‘Missing,’ In Terror Wars

Yesterday this newspaper reported that a group of parents representing the families of missing persons from the North and the East (NE) had submitted a petition to President Maithripala Sirisena at Jaffna, requesting information about their missing children.

The occasion was where Sirisena had participated at a meeting with the families of missing persons at the peninsula on Sunday.

Nonetheless, ‘missing persons due to terrorism’ is not something new to Sri Lanka, though it has been made vocal, particularly with reference to the country’s recent war with Tamil terrorism due to the participation of the international community.

Meanwhile, the story of ‘missing persons’ in the Government of Sri Lanka’s (GoSL’s) war with terrorism may be as old as 46 years, coinciding with the start of Sri Lanka’s first war with Sinhala terrorists in April 1971 and ending with the war against Tamil terrorism 38 years later on 18 May, 2009 – the year terrorist leader Velupillai Prabhakaran was killed.

Therefore, the story of those who had disappeared in the wars due to terrorism is as old as 46 years and is not a recent phenomenon.

However, it’s the responsibility of the State to find out as to what had happened to those who had disappeared in internal wars fought here, whether they were in wars with Sinhala or Tamil terrorists.

Thirteen thousand Sinhala youth killed by the security forces and the Police in the April 1971 insurgency, 600 policemen killed in one go by the Tamil LTTE terrorists in the East in 1990, when President R. Premadasa asked them to surrender to the LTTE in his utopian dream that it’s possible to make peace with the terrorists, also add on to the missing persons’ list, which may now number in the tens of thousands, since April 1971.

For the purposes of their families to receive pensions or similar types of terminal benefits, like in the case of the 600 policemen who disappeared under the hands of the LTTE in 1990, it may be convenient for the GoSL to issue death certificates or certificates of absence to meet legal requirements, even covering other types of missing persons, like in the case of the families of missing persons who met Sirisena at Jaffna on Sunday, if such certificates are acceptable to the victims’ families; but those are unsatisfactory solutions.

The first step is to find out what really the fate of the disappeared was? Are they dead? If so how did they meet their fate? Were they killed in action? Or were they murdered after surrendering, like in the case of those 600 policemen? Or were they killed, or had gone missing after being taken into custody? These are not answers to questions that just the families of missing persons would want from the authorities, but which also justice per se demands and the rest of the citizenry of this country as well.

If dead or killed, the second step is to establish their graves; or where at least they were killed in the event that their remains are non-existent and lastly to bring to justice those who were responsible for such killings.

That is the crux of the Geneva Resolution of October 2015, which has gone a step further by saying that foreign jurists will also be involved in such investigations, but which base covers Sri Lanka’s war with the LTTE terrorists, coinciding with the aforementioned murder of 600 policemen and thereafter, in particular till the war end on 18 May, 2009 only, though it’s a grey area whether the murder of those 600 policemen too will be covered in such investigations?

Geneva, however, doesn’t encompass the Sinhala terrorist war in the form of the JVP insurgency of April 1971, nor the period from July 1983 to July 1987, i.e. when Tamil terrorism became full blown in the country till the signing of the Indo Lanka-Peace Accord where all Tamil terrorist organizations with the exception of the LTTE and a splinter arm of EROS, laid down their arms, with that splinter arm subsequently joining the LTTE, nor the period July 1987 to February 1990 when the IPKF was ‘keeping the peace’ in the NE, while the four month period from February 1990 to June 1990 being the phoney peace which the Premadasa government had with the LTTE before war finally broke out and lastly, in the South, Geneva doesn’t cover the period of the second JVP insurrection from July 1987 to November 1989.

Nonetheless, as all these are Sri Lankan issues, it’s up to GoSL to investigate all cases of missing persons starting from Sinhala terrorism in the South in April 1971 and ending up with the Tamil/LTTE terrorism that concluded on 18 May, 2009. If need be, logistical support, either in cash or kind or in the form of technical support, or in two or all of those three forms as enunciated, may be requested from the international community, if needed.

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