In Sri Lanka, the issue of people going missing during the country’s long civil war is an open wound as evinced by the struggle of Tamil mothers seeking news about their loved ones. For the past five years Tamil mothers have been protesting in the North and Eastern Provinces in hot sun dust and rain demanding to know what happened to their loved ones who after they surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army, arbitrarily arrested during and after the end of the war never returned home.
The mass disappearances of those who surrendered at the end of the country’s armed conflict is a clear indication of the institutionalization of the practice, with the state concealing the fate and whereabouts of the missing.
Sri Lanka has the second highest number of enforced disappearances in the world over where 100,000 people, mostly Tamils, have been disappeared by the state. Thirteen years after the end of the war, the Tamil families are still searching for their loved ones.
Their call to the United Nations, UNHRC and the International Community to call upon the Sri Lankan Government to answer their demands and release information about detention [past and present] and about secret detention camps is still unanswered.
Every disappearance violates a range of human rights including:
-right to security and dignity of person
• right not to be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment
• right to humane conditions of detention
• right to a legal personality
• right to a fair trial
• right to a family life
• right to life (if the disappeared person is killed or their fate is unknown).
The Government is reluctant to come out with the truth to protect the perpetrators who might have killed some of those arrested.
MASS GRAVES FOUND IN WAR ZONES
Sri Lankan experts say a mass grave found earlier this year in the north-western town of Mannar has turned out to be the country’s biggest su ch site.
More than 230 skeletons have now been found at the grave in the former war zone. Human rights groups say at least 20,000 people disappeared during Sri Lanka’s long civil war which ended in 2009.
The 26-year war between troops and separatist Tamil rebels left at least 100,000 people dead.
A court ordered detailed excavations at the site – a former co-operative depot near the main bus terminus – after human remains were found by workers digging foundations for a new building earlier this year.
It is still not clear who the victims were or how they died.
“We have excavated more than 230 skeletons so far,” said Professor Raj Somadeva, a forensic archaeologist from the University of Kelaniya near Colombo who leads the team at the site. “According to my experience this is the largest mass grave ever excavated.”
Mass Graves in Chemmani, Jaffna (Sri Lanka)
Tamil civilians in the north-east of Sri Lanka have for many years been forced to live in conditions where their right to life is compromised by the Sri Lankan armed forces. Furthermore, it has been widely reported that the armed forces enjoy a culture of impunity when carrying out any such human rights violations. This culture of impunity has serious implications for the investigation of the recent Chemmani mass grave allegation.
November 1997: Amnesty International reports that 600 people have disappeared in Jaffna during the period 1996-1997 [1-AI]. A United States Country report notes that these people disappeared after security forces took them into custody.
The United Nations Working Group on Enforced Disappearances need to look into these two mass graves at Matale and Mannar and also consult the forensic experts and judicial medical officers regarding the problems associated with the conduct of these investigations. Without interventions from the United Nations Human Rights agencies, it is unlikely that there will be the proper development of laws and procedures and the allocation of resources enabling proper excavations and investigations relating to mass graves.
Kumarathasan Rasingam, Secretary, Tamil Canadian Elders for Human Rights Org.