9 years after disappearance of Fr. Jim Brown & Mr. Vimalathas

First published at http://groundviews.org/2015/08/20/9-years-after-disappearance-of-fr-jim-brown-mr-vimalathas/ on 20th August 2015

9 years ago, on 20th August 2006, Fr. Jim Brown and Mr. Vimalathas disappeared after having been last seen at a Navy checkpoint in Allaipiddy, Jaffna[1]. Few days before, Fr. Jim Brown had been threatened by a Navy officer. There had also been tension between him and the Navy, as the Catholic Priest had pleaded with the Navy to allow injured civilians leave Allaipiddy, during the fighting between the government military and the LTTE. Earlier on, many civilians were killed and injured on an attack on the Allapiddy Church, to which Fr. Jim Brown had welcomed desperate civilians seeking a place of refuge from the fighting.

The first time I went to Allapiddy was when the people displaced in this fighting started to go back, sometime after the disappearance. I was warned by friends not to talk about Fr. Jim Brown and I didn’t. But even today, I remember people telling me that they were alive because of Fr. Jim Brown. I remember also the shelled out church. Not many Catholic Priests would have invited people to take shelter in a Church knowing it was likely to get hit and people – and even he – maybe killed. I had gone with another Catholic Priest, who had negotiated a “one hour visa” from the Navy at a time no outsiders were allowed to go there. We were both very scared because we were followed and under strict surveillance of Navy officers – whom we knew were hostile and were from the same check point that Fr. Jim Brown and Vimalathas were last seen, and we had no possibility to contact anyone else, as there was no mobile signal. We managed to return in one hour. But Fr. Jim Brown and Vimalathas, who had gone on a humanitarian mission to the same place, had not returned for 9 years.

Fr. Jim Brown’s mother passed away few years ago, without being able to know what happened to her son. His elderly father lives alone and still keeps a photo of Fr. Jim Brown in the sparsely furnished basic house in Puthukkudiyiruppu. Whenever I visit him, he shows that photo to my friends and colleagues. Vimalathas’s five children have grown up, the eldest being 24 and youngest 10, and they his wife also await some information about their beloved father and husband. Even last year, they had made a complaint to the latest Presidential Commission of Inquiry. Despite numerous complaints, appeals by the families as well as Church leaders and human rights defenders, the families have not heard any updates from anyone, even in 2015 under the Sirisena – Ranil led government.

The only thing I and concerned persons have been able to do for them is to accompany them in their struggles and organize religious services, write about their stories to remember them. There will be a service at Puthukkudiyiruppu, today morning.

Their disappearance was amongst the 16 cases a high profile Presidential Commission of Inquiry (the Udalagama Commission), monitored by “International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) took up from 2006 onwards. Todate, the report has not been shared with the families. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) also heard submissions about the case. Again, no response – except that another Catholic Priest who made a submission got a threatening call the next day asking whether he wanted to suffer the same fate as Fr. Jim Brown.

Fr. Jim Brown is not the only Tamil Catholic Priest who disappeared, there is a habeas corpus case pending on the disappearance of Fr. Francis Joseph, who disappeared in May 2009 after surrendering to the Army at the end of the war, in front of many witnesses. Many other journalists, humanitarian workers, and civilians, majority of them Tamil in the last decade, have disappeared without trace. The latest Presidential Commission of Inquiry has reported receiving 16.826 and 5,000 complaints each from civilians and military[2].

Their families have been clamoring for truth and justice in Sri Lanka and beyond. They have become a powerful moral conscience to those who are sensitive to their cries and struggles. The previous government and some others have sought to dismiss their struggles as attempts to promote political agendas. Like Fr. Jim Brown’s family, they have been threatened, intimidated, obstructed and ridiculed for struggling to find the truth about their loves ones. They were stopped from coming from Colombo to the North and a meeting we had with some of them in a Church run institute in Colombo was broken into by Buddhist Monk led group. Balendran Jeyakumary, a prominent Tamil mother whose son had disappeared after surrendering to the military, was arrested and detained for 362 days without charges and still faces investigation and various restrictions.

