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SRI LANKA: One Catholic priest and a man disappear

August 30, 2006

[NOTICE: The AHRC have developed a new automatic letter-sending system using the "button" below. However, we also encourage you to send your appeal letters via fax or post to the Sri Lankan aurhorities. Fax numbers and postal addresses of the Sri Lankan authorities are attached below with this appeal. Thank you.]

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ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Urgent Appeal

30 August 2006
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UA-280-2006: SRI LANKA: One Catholic priest and a man disappear 

SRI LANKA: Disappearance; government's inaction to locate the missing persons
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the church-run Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) regarding a disappearance of Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown (34) and Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas since 20 August 2006. They were last seen at a military checkpoint situated at the entrance to Allaipiddy in conflict ongoing Jaffna peninsula, Sri Lanka. A complaint lodged with Kayts police as well as the Human Rights Commission regarding their disappearance but there has been no serious action by the government authorities to locate their whereabouts so far. Meanwhile, it is reported that Fr. Jim Brown had been allegedly accused of helping the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) to dig bunkers by the Naval commanding officer of Allaipiddy before the incident.    

At around 12:30 pm on 20 August 2006, Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown left Kayts on his motorbike with Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas to go to Mandaithevu to say Mass for displaced people who had sought shelter in a Hindu temple. However, Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) personnel at the entrance to Mandaithevu did not allow him to say Mass so he left.

Fr. Brown then proceeded toward Jaffna to return to Kayts. On his way there he met Rev. Fr. Peter Thurairatnam on a motorbike between Madaithivu checkpoint and Allaipiddy checkpoint of the SLN personnel at around 2:00 pm. Fr. Jim Brown, Mr. W.V. Vimalathas and Fr. Peter Thurairatnam traveled together up to the SLN checkpoint at the entrance to Allaipiddy. They reached the checkpoint nearly 2:10pm. At the checkpoint Fr. Jim Brown told Fr. Peter that he wanted to go to Allaipiddy, where he was the newly appointed parish priest (he was so appointed in July).

According to Fr. Peter, SLN personnel showed an abnormal reaction when Fr. Jim Brown said that he would go Allaipiddy. Fr. Peter felt like going with Fr. Jim Brown to Allaipiddy, but proceeded to his parish at Naranthanai, hoping nothing would happen to him. It was the last time Fr. Jim Brown was last seen before his disappearance. They never returned and efforts to track them down have so far proved useless. Later, the SLN personnel at the said checkpoint claimed that Fr. Jim Brown with Mr. W.V. Vimalathas went to Allaipiddy but gave different versions about their departure.

Prior to Fr. Brown's disappearance, on August 12, over 20 people were killed in Allaipiddy in crossfire between the security forces and LTTE. During the crossfire, Fr. Brown's parish church of St Philip Neri, where many people sought shelter, came under fire. He and his parishioners then ran to an open bunker and saved their lives. The next day afternoon (August 13), he took most of the people of the village - about 800 - to St. Mary's Church in neighboring Kayts, literally begging the Navy troops on his knees to be allowed to go there. Shortly afterwards, Fr. Brown was scolded by the Navy commanding officer of Allaipiddy during the meeting. He allegedly shouted at Fr. Brown saying that he had helped the LTTE to dig bunkers. However, Fr. Brown told Fr. J.J.Bernard OMI, the director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation, that they had dug bunkers in order to protect themselves from the shelling and bombing of the church premises. Allaipiddy is also known for the massacre of 9 persons that took place on 13 May 2006.

Meanwhile, a complaint has been lodged with Kayts police and Human Rights Commission regarding disappearance of Fr. Jim Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas. The Bishop of Jaffna and the Human Rights Commission have then contacted the Navy Commanders of the North, Admiral Ranaweera and Colonel L.C. Perera, who did not take any action but merely said that they do not know anything about the incident. The Church of Jaffna has also launched an urgent appeal: the government must intervene to discover the whereabouts of Fr Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas. They urged the international community to pressurize the Sri Lankan government to attend to this incident immediately, act in time and save these innocent victims. Sedec, the national Caritas, has also informed the president of Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapakse, of the incident but still await a reply.

This case is not an isolated case in Sri Lanka which has one of the highest rates in the world of unsolved cases of disappearances. The AHRC is also concerned the fact that Fr. Brown went missing after being accused of supporting the LTTE by the Navy commanders in the region. The Sri Lankan government must take serious action to locate the whereabouts of the two victims and ensure their safe return to their homes. It also must investigate to find out actual circumstances of the incident and whether Navy personnel are involved in their disappearances. 

SUGGESTED ACTON:
Please write to the relevant authorities listed below and urge them to act immediately to find the whereabouts of Fr. Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas and ensure their safety. 

