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Say no to enforced or involuntary disappearance in Sri Lanka

| Following statement issued by the Law & Society Trust, rights body based in Colombo

Disappearance is far worse than death, because when a person dies, when I know that, so and so is dead, the story ends and somehow or other we close the chapter. But when a person has disappeared, it is an eternal suffering.
- Remark (5.18) made before the LLRC Commission in Jaffna on 12th November, 2010.

( June 30, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) It is unarguable that definitive action against alleged cases of enforced disappearances as well as preventive measures would have a significant impact on the reconciliation process. It is a fundamental need to ensure that lessons from past experiences be learnt so as to prevent any recurrence.

The Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation to support the drive towards national unity and reconciliation appointed by the President had made recommendations in its final report to adopt a comprehensive approach to address the issue of enforced disappearances (5.36, Chapter 5, Human Rights, Repot of the LLRC Commission).

As recommended by the LLRC Commission the President has appointed a Commission to investigate into complaints regarding missing persons (PCICMP) and thereafter to provide material to the AG to institute legal actions against perpetrators (9.51, Chapter 5, Principal observations and recommendations, Repot of the LLRC Commission) in order to ensure public security, well-being and non-occurrence of such acts in the future. It is expected that the Commission will submit its findings and recommendations on 15th August 2014.

The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has made several recommendations to the GoSL to eliminate enforced or involuntary disappearances (E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1, 21 December 1999). Making the act of enforced disappearance an independent offence under the criminal law of Sri Lanka punishable by appropriate penalties as stipulated in article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, incorporating the prohibition of enforced disappearance as a fundamental right in the Constitution of Sri Lanka to which the remedy of a direct human rights complaint to the Supreme Court under article 13 of the Constitution is applied irrespective of the fact whether the disappeared person is presumed to be alive or dead and abolishing or amending the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with internationally accepted standards of personal liberty, due process of law and humane treatment of prisoners.

Law and Society Trust, as a human rights organisation that contributes to the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights strongly urges that GoSL to implement the recommendations made by the Working Group and to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICCPED) which communications from or on behalf of individuals subject to its jurisdiction claiming to be victims of a violation by this State Party of provisions of this Convention (Article 31.1).

As a human rights organisation that shares common goals of justice, equality, and human dignity with the GoSL and continues to support the GoSL’s effort to protect and promote human rights further urges that the GoSL should publish the finding and recommendations of the Commission and to implement the aforesaid recommendations as well as the recommendations by the Presidential Commission.

Furthermore, LST urges the GoSL not to restrain the search for the truth and provide reasonable compensation for the affected family once the sittings are concluded. In the mean time, LST emphasizes on the importance of issuing certificates of absence instead of death certificates for the missing or disappeared (LST already issued a media release on issuance of death certificates on March 31, 2014 ).

LST further highlights the right of the family members of the victims to know the whereabouts of their loved ones and steps taken by the government to find the fate and whereabouts. As stated in the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, acts constituting enforced disappearance shall be considered a continuing offence as long as the fate and whereabouts of persons who have disappeared concealed by the perpetrators” (Article 17. 1 of the declaration).

It is axiomatic that if the GoSL is committed to its international obligations regarding the rights of family members of the disappeared as frequently stated in international forums, it is duty bound to ensure the above to the fullest extent possible.

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