Following President Rajapaksa’s statement that the thousands of forcibly disappeared and missing Tamils were ‘actually dead’, The Woman’s Action Network (WAN), which is comprised of nine women’s group working across the North and East, have released a statement condemning the President’s statement describing it as an “affront to mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of the disappeared” who have protested for over 1,000 days to know the fate of their loved ones.
During these protests, at least 53 family members died pursuing the truth of what happened to their loved ones. The government has continuously failed to provide an adequate account of what happened to these thousands of disappeared.
The lack of clarity on what happened to their loved ones is raised throughout WAN’s statement as they note that;
‘On May 18 2009, thousands surrendered with Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph to now-Army-Commander Shavendra Silva’s 58th Division […] If those missing are dead, how did they die or who killed them? Where are their remains? How long has the truth been silenced?’
Shavendra Silva, not faced repercussions for his role during the final stages of the war where he is accused of committing egregious war crimes which lead to the deaths of thousands of Tamil civilians as well as those who surrendered. Instead, he has been appointed army chief despite widespread criticism from the international community.
Read more here: UN experts condemn appointment of Shavendra Silva
The statement issued by WAN further raises questions over the number of people who were forcibly disappeared after the war.
‘Journalists and civil society actors were taken in white vans even after Gotabaya Rajapaksa proclaimed the terrorists had been defeated. Where are they now?’
Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been accused of directing these white vans to abduct dissent voices alongside a litany of further human rights violations.
In November 2019, Sri Lanka’s former health minister held a press conference in which Douglas Anthony Fernando, a man who admitted to being involved in the white van abductions and torture, stated that they abducted people before feeding their bodies to crocodiles. During his press statement, he said that these operations were under the direction of the Rajapaksa government.
Since this election of Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka’s Criminal Investigation Department (CID) have arrested Fernando alongside a man who attended the press conference and stated that he was a victim of the ‘white van’ abductions.
WAN’s statement also highlights that in many cases individuals were handed over to Sri Lankan authorities only to never be seen again.
Balendran Mahinthan, a young Tamil man, was handed into Sri Lankan authorities by his mother Jayakumari Balendran for rehabilitation and was pictured in the government’s LLRC publications. His mother has been a leading voice, demanding to know what happened to him. She was subsequently arrested by the government under the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act and has been held in prison for over a year.
"We want our loved ones."
The brave activism of the mothers of the disappeared has been vital in pushing for the Office of Mission Persons however these attempts at domestic investigations have proved ultimately ‘fruitless’ and have failed to provide solace for those seeking the truth.
The silence of the international community has been described by WAN as ‘deeply concerning’. WAN’s statement calls upon the international community to act to ensure that Sri Lanka fulfils its commitments to truth, justice and reconciliation in the face of a President who has made persistent moves to undermine these efforts.
WAN notes that it is ‘Sri Lanka’s history of fruitless investigations’ that lead victim’s to ‘believe their only recourse lies through the international community’. They conclude stating that ‘Until a full picture emerges, families will struggle to heal, reconcile, or find peace’.
Read WAN's full statement here.
Watch Pearl and 47 Roots statement here.