Who are Sri Lanka’s Disappeared?

by Channel 4, UK, November 14, 2013
Sri Lanka’s civil war is officially over, but people are still being “disappeared” – vanishing without a trace, often, allegedly, in the state’s unmarked white vans.

Video at http://bcove.me/lfeljkyh

After Iraq, Sri Lanka has the highest number of enforced disappearances in the world, the United Nations has said.

The latest report from the UN’s working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances, set up in 1980, says that there are 5,676 outstanding cases of enforced disappearances, though the actual number of disappeared could be much higher.

The majority of cases date back to Sri Lanka’s civil war between the government and the LTTE, commonly known as the Tamil Tigers, which ended in 2009. However, enforced disappearances in the country continue to be reported.

Amnesty International said that during 2012 there were reports of more than 20 alleged enforced disappearances. Victims included political activists, business people and suspected criminals.

White vans

On Thursday night, Channel 4 News will air a documentary, White Van Stories, which explores the phenomenon of enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka and the fear it instils in the population.

Leena Manimekalai, director of White Vans, said there is “absolutely no news” of people ever returning once they have been “disappeared.”

The families of the disappeared face the torture of “not knowing” what has happened to their loved ones – and also further alleged harassment from the state.

Disappearances have been a feature of Sri Lankan life since the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna insurgency of the 1980s – when many young Sinhalese men were allegedly abducted.

The practice continued during the Sri Lankan civil war, and has been attributed to both government forces and the Tamil Tigers.

The Sri Lankan government consistently denies any allegations of war crimes or human rights abuses.

The disappeared

Sri Lanka's disappeared: Prageeth Eknaligoda (picture: Getty)

Prageeth Eknaligoda

The journalist and cartoonist disappeared whilst going home from his office on 24 January 2010 near Sri Lanka’s capital, Colombo. The alleged abduction took place two days before Sri Lanka’s presidential elections. Eknaligoda worked for a website that supported the opposition candidate to President Mahinda Rajapaksa.

Local residents reported seeing a white van without number plates close to his house around this time.

Sivasooriyakumar Sanaraj

A 15-year-old Tamil boy went missing after leaving home in the morning on 13 June, 2013, in northern Sri Lanka to go to school. His aunt went to the local police to file a report, but the police refused to take the case seriously.

Around midnight on 28 June, a family friend was waiting at a bus stop and saw an auto-rickshaw drive by carrying three men and a young boy in the back with his hands tied behind his back. He called Sanaraj’s father to meet him and together they waited for the rickshaw to return. A little while later it did, but it was carrying only one of the men. The auto-rickshaw stopped, dropped the man off and left.

The family friend and Sanaraj’s father grabbed the man and took him to the police. On the way to the station, the man boasted of his connections to senior police officials. The police turned them all away, saying it was too late at night for them to deal with the matter.

The family friend and Sanaraj’s father questioned the man themselves; the man described the boy as having a red scar on his ear and lip, just like Sanaraj.

Despite having identified this man as a suspected abductor, the police have not called him in for questioning and have failed to conduct any investigation to date.


Sri Lanka's disappeared: Lalith Weeraraja and Kugan Muruganandan (picture: Getty)

Lalith Weeraraja and Kugan Muruganandan

Weeraraja and Muruganandan were allegedly arrested by members of the Sri Lankan army on 9 December 2011.

Weeraraja was the coordinator of the Jana Aragalaya(People’s Struggle) movement in the northern city of Jaffna, and was an executive committee member of We Are Sri Lankans, a student-based organisation which works to defend the rights of Tamil people in Sri Lanka.

In the past, Weeraraja had been threatened several times by the army and police in relation to his protests against enforced disappearances and illegal detention, and had been taken into military custody in early 2011 where he was allegedly threatened and interrogated.

Ramasamy Prabaharan

A Tamil businessman of Indian origin, Prabaharan was allegedly abducted by seven men in civilian clothing, thought to be security forces agents, in February 2012.

He was reported to have been grabbed around the neck by the men, who were hiding at his home, and thrown into the back of a white van.

It has been reported that at the time of his alleged abduction, Prabaharan had filed a case against the police in the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka for alleged torture and unlawful arrest. He had been detained by police between May 2009 and September 2011 on suspicion of being a member of the Tamil Tigers.

Vasanthamala Pathmanathan

The woman was allegedly arrested at a bank near Vavuniya, in Sri Lanka’s northern province, by agents of the feared Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police on 21 August 2012.

