Abduction

ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැළිගොඩ පැහැර ගෙන දස වසරකි: සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවූ ගමනක පිය සටහන්

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://sinhala.srilankabrief.org/2020/01/%e0%b6%b4%e0%b7%8a%e2%80%8d%e0%b6%bb%e0%b6%9c%e0%b7%93%e0%b6%ad%e0%b7%8a-%e0%b6%91%e0%b6%9a%e0%b7%8a%e0%b6%b1%e0%b7%90%e0%b7%85%e0%b7%92%e0%b6%9c%e0%b7%9c%e0%b6%a9-%e0%b6%b4%e0%b7%90%e0%b7%84%e0%b7%90/

අද 2020 ජනවාරි 24 දින මාධ්‍යවේදී සහ කාටූන් ශිල්පී ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැළිගොඩ අතුරුදහන් වී වසර 10 කි. ඔහුගේ බිරිඳ වන සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැළිගොඩ සහ තරුණ පුතුන් දෙදෙනාගේ සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය උදෙසා වසර 10 ක අරගලය ද අද දින සනිටුහන් කරයි.

අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව (සීඅයිඩී) හෝාගම මහේස්ත්‍රාත් අධිකරණයට කළ විමර්ශන වාර්තාවල දැක්වෙන්නේ එක්නැළිගොඩ කොළඹ දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ රාජගිරියේ සිට හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ නිලධාරීන් විසින් පැහැරගෙන ගොස් පොළොන්නරුව දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ ගිරිතලේ හමුදා බුද්ධි කඳවුරට රැගෙන ගිය බවයි. එහිදී රාජපක්ෂ පවුලට, ජනාධිපති ගෝඨභය සහ හිටපු ජනාධිපති මහින්ද ඇතුළත්, සම්බන්ධ පොතක් ගැන ඔහුගෙන් ප්‍රශ්න කර තිබුණි. යුද හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ සාමාජිකයින් ගණනාවක් සැකකරුවන් ලෙස අත්අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇප මත මුදා හැර තිබේ. යුද හමුදාව අධිකරණයට, අසත්‍ය තොරතුරු සපයන බවත්, සාක්ෂි සන්තකයේ තිබෙන බව ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කරන බවත්, සාක්ෂි ඉදිරිපත් කිරීම ප්‍රමාද මින් විමර්ශන සහ අධිකරණ නොමඟ යවන බවත් රහස් පොලීසිය මෙන්ම නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව වෙනුවෙන් නඩුව මෙහෙයවන රජයේ නීතිවරයා දිගින් දිගටම කියා සිටි තිබේ. විමර්ශන සඳහා හමුදාවේ සහයෝගීතාවයේ අඩුවත් සහ සාක්ෂිකරුවන් බිය ගැන්වීම ද ඔවුන් විසින් වාර්තා කර තිබුණි. 2010 ජනවාරි 25 වන දින ගිරිතලේ කඳවුරේදී එක්නැළිගොඩව දැක ප්‍රශ්න කළ ප්‍රධාන සාක්ෂිකරුවෙක්, ගිරිතලේ කඳවුරෙන් තම ජීවිතයට හානි කිරීමේ කුමන්ත්‍රණයක් ඇතැයි පොීසියට පැමිණිලි කර තිබේ.

නඩු විභාගය

2010 ජනවාරි සිදු වූ පැහැරගෙන යාම පිළිබඳ නඩු විභාගය 2019 නොවැම්බරයේදී කොළඹ ත්‍රීපුද්ගල විශේෂ මහාධිකරණකදී ආරම්භ විය. විත්තිකරුවන් නව දෙනෙකුට එරෙහිව නඩු විාගය කෙරීගෙන යයි. ඊට ස්වාධීනව, 2009 දී ප්‍රගීත් පැහැරගෙන යාම සම්බන්ධයෙන් 2019 දෙසැම්බර් මාසයේදී හෝමගම මහාධිකරණයේ නඩු විභාගයක් ද ආරම්භ විය.

සුගීර්දරාජන්

ප්‍රගීත් පැහැර ගැනීමට වසර හතරකට පෙර, 2006 දී, ජනවාරි 24 වන දින, එස්එස්ආර් ලෙස ජනප්‍රිය ව සිටි දෙමළ භාෂා දිනපතා සුදර් ඔලී පුවත් පත වෙනුවෙන් සේවය කළ අර්ධකාලීන ප්‍රාදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු වූ සුගර්රාජන්, ඝාතනය කරන ලදී. ප්‍රගීත් මෙන් ඔහු දරුවන් දෙදෙනෙකුගේ පියෙකි. ඔහුට වෙඩි තබන ලද්දේ නැගෙනහිර ආණ්ඩුකාර කාර්යාලයේ සිට මීටර් 100 කට වඩා අඩු දුරකින් සහ ඔහුගේ නිවසේ සිට මීටර් 200 ක් පමණ දුරක දී ය. ඝාතනයට පෙර, එස්එස්ආර්ට අනාරක්ෂිත බවක් දැනී ඇති අතර වෙනත් ස්ථානයක ආරක්ෂිත නිවසක් සොයා ගැනීමට අවශ්‍ය වී තිබුණි.

