Pathetic plight of the elderly mothers and relatives of missing persons in Sri Lanka

relatives of the missing srilanka tamils

For the past 1390 days, the elderly mothers and relatives have been engaged in a series of struggles, especially amid the great epidemic threat, “78 parents of the missing relatives have lost their lives in the ongoing series of struggles for justice,

“The 78 parents who fought for justice with us in past years are not with us today. The cause of their death was the tragedy of the disappearance their children and the continuing pressure of Sri Lankan state terrorism. We would like to point out that along with their loss, their testimony has also been destroyed.” said an elderly mother

Under International criminal law, enforced disappearances are prohibited under Article 7 in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Rome Statute, 1998, Article 7(1)(i)). Thereunder, if the enforced disappearance of a person happens in a widespread and systematic manner, it qualifies as a crime against humanity (Rome Statute, 1998, Article 7(1)(i)). However, Sri Lanka has not ratified the Rome Statute. A United Nations Security Council (UNSC) referral of the situation in Sri Lanka could still trigger the ICC’s jurisdiction despite Sri Lanka’s missing ratification.

“The right to the truth is often invoked in the context of gross violations of human rights and grave breaches of humanitarian law. The relatives of victims of summary executions, enforced disappearance, missing persons, abducted children, torture, require to know what happened to them. The right to the truth implies knowing the full and complete truth as to the events that transpired, their specific circumstances, and who participated in them, including knowing the circumstances in which the violations took place, as well as the reasons for them.”

It is a tragic truth that since 1971, Sri Lanka has had more than its fair share of gross human rights violations and that victims and survivors have had very little support or restitution from the state. In fact, in the case of relatives of the disappeared, they are threatened and intimidated for continuing their quest for justice.

The mothers, fathers, relatives of the missing are on the streets for more than 1340 days in a sit-in protest demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. They are holding EU, US & UN Flags and the pictures of their loved ones missing. The successive Governments have failed to take any action and the most expected Office of the Missing Persons is now defunct after the new regime of Rajapaksas, although the OMP is toothless with no powers to prosecute charge or punish the culprit some people registered their names hoping for some sort of justice

Even though the Office on Missing Persons was established in 2017, the expected results were not achieved. Its organizational objectives were not met due to barriers for independent functioning and given the lack of real political will. The current military regime that came into power on a Sinhala Buddhist nationalist base, has a contrary stand for the investigation of enforced disappearances, and hence continue to shirk the obligation of truth and justice. During this year’s annual commemoration, the family members of the disappeared vowed that they will continue their struggle to seek truth and justice, despite a multitude of challenges.

The most absurd and dangerous concern of the police cited in the court order was to link struggles of families of the disappeared to potential resurgence of the LTTE. The attempt by police to discredit and label the families as terrorists or terrorist supporters when they were trying to find what had happened to their loved ones and demand those responsible to be held legally accountable is deplorable and must be rejected and put to rest.

In the past, state intelligence officers have also tried discourage and intimidate activists from supporting families of the disappeared by telling them that it was equivalent to supporting terrorism. In my many interactions with families of the disappeared spanning many years, including at the Batticaloa protest march, I have never heard them advocating violence, armed struggle or for a separate state.

The fact that this government, which was responsible for the enforced disappearances and led the extermination of Tamils, broke all rules from the March session last year reaffirmed that justice will not that the responsibility for obtaining the right response from the Sri Lankan government rests with the United Nations and the international community.

The families went on to highlight how Tamils had been abducted by the Sri Lankan security forces from 1990 to 2009, and that there are still “many eyewitnesses to the disappearance of our relatives after their arrest or surrender”.

“But they have been continuously threatened by government forces and investigators,”

To date, although at least 78 of the protestors have passed away over the past four years, the survivors have not relented, nor sadly has the government taken any steps to address their plight. Their struggle exemplifies the failures of Sri Lanka’s “domestic” transitional justice initiatives. It also defies internationally and domestically imposed notions of “victimhood.”

Countries strategize by aiming for where they want to be and what they want to achieve for generations to come but Sri Lanka has been left in the lurch due to poor decision making and short-sighted policies of consecutive administrations, which have put personal gain and party politics ahead of the country and its future.

Kumarathasan Rasingam, Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org.


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