Sri Lanka will not break with its violent past until it reckons with the cruel history of enforced disappearance and delivers justice to as many as 100,000 families who have spent years waiting for it, Amnesty International said in a new report.
Amnesty International’s report, “Only Justice can heal our wounds”, was launched by the organization’s Secretary General Salil Shetty at a meeting with families of the disappeared in the northern Sri Lankan town of Mannar.
The report tells the story of relatives, many of them women, who have spent years searching for truth and justice. Obstructed at every turn, they have been misled about the whereabouts or fate of their disappeared relatives, subjected to threats, smears and intimidation, and suffered the indignity of delayed trials and a stalled truth and justice processes, it claims.
“There is no community in Sri Lanka that remains untouched by the trauma of enforced disappearance. Most people in the country suffer the absence of a loved one or know someone who does. They have waited years, and in some cases, decades, to learn of the fate of their relatives. Until justice is delivered to these victims, the country cannot begin to heal, let alone move towards a more promising future,” said Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General.
The report states that despite international commitments to end impunity for enforced disappearance, which may amount to crimes against humanity where they have been widespread and systematic, the authorities have failed to investigate these cases, identify the whereabouts or fate of the victim, or prosecute those suspected of the crimes.
A major driver of enforced disappearances has been like Sri Lanka’s notorious Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Enabling incommunicado and secret detention, the PTA places people outside the law and leaves them vulnerable to human rights violations including torture and enforced disappearances, it said.
“Sri Lanka needs to put the victims at the heart of any reconciliation process. The authorities must hear their demands and implement them. The current government has taken encouraging steps to acknowledge the need to end impunity, but it cannot leave the victims waiting any longer. They have waited too long already. If Sri Lanka wants to successfully pull away from its violent past, it must address victims’ demands for justice, truth, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence,” said Salil Shetty.