Colombo, April 3 (newsin.asia): Amnesty International has said that war wounds will not heal in Sri Lanka unless the issue of forced disappearances is resolved to the satisfaction of the victims’ families. As per Amnesty’s information, the number of forced disappearances counting from 1983 to the end of the war in 2009, is anywhere between 60,000 and 100,000.
Amnesty’s latest report, “Only Justice can heal our wounds”, will be launched by the organization’s Secretary General Salil Shetty at a meeting with families of the disappeared in the northern Sri Lankan town of Mannar.
The report tells the story of relatives, many of them women, who have spent years searching for truth and justice. Obstructed at every turn, they have been misled about the whereabouts or fate of their disappeared relations, subjected to threats, smears and intimidation, and suffered the indignity of delayed trials and a stalled truth and justice processes.
There is no community in Sri Lanka that remains untouched by the trauma of enforced disappearance, Shetty points out.
There were disappearances of Sinhalese in the South in the late 1980s, and of Tamils from 1983 to 2009.
“Most people in the country suffer the absence of a loved one or know someone who does. They have waited years, and in some cases, decades, to learn of the fate of their relatives. Until justice is delivered to these victims, the country cannot begin to heal, let alone move towards a more promising future,” Shetty says.
Despite international commitments to end impunity for enforced disappearance, which may amount to crimes against humanity where they have been widespread and systematic, the authorities have failed to investigate these cases, identify the whereabouts or fate of the victim, or prosecute those suspected of the crimes.
A major driver of enforced disappearances has been like Sri Lanka’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Enabling incommunicado and secret detention, the PTA places people outside the law and leaves them vulnerable to human rights violations including torture and enforced disappearances.
One of the cases detailed in the report is of Sandya Eknaligoda, whose husband, Prageeth, left his home on 24 January 2010 and never returned.
Prageeth was a political cartoonist, known for his efforts to expose corruption and human rights abuses by the government then in power.
Sandya’s perseverance has led to some evidence being uncovered which indicates that military intelligence personnel may have been involved in her husband’s disappearance. Since she filed a complaint, she has been to court at least 90 times but to no avail.
She told Amnesty International that last year, a prominent member of the Buddhist national Bodhu Bala Sena and other monks stormed the court at Homagama and threatened her. The same group has smeared her as a supporter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in posters.
In 2011, the former Sri Lankan Attorney General told the UN Committee Against Torture that her husband had not been abducted but had fled the country. When confronted about the claim in court, he said that his memory had failed him, forgetting where the claim came from.
In 2015, an investigation revealed that Prageeth had been held at army camps. But the process has stalled since then. Some soldiers were arrested in this connection, but when President Maithripala Sirisena gave expression to his disapproval of the detention of 14 military suspects without solid evidence, they were bailed out.
Prevention of Terrorism Act
A major driver of enforced disappearances has been like Sri Lanka’s “notorious” Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), Amnesty says. Enabling incommunicado and secret detention, the PTA places people outside the law and leaves them vulnerable to human rights violations including torture and enforced disappearances.
Last year, the Sri Lankan Parliament ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance. But a bill to implement the Convention by criminalizsing enforced disappearance in the Sri Lankan Penal Code is yet to be debated.
Also in 2016, Parliament passed a bill to establish the “Office of Missing Persons”. While a laudable step, the government failed to consult with victims and civil society or address their concerns about the bill, including ambiguous provisions on whether evidence of responsibility for disappearance gathered by the Office would be submitted to prosecuting authorities. At any rate, the President is yet to sign the bill into law allegedly because the evidence collected may be used against military personnel.
(The featured picture at the top shows Sandya Eknaligoda whose husband political cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda disappeared in 2010)