Responding to a diplomatic visit by British Minister for South Asia, Tariq Ahmad, Tamil families of the disappeared have released a statement slamming the minister for his silence on the “burning issues of enforced disappearances” and prioritisation of engagement with Sri Lanka.
“Imagine if it was your child who disappeared and just asking what happened meant you were insulted, abused, threatened and told it was your fault you didn’t have more information about who took them. We have been treated with utter disrespect for the last thirteen years and your emphasis on engagement and the economy” their letter read.
Minister Ahmad’s visit comes amidst a flurry of diplomatic visits to the island this month. This includes Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, Speaker of the National Assembly of Korea, Park Byeong-seug and Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu. In advance of his visit, Ahmad penned an op-ed in the Daily Mirror where he stressed that “dealing with the past is essential for lasting peace” but also detailed Britain’s “renewed focus on the importance of the Indo Pacific region to global trade and investment, and our mutual security”.
“The UK is building a network of economic partnerships and will look to work with Sri Lanka on these issues. I am also keen to support those in Sri Lanka striving for good governance and for strengthening human rights for all citizens” the op-ed noted.
“It’s clear from this article that your priority is engagement with a State that has and continues to violate human rights rather than any empathy for the victims [… The] passing reference to accountability – is just another abuse we suffer” Families of the Disappeared wrote in response.
“At no point do you mention the burning ongoing issue of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka – the country with the second-largest number of cases reported to the UN. We represent the Tamil families who lost their loved ones most recently in vast numbers, particularly at the end of the war in 2009 when they surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army. The disappeared include babies and children. No answer has been given regarding their fate.”
In contrast to Ahmad’s message of dealing with the past, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has maintained that “What we need now is to set aside the dark memories of the past and build a secure country where all sections of the community can co-exist in peace”. On the day of Ahmad’s arrival, the Sri Lankan government produced a policy statement downplaying the issue of enforced disappearances claiming that “it is not a problem limited to one party alone”.
The families of the disappeared have demanded that Lord Ahmad ask all those he meets on his trip, including the President who was the Defence Secretary during the final stages of the war, about the fate of their loved ones. An estimated 100,000 people have been forcibly disappeared.
They further called on the UK to help them to achieve justice through the use of universal jurisdiction and sanction Sri Lanka officials implicated in enforced disappearances and war crimes.
“Do you really think this government is going to engage seriously with the past through the Geneva process? We want the UK government to help us achieve justice using universal jurisdiction cases as Germany did for the Syrians – and in the meantime sanction the military men involved in enforced Disappearance”.
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Read the full statement here.
Read more here.