Minister of Justice Ali Sabry at a Zoom discussion on 30 August 2021 disclosed that the President in Cabinet meetings and outside has again and again stressed to us his following stand on the issue of disappeared persons.
” If anyone disappeared, there is no need to investigate the reasons for his disappearance. Do not try to find out if any crimes were committed in that incident, so forget about it. Do not search for the reasons as it why he is disappeared or which side he belongs to. Leave all of these matters out and consider the disappeared person as a Sri Lankan, feel the pains of a disappearance and pay the due compensation. If any crime has been committed, we will forget it. We also should not investigate as to the race and the language of the disappeared person. Paying compensation does not mean that the government has accepted the commission of a crime. We have to end this matter without continuing it”.
The above sweeping and contemptuous statement has revealed the President’s and Government’s position and state of mind regarding the unsolved issue of enforced disappearances estimated to be about 60,000 or more between Years 2006 and 2009. A UN study in 1996 estimated about 11,513 disappearances between Years 1980 and 1996 while Asian Human Rights Commission estimated 16,742 disappearances in Year 1996 alone. A 1999 UN Study confirmed the disappearances of 12,000 after being detained by the security forces. It has to be stated that an estimated 100,000 persons were forcibly disappeared in Sri Lanka since 1990. Also it is said that Sri Lanka holds the record of the second highest number of disappearances in the world.
In this respect, Red Cross, LLRC and Paranagama – Udalagama Commission have also confirmed a minimum of 15,000 disappearances during the final stages of the war in May 2009. It is to be noted that Paranagama – Udalagama Commission received about 24,000 complaints of disappearances from the relatives of victims.
In the face of these independent damning reports, President’s dismissive and casual statements are nothing but a mockery of Accountability, Justice and Rule of Law. Besides, the statements condone state terrorism and a crime against humanity which is a constituent of Genocide against the Tamils.
The President has also violated the whole provisions of “Enforced Disappearances Act (2016) after acceding to the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances.
Adding insult to injury, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa has tabled a Resolution in Parliament on 29 August 2021 which seeks to grant impunity for those security officials mostly military personnel and provides for the withdrawal of prosecutions against security officials which are pending in Courts. The Resolution also authorizes initiating prosecutions against those who filed the cases and against those Lawyers in the Attorney General’s department who filed and argued the cases in Court. When AG’s department, the Guardians of Law and Justice are prosecuted for the crime of “Fighting for Justice” on behalf of the affected victims, one can imagine the fate that would befall on those seeking justice and accountability from the Sri Lanka Judicial system. Under this Resolution, the alleged killers of Lasantha Wickramatunga and the abductors and torturers of Keith Nayar will walk free to pursue their career.
In short, the President is unveiling and introducing a new brand of tainted Justice for the crying relatives and victims of the disappeared by prosecuting the victims and complainants while freeing the perpetrators of crimes, a phenomenon and a precedent one can never find in any judicial system in the world. Above all, the President has buried the OMP, it’s functions and provisions.
The President’s recent conflicting and contradictory statements cast doubt as to which direction he will steer the country. In one statement, he said that “Government will not allow anyone to interfere in the internal affairs of country”. At a meeting on 03 August 2021 with “SRI LANKAN COLLECTIVE FOR CONSENSUS”, he stated that “We are committed to work with UN to ensure Accountability and Human Rights to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation”.
However, indications are that Rajapaksas are inclined to choose the path of consolidation and entrenchment of powers in their control and blood stained hands.
There is not an inkling of doubt that the issue of disappearances in Sri Lanka will not go away but will continue to hang on as a sword for the Government.
The UN on 30 August 2021 issued a statement, “Urging countries to fulfill their obligations to prevent and prosecute cases of enforced disappearances, a cowardly practice and called for a fully independent and effective OMP”.
Human Rights watch in it’s statement on 27 August 2021 “Criticized Sri Lankan Government for denying and preventing the families of the disappeared from learning the truth about their beloved ones and protecting the perpetrators from Accountability”.
UN’s Chief Antonio Guettras on 30 August 2021 “Called for action to end enforced disappearances”.
UN Resident Representative in Sri Lanka, Hana Singer stated that “Relatives of the disappeared are entitled to the right of know as to what happened to their beloved ones. Besides, they are entitled to reparations in the interests of Accountability and Justice”.
In view of the defiant stand of the Sri Lanka Government and it’s dismissal of Human Rights Council’s agenda against Sri Lanka as a political event according to Prof. G L Pieris, current Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, human rights violations and their perpetrators will not find any place in the Sri Lanka’s Judicial mechanism. But they will be blessed with impunity.
The victims of human rights abuses including enforced disappearances have no option other than to seek the remedies for their grievances from UNHRC, UNSC, UN and International Community as the guardians, protectors and dispensers of justice, accountability and preservation of Human Rights who also have to halt the sliding of Sri Lanka towards dictatorial, military and dynastic rule.
The Human Rights Watch on 29 August 2021 sums up the perilous state and condition of justice when it stated that “Justice is further away than ever for the families of the disappeared”.
This sentiment was enforced by the Families of the Disappeared on 27 August 2021 when they stated that “We do not have any hope in domestic mechanisms. We trust that International Criminal Court is the only solution for Justice”.
The recent imposition of emergency criticized as unwarranted and unnecessary has also sparked warnings describing this dictatorial step as a stepping stone towards installing a military, authoritarian and a dictatorial regime in Sri Lanka.
Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [Lond.] Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.