We got a new President, new Prime Minister and new parliament in 2015. How high up on the agenda is giving answers to families of disappeared is not clear. As a minimum and first step, President Sirisena has the power to share the Udalagama Commission report with Fr. Jim Brown’s and Vimalathas’s family and publish it. Will he do so? Will the new UNP led government request him to do so? Will the CID or relevant agencies re-open the investigation, examining available evidence, the way it has done on few other cases? Will it commit to truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non occurrence, without compelling families of disappeared to trade one off for another?

In addition to the Police, Human Rights Commission and Courts, families of disappeared have appeared before multiple domestic Commissions of Inquiries. After having worked with many families of disappeared persons for several years, I don’t think they have had much success in finding disappeared persons or what happened to him / her.

But given the large number of families of disappeared persons waiting for answers, we may need dedicated special mechanisms, including but not limited to special courts, prosecutors and investigators, set up under special laws. But any new mechanism the government may set up must have the involvement of the families of disappeared in the setting up process itself and have their confidence. It should be seen as independent and effective, not yet another “eye wash”. It should have wide ranging powers, including subpoenaing, searching, seizing and obtaining information and materials from any person or institution, including the military. It should also be able to access information on any progress of investigations and inquiries made todate by Police and any other such bodies, share updates with families and take follow up actions. It is important not to further traumatize families by compelling them to complaint yet again. No persons associated with a new mechanism should be perceived or suspected to have been involved with disappearances. A strong and substantial international involvement, that goes beyond mere advice, monitoring, financial and training, would facilitate confidence of families of disappeared. Mechanisms to solicit information from persons who may know about individual cases or overall trends may also be helpful to trace disappeared persons.

Fr. Jim Brown’s and Vimalathas’s disappearance was amongst the earliest in a new wave of complaints made to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances since 2006 from Sri Lanka. Since then, Sri Lanka has accounted for the largest number of complaints to the UN Working Group, totaling 608, with the nearest other country being Mexico with 154 complaints[3]. In it’s 35 years of work, Sri Lanka has the second largest number of complaints[4]. The Working Group was due to visit in August, but the government had requested for a postponement due to elections. It is hoped that the new government will renew the invitation for them visit soon, and cooperate with them to give answers to families of disappeared persons.

A lot will depend on the genuine political will of the new Sri Lankan government. The support of the international community will also be important, particularly countries that have experience in dealing with large case disappearances, such as Argentina and other Latin American countries. But perhaps the most crucial element will be how much outrage there will be from Sri Lankan citizens against unwillingness and inability of our government to give answers to our fellow citizens whose loved ones have disappeared and how much sympathy and support families of disappeared persons will receive from their fellow citizens. What can we offer Fr. Jim Brown’s father and Vimalathas’s children and wife, and many others like them, will be a determining factor in our ability to have co-existence and lasting peace.

Fr Jim Brown

Allaipiddy Church after the attack


Fr Jim Brown’s parents

Fr Jim Browen’s parents and a brother at the 2009 commemoration in Colombo

Vimalathas’s wife

Vimalathas’s wife and children with some Catholic Priests

See interviews the video about disappearances in Sri Lanka  with interviews from families of disappeared and activists http://www.mediafire.com/download/yp65pn1jnxa6dzq/SRI+LANKA+JUNE+10.mp4

(For focus on Fr. Jim Brown & Vimalathas, see minutes 7.06-8.12 and 2.03 – 3.31)

[1] For more background, see here.

