Special commission to investigate disappearance of Jaffna priest
by Danielle Vella
Fr Jim Brown and his assistant went missing in Allaipiddy exactly six months ago. The authorities have acted under pressure from the local Church and the Nunciature, who have long been calling for the truth about what happened. The commission started its work a few days ago and the priest’s is the sixth case on the list.
Jaffna (AsiaNews) - A special Commission of Inquiry set up by the President of Sri Lanka to investigate human rights abuses will take up the case of Fr Jimbrown, a Catholic priest who disappeared in Jaffna exactly six months ago.
Fr Thiruchelvam Nihal Jimbrown, 34, went missing on 20 August 2006 amid escalated warfare between the security forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). He was last seen with his assistant Vimalathas, a father of five children, at a checkpoint in Allaipiddy, Jaffna, an area tightly controlled by the security forces.
The Church in Sri Lanka and human rights organisations have repeatedly called on the government to discover what happened to the two men. The Apostolic Nuncio in Sri Lanka, Mgr Mario Zenari, has followed the case from the outset, visiting the families of the two Catholics and personally informing the Pope “who was visibly moved by the sad news”.
Mgr Zenari told AsiaNews: “I contacted the Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, who assured me that in answer to the request of the Apostolic Nunciature, the case of the disappearance of Fr Jim Brown would be examined along with a few special cases by a special Commission of Inquiry set up by the President.”
“As far as I can see, the authorities I am in touch with show goodwill and personal concern about the case. Let us hope that in the coming weeks or month we shall know the truth.”
Last year, President Mahinda Rajapakse ordered the setting up of a commission to investigate abductions, killings and other human rights violations. The commission began to investigate its first cases a few days ago: the assassination of Foreign Affairs Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar in August 2005; the massacre of 17 aid workers from Action Against Hunger in August 2006; killings of Muslim civilians in the eastern town of Muttur. The Commission will be monitored by international observers.
The bishop of Jaffna, Mgr Thomas Savundaranayagam, told AsiaNews that Fr Jim Brown’s disappearance was sixth on the commission’s list. He said the police criminal investigation department (CID) was also conducting an inquiry but progress was “very slow”. The bishop himself was asked for his statement only two weeks ago.
Today, six months after Fr Jim and Vimalathas disappeared, mass will be celebrated in places where people from Allaipiddy – Fr Jim’s parish – have sought refuge from the war.
Civil society sources say more than 600 people have been reported missing since August 2006 in Jaffna peninsula. They allege that paramilitaries acting in collaboration with the security forces are behind the disappearances.