Families of the disappeared plead for justice in Geneva

Dharisha Bastians reporting from Geneva 
Sri Lankan disappearances activists Sandhya Ekneligoda and Varthana Sunthararajah pleaded with the international community to support their struggle to find missing husbands on the sidelines of the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council yesterday.

Both women, who spoke at a panel discussion organised by the International Movement Against all forms of Discrimination and Racism, said they had exhausted all local avenues for redress in Sri Lanka.

Sandhya Ekneligoda said that she was one of the fortunate ones, to be one of thousands of families of disappeared people in Sri Lanka to have her husband’s case handed over to the Criminal Investigation Department.

“But the State authorities implicated in Prageeth’s case are refusing to cooperate with the CID,” Ekneligoda told the side event at the Palais des Nations last evening.

Varthana Sunthararaj, who addressed the event during what was her first visit to the UN in Geneva during the Council sessions, said her husband had been abducted in front of her three children at the Town Hall Junction, Colombo in May 2009.

“The men who abducted him were in military uniform. My son who watched his father dragged into a van shouted, ‘please uncle, don’t shoot my father’,” said Varthana, who wept as she told her story.
She said her husband had been a part-time lecturer at the Jaffna and Colombo Universities and worked for World Vision and the Centre for Human Rights Documentation prior to his abduction.

“I can’t sleep. I keep wondering if he has eaten,” Varthana says.
She appeals to the international community to help her and all victims in Sri Lanka to find their loved ones.
“This is not land or money or food we are asking for. We are asking for help to save a life,” Varthana said.

Father Yogeswaran, a Jesuit priest who runs a human rights centre in Trincomalee, also addressed the discussion.
“You have heard Sandhya’s story and you have heard Varthana’s story. Sitting in front is Siththi, who is also looking for her missing son. They hail from the three main communities living in Sri Lanka,” Fr. Yogeswaran explained. 

27473b07d08b36bb22b5c153ed3af650_LHe said that tourists came to Sri Lanka and admired its beautiful beaches. “But behind the scenes, Sri Lanka is bleeding,” he said. The priest said that impunity for the crime of disappearance since the 1980s and 1990s had led to the misery families of the disappeared were facing in Sri Lanka today.
He welcomed the UN investigation report’s recommendation that the current Missing Persons Commission be dissolved and replaced with a credible body. “Sri Lanka must also ratify the convention on enforced disappearances,” the Jesuit priest urged.

Veteran rights activist and lawyer Dr. Nimalka Fernando said that there was a culture of ‘systemic disappearances’ in Sri Lanka since the 1980s.
Dr. Fernando said that in the 1980s, when the habeas corpus cases they had filed to search for some Tamil youth ended when their bodies were found, she and her colleagues had started what they knew would be a long journey of human rights work on disappearances.

“That journey has never ended,” Dr. Fernando explained.

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