[2] http://www.pcicmp.lk/

[3] Statistics according to the latest report of the Working Group, dated 4thAugust 2014, ref. A-HRC-27-47

[4] Ibid

Pattani Razeek: No justice 5 years after abduction and killing

Article first published at http://groundviews.org/2015/02/11/pattani-razeek-no-justice-5-years-after-abduction-and-killing/ on 11th February 2015

On 11th February 2015, it will be five years since the abduction of Pattani Razeek, a well-known human rights defender in Sri Lanka. His body was exhumed on 28th July 2011. At the time of his abduction, he was the Managing Trustee of the Community Trust Fund (CTF) (www.ctfsrilanka.org) and an Executive Committee Member of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) (www.forum-asia.org).

The case has still not been resolved. A key suspect arrested has been released and later made a witness, at least one more person likely to be involved has not been named a suspect nor been arrested and it’s not known whether a third person identified as a suspect has been arrested or not. Compelling evidence appears not to have been examined, Police appear to me mismanaging the investigation and in leading evidence in Courts. The Post Mortem report seems to indicate that the delay in exhumation of the body has made it impossible to determine the exact cause of death.

Court cases:

Initially there were several court cases filed at Puttalam and Polonnaruwa Courts relating to the disappearance of Mr. Razeek. Some have been concluded and others have been amalgamated into one case now – case number 92264 at the Pollonnaruwa Magistrate Courts. Next date for hearing of the case is 25th February 2015.

Police case BR 177/10/P before the Puttalam Magistrate Courts, Police case A.R 142/2010 before the Pollonnaruwa Magistrate Courts and Police case 651/2011 before the Polonnaruwa Magistrate Courts have been combined to above case (922264). Land case before the District Court, Puttalam (No. 57913) regarding a land dispute between Mr. Razeek’s brother and Mr. M. Nihmath’s (who Mr. Razeek’s family, friends and colleagues suspect to be involved in the abduction and killing) relatives who lived near Mr. Razeek’s residence in Mundalama has been concluded.

DNA & Post Mortem reports and Death Certificate:

In August 2011, following a court order, four teeth, muscle samples, a femur bone acquired from Mr. Razeek’s body, and a blood sample from Mr. Razeek’s son Rikshan were sent to the Gene Tech Computer lab for a DNA analysis by Colombo Crime Division (CCD). When DNA Report submission was late, Riskhan called Genetech regarding the DNA report on 2nd February 2012 and he was informed that the DNA report will be submitted to court in two weeks. However, 9 months after the court order, on 29th May 2012, it was informed to the court that the DNA testing was unsuccessful. The reasons mentioned were that DNA contained in the bone, muscle and teeth may have been subjected to degradation due to prolonged exposure to environmental conditions such as high humidity or high temperature and also the amount of biological material may have been insufficient.

The Post Mortem report has been released on 12th June 2012 after the Post Mortem conducted in July 2011 and it appears to conclude that exact cause of death is unascertainable due to the body being in an advanced state of putrefaction. However, it was mentioned that gagging, smothering, ligature strangulation, manual strangulation cannot be excluded as cause of death.

The Death certificate, issued only on 28th October, also says the cause of death cannot be determined.

Releasing the 1st suspect and making him a witness:

The first suspect, Sahabdeen Nowshaadh was released after being arrested, and was named as a witness by the Attorney General’s Department. Through a letter dated 4th April 2012, the Department had advised Senior Superintendent of Police (SSP) in Polonnaruwa to inform the Magistrate Court that they no longer expect to take legal action against the first suspect and that he could be released. Through another letter dated 24th of April 2012, the Department had informed the Colombo Crime Division (CCD) that they have decided to release Sahabdeen Nowshaadh, and to name him as a witness of the case.

There are doubts whether the conversion of Nowshaadh from a suspect to witness is due to his links with Minister Baududeen. In the Anticipatory Bail (Revision Petition, case no. HCR 08/10) concluded in the Puttalam High Court, Nowshaadh has admitted that he is a close associate of Minister Rishad Badudeen and he had met Mr. Razeek on 11th February 2010 and to being in the same area (Pollonnaruwa) at the time Mr. Razeek disappeared.