එවැනි නිවසක් හදුනාගෙන තිබුණත් ඔහු පදිංචියට යාමට පෙර ඔහු මරා දමන ලදී. ඊට හේතුව, 2006 ජනවාරි 2 වන දින ත්‍රිකුණාමලය මුහුදු වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයන් 5 දෙනෙකුගේ ඡායාරූපයන් ය. එම ඝාතන දැන් “ත්‍රිකුණාමළයේ 5 දෙනාගේ නඩුව” ලෙස හැඳින්වේ. ඝාතනයෙන් පසු කිසිවෙකු, තරුණයින්ගේ පවුල් පවා මෘත ශරීරාගාරය වෙත යාම වැළැක්වීමට හමුදාව උත්සාහ කළ නමුත් එස්එස්ආර් ජනමාධ්‍යවේදියකු ලෙස එම අයිතිය ලබා ගත්තේ ය. ඔහු ගත් ඡායාරූප 2006 ජනවාරි 4 වන දින “සුදර් ඔලි” පුවත්පතෙහි පළ විය. ඒවායේ පැහැදිලිව හිසට තබන ලද වෙඩි පහරවල් දක්නට තිබුණි. එම නිසා තරුනයින්ට වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය කර නොමැති බවට බලධාරීන් කළ ප්‍රකාශ බිඳ වැටුණි.

ඔහුගේ ඝාතනයට පෙර දින, ත්‍රිකුණාමල කලාපයේ ඊපීඩීපී ඇතුළු දෙමළ පැරාමිලිටරි කන්ඩායම් විසින් සිදුකරන ලද අපයෝජනයන් පිළිබඳව ද එස්එස්ආර් දීර් වශයෙන් වාර්තා කර තිබූ බව බව “දේශසීමා නැති වාර්තාකරුවන්” (ආර්එස්එෆ්) සංවිධානය සඳහන් කර තිබේ. ත්‍රිකුණාමලයේ එස්එස්ආර්ගේ මිතුරු මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු පැවසුවේ ප්‍රවෘත්තිය ඇසූ විට තමා ද වහාම ඝාතනය සිදු වූ ස්ථානයට පැමිණ ගිය නමුත් පසුව, දේහයන් බැලීමට රෝහලට හෝ අවමංගල්‍ය කටයුතු සඳහා පවා යාමට බියක් ඇති වූ බවය.

දින දෙකකට පසු, ඔහුට “සතුරා විනාශ කරන බලවේගය” නම් කණ්ඩායමකින් ලිපියක් ලැබුණි. “න්නි කොටින්ටසහාය ලබා දීමට තැත් කරන බවට එම ලිපියෙන් ඔහුට චෝදනා කරමින් කියා තිබුණේ, එවැනි පුද්ගලයින් තිදෙනෙකු හඳුනාගෙන ඇති බවත්, ඉන් එක් පුද්ගලයෙකු වූ සුගර්රාජන් තීන්දුව ලබා දී ක්‍රියාත්මක කර ඇති බවත් . තව ද ඔහු දෙවැන්නා වනු ඇති බැවින් ඔහු දින ගණන් කරමිින් ජීවත් වන ලෙසත් අනතුරු හඟවා තිබුණි.

මරණ තර්ජන

2020 ජනවාරි 23 වන දින, මඩකලපුවේ නැගෙනහිර දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ දෙමළ මාධ්‍යවේදින් හත් දෙනෙකුට මාර තර්ජනයක් එල්ල විය. ඔවුහු වහාම පොලිස් පැමිණිල්ලක් ඉදිරිපත් කළ නමුත් පොලිසිය කිසිදු ආරක්ෂාවක් ලබා දුන්නේ නැත. අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ නිදහසට තර්ජනයක් වන සිදුවීම් 30 ක් පමණ 2019 දී මෙරමාධ්‍යයන්හි වාර්තා වී ඇත. ඒ අතර මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හා වේදිනියන්, මාධ්‍ය සේවකයින්, ලේඛකයින්, කලාකරුවන් අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීම, ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම, පහරදීම්, තර්ජන, බිය ගැන්වීම් සහ සීමා කිරීම් සහ සහ මාධ්‍ය කාර්යාල වැටලීම් ද වෙයි.

එසේම 2019 දී හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයාගේ පාලන සමයේදී රජය සතු රූපවාහිනි නාලිකාව වන “රූපවහිනි” ආරක්ෂක අමාත්‍යාංශය යටතට ගත් බව වාර්තා වූ අතර අයිසීසීපීආර් පනත ලේඛකයින්ට එරෙහිව භාවිත කරමින් ඉදිරියටත් එසේ කරන බවට තර්ජනයන් ද කෙරුණි. ජනාධිපතිවරණයෙන් පසු දැන් ස්වයං වාරණය නැවත මතුව තිබේ.

නව අභියෝග

ප්‍රගීත්ට යුක්තිය සොයා යාමේහි යම් ප්‍රගතියක් සිදුවී ඇතත්, මේ වන විට ආරම්භ වී ඇති නඩු විභාග දෙක තුළින් ලබා ඇති ප්‍රගතිය නොනැසී පවතිනු ඇත්දැයි අවිනිශ්චිතතාවයක් සහ බියක්ඇති වී තිබේ. නඩු විභාගය ආරම්භ කිරීමට හැකිවන පරිදි හෝමගම උසාවි වෙත විමර්ශන සහ වාර්තා ඉදිරිපත් කළ රහස් පොලිසියෙහි 2019 නොවැම්බරයේ පැවති ජනාධිපතිවරණයෙන් පසුව, විශාල වෙනස්කම් සිදු කර තිබේ. රහස් පොලසියේ ඉහළ පෙළේ විමර්ශකයෙකු රටින් පලා ගොස් ඇති අතර රහස් පොලසියේ අධ්‍යක්ෂකවරයා මාරු කර යවන ලදී. ජනාධිපතිවරණ ප්‍රචාරක ව්‍යාපාරය තුළ දී වත්මන් ජනාධිපතිවරයා සියලු රණවිරුවන් නිදහස් කරන බවට ප්‍රතිඥා දී තිබුණි.

