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Sri Lanka’s mothers ask international community to help find their children – J S Tissainayagam

The international community should demand Sri Lanka to investigate enforced disappearances and prosecute those responsible writes journalist J S Tissainayagam in a piece for Asian Correspondent.

“Sri Lanka’s responses to questions on accountability for rights violations at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November were evasive and packed with clichés,” said Mr Tissainayagam.

“This should spur the international community to demand Colombo cooperate in investigating enforced disappearances (and other violations) and prosecuting those responsible. Failure to hold Sri Lanka accountable will not only mean that the UN and foreign governments abdicating their commitment to international law, but ignoring family members of the disappeared in their quest for justice.”

Writing on the protests held by families of the disappeared across the North-East, Mr Tissainayagam said “families of the disappeared rejected the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) in its present form”.

“The cynicism underlying the process to set up the OMP was, in many ways, a catalyst which galvanised the families of the disappeared to direct action,” he said. “Faced with an institution that was far below expectations, they accused their elected representatives of working with the government on OMP legislation while ignoring concerns of the victims”.

Read more excerpts from his piece below.

Read the full text here.

“Tired of complaining to their elected representatives, the TNA, to no avail, family members of the disappeared approached the man in whose hands they thought the fate of their missing loved ones finally rested. On June 12, a delegation of mostly mothers and wives of the disappeared met Sirisena. Among their demands were two lists: names of those who had surrendered to the Sri Lanka military around the time when fighting ended in May 2009 and another on the political prisoners in government detention.”

“The lists were important because there was no official record of how many had surrendered in the final months of armed combat or how many were in Government custody. Although families of the disappeared had tried to obtain this information through the Sri Lankan courts earlier, magistrates had been incapable of moving the military to provide it. International and Sri Lankan NGOs had documented how those in government custody had disappeared and the existence of at least one black site. In response their demands, Sirisena blithely promised to get the process moving to have this information released soon. Almost six months later, the lists are yet to be disclosed. The tactic of the Sirisena government is clear: exhaust family members of the disappeared by keeping them in suspense about the information so that they stop protesting. Meanwhile, a consistent theme in Sirisena’s public statements was that no military personnel would be brought before international judges for wartime human rights violations, thereby dismissing the UNHRC resolution’s demand for the same.”

“It was frustration born of Sirisena’s hypocrisy that the group of mothers spoke of when they decided to beard the lion in its den on Nov 16. Addressing the media after meeting Sirisena at the presidential secretariat in Colombo, the chairwoman of the Kilinochchi Association of the Disappeared Yogarasa Kanakaranjiny appealed for the international community’s support and wowed to fight on.”

“Despite the indifference of the TNA and the government’s stonewalling, the commitment of the mothers and other family members of the disappeared to continue protesting until they are given credible information of their loved ones seems unwavering for the moment. Sensing this resolve, Colombo could crack down to break up the protests. It is important that the international community warns the Sirisena against such moves.”

“Even if a commitment to justice or admiration for the heroism of mothers does not inspire the hard-nosed diplomats in Geneva or New York, at least something else should.  If the Sri Lanka government continues to ignore the demands of family members of the disappeared for justice, it could prompt protests and acts of civil disobedience to intensify. This would affect political stability, investment and economic development. None of which the international community expect in a ‘reconciled’ post-war country.”

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