Indictment of Sri Lanka War Criminals and Violations of Human Rights

by Mak S. Makenthiran, Canada, December 16, 2013

Incriminating evidence of serious war crimes and violations of human rights against Tamils minority by the Sri Lankan (read Singhalese) government and individuals is inexorably piling up.  Gothabaya Rajapakse, unelected Defense Secretary and brother of President Rajapakse is the number one war criminal to be prosecuted. His brothers President Mahinda Rajapakse, Basil Rajapakse, Chamal Rajapakse, Mahinda’a son Namal Rajapakse are liable for complicity and or condoning commission of crimes and violation of civic rights against Tamils.  Military commanders carrying out the horrible crimes including Shavendra Silva, Chandrasri,  Jagath Dias, Sarath Fonseka  et al, have to be prosecuted.  Others like paramilitary leaders Douglas Devananda, Karuna and Pillayan and civilians like Palitha Kohona and other civilians have to be investigated.

An International investigation is unavoidable, as no independent investigation can be expected to be performed in Sri Lanka, since the accused are all men currently in control of the government of Sri Lanka.  Any investigation carried out in Sri Lanka will not be objective and impartial as was the case of the LLRC appointed by President Rajapakse.  An accused cannot sit in judgment on their own crimes.
Crimes committed against Tamils by the Singhalese before 1983 and prior years from the date of independence are not included here as they were committed by Singhalese governments prior to Rajapakse coming to power. The deprival of voting rights and civic rights of Upcountry Tamils, the anti Tamil pogroms of 1956,1958, 1971 1977, 1981 and 1983 are dark days in the life of Sri Lankan Tamils.   In these anti Tamil riots thousands of defenseless Tamils were killed, tortured, raped, burnt alive, their houses, shops and temples destroyed and forced to flee to their homeland in the North and Eastern provinces, popularly called Eelam.  No doubt this was an organized genocide committed by Singhalese mobs aided and abetted by the Singhalese governments and armed forces.  Also structural genocide by depriving Tamils of their language rights by the passage of Sinhala Only Act, the denial of equal education and employment rights, the expulsion to India of over half million Upcountry Tamils and fleeing out of Sri Lanka of about 800,000 Tamils out of fear of the Singhalese are not included here.
War crimes and crimes against Sri Lankan Tamils fall under two categories – those committed during the civil war and those committed after the end of the civil war on,  May 19, 2009.  Collateral damage and deaths cannot be included in war crimes as that may be unavoidable.  Willful and avoidable acts of death and destruction and killing of surrendered fighters are war crimes.  The refrain that bygones are bygones cannot be accepted, as in that case no criminal can be punished, and law and order cannot be upheld.  Further, crimes against the Tamils are continuing even after the cessation of hostilities because there has been an immunity against prosecution of criminals guilty of atrocities against Tamils.
It has come to light through Wikileaks that  Gothabaya as Defence Secretary had instructed not to disarm the paramilitaries, as they were to be utilized to kidnap and kill Tamil activists and journalists during and after the war along with military intelligence forces.  For this heinous  crime Gothabaya stands accused and all his brothers in the government stand accused of aiding abetting  and or condoning these crimes.   During the war  the Sri Lankan military bombed hospitals, schools and temples intentionally and these are war crimes.  In a terrible act of cruelty, the Singhalese army declared no fire zones in the last stages of the war, asking about 300,000 Tamil civilians to gather there for safety, and slaughtered  them by using heavy artillery.
The Singhalese army is guilty of killing surrendering LTTE fighters, torturing and raping them.  The Sri Lankan government is guilty of forcing surrendering Tamil civilians numbering about 300,000 into concentration camps behind barbed wires and guarded by Singhalese soldiers in inhuman conditions, with many disappearing in the process.  Adding insult to injury Mahinda called them “welfare” camps, and the slaughter of about 40,000 in Mulivaykal as a ‘humanitarian operation.”  Such is the way the Rajapakse government treated the Tamil citizens.
After the LTTE surrendered, Mahinda Rajapakse falsely promised to the international community that he would bring about reconciliation but has continued to do the opposite for the last four years.  He increased the armed forces, concentrated a large army in Tamil homeland, grabbed Tamil lands and homes, and deprived Tamils of large areas by enforcing huge High Security Zones. Abductions in white vans by army intelligence and paramilitary and disappearances has been a frequent occurrence in the Tamil homeland.  Widespread raping and sexual molesting of Tamil women and men has made peace intolerable for the Tamils.  About 89,000 Tamil widows are languishing in misery.
Britain, Canada, India, the USA and the European Union should start an international investigation early and put a stop to the sufferings of the Sri Lankan Tamils.  On humanitarian grounds these countries must  jointly impose sanctions on Sri Lanka  to put a stop to their delinquency.