By Easwaran Rutnam
Families of the missing are outraged by reports quoting President Gotabaya Rajapaksa saying that most of those reported missing are dead and that they were killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
President Rajapaksa had said last week that the people reported missing during the war are dead.
The President’s Office had quoted the President as saying that he had outlined his plans to address the issue of missing persons at a meeting with UN Resident Co-ordinator Hanaa Singer.
Rajapaksa had said that the missing persons are actually dead and that most of them had been taken away by the LTTE or forcefully conscripted.
“The families of the missing attest to it. However, they do not know what has become of them and so claim them to be missing,” the President’s Office said.
Leeladevi Anandarajah is one of many women still seeking information about their missing family members.
She told The Sunday Morning that her son surrendered to the military after the war ended and was not abducted or killed by the LTTE.
Anandarajah now leads a group of people in Kilinochchi, seeking information on the whereabouts of their family members reported missing.
“We continue to fight for justice as our family members went missing after the war and not during the war. The President may have an opinion on the matter, but we are not ready to accept what he has said,” Anandarajah said.
Ranjani, who represents the families of disappeared persons in Vavuniya, said that when most of those who went missing surrendered to the military, it was not easy to accept claims that they are dead.
“Can they prove that these people are dead? If they are dead, then there needs to be proof. Justice must be served,” she said.
Ranjani said that some 4,000 Tamils were still missing and they were mostly from the North. “Some family members are hopeful that those missing are alive and till there is proof, they will not accept that they are dead. They need to see with their own eyes and only then will there be closure,” she said.
Ranjani, Anandarajah, and others still looking for their family members had raised their issue with the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) which was established by the former Government.
The OMP had recommended in an interim report that state officials including members of the armed forces and the Police, who are named as suspects or accused in criminal actions relating to abductions and enforced disappearances, be suspended pending the final determination of such cases.
In its interim report, the OMP, chaired by Saliya Pieris PC, also recommended that steps be taken to ensure suspected officials are not transferred, promoted, or offered any other office in the armed forces, Police, or the public service while cases against them are pending.
Meanwhile, in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last September, the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) urged urgent action to ensure all cases of enforced disappearance, regardless of the author and the time when they were committed, are promptly investigated and brought to trial.
The International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) has been collecting names of those who disappeared at the end of the war from survivors and now has more than 300 names and photos displayed in a bilingual website.
President Rajapaksa had said that death certificates will be issued to the families of the missing once investigations into the disappearances were complete.
However, Amnesty International, which has been campaigning for the families of the missing, said that the Sri Lankan Government cannot dismiss their grievances and simply issue them death certificates, adding that it is not only illegal, but also unconscionable.
International Crisis Group (ICG) Senior Consultant Alan Keenan said that President Rajapaksa’s acknowledgement of the death of many thousands of people who disappeared in the civil war is an attempt to draw a line under the issue. But, he says, for family members of those who died, that is not acceptable.
Anandarajah insisted that such death certificates would not be accepted until justice was served. She said that most family members believed that some of those missing were still alive.
“If they are dead, then we need to know who killed them and why, and action must be taken against the accused. Only then can we consider death certificates,” she said.
Anandarajah also said that if the Government failed to address the issue, they would turn to the international community.
The issue is likely to be raised at the UNHRC in Geneva during its February-March session.
Meanwhile on Tuesday (21), families of the missing staged a protest in front of the OMP in Batticaloa. The protesters demanded an international mechanism to provide answers to the cases of thousands of forcibly disappeared Tamils.
The protest comes just days after the Sri Lankan President told the UN that the thousands of forcibly disappeared and missing Tamils “are actually dead”, in a widely condemned declaration.
The demonstration commenced by the YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) building in Batticaloa and ended at the OMP that was recently opened on Central Road. (Courtesy The Sunday Morning)