Sri Lanka: Protest in Colombo of Families of the Disappeared

, by UPU

The Families of the Disappeared, a joint organisation led by Brito had organized a protest in Colombo on the 06th of March. Political leaders were too invited to participate in this event to be held opposite Colombo Municipality near Viharamahadevi Park. The large convoy of family members of the disappeared, nearly 1000, which traveled from the North were stopped by the military in Vauniya, and were not allowed to proceed to Colombo. Hence the military rulers of the Tamil homeland stopped them taking part in the scheduled protest. Plan was to hold a public meeting and submit a petition to the United Nations office in Colombo. These Tamil family members of the disappeared were traveling in 11 buses, all of which were stopped in Vauniya 5th night.

“They were told it’s not safe for them to travel further. If they continue to do so, there are people who will be pelting stones at them. And, the military will not be able to do anything” Brito Fernando the President of the ‘Families of the Disappeared’ and the co-convener of the ‘Platform for Freedom’ said. However as requested, Vickramabahu, Mano, Asath ,Jayalath, and several other political leaders , social activists, Christian priests, a few mothers and fathers gathered opposite the Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo. The organizers had initially planned to have a Satyagraha in front of the Park, then march to the Public Library for a public meeting, and then proceed to the United Nations office in Colombo to hand over their petition. But, after the people were stopped in Vauniya, a brief event was held in front of the Viharamahadevi Park in Colombo. “Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission states “Ensure people, community leaders and religious leaders have the freedom to organize peaceful events and meetings without restrictions“. But, Tamil people were blocked in Vauniya, and were not allowed to travel further. This is not true reconciliation” observed Fr. M. Sakthivel, who participated.

Dr Vickramabahu of Nava Sama Samaja party speaking at the gathering said “this military action shows that the people in the Tamil homeland are living under a military rule and differentially treated. The police was helpless. It is the military that organizes stone throwing. We had experienced that at Mulative. LLRC recommendations are not implemented. This event exposed the true nature of the situation. Mahinda was responsible for the break down of peace agreement that was established by Ranil. Mahinda went to courts to get a bogus ruling negating tsunami agreement with the Tamil Tigers. If the peace project was continued a settlement was inevitable. But Mahinda blasted that opportunity and launched this genocidal war. We are suffering due to this disaster created. Even after the cruel war which killed so many there is no reconciliation. Brutal repression continues. Entire country is under a dictatorship. Situation in the north is drifting into the south as well. In order to curb the unrest and protest against the government in the south, a Muslim hunt has been organised by the government. Pogrom against the Muslims will be used by the government to suppress democratic rights of all.”

Despite untold hardships, Tamil mothers continue their endless journey in search of their loved ones. One such mother is a tearful Ashadevi Shanmugalingam. She pleaded to the priests and politicians gathered there to find her son alive. “I want my son. Please help me to find him alive. My son is innocent, and I am helpless” lamented Ashadevi Shanmugalingam, while holding her son’s black and white portrait close to her heart. Her tearful plea, emotionally led the clergymen and politician to embrace her, and wipe her tears.

“Rights of the Tamil people are not yet respected by the Government of Sri Lanka. Thousands of innocent civilians were brutally killed during the war, many have been made to disappear and numerous Tamil men and women are detained without trial. Tamil people’s rights are being violated continuously in post war Sri Lanka,” said Mano Ganesan, leader of the Democratic People’s Front.

A Tamil mother of a missing son had traveled from Jaffna throughout the night in order to be at the scheduled protest in Colombo today. She had dropped off her luggage at a lodge in Pettah, and quickly came to the venue. “We came on a bicycle to Jaffna town on the 26th of April 2008, at 4pm. My son went to a nearby shop. 8 men in military uniform with beards and on field motorbikes took my son away. I have complained to the authorities, but nothing has brought my son home,” said Perinparani Thirunavukarasu from Jaffna.

The organizers expected hundreds of family members to gather in Colombo to protest against disappearances, and raise their voices for accountability and justice. However the protest couldn’t take place as expected due to the failure to adhere to Recommendation 9.118 which states “Ensure people, community leaders and religious leaders have the freedom to organize peaceful events and meetings without restrictions”.

UPU news 8 March 13