Last Tuesday, Sri Lanka’s official Presidential Commission to Inquire into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons held a meeting with the visiting UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID) in Colombo, discussing disappearances during the civil war. The Group has claimed that during their visit to the North and East residents of Jaffna had complained that they were threatened by security forces, which is denied by the Chairman of Sri Lanka’s Presidential Commission, former high court judge Maxwell Paranagama.
The UNWGEID delegation travelled through Sri Lanka's former war zones in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, apart from Galle in the Southern Province. They met high-ranking officials as well as human rights activists besides Tamil families whose realtives had disappeared during the civil war. A local commission investigating people's disappearances during the civil said it has collected written complaints relating to more than 16,000 missing persons. The UNWGEID considered this to be the tip of the iceberg and stated that, although enforced disappearances do not occur any more, the number of families, who are still without information about missing relatives, is estimated to be more than 20,000. The UNWGEID said the local investigation probing allegations of disappearances at the end of the war was moving too slowly.
Concluding this 10-day visit to Sri Lanka, the UNWGEID revealed, they have discovered a torture centre consisting of about a dozen cells in the Sri Lankan naval base at Trincomalee, indicating that it was still in use after the cicil war had ended in 2009. The new national unity government led by Prime Minsiter Ranil Wickremesinghe had denied the existence of such this secret detention when this issue had been raised by Suresh Premachandran, who then was a Tamil National Alliance MP, already before the August elections. Allegedly, navy sailors under former president Rajapakse abducted Tamil youths to extort payments from their families in exchange for their release. A court heard last month that before the end of the covil war 2009 at least 11 Tamil students had been held illegally in the Trincomalee naval base. The main suspect in the case is a close aide of the then navy chief.
Noting that a culture of impunity continues to exist in Lanka, the UNWGEID called for the abolition of the “Prevention of Terrorism Act” as well as accession to the Rome Statute, which would put Lanka under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court, in order to prevent enforced disappearances and torture.
The UNWGEID also expressed concern that persons who spoke with them had since been questioned by security personnel, continuing ways of intimidation practiced under former President Rajapakse that are “absolutely unacceptable in a democratic society”.
The three members of the UNWGEID are Ariel Dulitzky from Argentine, Tae-Un-Baik from South Korea, and their leader Bernard Duhaime, Professor at the Law Department in the Faculty of Law and Political Science at the University of Quebec in Montreal. For more information visit on the UNWGEID members visit:
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