Sri Lanka Tamils Mothers of disappeared

The mothers, fathers, relatives of the missing are on the streets for more than 1950 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

Since the end of the armed conflict, the families of the disappeared have participated in various government commissions to no avail and successive Sri Lankan governments have largely ignored their plight.

As far as milestones go, this is one full of the pain, heartbreak and disappointment of not knowing what happened to their children, spouses and other family members who have been separated from them for years and for some, decades. The protests, led largely by mothers of the disappeared, began as a response to the constant and consistent failure of the Sri Lankan state and consecutive governments to provide answers on the whereabouts of their loved ones, information on what happened to them, or access to justice  after the end of the war 13 years ago.

Unfortunately, enforced disappearances are not a new phenomenon in Sri Lanka and even in 2009, a United Nations study found that Sri Lanka had the second highest number of disappeared people in the world.

These protests come after families have exhausted most other avenues, including appearing before previous commissions of inquiry and other investigative mechanisms, making appeals to various state institutions, filing complaints with the Police and Human Rights Commission, making enquiries with the Army and Navy, and appealing to international bodies. In sheer desperation, they began and continue to protest.

Tamil Mothers of the Disappeared wrote to the UN high-commissioner for human rights, pleading that “most of [the mothers] personally and voluntarily handed-over many of our family members, including children, to the Sri Lankan security forces at the end of the war in May 2009 in reliance on assurances that they would be safe. But despite a decade’s wait, there is no answer from the government about those we surrendered and they all remain disappeared,” the letter added.

“We are just asking the authorities to just return our relatives. We are not expecting anything else from them… We are awaiting international justice to help put an end to our misery,” the families of the disappeared persons note.

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 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.

“The families of Sri Lanka’s ‘disappeared’ have spent years waiting for answers, but with the Rajapaksas back in power, security forces are threatening them to drop their demands for truth and accountability,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director. “The government needs to stop the harassment immediately and abide by Sri Lanka’s pledges to the UN to uncover the fate of the ‘disappeared’ and provide justice to victims’ families.”

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


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