Rights group lists 280 names of war missing in Sri Lanka

A human rights group has listed 280 names of people said to have gone missing during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka.

The South Africa based International Truth and Justice Project said that Sri Lanka’s Office of Missing Persons is duty bound to question war-time military leaders over hundreds of cases of enforced disappearance that took place on the final day of the civil war in 2009 if it wants to recover the truth about these cases.

Among those who disappeared were at least 29 Tamil children, last seen with their families in the custody of the Sri Lankan Army on or around 18 May 2009 in what are regarded as classic cases of enforced disappearance in accordance with international law.

“This is the largest single group of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka’s history – hundreds of people disappearing at the same time and place with multiple eyewitnesses both inside and outside the country,” said the International Truth and Justice Project’s Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka.

“We have written to the Office of Missing Persons saying this is the first case they should investigate if they are serious about criminal accountability for enforced disappearance. They can start by questioning Major General Shavendra Silva and General Jagath Jayasuriya, whom eyewitnesses say personally observed the surrenders and those security forces in whose custody they were placed.”

The 58th Division of the Sri Lankan Army has to date steadfastly refused to hand over a list of surendees from the final day of the war to families who filed a habeus corpus case in Sri Lanka.

The 58 Division, which is named in the UN Investigation as accepting the surrenders, was led at the time by alleged war criminal, Major General Shavendra Silva, who has been promoted by the current Government to Adjutant General of the Sri Lankan Army.

Eyewitnesses indicated that Silva was present at the Wadduvakkal Bridge on 18 May and even shook hands with the LTTE political wing leaders who surrendered and shortly thereafter were summarily executed. Silva reported to General Jayasuriya who is also said by eyewitnesses to have been present at the Wadduvakkal Bridge watching the surrenders of LTTE cadres led by a Catholic priest, all of whom subsequently disappeared in the custody of the security forces.

General Jayasuriya has been accused of alleged war crimes in 4 lawsuits filed by the ITJP in Latin America where he was Ambassador until he fled home to evade justice.

The ITJP’s disappearance website is recreating the surrender list that the Sri Lankan Army is witholding. It currently contains 280 names and can be viewed online in Tamil and English at: http://itjp.bong.international/#lang=english .

“We urge anyone with information or photos to contact us by email in English or Tamil,” said the ITJP’s Executive Director Yasmin Sooka, “this is by no means a complete list or a perfect one but it is a start and what it reveals is that the extent of the crime is much larger than previously known.”

The ITJP concedes there could be some duplication in names because families report loved ones missing using their birth names while former comrades tend to use noms de guerre. The group says that is why it’s important to add photographs were possible and urges members of the public to contact them regarding any corrections.

The design of the site deliberately leaves grey boxes empty to signify that this is not a final list but rather a work in progress.
Each name is just a tiny glimpse of the human suffering that enforced disappearance leaves behind.

Those named on the ITJP list are believed to have been taken into the custody of the Sri Lankan Army on or around 18th May 2009 before they disappeared. Some have been reported as disappeared by their families in Sri Lanka. Witnesses are also in several countries abroad where they have given sworn testimony to the ITJP about who they saw surrendering to the security forces. (Colombo Gazette)