SRI LANKA: Government treats disappearances as ‘normal occurrences’

September 4, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission

SRI LANKA: Government treats disappearances as ‘normal occurrences’

Several Sri Lankan newspapers reported that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) had disclosed in their bulletin that a further 34 persons had been abducted over the past three weeks.

The Daily Mirror quoted the ICRC bulletin as saying:

“Families throughout the country continued to report abductions of relatives by unknown persons,” the ICRC said.

Last week in a report published by three well-known civil society groups in Sri Lanka, the Civil Monitoring Mission, Law Society and Trust and the Free Media Movement, cited 547 persons as having been killed and 396 persons as having disappeared during the period from January to June, 2007. These three groups have submitted names and other details of the alleged victims to the Sri Lankan authorities.

Meanwhile, in a statement issued to mark the International Day for the Disappeared, Amnesty International (AI) said that the United nations Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, (WGIEP) is reviewing more than 5700 unresolved cases from Sri Lanka.

At the same time the Chairman of the Commission for Investigating Killings, Disappearances, Abductions and Unidentified Dead Bodies, Mr. Mahanama Thilakeratna, was reported as saying that many who were reported to have disappeared have returned home to their relatives unnoticed. However, even according to him over 500 disappearances were confirmed to have taken place since September 13, 2006. The Chairman went on to say that “Currently there is an undeclared war-like situation in Sri Lanka. Incidents such as killings are normal occurrences in a country at war.” However, it is not clear if it is his view that the disappearances are ‘normal occurrences’.

In fact, causing of forced disappearances has been treated as normal occurrences since 1971 when 10,000 people were reported to have been killed in an attempt to suppress a minor revolt lead by the JVP during that time. Ever since tens of thousands of people have disappeared in the south, north and the east and various governments have treated these as normal occurrences. In fact, constantly, powerful spokesmen for various governments have justified this practice on the grounds that under certain circumstances the law has to be abandoned and any actions, regardless of how inhumane, need to be recognised as permissible.

The present government maintains a state of denial of such gross abuses of human rights and carries on a constant attack on critics both local and international, as a conspiracy against Sri Lanka and an abetment of the terrorists. The position maintained by the government and many of its agencies is that no serious investigations should be undertaken on complaints regarding this matter as it would disturb the mentality and morale of the armed forces.

It can be asserted that not an inch of progress has been achieved through international pressures so far in persuading the government to abandon this state of denial and to admit to the gross abuses of human rights that are taking place in the country. At the level of international negotiations what remains is a stalemate. If both the local public opinion and the international community is unable to create sufficient enough pressure for the government to abandon this state of denial the disappearances and other gross abuses of human rights are likely to continue unabated.

Meanwhile there are also reports of unscrupulous criminal elements exploiting this situation to engage in abductions with a view of obtaining ransoms. Many such criminal adventures end in either the killing of, or serious harm to the victims, some of whom are children. In this regard the situation is fast becoming similar to that of Bihar, one of the most lawless states in India. The failure to break this deadlock created by the denial of the government may cause the situation to degenerate even further in the coming months.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-214-2007
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : Enforced disappearances and abductions,