එක්නැළිගොඩ හා සසඳන විට, එක්නැළිගොඩ අතුරුදහන් වීමට වසර හතරකට පෙර ඝාතනය කරන ලද සුගර්රාජන් පිළිබඳ ජාතික හා ජාත්‍යන්තර උනන්දුවක් ඇත්තේ අල්ප වශයෙන් බව කිව යුතු ය. ඉදින්, විමර්ශනයන්හි ප්‍රගතියක් සහ අත්අඩංගුවට ගැනීමක් නොමැති වීම පුදුමයට කරුණක් නොවේ. වෙනත් මාධ්‍යවේදීන් ඝාතනය කිරීම් සහ දස දහස් ගණනක් ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් මෙන්ම සුගර්රාජන් වෙනුවෙන් යුක්තිය ඉටුවනු වනු ඇතියි සිතීම උගහට .

ගෝටාභය ප්‍රකාශය

2020 ජනවාරි 17 වන දින, නව ජනාධිපතිවරයා, හිටපු අගමැති රනිල් වික්‍රමසිංහගේ අඩිපාරේ යමින්, අතුරුදහන් වූ ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන් මියගොස් ඇති බවට අනියම්, සංවේදී හා වගකීම් විරහිත ප්‍රකාශක් ළේ ය. එමගින් පවුල්වලට එම අතුරුදහන් වූ අය මිය ගියේ කෙසේ ද, කොහි දී , කවදා ද සහ කාගේ අතින් ද යන්න පිළිබඳ විස්තර සැපයෙන්නේ නැත. ඔහු, නව ජනාධිපති ගෝඨාභය රාජපක්ෂ, අතුරුදහන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල උත්සාහයන් නොසලකා හරින බවක් පෙනේ. සමහර දෙමළ පවුල් වසර තුනකට ආසන්න කාලයක් තිස්සේ උතුරේ වීදි දෙපස උද්ඝෝෂනයන්හි යෙදී සිටිති, තවත් සමහරු උතුරේ සහ දකුණේ අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාමාර්ගයන්ට එළඹ ඇත. අයෙක් හිටපු ජනාධිපති ඇතුළු දේශපාලන නායකයන් සමඟ සාකච්ඡා පැවැත්වූහ. මේ ජනයා අතුරුදහන් වූ ඔවුන්ගේ පුතුන්, දියණියන්, සහෝදරයන්, සහෝදරියන්, ස්වාමිපුරුෂයන් සහ මුනුබුරු මිනිබිරියන් ගැන සත්‍යය දැන ගැනීම සඳහා විවිධ මුල පිරීම්වල නිරත වූහ.

ජනාධිපතිවරයා තොරාගෙන ඇත්තේ මේ බව අතුරුදහන්වූවන්ගේ පවුල් වලට නොව එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ මෙරට නේවාසික සම්බන්ධීකාරකවරියට පැවසීමට . “ඔවුන්ගෙන් වැඩි දෙනෙක් එල්ටීටීඊය විසින් බලහත්කාරයෙන් අල්ලාගෙන හෝ බලහත්කාරයෙන් බඳවාගෙන තිබෙනවා” යනුවෙන් ද ජනාධිපතිවරයා පවසයි. එල්ටීටීඊය බොහෝ දෙනෙකු රැගෙන ගොස් ඇති බව සත්‍යයකි, නමුත් අතුරුදහන් වූ බොහෝ අයගේ පවුල් සිය පවුලේ සාමාජිකයන් සහ ඔවුන් දන්නා අනෙක් අය යුද්ධය අවසානයේ යටත් වීමෙන් පසු හමුදාව විසින් රැගෙන නු පෞද්ගලිකව දැක ඇත. මෙළෙස ගෙන ගිය අය අතරට ළමයින් සහ කතෝලික පූජකවරයෙක් ද ඇතුළත් ය. ඔවුන් මේ බව ප්‍රකාශ කර ඇත්තේ ගෝඨාභයගේ සහෝදරයා වන මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ විසින් පත් කරන ලද ජනාධිපති විමර්ශන කොමිෂන් සභාවලට සහ ශ්‍රී ලංකා අධිකරණවල දී. ‍

මරණ සහතික නිකුත් කරන බවට ජනාධිපතිවරයාගේ ප්‍රකාශය ද කණස්සල්ලට හේතු වෙයි. මන්ද යත්, පවුල්වලට මරණ සහතික ලබා ගැනීමට අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ, තම පවුලේ සාමාජිකයා මියගොස් ඇති බව ස්ථිරවම දැන ගැනීමෙන් පසුව නාසා ය. එනම් සිරුර දැකීමෙන්, දේහයේ ඉතිරි කොටස් හි අනන්‍යතාවය තහවුරු කර ගැනීමෙන් හෝ මිය ගියේ කෙසේ දැයි දැන ගැනීමෙන් පසුව ය. නාධිපතිවරයාගේ එකී ප්‍රකාශය, 2010, අංක 19 දරන මරණ ලියා පදිංචි කිරීමේ ( තාවකාලික විධි විධාන) පනත, අතුරුදහන්වූවන්ගේ ඉරණම සම්බන්ධයෙන් කරුණූ තහවුරුවන තුරු නොපැමිණීමේ සහතික (“certificates of absence”) ලබා දීමට හැකිවන සේ 2016 දී කරන ලද සංසෝධනය ආපසු හැරවීමකි.

බලාපොරොත්තුවේ ලකුණූ

මෙම අඳුරු වාතාවරණය තුළ, බලාපොරොත්තුවේ සංඥා ද තිබේ. ජනමාධ්‍යවේදීහු සහ වෙනත් අය අසීරු සත්‍යයන් හෙළිදරව් කරති. අසීරු ප්‍රශ්න අසීමින් බලවත් හා ධනවතුන්ට අභියෝග කිරීනඅතරම සහ දූෂණය, හමුදාකරණය, පාරිසරික ගැටලු, ආගමික මර්දනය සහ අතීත සහ අඛණ්ඩව සිදුවන අපයෝජනයන් දිගටම හෙළිදරව් කරති. ජනමාධ්‍ය නිදහස් සංවිධාන විසින් ජනවාරි 28 වන දින වාර්ෂිකව පැවැත්වෙන “කළු ජනවාරි” සැමරුම මෙවර ද සංවිධානය කර තිබේ. භීතීන් නොතකා, අභියෝග කිරීමත් සහ විරුද්ධකම් පෑමත් ජීවමාන . එය පෝෂණය කළ යුතුය.

