Tamil families of the disappeared marked International Women's Day with a protest in Vavuniya yesterday as they called on the Sri Lankan government to disclose the whereabouts of their forcibly disappeared loved ones.
“On this occasion, the entire women community must protest alongside us in order to help us secure justice,” the demonstrators said.
Speaking to journalists, the protesters recounted the history of their struggle for justice and expressed hope that their efforts would bear fruit.
“The hunger strike protest on a rotating basis of our women passes 1480 days today. It demonstrates the presence of mental fortitude, resolution and confidence amongst victim-survivors,” one mother said. “Our four year long protest is making history. We pray for further mental strength and the return of our disappeared family members.”
The protesters expressed their disappointment with the second draft of the UN Human Rights Council resolution on Sri Lanka which "failed to include Sri Lanka’s referral to the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the deployment of a UN Peacekeeping Force.”
The updated draft resolution now calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to "collect" as well as "consolidate, analyse and preserve” evidence that could be used in future war crimes trials. However, it has failed to implement UN High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet's recommendations which call on member states to consider asset freezes and travel bans on Sri Lankan officials credibly accused of human rights abuses and to consider “steps towards the referral of the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court (ICC)."
They also appealed to the international community to help them secure justice. “In order to secure justice, it has become essential that all women come together to participate in the movement. We need the support of America, European Union and India to solve the problems of the disappeared Tamils and other problems.”
As the UNHRC meets this month, Tamils in the North-East and in the diaspora have undertaken hunger strikes and protests calling on the international community, particularly members of the Core Group on Sri Lanka, to refer Sri Lanka to the ICC.
The protesting women further paid tribute to major female figures in the Tamil struggle and elsewhere. “Firstly, we would like to mention Kamala Harris. She is America’s first female vice-president and she is the daughter of a Tamil mother.”
“Secondly, we want to remember Tamil Nadu’s first female Chief Minister Jayalalitha. She was a leader of another country who lent her support to Eelam Tamils whilst in office. She was also the one who demanded referendum (for independence) for Tamils. Her speech supporting Eelam Tamils in the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly is unforgettable. We Tamils would never forget her speech.”
The protesters then commemorated Annai Poopathy who sacrificed her life in a hunger strike demanding the Indian government to arrange a ceasefire between the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in 1988. “We also bow our heads to Poopathy Ammal who showed the way to expose oppression.”
The families further paid homage to former American Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and war correspondent Marie Colvin who worked in Sri Lanka.
“Hillary Clinton, by serving as America’s Foreign Affairs Secretary and being the presidential candidate demonstrated to the world that women can achieve many things. She also had great concern for Tamils.”
“Marie Colvin was an international news reporter who worked very hard to expose the unconscionable wars in Sri Lanka and elsewhere. We’d also like to remind that she lost one of her eyes due to a Sri Lankan army attack.”