Tamil mothers of disappeared fear the worst as bodies wash ashore in Colombo

By Siva Parameswaran


Families searching for their enforced disappeared relatives fear that the bodies washed ashore within last few weeks along the Colombo coast could be that of their beloved ones as the relentless struggle by the mothers’ seeking answers passed 2000 days.

In the past few weeks at least six bodies of men have been found along the western seashore. Only two have been identified, according to police.

Even after the bloody end to the brutal civil war more than 13 years ago, thousands of war-affected Tamil mothers are still searching for their near and dear who were either handed over to the security forces, surrendered, or victims of enforced disappearances before and after the war.

Running from pillar to post searching for answers about their husbands, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and others, the families of the enforced disappeared are now grappling with their worst nightmares as bodies continue to wash ashore and some of them are yet to be identified.

Expressing her deep anguish and fear Manuel Uthayachandra, district president of the Association for Searching for Enforced Disappeared Relatives (ASEDR) fears for the worst and question the inaction of the Police and the state agencies' earnestness in finding their loved ones.

“The Police are today searching and arresting the youth from the GotaGoGama at Galle face Green who entered the Presidential palace which includes who took the iron box, sat in the chair, and had a shower, etc., Why the Sri Lanka police is unable to find out our children for 13-14 years about whom which every mother informed in your every police station”? she questioned at a recent press briefing in Mannar.

The past and present presidents claim they are possibly dead.

Police & military

Gotabaya Rajapaksa who was ousted from power by public protest and fled the country has gone on record saying to Hanaa Singer-Hamdy, the UN’s Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka “Most of them had been taken by the LTTE or forcefully conscripted. The families of the missing attest to it. However, they do not know what has become of them and so claim them to be missing,”

The Government of Sri Lanka (GOSL) has not found a single person who had been a victim of enforced disappearance. The Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) was formed during the ‘Yahapalana or good governance’ government of the regime of the present President Ranil Wickremesinghe who came to office through the parliament when he was Prime Minister under President Maithripala Sirisena. The OMP has called for over 20 documents to search the disappeared which was viewed with scepticism by the families as a ploy to declare them deceased and have the case closed.

Expressing apprehension about the bodies washing ashore along with the failure of the GOSL in finding anyone on over a decade Udayachandra feels the police along with the government are colluding to kill people.

“Now bodies are washing ashore one by one for which reasons are unknown. We don’t know if it is that of the people who were kept held in dungeons when it's being said that details about disappeared persons are going to come out and those kept in detention are being thrown there” she asked while addressing the media.

Questioning the inaction of the police and the military she asked if she should plead with them again for finding their close relatives. “The Sri Lankan Police and military could have found our children too like how they trace and find people. It appears they were not inclined to do so and hence could not find them”.

Tamil mothers even appealed to the majority Sinhala people seeking their support which never came. Those mothers wanted the past and present atrocities against the Tamil people should be told to the Sinhala people, so the truth kindles their conscious and come forward to voice against the hatred policies practiced by successive governments.

As the number of Tamils dying in during the brutal assault by the military continued to rise, just before the final week of the war, the Sri Lanka army went on a massive publicity drive with announcements and dropping of leaflets asking the public in the war struck zone to cross over to what the military called ‘safe side in the humanitarian operation’ to save their lives.

Many who crossed over and those who gave themselves up were never seen again.

472 missing persons

Mothers like Mrs Uthayachandra are seeking answers from the President Ranil Wickremesinghe who once vowed to place a list of 472 persons missing from Mannar in parliament and seeking answers from the then regime of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

That happened nine years back when the present President was the leader of the opposition and Mrs Uthayachandra who as President of the ASEDR in Mannar made a fervent plea to find their beloved ones in the presence of the late Bishop of Mannar Rt. Rev Rayappu Joseph. Media reports at that time quoted him as promising the same to the bishop.

“I will definitely take this up in Parliament, but I am not too sure whether the government is prepared to do anything about it,” he was quoted as assuring the late Bishop Rayappu Joseph.

The same report said Mrs. Uthayachandra told Ranil Wickremesinghe in the presence of the Bishop of Mannar they only wanted an answer and to end their agony by knowing if their loved ones are dead or alive.

“If we definitely know that our loved ones are dead, we can engage in religious observances” she was quoted then by the Daily Mirror.

While Ranil Wickremesinghe who once questioned Mahinda Rajapaksa about the enforced disappeared persons as leader of the opposition is the President now and has a responsibility to answer thousands of mothers who have relentlessly carried on their campaign amidst intimidation and state repression.

'Disappeared are dead'

Six years ago, Ranil as the PM had also assured then UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Colombo that it would honour its commitments on human rights and probe into allegations of war crimes during the final phase of the civil war against the militarily defeated LTTE. In Jan 2016 as PM he also told Britain’s Channel 4 TV there are no detention centres in North or South.

“They are most probably dead, this is why the special counsel, the missing persons office and the TRC are there for. We have to find out what happened. At least people want an answer, and I am committed to that”.

And, it’s that answers many Tamil mothers alongside Uthayachandra looks forward to and who now fears about the bodies washing ashore to whom Ranil made promise-like others still searching for her beloved ones.



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.