ප්‍රගීත් එක්නෙලිගොඩගේ බිරිඳ, සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැළිගොඩ යනු ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කිරීම, විරුද්ධකම් දැක්වීම සහ යුක්තිය පිළිබඳ අපේක්ෂාවන්ගේ නිරූපකයකි. බල රහිතයන්ගේ දුර්වලතා ජය ගන්නා, අවදානමට ලක් වූවන්ගේ බලයේ සංකේතයකි.

ඇය තමාට හා දරුවන්ට එල්ල වූ මරණීය තර්ජන, බිය ගැන්වීම්, සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය ලබා ගැනීමට දරණ ප්‍රයත්නයන් අපකීර්තියට පතකිරීම යනාදිය නෙබා නැගී සිටී. ඇයට එරෙහිව පොදු ස්ථානවල සතුරු පෝස්ටර් අලවා තිබුණි. අඇය අන්තර්ජාලයෙහි දරුණු ප්‍රහාරයන්ට ලක් ව ඇත. 2012 දී පමණ නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ නියෝජ්‍ය සොලිසිටර් ජෙනරාල්වරියකු විසින් උසාවියේදී ඇය තම සැමියා වෙනුවෙන් සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවීම රට අපකීර්තියට පත් කරන බව අඟවමින් දැඩි ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට ලක් කරනු ලැබුවාය.

වධහිංසාවට එරෙහි එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ කමිටුවේ එවකට රජයේ නියෝජිත කණ්ඩායමේ ප්‍රධානියා වූ මොහාන් පීරිස් මහතා ප්‍රගීත් විදේශගතව සිටින බව ප්‍රකාශ කළ විට, සන්ධ්‍යා කමිටුවට ලිපියක් යවමින් ඒ බව වැඩිදුර පරීක්ෂා කිරීම සඳහා ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේදී පීරිස් මහතා උසාවියේදී සාක්ෂි දීමට කැවිය යුත බවට බල කළා ය. යුද හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශවල (සහ ඔවුන්ගේ ආධාරකරුවන්ගේ) සැකකරුවන්ගේ සහ චූදිතයන්ගේ සතුරුකම් නොතකා ඇය 100 වතාවකට වඩා සමහර විට තනිවම, උසාවියේ පෙනී සිට ඇත. බෞද්ධ භික්ෂුවක් වන බොදු බාල සේනා නායක ගලබොඩ අත්තෙ ඥණසාර හිමි විසින් ඇයට උසාවිය තුළදී තර්ජනය කළ විට ඇය පොලසියට පැමිණිලි කළ අතර පසුව නඩුව “සමථයකට” පත් කිරීමට ගත් උත්සාහයන්ට විරුද්ධ විය. එවකට සිටි මහේස්ත්‍රාත්වරයා ද එදින උසාවියේ දී භික්ෂුවගේ හැසිරීම ගැන පැමිණිලි කළ අතර භික්ෂුව නඩු දෙකම සම්බන්ධයෙන් වරදකරු කරනු ලැබීය. හිටපු ජනාධිපතිවරයා එකී භික්ෂුවට සමාව දුන් නමුත් සන්ධ්‍යා දැන් එම සමාව දීම අධිකරණය හමුවෙහි අභියෝගය කර තිබේ.

සන්ධ්‍යා නම් උදා තරුව

මවක් සහ බිරිඳක් ලෙස සන්ධ්‍යා එවකට ජනාධිපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂගේ බිරිඳට ලිපියක් යවමින් ප්‍රගීත් සොයා ගැනීමට ජනාධිපති ආර්යාවගේ මැදිහත්වීම ඉල්ලා සිටියේය. ඇය තම යෞවන පුතා සමඟ පාර්ලිමේන්තුවෙන් පිටත සිටගෙන පාර්ලිමේන්තු මන්ත්‍රීවරුන්ට අභියාචනා බෙදා දුන්නාය. ඇය සහ ඇගේ පුතා ගාලු සාහිත්‍ය උළෙලට ගොස් ලේඛකයින්ට ආයාචනා කළහ. ඇය කොළඹ බොහෝ විරෝධතා හා සුපරීක්ෂාකාරී සංවිධාන සංවිධානය කිරීමට මූලිකත්වය ගත්තාය. විමර්ශකයින්, නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ උසාවි සමඟ හමුදාව සහයෝගය නොදක්වන බව පැහැදිලි වූ විට, සන්ධ්‍යා එවකට යුධ හමුදාපතිවරයා හමුවී උපකාර ඉල්ලා සිටියේය.

සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සෙවීම සඳහා ජාත්‍යන්තර සහයෝගය ජනනය කිරීම සඳහා ඇය රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත්‍රිකයින්, එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ නිලධාරීන්, ජාත්‍යන්තර සංවිධාන සහ විදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදීන් හමුවූවා ය. ඇය ඔහුගේ ලිපි සහ කාටූන් සමඟ පොත් ප්‍රකාශයට පත් කිරීමට ප්‍රගීත්ගේ මිතුරන් හා අදාළ පුද්ගලයින් සමඟ වැඩ කළාය. ඇයගේ අරගලවලදී අතුරුදහන් වූ දෙමළ පවුල්වලට සහයෝගය දැක්වූ ඇය, උතුරේ විරෝධතාවලට පැමිණ ඔවුන් හා එක්වීම සහ ඇයගේම වැඩ වලදී ඔවුන්ගේ අරගල ගැන කතා කළා ය. මේ සියල්ල සමඟම, අතුරුදහන් වූ පියාගේ හිඩැස පිරවීමට උත්සාහ කරමින් ඇගේ යෞවන පුතුන් දෙදෙනා, දැන් තරුණ වැඩිහිටියන් බවට ඇති දැඩි කිරීමට ද ඇයට සිදු විය.

