SRI LANKA: Disappearances in Custody Six Years Ago Today

On the 18 May 2009, a large number of witnesses saw more than a hundred LTTE military and civilian administration leaders surrender to the Sri Lankan army close to the Wadduvakkal Bridge.

On the 18 May 2009, a large number of witnesses saw more than a hundred LTTE military and civilian administration leaders surrender to the Sri Lankan army close to the Wadduvakkal Bridge. The vast majority of these people have subsequently disappeared and, according to eyewitnesses, were last seen in in the custody of the Sri Lankan military.

Those who surrendered on 18 May 2009 were screened and mostly put in a barbed wire holding area just south of the Wadduvakkal Bridge, which was in the control of the Sri Lankan armed forces. Many surrendered with an elderly Catholic Priest, Father Francis Joseph, who recorded the names of surrendees in a list for the military. Many eyewitnesses saw these prisoners, and in some cases their family members, loaded on a series of buses and taken away by the military. They and the priest have not been seen since being taken custody of by the military. 

The International Truth and Justice Project - Sri Lanka (ITJP) has continued its work on the issue of the disappeared last seen in the custody of the military, and has compiled the list of names below.

The list comprises the names of 110 people seen surrendering to the military on 18 May 2009 by eyewitnesses who have now fled the country; it is by no means a comprehensive list. The ITJP through this press release wishes family members and relatives of the surrendees to know that there are eyewitnesses to the surrender of their loved ones to the military on the 18 May 2009 now living abroad. These eyewitnesses live outside of Sri Lanka as they fear for their security and reprisals against family members. The ITJP is cognisant of the fact that some of the people on the list may have been released from detention after many years, without the knowledge of our witnesses. We are also aware that eyewitnesses inside Sri Lanka and family members have also registered complaints or filed court cases regarding the disappearance of additional people who surrendered on 18 May 2009.

It is now well known that between 2009 and 2015, families of the disappeared have repeatedly sought answers from the Government of Sri Lanka on the fate of loved ones. Like families of the disappeared all over the world they need to know if loved ones are dead or alive as they live in world of uncertainty in pain and anguish. Unlike those families whose loved ones have died unrecorded in battle without a body to mourn and without closure, these families of the disappeared are unable to mourn or to have closure but know that their loved one was last seen in the custody of the authorities.

The failure on the part of the authorities to carry out a proper investigation into their subsequent disappearance is a further injustice as well as a personal tragedy. Under the Joinet/Orentlicher Principles to Combat Impunity, families and relatives have an imprescriptible right to the truth about the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones. There is also a corresponding obligation on the part of the State to initiate investigations and hold those responsible for the disappearances accountable.

An enforced disappearance is defined by three cumulative elements:

(1) Deprivation of liberty against the will of the person;
(2) Involvement of government officials, at least by acquiescence;
(3) Refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person.

A key element that characterises forced disappearance is that this practice removes the individual from the protection of the law[1]. This characteristic – and the reality of events confirms this – has the effect of suspending the enjoyment of all of the rights of the disappeared person and placing the victim in a situation of complete defencelessness.

The United Nations General Assembly has repeatedly affirmed that forced disappearance, "constitutes an offence to human dignity, a grave and flagrant violation of human rights and fundamental freedoms […] and a violation of the rules of international law".[2] Furthermore the jurisprudence of international organs for the protection of human rights agree in describing forced disappearance as a grave violation of human rights.[3]

International jurisprudence and legal doctrine has repeatedly indicated that forced disappearance per se constitutes a violation of the right to security of the person; of the right to protection under the law; of the right not to be deprived arbitrarily of one’s liberty; of the recognition of the legal personality of every human being; and of the right not to be subjected to torture or to other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

We call on the government of Sri Lanka to undertake credible investigations into the forced disappearance of the more than a hundred people who disappeared while surrendering to the military on this day six years ago and to indict, prosecute and convict those responsible. Families are entitled to the truth about the fate and whereabouts of loved ones.

We also call upon the government of Sri Lanka to become a signatory to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. We welcome the news that the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances is to be allowed to visit Sri Lanka and we urge the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate fully with them and to allow unmitigated access to families of the disappeared ensuring that there will be no reprisals against them.

Download the list of missing surrenders

Yasmin Sooka – International Truth & Justice Project – Sri Lanka

Press Contact: Maureen Isaacson
Also see www.itjpsl.com 

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[1] See, for example, par. 3 of the Preamble, Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances. In this same context, see article II of the Inter-American Convention on Forced Disappearance of Persons and article 7 (2) (i) of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

[2] Resolution 49/193 of the General Assembly, adopted 23 December 1994. In the same sense, see resolutions  51/94 of 12 December 1996 and 53/150 of 9 December 1998 .

[3] With respect to the Human Rights Committee, see for example, the decision of 29 March 1982, Communication No. 30/1978, case of Bleier Lewhoff and Valiño de Bleier vs. Uruguay; and the Concluding observations - Burundi, of 3 August 1994 (United Nations document  CCPR/C/79/Add.41, par. 9). Reference might also be made – among other sources – to the Judgment of 14 March 2001 by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights in the Barrios Altos  case (Chumbipuma Aguirre et al. vs. Peru), par. 41.