2018 Nov 2
Enforced disappearances have been plaguing the country long before the war started and continued on even after the savage civil conflicts were put to a halt. A report by the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms states that the recorded number of missing persons ranges from 16,000 upwards.
While the East is particularly notorious for large scale disappearances, lone cases of abduction have been occurring in all provinces. This is not an issue that can be pinpointed towards a single location or even towards a single ethnicity or religion. This atrocious breach of human rights and freedom of expression can affect anyone, anywhere.
There is also no lone political agenda to take the blame. There are, however, some serious questions in need of answering. For instance, just how many of these disappearances are the public still not aware of? What is being done about this blatant show of corruption and violation of human rights? And just how long will it take for those who do come forward about the enforced disappearances of their loved ones to receive closure?
What began as a humble gathering of grieving families, paying respects and lighting a candle for their loved ones has now strengthened to form a collective known as “Families of the Disappeared” (FOD). Their hardships are laid bare to the public, festering psychological wounds that refuse to heal for as long as the truth is denied them. FOD continues to fight for justice and answers when little of such has since been provided to them.
On October 27th, FOD organized an event in commemoration of the “National Day of the Disappeared” where they honored the remembrance of their loved ones. But another prominent aspect on the agenda was the public presentation of 5 cases with evidence to the Chairman of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), Mr. Saliya Peiris.
The OMP commenced its duties in March, nearly two years after its act was drafted in 2016. Their duties include tracing missing persons, protecting the rights of missing persons and next of kin, making recommendations to authorities to prevent such incidents etc. Since their appointment, they have held 6 different events to reach out to families of the disappeared and have submitted the interim report to the President. Despite being early days, FOD is hopeful that the commencement of the OMP will be a step in the right direction for advocating human rights. The FOD event also secured the presence of UN Representative, Hanaa Singer, who dedicated a speech in their honor that affirmed the UN’s full support in the matter.
The cases presented held raw emotion and unchecked grief; read on for firsthand accounts.
1. 184 persons from the village of Sathurukondan as well Pillairdi, Panichchairdi, and Kokuvil were taken into custody by the army and later disappeared. In the inquiry into the arrest of these persons, the Commission heard evidence from 63 persons relating to the disappearance of 72 persons. Amongst those who gave evidence before the Commission is Kandasamy Krishnakumar, the only person to have escaped from the army after being taken into the camp.
“Four persons including me were taken out of the crowd. All four were brought to the back of the camp. After we had been brought to the camp our hands were tied and eyes were also covered.
The other three are Kumar, Sinnathamby, and Jeeva. Those three persons are missing. We, all four, were assaulted, and we were ordered to sleep on the cashew log and were ordered to keep silent. We did not open our mouths. I was stabbed in the chest (*He shows the injuries*). I was stabbed twice. I ran out about 3 am in the night and till then it was bleeding.”
2. “At about 4pm, a jeep and a cab from the army came to our home. About 8 to 10 persons dressed in army uniform came into our home. My husband was in the kitchen lighting a cigarette when some of these men in uniform dragged him out of the house…
The men in uniform dragged me to the cab where my husband was seated. Both vehicles stopped in the jungle and they blindfolded me with my husband’s shirt and tied my hands at the back. We drove on and then stopped again. I was dragged out of the vehicle and made to sit on a cement floor…I heard the sound of beatings and my husband’s screams. They tied my legs and hung me and beat me with a hosepipe. They kept beating me with sticks and the hosepipe while asking me for information about the JVP. After a long time they lowered me to the ground and made me sit next to my husband. In a short while, they took me to another room which had a mud floor and mud walls. I was raped many times till I lost consciousness.”
Despite her release, her husband, a farmer, was never freed and the violations she experienced were never answered for.
These are just 2 accounts, and a fraction of so at that. There are countless more cases. What’s next for these families? Progress is often very slow in the cases of enforced disappearances for 2 reasons:
• Given the situation, there is either not enough evidence
• OR stories simply cease to exist in cover-up attempts. The sensitive matter of solving enforced disappearances often needs to be taken up with prominent figures.
What do the Families of the Disappeared need?
First and foremost, it is closure.
Secondly, they deserve reparations. These are women, siblings and children that have been significantly set back in life and overshadowed by this grief. Speaking with Pulse on the event, Ralston Joseph narrated the case of a 70 year old mother, still working in the labor industry long after the disappearance of her husband. Her trip to Colombo for this event cost many days’ worth of hard work.
These families have been through enough. They deserve their fundamental human rights.