මම කවදාවත් ප්‍රගීත්ව පෞද්ගලිකව දැන නොසිටියෙමි. එසේ වතුදු පසුගිය අවුරුදු දහය තුළ මම සන්ධ්‍යා සමඟ සැලකිය යුතු කාලයක් ගත කර ඇත්තෙමි. බොහෝ විට මම ඇය සමඟ වීදි පහන් පූජා, විරෝධතා, ආගමික උත්සව කොළඹ දී පමණක් නොව උතුරේ ද අතුරුදහන් වූ දෙමළ පවුල් සමඟ උසාවිවල දී , සම්මන්ත්‍රණවල දී , රැස්වීම්වල දී එක්සත් ජාතීන්ගේ සංවිධානයේ සහ රාජ්‍ය තාන්ත්‍රිකයන් සමඟ විදේශීය මාධ්‍යවේදීන් සමඟ ද සම්බන්ධ වී ඇත්තෙමි. සමහර විට ඇය වෙනුවෙන් පරිවර්ථනයන්ළෙමි. ඒ වගේම ඇගේ ගෙදර දී.

සන්ධ්‍යා සමඟ වසර දහයක් තිස්සේ ඇසුරු කිරීම ඉතා අභියෝගාත්මක ය. ඇගේ ශක්තිය, ක්‍රියාශීලීත්වය හා නිතය ලෙස කැරෙන මුලපිරීම්, ධෛර්යය, අධිෂ්ඨානය ගමන් කිරීම දුෂ්කර තරම් . එසේ වෙතත් මේ වනාහී ක්‍රියාකාරිකයෙකු ලෙස මා ලද වඩාත්ම තෘප්තිය ලබා දෙන සහ ප්‍රබෝධමත් අත්දැකීමක් විය.

(ඉංග්‍රිසියෙන් ලියන ලද ලිපියක සිංහලානුවාදය ශ්‍රී ලංකා බ්‍රීෆ් වෙතිනි)

எக்னலிகொட, சுகிர்தராஜன், ஜனவரி 24

First published on 28th January 2020 at https://maatram.org/?p=8309

பல வருடங்களாக இலங்கையில் சுதந்திர ஊடக இயக்கம் மற்றும் சுதந்திரமாக கருத்துகளை வெளிப்படுத்துபவர்கள் ஜனவரி மாதத்தை “கறுப்பு ஜனவரி” என்று பெயரிட்டுள்ளனர். ஜனவரி மாதத்தில் பல்வேறு ஊடகவியலாளர்கள் கொல்லப்பட்டமை, காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்டமை, துன்புறுத்தல்கள் மட்டுமன்றி ஊடக நிறுவனங்களுக்கு தாக்குதல்கள் நடாத்தப்பட்டமை அதிக அளவில் இடம்பெற்றதாலேயே கறுப்பு ஜனவரி என்று குறிப்பிடுகிறார்கள்.

ஜனவரி 24ஆம் திகதி அத்தகையதொரு கறுப்பு நாளாகும். திருகோணமலையை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட தமிழ் ஊடகவியலாளராகிய சுப்ரமணியம் சுகிர்தராஜன் 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரிள மாதம் 24ஆம் திகதியன்று சுட்டுக் கொல்லப்பட்டார். கொழும்பை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட சிங்கள கேலிச்சித்திர (கார்டூன்) கலைஞரும் ஊடகவியலாளருமான பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொட 2010ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி மாதம் 24ஆம் திகதி காணாமலாக்கப்பட்டார்.

நினைவிலிருந்து மங்கிவிடும் பத்திரிகையாளரின் கொலை: சுப்ரமணியம் சுகிர்தராஜன்

SSR என்று அழைக்கப்படும் பிரபலமான ஊடகவியலாளரான சுகிர்தராஜன் தமிழ் மொழி தினசரி சுடர் ஒளி பத்திரிகையின் பகுதி நேர மாகாண மட்டத்திலான பத்திரகையாளராக பணிபுரிந்தார். இவர் இரண்டு குழந்தைகளின் தந்தையாவார். SSR இன் நண்பரும் ஊடகவியலாளருமான ஒருவர் SSR சுட்டுக் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட இடத்திற்கு என்னை அழைத்துச்சென்றார். அது கிழக்கு மாகாண ஆளுநர் அலுவலகத்திலிருந்து 100 மீற்றர் தொலைவிலும், ஆளுநர் வீட்டிலிருந்து 200 மீற்றர் தொலைவிலும் இருந்தது. கடந்த சில தினங்களாக தான் பாதுகாப்பற்ற தன்மையை உணர்வதாகவும், அதனால்தான் தனக்கு பாதுகாப்பான வீடொன்றை தேடிக்கொண்டிருப்பதாகவும் ஒரு ஊடகவியலாளரான என்னுடைய நண்பர் ஒருவர் கூறினார். உண்மையில் வீடொன்று கிடைக்கப்பெற்றபோதிலும் அங்கு செல்வதற்கு முன்பே சுகிர்தராஜன் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டுவிட்டார். நான் பேசிய அனைவரும் தெரிவித்தது யாதெனில் அவரது படுகொலைக்கு முக்கிய காரணம் “திருக்கோணமலை 5 வழக்கு” எனப்படும் பிரசித்தமான 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி 2ஆம் திகதி திருக்கோணமலை கடற்கரையில் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட 5 இளைஞர்களின் புகைப்படத்தை எடுத்ததாலாகும். எனக்குத் தெரிந்த SSR இன் இன்னுமொரு நண்பர், ஜனவரி மாதம் 2ஆம் திகதி அதிகாலை SSR தமக்கு சவக்கிடங்கில் வைக்கப்பட்டுள்ள திருக்கோணமலை கடற்கரையில் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட 5 இளைஞர்களின் புகைப்படங்களை எடுக்க விரும்புவதாகக் கூறியுள்ளார்.