Nowshaad was arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) on 9th July 2011 and released on bail on 4th November 2011. As per the report submitted to Polonnaruwa Magistrate by Officer in Charge of the Colombo Crime Division (CCD), on 10th February 2012 (Court case B/651/2011), charges against Nowshaad were requesting a 20 million Rupees of ransom, appearing as LTTE, disappearance of Pattani Razeek, collecting funds for LTTE, purchasing weapons with that money, and conspiring to fight against government forces. Charges concerning Nowshaad’s connection with LTTE, fundraising for LTTE, and conspiring to fight against government forces seem to be fabricated charges because during this time, similar kind of claims were made against those arrested under PTA. These fabricated charges might have underestimated his connection with Mr. Razeek’s disappearance.

In the court hearings, Mr. Nowshaad’s lawyer has admitted that the phone which was used to make ransom calls belonged to Nowshaad. Also Nowshaad’s lawyer argued that no phone call was made from a SIM belonging to Nowshaad. But in the police investigation, it was revealed that the SIM cards used for the ransom were Mr. Razeek’s and the ransom calls were made using a phone belonging to Nowshaad (Police case before Puttalam Magistrate BR/177/10 P – report submitted by the Officer in Charge of the Puttalam Police). Mr. Razeek’s son also alleges that investigations have revealed that several phone calls received by Mr. Razeek prior to the abduction were from 4 numbers, the sim cards of which had been purchased in the name of one of the Trustees of CTF, Mr. Rafeek. Nowshaad was the President of the Citizens Committee, an initiative of CTF.

Mr. Razeek’s son has also expressed his disappointment regarding the release of Nowshaadh, the first suspect, despite of many evidences available against him, including the fact that Nowshaadh has admitted in his anticipatory bail application that he has met Mr. Razeek on the day of abduction and to being in the same area (Pollonnaruwa) at the time that Mr. Razeek disappeared.

Other suspects:

Only one person is named as an accused at the moment and his name is Mushdeen who confessed about the abduction of Mr. Razeek. He too has also been released on bail on 2nd March 2012. It was based on his confession, that the body of Mr. Razeek was unearthed. But his motive of murdering Mr. Razeek seems not clear. Therefore Mr. Razeek’s relatives suspect that Mushdeen was not acting alone in this case and was supported by people who know Mr. Razeek personally. This point can be supported through the demands of the abductors. According to a statement given to the Police by the son of Mr. Razeek, the demands of the abductors were following; Rs.20 million be paid as pocket money to the abductors, the family should provide details of CTF assets and that the trustees should transfer any properties held in their name to the ‘Nujoom Trust’ a trust set up by Mr. Nihamath a former trustee. These demands indicate that the abductor(s) knew Mr. Razeek’s activities more than Mushdeen who seem to be unaware of relationship between Mr. Razeek and CTF.

It is surprising that the first suspect, Nowshaadh has been named as a witness of the case, and Nihmath has never been named as a suspect. Thus, Mushdeen appears to have become the main suspect of the case. It is difficult to understand that Mushdeen, who was a total stranger to Mr. Razeek, had committed the murder of Mr. Razeek without an influence from Mr. Razeek’s enemies at workplace and wanted to gather information on CTF, and to transfer CTF funds to another organization. It is more likely, according to relatives of Mr. Razeek, that Mushdeen was hired by either Nowshaadh or Nihmath who were connected to CTF and who had several disputes with Mr. Razeek. One of the demands of the abductors was to provide details of CTF assets and that the trustees transfer any properties held in their name to the ‘Nujoom Trust’ a trust set up by Mr. Nihamath (the former Trustee General of CTF) in 2009. However no investigations appear to have been conducted regarding Mr. Nihmath’s connection with the disappearance except two verbal statements taken from him by Mundalama Police and CCD.

