08/30/2012, 00.00
SRI LANKA
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Enforced disappearances, Sri Lanka’s weapon of war

by Melani Manel Perera
This is the charge of the Network for Rights (NFR), a network of human rights activists and journalists. Over the past 40 years, thousands of Tamils and Sinhalese have disappeared into thin air. Thus governments have suppressed legitimate opponents and critics, and fought a civil war. Today marks World Day for the victims of enforced disappearances.

Colombo (AsiaNews) - In the last 40 years, the governments of Sri Lanka have used forced disappearances as a tool to suppress dissent and combat the internal armed conflict. This is the charge that the Network for Rights (NFR), a network of human rights activists and journalists launch today on the second International Day for the victims of enforced disappearances. From the riots of young Marxists in the early 70s to 30 years of civil war, hundreds of families (Tamil and Sinhalese) have lost all trace of their loved ones, nor has it ever been possible to ascertain the exact number of missing persons. The International Day for the victims of enforced disappearances was created by the United Nations 30 August 2010.

The NFR recalls the revolt of the young Marxists (1971) and the subsequent uprising (1987-1989) as the first few episodes in which the government in Sri Lanka started using forced disappearances as a real weapon. "In 1971 - said the NFR - an unknown number of young Sinhalese were arrested and killed. Hundreds were burned, and their bodies disposed of without following any procedure. Between 1988 and 1989, again thousands of young Sinhalese were kidnapped and killed in summary executions. "

Then came the civil war between the armed forces and the Tamil Tigers, which for almost 30 years bloodied the north and east of the island. "Up to now, the country has witnessed the indiscriminate disappearance of Tamil youths, accused of belonging to rebel groups. During the last months of the war [in May 2009], the army took into custody hundreds, if not thousands of people who then disappeared: militants and civilians, prisoners and people who had surrendered by their own will, who disappeared into thin air. "

Between 1994 and 1998, the authorities have created four different commissions of inquiry to investigate these disappearances; identify potential perpetrators; take the necessary measures. Each of them has published a report, but none were ever followed by any government action.

"The work done recently - adds the NFR - by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission [LLRC, a commission set up by President Rajapaksa to investigate the final stages of the ethnic conflict, ed] has also picked up on this issue. Yet, the executive does not and has not done anything about it, and the perpetrators have never been prosecuted. " This attitude, together with the reluctance to ratify the UN Convention on missing persons, for the NFR, "shows that enforced disappearance is a deeply rooted crime, to which the State does not want to give up."

 

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