Sri Lanka: 100 Days And Counting – Families Of Missing Seek Answers
Tuesday, 30 May 2017 marked one hundred days of continuous protest by families of the disappeared in Kilinochchi in Sri Lanka. Around a 1000 protesters from across the Northern and Eastern Provinces some of whom have been conducting their own protests and hunger strikes, blocked the A9 highway, demanding answers from the Sri Lankan Government, which is accused of mass abductions both during and after the war.
Amid fears of surveillance and harassment, the peaceful protest was organised and lead by mostly women, many of whom are Tamil mothers, wives, grandmothers and daughters of the disappeared. Protest leader Leelavathi Anadarajah, whose son surrendered to the Sri Lankan Military in 2009 and was never seen again, said that families of the disappeared demand, the release of the list of names of the forcibly disappeared and the names of those being held in secret camps, providing access to family members to visit their loved ones.
“The government has not paid attention to us at all,” said Leelavathi. “We started this protest with multi-religious prayer and now we are blocking a major highway. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe visited us months ago and said that most of the disappeared are dead. We do not wish to speak to the Prime Minister, and demand a meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena.”
According to the letter from the Secretary to the Governor of the Northern Province on 30 May 2017. President Sirisena informed the Governor of the Northern Province that, a committee will be appointed next week to inquire about this and the president wishes to meet the families but owing to the current flood situation, he will give an appointment within two weeks.
The families of the disappeared have rejected the proposal to meet yet another committee but agreed to meet the president. However they will continue to protest until the president meets and gives them adequate answers.
Amongst the majority of Tamil families that rallied, were also Sinhalese protesters whose relatives were abducted in the south of the country. Sandya Eknaligoda, wife of disappeared journalist and cartoonist, Prageeth Eknaligoda, said that she had been going to court and marching the streets in hope of justice for her husband for seven years.
“Today I’m here to join these women in the North who have been seeking the truth about their families for the past few years,” said Ekneligoda. “The military have been working tirelessly to conduct search and rescue operations for disaster-affected people in the south. Yet they have been unable to find the loved ones of these families for the past years.”
“Isn’t it the armed forces that abducted these people in the first place? The President has been very compassionate towards victims of this natural disaster. We ask for that same compassion here, as promised by this Government’s election campaign,” said Ekneligoda.
According to the government, they have received over 65,000 complaints of disappearances after 1994. In 2016, the government passed a Bill in Parliament to establish a permanent Office of Missing Persons (OMP), however, President Sirisena, is yet to operationalise this office. This year, the UN granted Sri Lanka a 2 year extension to meet its obligation to transitional justice.