Also Police appear not to have reported to Magistrate regarding abductors’ demand to transfer the CTF funds to the ‘Nujoom Trust’ a trust set up by Mr. Nihmath, even though Razeek’s family members have mentioned this in their verbal statements given to the Police.

Police had also identified another suspect, Mohamed Shammi, the driver of the van which has been suspected as having been used for the disappearance of Mr. Razeek. It is not clear whether sufficient effort was taken to conduct proper investigations on his connection with Mr. Razeek’s disappearance. Although the Police had requested a court order to be issued to arrest him on arrival from overseas, follow up action on this is not known.

To the best of our knowledge, the Police also don’t appear to have questioned or produced before courts, the following who appear to have information related to abduction and killing of Mr. Razeek.

– Mr. Irshard, the then Parliamentary Secretary to Minister Rishard Bathiudeen, who stated publicly, in October 2010, that Mr. Razeek was held by the Defense Ministry;
– Persons traveling in the vehicle with suspect Mushdeen, in which Mr. Razeek was abducted;
– Persons traveling with suspect Nowshaadh, who admitted to meeting Mr. Razeek in Polonnaruwa on the day he disappeared. According to Nowshaadh, he and several others were traveling in a vehicle belonging to the Resettlement Ministry, then headed by Minister Bathiudeen at the time;

Weaknesses in Police investigations and pursuance of the case:

In some occasions, the case appears to have been delayed due to weaknesses of the Police. For example, the Judge has mentioned that the evidences have not been presented properly and had not been filed according to code of criminal procedures (Case no. B/651/2011on 6th August 2012). As a result, the statements from Mr. Razeek’s son, Mr. Razeek’s wife, and employees of CTF were recorded by CCD following instructions of the judge which resulted in prolonging the trial.

When will Justice be done?

More than 3 years ago, in November 2011, the final report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), dedicated several paragraphs to comment on the case of Pattani Razeek. It’s comments on page 162 are worth repeating;

(Paragraph) 5.31 “Among the many disturbing allegations concerning missing persons submitted to the Commission by the general public, especially during its visits to conflict-affected areas, the case of Mr. Razik Pattani in Puttlam, is referred to here on account of the Commission’s own disappointing experience concerning that case. It highlights the deplorable absence of conclusive law enforcement action, despite the Commission itself bringing this case to the attention of the concerned authorities of the area. Mr. Razik’s body was reportedly discovered while the Commission was writing its report. Timely action could probably have saved this life.”

(Paragraph) 5. 32 “Mr. Razik who had been an official of an NGO providing assistance to the IDPs in Puttalam was abducted allegedly due to the fact that he had questioned the manner in which some of the expenditures have been incurred by the NGO as well as the purchase of some properties under the names of some of its directors. When inquires were made from the relevant Deputy Inspector-General of Police in the area as to why there was a delay in arresting the alleged abductor following a court order, he has reportedly said that the Police was not aware of the suspect’s whereabouts and if the people know where he was, let the police know so that they could arrest him. It was alleged in this regard that the suspect evaded arrest due to his ‘political connections’. If this is established, it must be mentioned that such an attitude would completely erode the public confidence, in particular in the Police, and make the maintenance of law and order much more difficult. The Commission is equally concerned that undue political interference has also contributed to the lapses on the part of the Police.”

Sadly, it seems that absolutely no attention has been paid to LLRC’s comments on the case, and we are not closer to justice more than three years after the LLRC’s report.

It remains to be seen whether there will be justice for Pattani Razeek and his family under the new government, which has promised “yahapalanaya” (good governance) and rule of law.

Ruki Fernando & Damith Chandimal
11th February 2015

Note: For more detailed reports on background and developments in the first two years, see
http://groundviews.org/2012/02/11/who-killed-razeek-and-why-unanswered-questions-two-years-after-his-abduction/ andhttp://groundviews.org/2011/08/18/who-killed-razeek-2/