Sri Lanka’s traumatised families of disappeared seek justice in court

Breaking the prolonged silence, five families - whose loved ones were among those disappeared after surrendering to the advancing Sri Lankan troops during the final stages of the war in May 2009 - have filed applications for the writs of habeas corpus, with the government continuing to deny knowledge of tens of thousands of people disappeared.

The petitioners, including the wife of former LTTE’s political commissar for the eastern Trincomalee district, Elilan, have cited the Army Chief and General Officer Commanding of the Sri Lankan army for Mullaithivu as respondents in their writ applications in the Vavuniya High Court, demanding relief from the court by getting their loved ones released.

This is notably for the first time since the bloody end of the war in May 2009, the families of the disappeared people have sought justice from a High Court. One petitioner has lost an entire family – husband, wife and their two children aged three and five.

According to legal sources in Vavuniya, these families have claimed that they, along with thousands of others, approached the Mullaithivu Army camp on May 18 night, with the military making public announcements, calling all LTTE cadres to surrender to security forces and promising general amnesty to all surrendees.

Following this announcement, the men in the five families surrendered to Sri Lankan security forces along with several thousands of others in the presence of Rev. Fr. Francis Joseph on May 18, 2009. Even the Christian priest and three other priests who were facilitating the surrender between army officers and the families due to language barrier have also reportedly disappeared.

Complaining to LLRC

The family members have lodged complaints with the ICRC, Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Defence and its armed forces in this regard long ago. They even appeared as eye-witnesses before the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, well-known as Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) in their desperate bid to know the fate and the whereabouts of their loved ones.

No investigation has been launched and no one has been brought to justice to date, with the hawkish Rajapaksa government sternly defying the widespread call for an international independent and impartial inquiry into to the disappearances, extra-judicial killings, other human rights violations and alleged war crimes.   

Instead, the Sri Lankan government, the armed forces and the Ministry of Defence have consistently and categorically denied any military involvement in the disappearance of persons in the last phase of the war, including the surrendees.

The High Court of Vavuniya has issued notice on the respondents to appear in Court on May 20, 2013.

'Surrendees killed'

It is notable here that former Army Commander, General Sarath Fonseka, under whom the Sri Lankan forces concluded the war, gave an interview to the Sunday Leader newspaper that he was aware that the LTTE leaders and cadres who surrendered to the army holding white flags during the final days of the war were killed by the army on orders from the top.

General Fonseka, however, retracted his statements in the interview in this regard after an uproar from the Southern electorate on the eve of the Presidential elections held in 2010, at which he was fielded as the common opposition candidate.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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