Spotlight On White Van Abductions

A statement made by former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa on the ‘white van’ culture during the former regime, has put the whole issue back in the spotlight.

Rajapaksa had claimed that white vans were used to kidnap criminals and his statement came just as the police arrested Frontline Socialist Party (FSP) politburo member Kumar Gunaratnam, who was also abducted when the former Government was in power.

Political critics said the statement made by the former defense secretary could be quite harmful to his reputation. These kidnapping are one of the main issues held against Sri Lanka by The UN Human Rights commission, they went on to say that this statement will be used in further investigations.

Human rights activist Brito Fernando said that civil society is ready to work with the government until a solution is reached with regard to those who had disappeared and were abducted over the past 30 years.

Around 60,000 (unofficial figure) persons had reportedly gone missing during the tense period in 1989. According to the commission appointed by former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, only around 26,000 cases were reported. Other reports indicated that the number of disappeared and abducted stood at between 40,000 and 147,000.

However the official number of complaints received with regard to the disappeared and the abducted persons are around 18,000. In the Northern and eastern provinces there is still no accurate statistics with regard to the missing persons and those who had been abducted.

Seeking justice

Fernando said that it was unfortunate that in most of these instances, only those in the lower ranks of the ladder who had carried out the orders have been held responsible for abductions, while those who issued the command have not been held responsible. He said that it was the responsibility of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to find answers to the atrocities that were allegedly committed by the previous regime.

In order to ensure proper reconciliation he said that it was vital to punish those who are responsible for atrocities that were committed and his organisation was committed in working toward ensuring justice to those who had been affected.  Propaganda Secretary of the FSP Pubudu Jayagoda recalled that the former defence secretary’s name has been mentioned with regards to the previous abduction of Kumar Guaratnam and so the authorities must arrest and question him over the incident.

Speaking to The Sunday Leader, Police Spokesperson ASP Ruwan Gunasekera said that action cannot be taken against Rajapaksa because what he said was not a confession but a statement. He further went on to say that the CID is conducting investigations regarding the claims that have been made regarding the white van incidents.

Gunaratnam was abducted on April seven, 2012 and on April 11 that year he has been brought to the Dematagoda police station blindfolded.

“Even at that time we said that this was the work of the former defense secretary and the state security units. We have made a complaint to the IGP at that time. But after many years the former defense secretary has admitted that he had abducted Kumar and that the army was involved in it. Although he has called it an arrest, this is no arrest. If it was so then there is no need to hide him. We have lodged a complaint on this. But so far the police have not even recorded a statement from him. So we are going to direct this case to the Human Rights Commission,” Jayagoda said.

Jayagoda said that as the police are not going to file a case against Rajapaksa regarding the offense, the FSP is going to file a court case against him in the coming week.

Duminda Nagamuwa of the FSP recently lodged a complaint at the Police Headquarters to re-start the investigations regarding Kumar’s abduction during the previous regime

“On the evening of April 11 the then defense secretary stated during a program on ITN that Kumar Gunarathnam was detained at the Dematagoda police station. So he knew about that before. Several others have disappeared in this way. So we intend to add their names in the case as well,” Jagoda said.

During the ITN program Rajapaksa had said that there is a possibility of the LTTE regrouping in the future and a possible uprising of ISIS in Sri Lanka and also other radical groups in the country posing a threat to national security. So the government may have made the people disappear. The present government has not yet stated that they have such an agenda. The present government is not telling anything straight. That is why we have sought for a discussion,” Jagoda said.

Gunarathnam, who was arrested recently after he returned to the country, first drew attention when an issue arose over his visa when he was in Sri Lanka as he was an Australian citizen. He was arrested recently by the Kegalle police after being accused of violating the immigration laws of Sri Lanka. After being produced before the Kegalle magistrate Prasanna Alwis recently, Gunarathnam was further remanded until November 27.

Meanwhile accusing the present government of depriving Gunaratnam the right and freedom to reside in Sri Lanka and to engage in politics as well as suppressing anyone who is demanding such rights for him, the FSP had planned to launch a protest in front of Fort Railway station urging the government to recognise him as a citizen of Sri Lanka. However, after filing a case in court regarding the construction of a stage, the police had obtained a court order to stop the protest.