"Disappearances of the Gotabhaya brand, centrally planned by governments are a means of destroying dissent without answerability as was practised in Gautemala, adopted by Pinochet of Chile in 1973 and made into a fine art in Sri Lanka by Gotabhaya with the use of the white vans and his security personnel."
( August 8, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) We are not referring here to the skeletons in the shallow graves in the central Sri Lankan town of Matale and in areas scattered in the north and the east of Sri Lanka, instead, to the latest semblance of a cleanup said to be in a commission of inquiry into the disappearances that occurred during the thirty year war with the Tamil militants, as recommended by the LLRC as if that is the only matter remaining to be resolved. President Rakapaksa has directed none other than his secretary to institute a Commission as usual to look into the disappearances during the conflict period that could possibly give the impression that only the Tamil militants could have been responsible for the disappearances. There has been no dearth of such Presidential commissions in Sri Lanka in recent years leading to no tangible results. This is undoubtedly one of them.
Taking cover under the Anti-terrorism Act, the Tamil youth taken into custody said to be in detention euphemistically referred to as being rehabilitated continue to be abused, tortured, raped and killed with impunity. Actually, those in custody suffering from torture and trauma need to be rehabilitated as a consequence of being in custody in such conditions. It is also reported that many other Tamil youth taken into custody had been sent to homes of security personnel in the south to work as domestics while many others continue to be abused in other numerous ways. Those missing youth who are no body's business except of those who are near and dear to them desperately looking for them looking for a closure.
In the immediate aftermath of the defeat of the Tamil militants in May 2009, at least 10,000 suspected militants were said to have been taken into custody. Although the war against the Tamil militants is referred to as the thirty years war against international terrorists, those taken into custody are not regarded as prisoners of war and afforded the rights and privileges they are entitled to. It would be recalled that on the contrary those militants who surrendered with the white flags as advised by those in government were shot down unceremoniously.
In a triumphalist statement made by the former Army commander Sarath Fonseka to the Buddhist monks in New York just after May 2009, where he was feted, he stated that 10,000 Tamil militants were in custody and assured that that yet another 10,000 suspected Tamil youth would be taken in. This number has still not been accounted for. It was when the farcical LLRC was in progress that the anxious parents of those children whose existence and whereabouts they had no notion of appealed to the LLRC to help, and those desperate and grieving parents were told that they should write to the government just like that, and perhaps as an afterthought recommended that this matter be looked into.
The kind of disappearances of the Tamil militants have to be contra distinguished from those taking place under no other than the President Rajapaksa's brother Gotabhaya.
Disappearances of the Gotabhaya brand, centrally planned by governments are a means of destroying dissent without answerability as was practised in Gautemala, adopted by Pinochet of Chile in 1973 and made into a fine art in Sri Lanka by Gotabhaya with the use of the white vans and his security personnel. Disappearances in Sri Lanka were first practised in 1982 under President JR Jayewardene when Tamil youth were arrested with no trace of most and the bodies of some found on the beaches in Jaffna. In the recent cases those who disappear do not turn up either dead or alive.
Besides the Tamil militants, those suspected and those others who disappeared include journalists, human rights activists and those who held dissentient political views. There is the classic case of the disappearance of Prageeth Eknalligoda, a brilliant cartoonist.
The question is whether the Gotabhaya kind of disappearances also would be inquired into. In a recent interview afforded by the Daily Mirror and on the question of disappearances Gotabhahaya skirted around it as if to say that the underworld criminals had to be got rid of, and as to how it would be done, he did not say. It must be remembered that in any such presidential inquiry or investigation the attorney general plays a key role. In Sri Lanka the office of the attorney general now falls within the ambit of the responsibilities of the secretary to the ministry of defence who is Gotabhaya Rajapaksa himself. Such conflict of interest, glaring though, is of no consequence to the justice system prevailing in Sri Lanka.
On the question of the disappearance of Eknalligoda, it is interesting to recall that Mohan Peiris, the current chief justice while being the attorney general, at a meeting of the UNHCR gave the assurance that Eknalligoda was safe in a foreign country, thus deflecting the question of his disappearance. A few weeks later as a witness in a Magistrates court within Sri Lanka, when cited as a witness in the instant case he stated that only God knew of the whereabouts of Eknalligoda.
Soon after, Peiris was rewarded having been made the chief justice of Sri Lanka by the president, making a mockery of the rule of law and thus accomplishing the complete breakdown of the justice system. Under the circumstances, the question is whether the near relatives of those disappeared expect justice or any closure. Unfortunately this is not the outcome that the Rajapaksa's Commission envisages.
- The writer, editor of the Eelam Nation, an online journal