Amnesty takes to the streets in Sri Lanka, demands answers

Amnesty International with the support of civil society kicked off a campaign in Colombo today to raise awareness, build solidarity and demand answers and action for the disappeared in South Asia.

Three containers bearing banners reading “More than 60,000 Disappeared. Still No Answers. Why, Mr. President?,” will make their way around Colombo and it’s suburbs from today.

An informal solidarity event was held at Galle Face Green today with members of families of the disappeared from the region.

On the 29th, the containers will make their way to Galle and Matara. On the 30th, the containers will make their way to the North.

Since the 1980s, Amnesty International estimates there have been at least 60,000 and as many as 100,000 cases of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka.

The victims include Sinhalese young people who were killed or forcibly disappeared by government death squads on suspicion of leftist links in 1989 and 1990.

They include Tamils suspected of links to the LTTE, disappeared by police, military and paramilitary operatives during the conflict from 1983 to 2009. And they include human rights defenders, aid workers, journalists, government critics, and prominent community leaders.

Amnesty International says despite international commitments to end impunity for enforced disappearance, the authorities have failed to investigate these cases, identify the whereabouts or fate of the victim, or prosecute those suspected of the crimes.

As the world marks the International Day of the Disappeared, Amnesty International called on Governments across South Asia to deliver long overdue justice to the families of thousands of people who have been forcibly disappeared, some of them decades ago.

Enforced disappearances have scarred communities across South Asia, with some governments continuing to persist with the cruel punishment while others have failed to deliver on promises of justice for the thousands who were wrenched away from their loved ones during conflict.

“Few punishments are as cruel or deliberate as enforced disappearances. People are wrenched away from their loved ones by state officials or others acting on their behalf, who deny the person is in their custody or refuse to say where they are. Families are plunged into a state of anguish, desperately trying to keep the flame of hope alive while fearing the worst. They may be trapped in this limbo for years, even decades,” said Biraj Patnaik, Amnesty International’s South Asia Director.

“South Asia has a particularly gruesome record when it comes to enforced disappearances, with some governments persisting with the practice while others have failed to provide answers to those who have waited years for them. It is about time that governments in the region criminalize enforced disappearances and consign them to the past, release the people disappeared or charge them with a recognizable crime, and hold the perpetrators accountable.”

The disappeared are at risk of torture and even death. If they are released, the physical and psychological scars endure. If they are killed, the family never recovers from their loss. Disappearances are a tool of terror that strikes not just individuals or families, but entire societies. This is why they are a crime under international law, and if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack, they constitute a crime against humanity. (Colombo Gazette)

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