01/27/2020, 16.47
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Civil society against Rajapaksa: saying that the 20 thousand missing have died is "insensitive" ​

by Melani Manel Perera

For activists, the evidence and details to substantiate the head of state's claims are lacking.  The issue of missing persons "is not only a political fact, but also has legal implications and deeply affects their families".




Colombo (AsiaNews) - To say that the 20 thousand people who disappeared during the civil war are dead, after 10 years of silence in the face of repeated requests from family members, is "irresponsible and insensitive".  It is when Catholic priests and activists from Sri Lanka support AsiaNews, condemning the statements of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, that last week dissolved a stubborn silence on the fate of the thousands of people lost in the final stages of the conflict.

According to activists, the evidence and details to validate the head of state's claims are lacking.  "How can they claim that 20 thousand people died without saying how, where, when and at the hands of whom, in front of desperate and anxious families?".  Fr Nandana Matunga, director of the Human Rights Office of the diocese of Kandy, says: "The president must clarify how he has obtained this knowledge, otherwise it is only a guess without foundation.  Innocent families and parents have been looking for their loved ones for more than 12 years. "

The priest continues: “They are not satisfied with a simple death certificate.  They want to know the truth, what really happened to the victims.  Many of them remember the exact date and time, not only of when relatives disappeared or were killed, but also of when they were handed over to army officials in the later stages of the conflict. "

Ruki Fernando, social activist rewarded for his commitment to peace, criticizes Rajapaksa: "He is following in the footsteps of Ranil Wickremesinghe in making occasional, insensitive and irresponsible statements.  Political leaders must understand that the issue of the disappeared is not only a political fact, but also has legal implications.  More importantly, it is a question that deeply affects the families of the missing." 

Some Tamil families, he says, “have been protesting on the street for three years, with massive participation of other families who unite from time to time;  still others have filed petitions in several courts in the country;  they attended meetings with politicians, including the president, and an immense series of initiatives. "  It is true, he admits, that "some were kidnapped by the Tamil Tiger rebels, but what happened to all those who surrendered to the army?".

For Brito Fernando, president of the "Families of the Missing" association, "at least the president has admitted what no other government had said before.  But where did he get the 20,000 number from?  The Missing Persons Office has never outlined it, nor the other commissions.  The president ruled out disappearances after the war.  But what about the famous white trucks on which the surrendered people were picked up?  And the 5 thousand soldiers whose where-abouts  are no longer known? ".  The activist reports the numbers cited by other associations and prominent political figures: the ex-president of the island Chandrika Bandaranayake Kumaaranatunge in 2016 said she had accepted 65 thousand complaints;  in 2017 Amnesty International said that the reported missing persons could be up to 100 thousand.

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