எனக்குத் தெரிந்த அந்த நண்பர் SSR ஐ புகைப்பட கருவியுடன் வைத்தியசாலையில் கொண்டுசேர்த்துள்ளார். அவரைப் பொறுத்தவரையில் இராணுவம் எவரையும் குறிப்பாக, குடும்ப அங்கத்தவர்களை கூட சவக்கிடங்கிற்கு சென்று சடலங்களை பார்ப்பதற்கு அனுமதி வழங்கவில்லை. ஆனால், SSR பிடிவாதமாக சென்று படம் பிடித்துள்ளார். அவர் எடுத்த புகைப்படங்கள் 2006ஆம் ஆண்டு ஜனவரி 4ஆம் திகதி சுடர் ஒளி பத்திரிகையில் வெளியாகியுள்ளது. இளைஞர்கள் சுட்டுக்கொலை செய்யப்படாத வகையில் வெளியாகியிருந்த புகைப்படங்களை கேள்விக்குட்படுத்தும் வண்ணம் அவர்களின் உடலில் துப்பாக்கி சூட்டு அடையாளங்கள் காணப்படும் புகைப்படங்களை SSR எடுத்திருந்தார். இதன் மூலம் இளைஞர்கள் சுட்டு கொலை செய்யப்படவில்லை என்ற கருத்தை மறுத்தனர். எல்லைகளற்ற ஊடகவியலாளர் அமைப்பு குறிப்பிட்டுள்ளதன் படி, அவர் கொலை செய்யப்படுவதற்கு முதல் நாள் திருகோணமலை பிராந்தியத்தின் ஈ.பி.டி.பி. உட்பட நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களின் துன்புறுத்தல்கள், சித்திரவதைகள் நடவடிக்கைகள் தொடர்பாக அறிக்கையிட்டுள்ளார்.

திருகோணமலையை வதிவிடமாக கொண்ட SSR இன் ஊடகவியலாளர் நண்பர் ஒருவர் தனக்கும் SSRக்கும் இடையிலான தொடர்பு பற்றியும் அவர் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டதற்கு பின்னர் உள்ள சூழ்நிலை பற்றியும் என்னுடன் பேசினார். SSR அவர்களின் கொலை சம்பவம் தெரிந்த உடனேயே தன்னிச்சையாக அவர் கொலை செய்யப்பட்ட இடத்திற்குச் சென்றதாகக் கூறினார். ஆனாலும், பின்னர் அவரின் உடலைப் பார்க்கவோ, இறுதி சடங்கில் கலந்துக்கொள்வதற்கோ, வைத்தியசாலைக்குச் செல்வதற்கோ தமக்குப் பயமாக இருந்ததாகக் கூறினார். இரண்டு நாட்களுக்குப் பிறகு “எதிரிகளை அழிக்கும் படை” என்ற குழுவிடமிருந்து தனக்கும் ஒரு கடிதம் வந்ததாகக் கூறினார். அந்தக் கடிதத்தில் வன்னி புலிப் பயங்கரவாதிகளுக்காக தான் பிரச்சார நடவடிக்கைகளில் ஈடுபடுவதாக குற்றம் சாட்டப்பட்டிருந்தது என்றும், அவ்வாறான 3 நபர்கள் இனங்காணப்பட்டுள்ளனர் என்றும், அதில் ஒரு நபராகிய சுகிர்தராஜனுக்கான தீர்ப்பை நடைமுறைப்படுத்தியுள்ளதாகவும் குறிப்பிட்டு, அடுத்து தனக்கும் இதே தீர்ப்பு வழங்கப்படும் என்றும், அதற்கான நாட்களை கணித்துக்கொண்டிருப்பதாகவும் அக்கடிதத்தில் அச்சுறுத்தப்பட்டிருந்தது என்று கூறினார்.

ஊடகவியலாளர் காணாமல் ஆக்கப்படுதல்: பிரகீத் எக்நெலிகொட

SSR போன்றே பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொடவும் தனது கார்ட்டூன் சித்திரங்கள் மற்றும் கடிதங்கள் மூலமும் பல்வேறு விவகாரங்கள் மற்றும் வெளிப்படுத்தல்களை செய்தமைக்காக அதனோடு தொடர்புடைய நபர்களின் விமர்சனங்களுக்கு உள்ளாக்கப்பட்ட நபராவார். எக்னலிகொட இரு மகன்களின் தந்தையாவார். குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களம் ஊடாக நீதிமன்றத்திற்கு சமர்ப்பிக்கப்பட்ட அறிக்கைகளுக்கு அமைய எக்னலிகொட கொழும்பு மாவட்ட ராஜகிரிய பிரதேசத்தில் வைத்து இராணுவ புலனாய்வு பிரிவால் கடத்தப்பட்டு கிரிதல புலனாய்வு பிரிவுக்குக் கொண்டுசெல்லப்பட்டார். அவர் அப்போதைய ஜனாதிபதி மஹிந்த ராஜபக்‌ஷவின் குடும்பம் தொடர்பாக எழுதிய புத்தகம் தொடர்பாகவே அவரிடம் விசாரணை நடாத்தப்பட்டது. குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களத்தின் ஊடாக நடாத்தப்பட்ட விசாரணை அறிக்கைகளுக்கமைய, கடத்தல் சம்பவத்தில் ஈடுபட்ட நபர்கள் எந்தவொரு குறிப்புக்களையும், பதிவுகளையும் மேற்கொள்ளாமல் பிரகீத் எக்னலிகொடவை 25ஆம் திகதி தொடக்கம் 27ஆம் திகதி மாலை வரை அக்கரைப்பற்று பிரதேசத்தில் இருந்து கிரிதல வரை கொண்டுசென்றிருக்கிறார்கள்.

