Sri Lankan president Gotabaya Rajapaksa told the United Nations’ resident co-ordinator on the island that the thousands of forcibly disappeared and missing Tamils “are actually dead”, in a widely condemned declaration on Friday.
According to the official Sri Lankan president’s media division, Rajapaksa met with Hanaa Singer, where “he explained that these missing persons are actually dead”.
The statement will have caused widespread offence across the Tamil North-East, where families of the disappeared have been protesting on the roadside for over 1,000 days, demanding to know the fate of their loved ones.
Rajapaksa’s statement came with no evidence of what happened to the many thousands of people who disappeared, many after surrendering to the Sri Lankan military during the final stages of the armed conflict in 2009. A study by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group and the International Truth and Justice Project estimated that over 500 Tamils were forcibly disappeared in just three days, after surrendering to the Sri Lankan army.
The Sri Lankan president, who was defence secretary at the time when many of these disappearances took place, went on to claim that of the thousands of disappeared Tamils “most of them had been taken by the LTTE or forcefully conscripted”. “The families of the missing attest to it,” he further claimed. “However, they do not know what has become of them and so claim them to be missing.”
In 2016, then prime minister Ranil Wickremesinghe caused outrage amongst the Tamil victim community when he made similar claims, twice stating that the disappeared were “most probably dead”.