Sri Lanka: Nearly 70 dead within three years in search for disappeared

A large number of Tamils in Sri Lanka have died while in protest demanding the government to reveal the fate of their loved ones who are victims of enforced disappearances, the UN heard.

As revealed to the global rights body in Geneva by a mother leading a continuous protest that had been continuing for more than three years in the north and east of the country, almost 70 have passed away without getting any answers.

“Already, 69 mothers in our protests have died due to stress and various illnesses without finding solutions to their grievances,” General Secretary of the Association for the Relatives of the Enforced Disappearance from North and East of Sri Lanka, Leeladevi Anandanadaraja told the 43rd session of the UN Human Rights Commission.

The latest to die was a mother in her seventies, Selvam Sivapakyam. She lived in the war torn northeastern district of Mullaitivu where the largest number of deaths of protesters – sixteen – had been recorded. She passed away due to illness a day before Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena declared at the UNHRC in Geneva that Sri Lanka is pulling away from its international commitments including finding the truth about the tens and thousands who disappeared largely in government detention.

Selvam Sivapakyam had been taking part in the continuous protest hoping to find the fate of her grandson Albert Thinu who disappeared during the last stages of the war that saw a bloody end in 2009.

The oldest to die while in protest is 86 years old Velupillai Viyazhamma of Keppaulavu, Mullaitivu, according to a report released by the Association for the Relatives of the Enforced Disappearance in North and East. Her son Velupillai Thiyagarajah also known as Ranjans had disappeared after the navy arrested him in Erukkalampiddy, Mannar thirty years ago.

Rasanayagam Dilanthini of Vavuniya is the youngest to die at the age of 24. A youth with special needs she was searching for her brother abducted in the northwestern town of Negombo in 2007.

OMP confronted with anger

The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) stablished by the government in February 2018 to determine the truth about disappeared Sri Lankans is yet to find any victim or determine their faith. Its head has acknowledged that their failure had angered relatives.

“The OMP has met with thousands of family members that have expressed their anger and grief including those that protested and expressed no faith in State institutions and demand international intervention on this issue,” said OMP head Saliya Pieris in a message to mark two years in office.

“The OMP has sought to engage all families and instill confidence in the willingness and ability of the State to secure their rights. In particular, the OMP has sought to assuage fears that the State will only award compensation without establishing the truth or ensuring justice.”

Relatives of the disappeared in the Tamil majority north and east of the country launched their continuous protest in in February 2017 to find the fate of their loved ones who disappeared after surrendering to the military at the end of the war.

The government has a “legal and moral obligation” towards its citizens seeking the truth about their loved ones, the OMP head had said in his second year anniversary statement.

However, the tens of thousands missing since the end of the brutal war are dead, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had told the UN envoy in Colombo, Hanaa Singer. He did not clarify how the government arrived at that conclusion after ten years without any credible investigation.

He was later to say that it was a UN agency that identified the disappeared as being killed.

"A UNICEF survey on the disappeared revealed that a large number of people who were reported missing were killed in the battle field after the LTTE recruited them as their cadres," President Rajapaksa has told journalists in Colombo.



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.