson of Kalape Api, which organised this gathering with the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), recalled how two people, Lionel, a trade unionist, and his lawyer were killed in 1989 at the spot where the monument now stands. “No one was allowed even to place a flower at the place [where they were killed],” he said. He recalled the fear, even of the parents, to participate in any activity in the subsequent years. Only a small group defied the police assaults to assert their right to pay their respects to their dead colleagues. He said he was happy to see that the parents and relatives of the disappeared are now able to honour their dead at this monument.

Throughout the commemoration, participants expressed frustration at the denial of justice to the victims of the disappearances. People recalled how some politicians made political gains out of the disappearances and did nothing to help the victims. The common feeling was that the new campaign provides a better impetus and that the campaign for the disappeared has now gained a new perspective and a new vigour.

Many human rights organisations participated in this year’s commemoration. Hundreds of banners displayed the concerns of many organisations about human rights issues. One set of banners gave instructions to the people about their rights against illegal arrest and torture. “Let Us Protect Lives and End Murders” and “Let There Be Courageous and Fearless Lawyers to Defend Human Rights” were others. A call for peace and justice was another common theme as people want an end to violence in the country and justice for the crimes that have been committed.

Asian Human Rights Commission

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Mongkok Commercial Centre,

Kowloon, Hong Kong SAR

Tel: +(852)-2698-6339

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E-mail: ahrchk@ahrchk.org

Web: www.ahrchk.net

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-10-2001
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions,