In Jaffna, hundreds seek help during Ban’s visit

After a three-hour-long bus ride from Vavuniya, Padmarani Thuraisingham stood in front of the Jaffna Public Library for at least two hours on Friday. It was little past noon and the sun was right over us.

With a cotton hand-towel covering her head she stood quietly, holding a pixelated photograph close to her chest. It was a picture of her missing husband Chinnathurai Thuraisingham. “This is from a passport-size photo he had taken when he was 45, say in 2002 or 2003.”

One morning in July 2008, Mr. Thuraisingham left home taking a fresh stock of bread in his autorickshaw to their bakery. And he never came back. His vehicle also went missing. “I have been looking for him since. People known to us say the army abducted him, I don’t know. I just know that he left for the bakery and went missing after that.”

Ms. Padmarani was among hundreds of people gathered outside the Jaffna Public Library on Friday. They were there to draw United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s attention to the issue of disappearances. In 2014, family members of over 20,000 missing persons petitioned the Sri Lankan government to look into their complaints of enforced disappearances.

If Ms. Padmarani’s everyday struggle was about searching for her missing husband, Vivekanandan Indrani’s battle is for land that belongs to her but is in the possession of the Sri Lankan army. “About 320 acres of private land in our village is still with the army. We live in a temporary shelter,” she said, reflecting the concerns of 85 families in Kepapilavu, her village in Mullaitivu.

During Sri Lanka’s civil war that spanned about 30 years, the army took over private land in many villages for security reasons. President Maithripala Sirisena released nearly 2,000 acres of land after he came to power in January 2015, but people are waiting for another 4,500 acres to be returned. Many such families waited outside the library holding photographs, banners and posters, some even telling the UN it had failed them and had not delivered justice.

Meeting with leaders

The UN Secretary General was there to meet leaders of the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) and later, Northern Province Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran at the library. Mr. Ban also briefly visited families in Thellipalai, about 15 km away, where families have recently resettled after the government returned their land.

Following their meeting, TNA parliamentarian M. A. Sumanthiran said Leader of the TNA R.Sampanthan briefed the Secretary General of the post-war situation in the north. “We also apprised him of the delay in releasing land and of matters related to the presence of army in the Northern Province.”