Sri Lanka urged to probe general for hundreds of disappearances

International rights watchdogs have highlighted the significance of questioning a top general to find the fate of hundreds of Tamils who disappeared in Sri Lanka army custody almost a decade ago.

Releasing a study revealing a shocking estimate of 500 people including children who disappeared after surrendering to the military within a short span of three days, International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) and Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) say that the number represents the largest number of disappearances all in one place and time in the country.

One of the military commanders who had been present at the place of surrender between 17–19 May 2009 was Major General Shavendra Silva who now oversees the army’s human rights directorate.

“To be clear, this is not an estimate of the total number of disappeared people during the war, only those who disappeared after surrendering during the last three days,” said the study.

29 children

Those who disappeared between 17–19 May 2009 were asked to hand themselves over in the final days of the bloody war launched by the Sri Lankan government against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

“In some cases, whole families disappeared, including at least 29 children of LTTE cadres, and only the grandparents are left,” the study revealed.

“These people disappeared not in the fog of war, but after being taken into custody by the Sri Lankan Army and the Government of Sri Lanka. The names of the military divisions and their commanders—some promoted and many still serving in the army—have been known for many years.”

There was no International Red Cross, UN, or NGO presence at the frontline surrender points.

Families deserve truth

“The sheer scale of enforced disappearance after surrender in 2009 warrants immediate investigation,” said the International Truth and Justice Project’s Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka.

“Instead, almost a decade has elapsed, and nobody has yet questioned the commander of the 58 Division of the Sri Lankan Army whom we know, from UN reports and witness testimony, was present at these surrenders. It is a total affront to the families of the disappeared that Major General Shavendra Silva has been promoted to Adjutant General, which ironically put him in charge of the army’s human rights directorate. The families must have answers – they deserve to know the truth and have a right to the truth.”

Many families personally witnessed their loved ones surrender to the soldiers on 17-19 May 2009.

ITJP, which has been collecting names of those who disappeared at the war end from survivors has published more than 300 names and photos in a bilingual website.

Families of the disappeared, their former comrades around the world, and Tamil human rights activists inside Sri Lanka have helped collect and share the data.

These lists have been analysed by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) to produce a statistical analysis.☐



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.