The Asian Human Rights Commission has released a statement on the tens of thousands of forced disappearances in Sri Lanka since the 80s.
Hundreds of families of disappeared persons will gather at Raddoluwa Junction at Seeduwa, Sri Lanka at the monument for the disappeared to commemorate the day. This monument was erected in 2000. In a wall behind the monument there are a few hundred pictures of disappeared young persons, who disappeared mainly from the south in the late 80s. In front there is a sculpture which exhibits an empty space in the shape of a human person symbolizing the meaning of the disappearance of persons. The annual day of commemoration has become an occasion for many persons from all parts of the country to gather and reflect on the problem of disappearances. On this day parents and friends place flowers in front of the pictures of their children. Food for the Buddhist monks is offered as a cultural gesture of remembering the dead. In front of the monument in a plaque the following short poem has been carved into the stone:
By the wayside
(Translated from Sinhala)
with no name attached
is for you
who have no grave.
As the place of earth
which embraced you
could not be found,
this wreath was placed by the wayside.
for placing a memorial for you
by the roadside.
In the south, north and the east, in every area of Sri Lanka tens of thousands forced disappearances have taken place in the country since the 80s. None of the governments have taken measures to ensure justice regarding these forced disappearances. Justice for these persons remains an objective that has not been pursued by the state and an issue that society itself has not taken much notice of. When the incumbent president was an opposition politician he condemned forced disappearances as a great crime and was involved in organising people against it and took part in international forums, including UN forums in order to bring international attention to this problem.
However, now as president, he and his government are not taken any steps to ensure justice for the disappeared or to ensure the signing of the International Convention against Forced Disappearances which has been signed by many other nations. Given the nature of the Sri Lankan Constitution nothing relating to justice for the disappeared could happen without the initiative of the executive president himself. If the government wants to ensure the proper enactment of laws for the prevention of disappearances in the future and take measures to ensure justice for the victims and their families it has all the power to do so as at the moment it has a two thirds majority in parliament. However, such power is not being used for the achievement of justice but unfortunately to obstruct any attempts of persons demanding the proper enactment of laws against forced disappearances and also those who demand justice for the disappearances that have taken place in all parts of the country.
Despite of the adverse climate that exists politically mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, friends and relatives of the disappeared persons are crying out for justice. This cry for justice cannot and should not be suppressed.
As a result of the attempts to suppress the revelation of truth relating to the extraordinary amounts of forced disappearances that have taken place in the country the entire system of the administration of justice has seriously undermined. Fair trial is the foundation of any civilised society. However, in Sri Lanka this very foundation has been seriously undermined. The recording of complaints relating to crimes and the conducting of investigations into crimes, the conducting of prosecutions by the Attorney General’s Department have all been undermined by the spread of corruption. The politicisation of the police, the Attorney General’s Department and the undermining of the judiciary itself by the politicisation process, the inefficiency that is prevalent in every aspect of the government has undermined the justice system. There is inadequate expenditure allocated for the administration of justice at every level, there is hardly any belief in the administration of justice am ong the people of Sri Lanka today.
At one time the Attorney General’s Department was held in some respect and enjoyed some prestige. Today this department is filing fabricated cases against persons purely for political reasons. While actual criminals are being protected often people who have not been involved in crimes have been remanded and often they end up being jailed due to the defects of the administration of justice system. The manner in which this institution has been denigrated to this position is a long story. What can be said, in short, is that there is a considerable loss of faith in this institution now. And this is a serious threat to the possibility of maintaining a belief in the system of the rule of law.
The situation of the police is even worse and everyone knows about the corruption of this institution. Everybody also attributes the degeneration of the institution to the politicisation which is the result of the executive presidential system which was introduced by the 1978 Constitution. Every safeguard that was attempted by the legislature in order to at least minimise some of the adverse impact of the executive presidential system have not been removed by the enactment of the 18th Amendment to the Constitution which has virtually removed all the reforms that were attempted by the 17th Amendment. While the 17th Amendment was no adequate measure to deal with the enormous threats to the rule of law system created by the 1978 Constitution it at least paved the way for some minimum reforms which might have paved the way for the ultimate removal of the adverse aspects of the executive presidential system as it exists now. However, this possibility has now been removed.
Forced disappearances are not an incident of the past nor are they related to counter-insurgencies. The disappearance of Prageeth Eknaliagoda took place earlier this year. No justice has been done in this case, no credible investigation has been carried out and nor is there any possibility of that happening as there is enormous political interest in preventing justice from taking place in this case. Prageeth Eknaliagoda’s family believes that persons connected to the government are behind this forced disappearance. There has been huge media attention about this case and even the United Nations has intervened to ask for investigations and justice. None of the interventions have borne fruit but that itself is no surprise because the prevention of justice relating to forced disappearances remains a strong political objective.
Now even for matters relating to property forced disappearances is taking place. A businessman named Dhirimadura Upali Mendis was taken into custody over an issue of a land transaction has been missing since then. The family and others have called for inquiries but no serious investigation has taken place into this matter. Once again, the cry for justice by the victims, the support for it by sections of society and even the call for justice by the international have proved ineffective in this case.
Suppression of justice can have terrible consequences on all aspects of society. It can remove any possibility of having any kind of justice within society. The disappearances of persons thus results in the disappearance of the institutions of justice and even the memory of justice itself. The result of this is not only the prevention of justice for the victims of forced disappearances but also the undermining of the entire infrastructure and the institutions of justice which affects the protection of the personal liberties as well as the property rights of all persons. Thus, the basic principle of the Magna Karta that the liberties of the individual relating to personal liberties as well as property rights should not be removed except by way of the implementation of the law through the mediation of the courts guaranteeing fair trial has been seriously undermined in Sri Lanka. The crisis relating to protection is as deep as that.
The day of the commemoration of forced disappearances should be a time for reflection on all these matters and for remembering that today a movement for justice is a national requirement. This is not a matter of political expediency for one or another party; it is a necessity of all citizens if Sri Lanka is to be a place where the principles of the protection of personal liberties and property rights can be protected. The devotion of time, energy and resources for the development of a national movement for justice and working together in solidarity with the international movements in order to bring about the objectives of justice is the only way to bring about justice on behalf of the persons who have faced disappearances in Sri Lanka.
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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.