Tamil relatives of disappeared reject Sri Lanka president’s ‘death certificate’ offer

“We reject the talks between the President and the UN Secretary General (UNSG)” was the strong rebuttal from the Tamil family members who are victims of enforced disappearance in Sri Lanka, as the island nation’s president met with the UN chief in New York.

In an apparent measure of humiliation and utter disregard to thousands of families who are searching for their near and dear ones who disappeared after they were handed over to, surrendered or abducted by the Sri Lankan armed forces, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has reiterated an internal mechanism to address this more than a decade-long problem.

While the Victims, the Tamil Diaspora, United Nations Human Rights Council and the International community continue to press for an UN supervised international mechanism into allegations of war crimes including enforced disappearances, the Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has been adamant on an internal mechanism.

"We want justice"

An official communique from the GOSL says “The President informed the Secretary-General that the government would take immediate action with regard to missing persons and expedite the efforts such as issuance of death certificates".

President Rajapaksa is in New York to address the 76th session of the UN General Assembly.

The families of the victims who are missing for over 12 years have strongly rejected the proposal of the President Rajapaksa to the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres.

Speaking to journalists in the war-torn north, Maria Suresh Easwary, President of the families of forced disappeared persons of Mullaitivu district, fumed at the stand of the GOSL and its President.

“Now he is speaking as if we were seeking the death certificates. We have been constantly appealing to the UN by sending our reports not asking for death certificates, but seeking justice. The UN has to decide whether all our fight was seeking the death certificate. We want justice from you, we want to know what exactly happened.”

'Relaxing' Sinhala policy

Throttled by external debt and growing unrest in the country, the government is making an effort to show the world that it is relaxing its Sinhala hardliner policy.

The country’s foreign reserves stood at $2.8bn (£2bn) at the end of July, down from $7.5bn in November 2019, when the government took office.

And it has outstanding payments due on its foreign debt this year in the region of $4bn.

However, consecutive governments have rejected the proposal for an international mechanism seeking justice for the alleged atrocities committed during the brutal civil war with the LTTE.

In March, the top UN rights chief was authorised to collect and preserve evidence of alleged war crimes during the war and its aftermath.

Reporting on its progress, High Commissioner Michelle Bachellet said that her office has developed an information and evidence repository with nearly 120,000 individual items already held by the UN.

In a week’s time, a team of experts from the European Union is to visit Sri Lanka to assess its eligibility to continue having tax free access to the European market. The facility known as Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP+) is tied to human rights, labour conditions, protection of the environment and good governance.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa has now invited the Tamil diaspora for talks.

“The President said that the internal issues of Sri Lanka should be resolved through an internal mechanism of the country and said the Tamil Diaspora would be invited for discussions in this regard,” said the president’s media unit.

There was no immediate response from Tamil diaspora groups – many who are banned in Sri Lanka.

The GOSL has been accused of hoodwinking Tamil war victims who seek justice for their missing ones, by opening an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and proposing to issue death certificates.

While the OMP has failed even to identify and find a single person who has gone missing after being handed over or surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army or abducted by the armed forces.

Talks rejected

“We reject the talks between the President and the UNSG. We don’t want the OMP or the death certificates to be forcefully thrusted on us”.

Maria Suresh Easwary also vowed their fight will continue till they get justice.

“Never ever even in your dreams think that we will receive the death certificates. We will continue to fight till we get justice.”

Tamil lawmakers have already rejected the stand of the GOSL that compensation has been paid to victims, youths who were arrested over terrorist activities were released, and lands transferred back to the owners- calling it all far from truth.

According to them thousands of acres of fertile land are still being held by the military and hundreds of Tamil youths are languishing in prisons without even being charged and brought to trial and compensation has ever been paid.

Coming under intense international pressure the President in yet another act of placating the international community and the families of the war affected has told the UNSG that he would address their issues.

“The President informed the Secretary-General that legal action would be expedited with regard to rest of the personnel who could not be released, and that he would not hesitate to grant a presidential pardon to the Tamil youths who have been in custody for a long time, taking into account their long-term detention and after the legal process was completed,” says his official statement.

GOSL and its President has again rejected the call for a robust international mechanism to address allegations of war crimes and has reiterated that the solution will be found through an internal mechanism.

But victims like Maria Suresh Easwary are clearly not convinced with the President’s new turn.

“The President was also very active in 2009, so he knows what happened to them and where they have been hidden”.



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.