In an interview conducted by Amnesty International, Sandya Eknaligoda, the wife of the disappeared Sri Lankan journalist/cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda says she is hopeful a proper investigation will be conducted on the disappearance of her husband.
What progress/developments have there been in Prageeth’s case with the new Government?
Under the new President and Government, it’s the first time a proper investigation into Prageeth’s disappearance hasbeen carried out. Now the intelligence service and the police are asking the proper questions, questions they should have been asking in 2010 when Prageeth disappeared.
The investigation was put on hold for political reasons but now a proper investigation has started.
We hope the police will inform the court of their progress but still we are waiting to receive information or any progress.
While I am happy a first step has been taken, I am still hopeful that a proper investigation will be conducted. My lawyer is working on it.
What are the main challenges / obstacles you have come across in your struggle to seek justice? And how have they been overcome?
There have been two main struggles. The first is the struggle to find justice for my lost husband. And the second is the day to day struggle of having the main breadwinner of our family absent – it puts a huge financial strain on us. Also I have to be father and mother to our children. This is a common struggle for families of the disappeared.
It’s difficult to keep balancing these struggles but I have the energy to keep going.
Another key challenge is the struggle to find justice in an environment that doesn’t respect or even recognise human rights.
You’ve become an activist against Enforced Disappearances, campaigning not only for Prageeth but also for other disappearance victims. What inspired you to take on this role?
I play different roles. [With other victims of enforced disappearance], I play the role of a good friend because we share the same feelings, experiences and challenges. It’s good to listen, even if you can’t help, and it’s nice to have someone to talk to.
Also, [by joining forces with other victims], more awareness can be brought to each case; it can bring the case forward as an example of enforced disappearance.
Getting involved with others – to protest, to challenge, to attend vigils – creates a moral power as well as educating others about our campaign.
It’s very important because it’s not just about the personal case I’m fighting for. I’m proud to be representing others too. I feel strong enough to fight not only for Prageeth but also for others as well on such a large issue.
I believe keeping this international pressure on Sri Lanka is key to making domestic changes.
I know how the local authorities and the system as a whole have failed in my case and in many others.
What have you learnt from other victim’s cases/ stories and about your international endeavours – attending the HRC meetings for instance?
I believe my attendance at HRC sessions has made a significant difference in both my case and many others’ because of Sri Lanka’s long history with enforced disappearances. Attending these sessions have been incredibly important.
What impact / effect does international pressure have on human rights work and disappearance cases in Sri Lanka? Has international pressure been impactful? If so, in what way?
There are so many commissions and legal bodies that previous [Sri Lankan] governments have set up but they have all failed to fulfil their responsibility to the victim’s families. That’s an example of how the domestic processes aren’t working properly.
I think International pressure can transform these failed institutions into bodies that actually deliver what they’re meant to – what they’ve been mandated to do.
It’s also good and important to have international pressure to monitor the authorities and their work on these cases, as well as encouraging transparency and credibility.
What role or potential do you think ratifying the Convention – legislating to make the international convention national law – can have?
It is crucial that Sri Lanka signs the Convention. Sri Lanka is a UN Member State. Signing it would be recognition for families of the disappeared as well as being a good way to prevent future occurrences of enforced disappearances. It has to be stopped. Signing the Convention would be the first step the Government takes to put an end to disappearances in Sri Lanka, and by doing so showing their commitment to the families’ cause.
What role do you think Amnesty has played in the campaign and the wider issue of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka? What role would you like Amnesty to play?
There are two roles for Amnesty to play; one in the international arena and the other in the domestic one.
The role Amnesty plays in the international sphere- one that I really appreciate, have come to know and experienced first-hand – has been predominantly in the areas of advocacy, raising awareness and campaigning. I am incredibly happy and grateful for Amnesty’s work and contribution in these areas.
But I still think Amnesty has to work more heavily in the domestic sphere because there is still no available information or any form of database on disappearance cases.
It would also be good to investigate or research how investigations into disappearance cases are carried out here in Sri Lanka.
There are also still many perpetrators who are in public life; at the very least they should be named and shamed.