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Families of the disappeared urge UNHRC to help provide ‘meaningful justice’ for missing relatives

File Photograph : Protests in Jaffna on International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances last month

The families of the disappeared in the North-East have called on the international community to “accelerate the process to proclaim a meaning justice” in an “appropriate and timely manner” for those who were forcibly disappeared, in a letter sent to the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), last week.

They urged the UN general assembly and security council to undertake “relevant international investigations, tribunals, and international criminal jurisdictions” to prevent the “events of the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances [do not] continue as a traditional event without a real meaning for it.”

Sri Lanka’s history of enforced disappearances

The letter highlighted that “enforced disappearance[s] has been well evident since 1958 in Sri Lanka” and “worsened in 2008 and 2009 that affected thousands of Tamil families from the North and East of Sri Lanka.”

At least 23,000 civilians “believing the statements and promises of the Sri Lankan forces (…) men, women, children, and infants surrendered and [were] handed over to the Sri Lankan forces by the end of the war in May 2009.”

The 2009 UN Working Group on enforced disappearance report, stated a figure of “more than 23,000” recorded enforced disappearances of Tamils in North-East and that Sri Lanka is the “country with the second-highest number of enforced disappearances.”

The letter further emphasised the increasing numbers of deaths of relatives who have died in search of their loved ones recently. “Over the past three years, 72 of the fathers and mothers of the disappeared have lost their lives without any justice (…) and we would like to proclaim they lost their lives due to the tremendous depression and anguish they have been experienced due to enforced disappearances of their loved ones.”

In addition, they added, “We believe the available evidences could be enough not only to investigate the enforced disappearances, but also to prove and claim the war crime and genocide held in this country.”

Inadequate national solution

Despite the formation of the government-sanctioned, Organisation for Missing Persons (OMP) in September 2017 - which promised to help provide answers and justice for the missing persons – the families of the disappeared have rejected it for its repeated failures and lack of progress in providing justice.

“We lodged [our] first five cases with established evidences on 20/07/2019 (…) [but] there has been no progress in their investigations over the past 13 months.”

In response to Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the co-sponsorship of the 30/1 resolution of the UNOHCHR, the letter stated that “it is well evident the fact that none of the government with the Sinhala ethnocratic ideology in the Sri Lankan parliament would pronounce a meaningful justice for the people from the deprived communities like us in the country.”

See the full letter here.

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