As Sri Lanka readies to host the Commonwealth Summit in less than a week, a citizens group from its Northern Province on Wednesday have sought a probe into as many as 2,300 cases of disappearances in the area.
Nearly forty persons — all relatives of missing persons — travelled from Mullaitivu, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Mannar and Jaffna to Colombo, about 300 km to the south, to file their complaints at the Commission set up by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to investigate cases of disappearances.
The issue of disappearances in Sri Lanka has been surfacing repeatedly and also found mention in United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay’s statement in Sri Lanka, during her visit a couple of months ago. She had then pressured the government to make this commission more effective than commissions set up earlier in Sri Lanka.
According to Emmanuel Sebamalai, who led the Mannar-based citizens committee, all the cases of disappearances were between 1990 and 2009, when the civil war came to an end. Sri Lanka has since been grappling with some disturbing questions pertaining to allegations of human rights violations and war crimes.
“Some of the relatives brought photographs along and pleaded with the Commission to trace their relatives. We have seen many such commissions, but little has been done so far,” he told The Hindu on Friday. However, it was important to follow up on the cases for “they [relatives] had no other option but to hope that their relatives will be back some day”, he said.
On whether the Commission gave them any time frame for the investigation, Mr. Sebamalai said: “No, we were not told how long this will take.”
The three-member panel, which was set up by Mr. Rajapaksa in August, has received about 5,500 complaints — including Wednesday’s 2,300 — of disappearances so far, according to an official at the Commission.
“Many of these cases of disappearances seem to have been during the final stages of the war, in 2009. We have been working in the north and collecting names of those admitted to hospitals during that time to see if we can trace them,” the official, who did not wish to be named, told The Hindu. Soon, public hearings in different parts of the Northern Province will be held, he added.
While the Sri Lankan government claims to be addressing its post-war challenges, new problems seem to be cropping up periodically. In barely a week, Sri Lanka will host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM).
No fire zone, a recent documentary by Callum Macrae, put the spotlight on the execution of Tamil propagandist Isaipriya, allegedly by the Sri Lankan army. The army denied it saying the footage was fabricated. Also, a report for the BBC by British journalist Francis Harrison features interviews of some who were raped and tortured in captive allegedly by the Sri Lankan army.
On Thursday, the BBC put out a statement on this special report saying it had evidence that “Sri Lankan government security forces have been involved in the torture and rape of Tamil civilians as recently as this year — four years after the end of civil war.”
Questioning the timing of these reports, the Sri Lankan army dismissed it as a “gimmick” to influence world leaders who plan to attend CHOGM. “If these people were actually tortured, they should go to the law enforcement agencies, not give interviews to journalists,” said Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya, spokesperson of the Sri Lankan army.
According to him, about 15 cases related are pending in Sri Lankan courts.