To support this appeal, please click:

Sample letter:

Dear __________,

SRI LANKA: One Catholic priest and a man disappear 

Name of the victims:
1. Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown, aged 34, a Catholic parish priest of Allaipiddy, born on 4 June 1972
2. Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas, born on 1967, father of five children
Date of disappearance: 20 August 2006
Place where last seen:  at around 2:10pm on August 20 at a Navy checkpoint situated at the entrance to Allaipiddy

I am deeply concerned by disappearances of Fr. Thiruchchelvan Nihal Jim Brown and Mr. Wenceslaus Vinces Vimalathas. They have been last seen at around 2:10pm on 20 August 2006 at a Navy checkpoint situated at the entrance to Allaipiddy and have been missing since then.

According to the observations of Fr. Peter Thurairatnam, who was the last person seeing the two victims at the Navy checkpoint at the entrance to Allaipiddy, Sri Lanka Navy (SLN) personnel showed an abnormal reaction when Fr. Brown said that he would go Allaipiddy, where he was newly appointed as parish priest in July. It was the last time he was last seen before his disappearance. The SLN personnel at the checkpoint later reportedly claimed that Fr. Jim Brown with Mr. W.V. Vimalathas went to Allaipiddy but gave different versions about his departure.

I am also gravely concerned the fact that prior to his disappearance, Fr. Jim Brown was scolded by the Navy commanding officer of Allaipiddy who accused him of helping the LTTE to dig bunkers during the meeting that was held after the August 12 crossfire between the security forces and the LTTE in that area. Over 20 people were killed in Allaipiddy due to crossfire and on August 13, Fr. Jim Brown took about 800 villagers to St. Marys Church in neighboring Kayts, literally begging the Navy troops on his knees to be allowed to go there. Fr. Brown reportedly told a fellow priest that they dug bunkers in order to save their lives from the shelling and bombing of the church premises.

I am also informed that no serious action has been taken by the Sri Lankan government authorities to locate whereabouts of the two victims despite complaints to Kayts police and Human Rights Commission. Even though the Bishop of Jaffna and the Human Rights Commission contacted the Navy Commanders of North, Admiral Ranaweera and Colonel L.C. Perera, instead of taking action on the case, they simply said that they did not know anything about the incident. Sedec, the national Caritas, has also informed the Sri Lankan President, Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse of the incident. However, there has yet been no response from his officer.

Under the circumstances, I strongly urge you to take immediate and serous action to find the whereabouts of Fr. Jim Brown and Mr. W.V. Vimalathas and ensure their safe return to their homes. I also urge you to find out actual circumstances of the incident and whether Navy personnel are involved in their disappearances. In fact, this case is not an isolated case in Sri Lanka which has one of the highest rates in the world of unsolved cases of people who have gone missing. The Sri Lankan government must enforce a strong policy to reduce alarming rate of forced disappearances in the country.

Yours truly,


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SEND YOUR LETTER TO:

1. Mr. Mahinda Rajapakse
President
Socialist Democratic Republic of Sri Lanka
C/- Office of the President
Temple Trees
150, Galle Road
Colombo 3
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2472100 / +94 11 2446657
Email: secretary@presidentsoffice.lk

2. Mr. Ratnasiri Wickremanayake
Prime Minister
Temple Trees
Galle Road, Colombo 03
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 575317-8 or 370 737-8
Fax: +94 11 2 575454

3. Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa
Minister
Ministry of Defence, Public Security, Law and Order
15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha,
Colombo 03,
Sri Lanka.
Tel: 94-11 2 430860-9, 430878-9 or 435879 (for the secretary)
Fax: 94 11 2 446300 or 421529
E-mail: modadm@sltnet.lk or secdef@sltnet.lk

4. Mr. K. C. Kamalasabesan
Attorney General
Attorney General's Department
Colombo 12
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 436421
Email: attorney@sri.lanka.net

5. Mr. Chandra Fernando
Inspector General of Police
New Secretariat
Colombo 1
SRI LANKA
Fax: +94 11 2 440440/327877
Email: chandralaw@police.lk

6. Secretary
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
No. 36, Kynsey Road
Colombo 8
SRI LANKA
Tel: +94 11 2 694 925 / 673 806
Fax: +94 11 2 694 924 / 696 470
E-mail: sechrc@sltnet.lk

7. Mr. Stephen J. Toope
Chairperson
UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
Attn: Tanya Smith
c/o OHCHR-UNOG
1211 Geneva 10
SWITZERLAND
Tel: + 41 22 917 9176
Fax: +41 22 917 9006 (ATTN: WORKING GROUP EXTRAJUDICIAL EXECUTIONS)


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (ahrchk@ahrchk.org

    

Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-280-2006
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.