The International day of the disappeared scheduled for the 30th August was commemorated on the 07th September 2017 by the Human Rights Office Kandy at Wattegama Town Hall in Kandy Sri Lanka, with the families of the disappeared from the North & South of Sri Lanka in remembering their loved ones and calling the government to reveal the truth about the disappeared persons by activating the Office of the Missing Persons established by a bill on the 23rd August 2016 to which a fresh amendment was passed unanimously in Parliament in June 2017.
The government ratified the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances on the 24th June 2016, but without accepting article 31 that will allow families of disappeared and other Sri Lankans to complain to the UN Committee that monitor the implementation of the convention. The government has also promised to criminalize enforced disappearances, but that too has not happened for nearly two years. A draft bill was expected to be debated in parliament, but was postponed indefinitely.
The 2017 disappearances day programme was combined with a Human Rights exhibition that included the Act on Right to Information. 27 women leaders from women headed families from 05 groups in Jaffna & Mannar participated in the event and remembered their loved ones and expressed their grievances as victims of the North were not allowed to have any religious or secular function for memorialization, hence it was an opportunity to for them to join the families of the disappeared in the south in memorializing their disappeared family members.
The days’ event began with the lighting of the oil lamp which was proceeded with the religious observances and the welcome speech made by Fr. Nandana Manatunga, the director of the Human Rights Office explained the objectives of the event which was followed by a welcome dance.
The event was graced by many government officials and religious dignitaries. The coordinator of the Kandy Regional Human Rights Commission, Ms. Kumudini Vithana, addressing the audience recalled her first experience with a wife of a disappeared 25 years back while she was working in the North Central Province and said that disappearances is a crime against Humanity. She said that the commemoration, which Fr. Nandana and his staff has organized, is actually an event that should have being organized by the Human Rights Commission and therefore she highly appreciates the effort. Recalling the inception of the Human Rights Commission, she said it was to handle the complaints of the disappeared, and investigate them.
Ven. Dr. Atipola Sumangala thero made a very powerful speech and said that we are living in an era where there is no Rule of Law in practice and therefore we look forward with desperation. "Sri Lankan Political setting, longing for solutions for the problems of the families of the disappeared seems rather remorse, quoting Lord Buddha,“Nahiverenawerani” Hatred can never be dealt with hatred in return. However hard it is, we must learn to forgive and be void of hatred.( Value of Maithri).
Speaking to the families of the disappeared, Ven. Dr. Atipola Sumangala thero admitted that this not a period of hope for the families of the disappeared, hence the Right to Information Act is important as it provides us the Right to demand information. However the activation status of this Act depends on the civil society that has to activate it by using it. If we seek to find solution for our problems as a civilized society, it is important for the victims of all communities to be in solidarity and demand for Justice.
He further reiterated that it is only by uniting as a society, being honest that we could recover from the disintegrated political system and ensure that violence and bloodshed may not repeat in future. As religious leaders, responsible officers, and victims who have already suffered, it is important for us to jointly work towards a functional Justice system.
Ms. Jayanthi Dandeniya, the chief organizer of the disappeared families since 1990 and instrumental in erecting the monument of the disappeared at Seeduwa, speaking on behalf of the southern families of the disappeared said that most of the disappearances took place during JVP insurrection was on personal grudges. Further she said that she was an eye witnesses to incidents of abduction and murder in broad day light. “People were abducted and killed and buried in mass graves without leaving a trace”. She said that her husband and brother were shot, poured kerosene oil and firewood and burnt at the Seeduwa junction and she said they were forced to disappear.
Valentina Daniel, speaking on behalf of the Northern families of the disappeared said that she was born in Jaffna and in 1995, they fled the area due to the civil war and her mother had an injury in the leg which made walking difficult for her and requested her to move, however Valentina has found a piece of mat and dragged her along the road until she found an army camp, where she handed her mother over to the soldiers at the camp. Ever since then Valentina has never found her mother. She said that this is just only one story, but there are so many children searching for their parents, wives searching for their husbands believed to have being disappeared.
She further said that, over the years, so many organizations have come and gathered information on a number of occasions and that they provided information with the hope that truth will come at the end, however all who collected information remained silent. “We should come together and make sure that this does not happen in the future, we should come together to make sure that our children will not suffer the same fate that we did”. The women attended the disappearances programme while they were participating in a workshop on healing organized by the Human Rights Office for 03 days and facilitated by Ms. Monica Alfred at Fatima retreat house in Lewella in Kandy.
The disappearances days programme continued with the Human Rights exhibition until afternoon and religious, civil society members, school children, teachers and parents visited the exhibition, while the staff and the members of the HRO support group went into the streets, distributed the leaflets and explained in detail.
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Human Rights Office Kandy, Torture in Sri Lanka, Disappearances in Sri Lanka, Healing and Counseling
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