சட்டமா அதிபர் திணைக்களத்திற்காக இந்த வழக்கைத் தாக்கல் செய்த குற்றவியல் விசாரணை திணைக்களம் மற்றும் அரச சட்டத்தரணிகளால் மீண்டும் மீண்டும் நீதிமன்றத்தில் தெரிவிக்கப்பட்டது யாதெனில், இராணுவம் தவறான தகவல்களை வழங்குவதாகவும், சாட்சிகள் இருப்பதை மறுதலிப்பதாகவும், சாட்சி வழங்குவதை காலம் கடத்துவதாகவும், விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகள் அனைத்தும் நீதித் துறையை தவறாக வழிநடத்துகிறது என்பதாகும். விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகளுக்கு இராணுவம் குறைந்தபட்ச ஒத்துழைப்பை வழங்குவதோடு தடைகளை ஏற்படுத்துவது மற்றும் சாட்சியாளர்களுக்கு அச்சுறுத்தல் விடுப்பதாகவும் அவர்கள் கூறுகிறார்கள். 2010.01.25 அன்று எக்னலிகொடவை கிரிதல இராணுவ முகாமில் தான் கண்டார் என சாட்சியமளித்த நபர் பின்னர் கிரிதல இராணுவ முகாமிலிருந்து தனக்கு உயிர் அச்சுறுத்தல் ஏற்படுத்துவதற்கு சதித் திட்டம் தீட்டப்படுவதாக பொலிஸில் முறைப்பாடு செய்திருந்தார்.

எக்னலிகொட காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்துக்கு நீதிகோரி போராடிவரும் அவரின் மனைவி திருமதி. எக்னெலிகொடவுக்கு எதிராக சுவரொட்டி மற்றும் துண்டுப்பிரசுரம் ஆகியன பிரசித்தமான இடங்களில் காட்சிப்படுத்தப்பட்டிருந்தன. சந்தேகத்தின் பேரில் கைது செய்யப்பட்டு பிணையில் விடுதலைசெய்யப்பட்ட அதிகாரிகளின் எதிர்ப்பையும் பொருட்படுத்தாது, அந்தப் பெண் நீதிமன்றத்தின் மேல் முழு நம்பிக்கை வைத்து தனியாக நீதிமன்றத்திற்கு 100 தடவைக்கு அதிகமாகவும் சென்றுள்ளார். எக்னலிகொட காணாமலாக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்துடன் தொடர்புடைய சந்தேகநபர்களுக்கு ஆதரவாக இருப்பவர்கள் மூலமாகவும் அந்தப் பெண்ணுக்கு எதிர்ப்புகள் ஏற்பட்டபோது அது தொடர்பாக அவர் பொலிஸ் நிலையத்தில் முறைப்பாடு செய்திருந்தார். இதில் ஒரு முறைப்பாடு பொதுபலசேனா அமைப்பின் தலைவர் கலபொட அத்தே ஞானசார தேரருக்கு எதிரானதாகும்.

கருத்துச் சுதந்திரம்

நான் உணர்ந்த விதத்தில் இலங்கையில் தற்போதைய காலகட்டத்தில் இடம்பெறுவனவற்றைக் குறிப்பிடாமல் இந்த கட்டுரை முழுமை அடையாது போய்விடும். நான் 2017ஆம் ஆண்டு கேள்வி எழுப்பிய சில சம்பவங்களை இதன் ஊடாக குறிப்பிடுவதற்கு முயல்கின்றேன். கொழும்பில் மற்றும் அதனை அண்மித்த சிறைச்சாலைகளில் நடாத்தப்பட்ட கூட்டுப் படுகொலைகளுக்கு எதிராக செயற்படுத்தி வந்த அமைப்பைச் சேர்ந்த ஒருவரின் வீட்டின் மீது துப்பாக்கிச்சூடு நடாத்தப்பட்டமை, இனம்தெரியாத நபர்களினால் மனித உரிமைகள் தொடர்பான சட்டத்தரணி ஒருவருக்கு தொலைபேசி அழைப்பு ஏற்படுத்தி கொலை மிரட்டல் விடுத்தமை மற்றும் சிறுபான்மையினரின் மதங்களுக்கு எதிராக மேற்கொள்ளப்படுகின்ற இன்னல்களுக்கு எதிராக செயற்பட்டு வந்த சடத்தரணி ஒருவரை நீதித்துறை அமைச்சர் மிரட்டல் விடுதல், பல மாதங்களாக தொழிற்சங்க வேலை நிறுத்த நடவடிக்கையில் ஈடுபட்டிருந்த தொழிற்சங்கத் தலைவரை ஒருவரைக் கடத்திசென்றமை, முன்பு நடந்த யுத்தத்தினால் வட மாகாணம் அழிவுக்கு உட்படுத்தபடுத்தப்பட்டமை, போராட்டத்தில் ஈடுபட்டு வந்த காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்டவரின் மனைவியொருவருக்கு அழுத்தங்கள் பிரயோகித்தமை, யுத்தத்தின் காரணமாக இறந்தவர்களின் நினைவேந்தல் செய்வதை நிறுத்துதல் மற்றும் ஏற்பாட்டாளர்களை தொந்தரவுக்கு உள்ளாக்குதல் மற்றும் விசாரணைக்கு உட்படுத்தல் மற்றும் அரச நிறுவனமொன்றை புகைப்படம் எடுத்தமை தொடர்பாக இளைஞர்களை அழைத்து விசாரணை செய்து மிரட்டியமை,  ஊடக வியலாளர்களை விசாரணைகளுக்காக அழைத்தல் மற்றும் காணாமலாக்கப்பட்டவர்கள் தொடர்பாகவும் இராணுவமயமாக்கல் தொடர்பாகவும் எழுதுவதை தடுத்துநிறுத்த முற்பட்டமை போன்ற பல சம்பவங்கள் உள்ளன. தன்னிச்சையாக இணையதளங்களை முடக்கி வைத்தல் இவ்வாறான பல விடயங்களை என்னால் பட்டியலிட முடியும். எந்த ஒரு ஊடகவியலாளரும் 2017ஆம் ஆண்டு கொலைசெய்யவோ, காணாமலாக்கப்படவோ இல்லாவிட்டாலும் தெளிவாகவே அந்த வருடமும் கருத்துச் சுதந்திரத்திற்கு தடைகளை ஏற்படுத்திய வருடமாகவே அமைந்தது.

