The disappeared documented in case collection

Published : 12:01 am  October 25, 2018 | No comments so far |  |  (105) reads | 

The mother of a boy who disappeared when he was then 20 year old says, “Without my husband and son, I am sick and frustrated,”. Kandhasami Mariyayi, another mother whose son disappeared at 21 says, “I hope to see my children before my death. I made a complaint with the police and before the presidential commission regarding my children. So far there has been no finding. 

This is how our life goes,” says another disheartened mother of a 17-year-old. 

These mothers’ testimonies and despair of not knowing the fate of their children are a few of 414 stories documented in ‘Recordings of Hidden People – Part II’, which was launched recently at the auditorium of the International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES).   

Silence in the public sphere on the issue of disappearance can cause collective amnesia which can have dangerous consequences and entrench a culture of impunity

Aritharan Sivanesamalar’s husband did not return home as usual after completing his work for the day at the paddy field. She has been toiling hard to bring up her son who was eventually arrested by the Sri Lankan forces in 2008 and released after four years. The mother of two children, Lingam Mankayarkarasi’s husband went to buy vadei and string hoppers when he disappeared. Soon afterwards she lost her job too and maintaining her family was a nightmare. “I am living with so much distress,” she says.   

Similar stories of untold sorrow envelope the pages of the case collection which is aimed at being a source of information to the Office on Missing Persons, The Human Rights Commission and the Right to Information Commission.   

The recent edition of the book documents the stories of persons from Vavuniya. The previous edition published last year documented the stories of enforced disappearances from the Mannar district. The book notes that the actual number of disappearances within the Vavuniya district exceeds 414 to about 550. Of the 414 stories documented, 364 are men and 51 are women. Hundred and eight are children below 18 years of age. Speaking at the launch Ambika Satkunanthan, a Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission said that the data presented was “disturbing, but not surprising.”   “Enforced disappearance was a tool that was used to crush dissent and to stifle opposition,” she said.   

Pointing out the importance of documenting the stories she said that the sense of horror associated with a disappearance was no longer present. “We need to document human rights violations, stories of not only victims but also their families and communities because the impact of a violation is not only on the victim but also on the broader community,” she said. She added that such stories should be used to create awareness about the history of the country especially among the youth.   
Only five people among those who have shared their stories in the collection, have filed Habeas Corpus cases. According to the testimonies, 188 persons have allegedly been abducted by State military, 208 by unknown persons and 18 by Tamil militant groups.   

“Because of the nature of the methods used in carrying out disappearances it is often difficult to piece together what happened to a person to enable an investigation to take place. Hence narratives of people are the key in the search for the truth,” said Satkunanathan.   

 

“Silence in the public sphere on the issue of disappearance can cause collective amnesia which can have dangerous consequences and entrench a culture of impunity. A culture of impunity and lack of accountability is something we’ve encountered in Sri Lanka during successive regimes in the past 30 years,” she added.   

She also highlighted that in the case of ethnic violence, perpetrators often believed that they were fighting for a just cause and not that they have perpetrated a human rights violation. “This means that perpetrators will also have overwhelming public support which in turn will prevent the government from prosecuting those responsible for these violations,” she said.   

Because of the nature of the methods used in carrying out disappearances it is often difficult to piece together what happened to a person to enable an investigation to take place. 

Meanwhile, Attorney-at-Law, Subajini Kisho Anton who is the Director of Law and Human Rights Centre, Jaffna pointed out how the mothers of the disappeared have been protesting on the roadside for more than 600 days in the North and how there has been no response. She stressed that both Tamils and the Sinhalese have been affected by enforced disappearances.   

“Have the white vans gone away?” she quizzed. “They won’t go away unless the government is willing to counter impunity,” she stressed.   

“In an environment where accountability is not possible, we must try to treasure the evidence. We must document (these stories) with the hope justice will be delivered someday,” she said speaking about the case collection that was launched.   


What is enforced disappearance? 

Article 2 of the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance states,   

“Enforced disappearance” is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.