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And the LORD said unto Cain, Where is Abel thy brother? And he said, I know not: Am I my brother's keeper?

And he said, What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother’s blood crieth unto me from the ground. (The Bible, Genesis, 4:9 & 10)

To those of us who believe that Adam and Eve were the world’s earliest man and woman, it should be known that the first missing human was Abel. Yet he was not really missing. He did not disappear, but made to disappear, forced to disappear. The Lord knew Cain had slain Abel. The Lord asked Cain to account for Abel’s disappearance. It was the first-ever demand for accountability known to us.

eelam tamilsWhere… where… where…?

Now in our times in the island of Lanka Ananthi Sasitharan asks, “Where is my husband Ezhilan?” Balendhiran Jayakumari asks, “Where is my son?” Sandhiya asks, “Where is my husband, Prageeth Eknaligoda? The people of Tamil Eelam ask “Where are our leaders, commanders, political scholars, artists and warriors?” Where is Ilankumaran? Where is Balakumaran and his son Suryadheepan both of whom were seen alive after the conclusion of the war? Where is Poet Puduvai Eraththinadurai? Where is Yogi? – Such questions are rather endless. Not a single one of these questions has met with an oh-he-is-here response.

Ranil Wickramasinghe was sworn in Prime Minister in 2015 and went to Jaffna in January 2016 to celebrate the Thai festival of Pongal. His Pongal message was: “there is no likelihood of any missing person to be alive.” So all of them were dead, that is, all of them had been killed. If so, who killed them? Were the killer-culprits charged with the crime of murder and arraigned before the law? Were they imprisoned? If not thus far when then is the law going to wake up?

The element of enforced disappearances

Enforced disappearance, once a routine method of military tyrannies, developed in due course to be an important element of the illegal repression of the state in several countries and became an international issue. In the United Nations Organization in 2010, the International Convention on Disappearances was signed in to International Law.

The method of enforced disappearances is resorted to, not so much for the elimination of a few relentless troublemakers to the state, as by way of sowing fear in the society at large. So it is a dangerous tool of state terrorism helping in threatening the people to submission. In recent history the country that held the record for the most numbers of disappearances was Iraq, and Sri Lanka came close second, according to a UN survey released in 1999. Sri Lanka has, according to a Quora answer, subsequently overtaken Iraq to reach the infamous top. The International Committee of Red Cross reported 20,000 complaints of enforced disappearances in the period of the civil war alone.

The period of a massive manhunt

The practice of enforced disappearances earned wide prevalence only after the island of Sri Lanka then officially called Ceylon became the Republic of Sri Lanka in 1972. Many of the youth who attempted an armed insurrection under the banner of the Janata Vimukthi Peramuna just disappeared mysteriously after being caught by the armed forces of the state. Most of them were Sinhalese. The tenure of Jayawardene and Premadasa as the Prime Minister and the President running the administration has been marked by history as the period when thousands of Sinhala youth were forcibly disappeared, a period of a massive manhunt.

How Rohana Vijayaweera, the leader of the JVP was in November 1989 tortured to death by a team of the state armed force, has been narrated by a member of the team itself. According to this extremely shocking report, even as Rohana was tortured and shot in the leg and was still groaning in pain, he was burnt alive on the burning deck of the electric crematorium!

Injustice against Tamils

In the period 1985-1991 when the Sinhala youth were forcibly being disappeared across South Lanka, human rights activists raised their voice against those atrocities. One prominent figure among those few Swathanthra Party politicians who joined the clamor for justice was Mahinda Rajapakshe!

When the same Rajapakshe came to power and waged a genocidal war on the Tamil people in the name of a war on terror, enforced disappearance became an important element of warfare. Though this was mostly directed against the Tamils, those few Sinhalese who stood for justice and fair play were not spared either.

A case in point is what happened to Prageeth Ranjan Eknaligoda, a Sinhala media person, artist and writer. On the evening of the 24th of January 2010, he left office saying he had an appointment with an old friend. He went off, never to return. His wife Sandhiya, relatives and friends, and human rights activists accused Rajapakshe’s henchmen to have kidnapped Eknaligoda. When Maithripala Sirisena became President defeating Rajapakshe in the 2015 Presidential elections, a CID investigation was ordered into the mysterious disappearance of Eknaligoda. A stage was reached when an army officer was about to be arrested for his involvement in the crime. But the military command would never ever allow it to happen.

The white van saga

The ‘white van kidnapping’ was widely resorted to against Tamils during the war. None of those kidnapped in the white van has returned alive. The ongoing protest by a mother by name Balendhiran Jayakumari seeking to know the whereabouts of her son who surrendered to the army and just disappeared is now well known across the world. Jayakumari and her daughter Vibushika were seen in every protest with the pictures of three sons. Whenever an international dignitary such as the British Prime Minister Cameroon or Navipillai, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited the island, Jayakumari and Vibushika called on them in person and made representations. One day, as a result, Jayakumari herself was imprisoned under the Anti-Terrorism Act.

The Paranagama Commission of Inquiry appointed by the Government has itself confirmed that offences of enforced disappearances have indeed been committed. The UN Reports have also confirmed the same. The Government of Sri Lanka has also admitted this fact. Yet justice to the victims is still a distant dream.

Loopholes galore

The Government has enacted an Act to form the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) only under international pressure, The Tamil organizations have alleged that the OMP Act is a mere eyewash. For, the said office has no international participation, nor any provision for punishing those guilty of committing the offence of enforced disappearance. And such loopholes galore! This goes against the assurance given by Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council.

The struggle related to the missing persons forms an important element in the struggle for justice being carried on by the people of Tamil Eelam. In the Tamil uprising rallies held in the Homeland of Tamil Eelam, the disappeared persons marched along in the form of pictures carried by their dear ones.

The curtain is down on the ‘good governance’ drama as Sinhala supremacism has enthroned back the Rajapakshes. The new President Gotabaya has openly announced that there was no use seeking to find the missing persons as they were dead. Of course, he knows best as the Death-god who warranted the taking of those lives!

Sri Lanka has withdrawn from the UNHRC resolution (30/1) co-sponsored by itself. It means nothing will remain of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) even for name’s sake.

However, the Eelam mothers persist with their protests. Days, months or even years may pass, their protests will not cease. The question “where are our dear ones?” echoes on the hills of the island of Sri Lanka. The roar of the waves of the Indian Ocean asks aloud the same question. Not just the government of Sri Lanka, but the international community ought to answer them.

The voice of the blood of the forcibly disappeared – just like the voice of the blood of Abel – will be crying from the ground, from beneath the earth where they were graved. If the conscience of the world has the ears, that voice will be heard and justice secured!

Thiagu

(This article was published in Fortnightly Magazine 'Abel', July 2020)


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