எக்னெலிகொட சுகர்தராஜன் மற்றும் ஏனைய பாதிக்கப்பட்டவர்களின் நீதிக்கான எதிர்பார்ப்புகள்

திருமதி எக்னெலிகொட அம்மையாரின் தைரியமான, உறுதியான போராட்டம், குறிப்பிடத்தக்க தேசிய மற்றும் சர்வதேசத்தின் கவனம், குற்ற விசாரணை திணைக்களத்தின் விசாரணைகள் காரணமாக 2016-2017ஆம் ஆண்டுகளில் எக்னெலிகொட காணாமலாக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவம் தொடர்பாக பலவிதமான தகவல்களை வெளிப்படுத்தக்கூடியதாக இருந்தது. ஆனாலும் இராணுவத்தினரின் குறைந்த பட்ச ஒத்துழைப்பு மற்றும் பொதுவெளியில் சந்தேக நபர்கள் சிறைவைக்கப்பட்டமை தொடர்பாக ஜனாதிபதி கேள்விக்கு உட்படுத்தியமையை அடுத்து பிரதான சந்தேக நபர்களை பிணை வழங்கி விடுவித்தல் போன்ற காரணங்களை அடிப்படையாக கொண்டு வழக்கின் நகர்வு படிப்படியாக பின்னடைவுக்கு கொண்டுசெல்லப்பட்டது. எக்னெலிகொடவின் காணாமல் ஆக்கப்பட்ட சம்பவத்தோடு ஒப்பிட்டுப் பார்க்கும்போது, பிரகீத் காணாமலாக்கப்படுவதற்கு 4 வருடங்களுக்கு முன் சுகிர்தராஜன் கொலைசெய்யப்பட்ட சம்பவத்திற்கு கிடைத்த தேசிய மற்றும் சர்வதேச கவனம் குறைவாகவே இருந்தது. அது தொடர்பாக தொடுக்கப்பட்ட வழக்கு விசாரணை நடவடிக்கைகள் முன்னேற்றம் அடையவில்லை. அது தொடர்பாக எந்த ஒரு நபரும் சந்தேகத்தின் பேரில் கைது செய்யப்படவில்லை என்பது ஆச்சரியத்தை ஏற்படுத்தக்கூடிய விடயமல்ல.

சுகர்தராஜன் கொலை செய்யப்பட்டு 14 வருடங்கள் கடந்து போயுள்ளன. எக்னெலிகொட கானாமலாக்கப்பட்டு 10 வருடங்கள் கடந்துள்ளன. சுகர்தராஜன் மற்றும் எக்னெலிகொட போன்றவர்களுக்கு இழைக்கப்பட்ட துன்புறுத்தல் மற்றும் அநீதிகளுக்கு பொறுப்பு கூறுவதாக உறுதியளித்த  நல்லாட்சி அரசாங்கம் 5 வருடங்கள் கழிந்து ஆட்சியில் இருந்தும் இறங்கியுள்ளது. ஆனாலும், அவர்கள் இருவருக்கும் போலவே, கருத்துக்களை வெளிப்படுத்தும் சுதந்திரத்தை மீறியதற்காக கறுப்பு ஜனவரியில் இரையாக்கப்பட்டவர்களுக்கு எதிராக வழக்குத் தாக்கல் செய்வதாலோ அல்லது குற்றத்தை ஒப்புக்கொள்வதன் மூலமோ ​உண்மை மற்றும் நீதியை ஏற்படுத்துவார்கள் என்ற எதிர்பார்ப்பு ஒரு தொலைதூர கனவாகவே இருக்கிறது

 

ஆசிரியர் குறிப்பு: மனித உரிமை செயற்பாட்டாளரான ருக்கி பெர்ணான்டோ எழுதி 2018 ஜனவரி 24ஆம் திகதி கிரவுண்விவ்ஸ் தளத்தில் Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January என்ற தலைப்பில் வெளிவந்த கட்டுரையின் தமிழாக்கம். கட்டுரையின் ஒரு சில பகுதிகள் காலத்திற்கேற்ப அப்டேட் செய்யப்பட்டுள்ளதென்பதை குறிப்பிட விரும்புகிறோம்.

එක්නැලිගොඩ, සුගීර්තරාජන් සහ ජනවාරි 24

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=36686

වර්ෂ ගණනාවක් පුරා ශ්‍රී ලංකා නිදහස් මාධ්‍ය ව්‍යාපාරය සහ නිදහස් අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කරන්නන් විසින් ජනවාරි මාසය “කළු ජනවාරිය” ලෙස නම් කර  ඇත. මෙය විවිධ මාධ්‍යවේදීන්ගේ ඝාතන , අතුරුදහන් වීම්, හිංසා කිරීම් මෙන්ම මාධ්‍ය ආයතන වලට පහර දීම් සියල්ල ජනවාරි මස සිදුවීම සන්දර්භයෙහි ලා සලකනු ලැබීය.

ජනවාරි මස 24 වැනිදා එවැනි අඳුරු දිනයකි. ත්‍රිකුණාමලයෙහි පදිංචි දමිළ මාධ්‍යවේදී සුබ්‍රමනියම් සුගීර්තරාජන්ගේ මහතා 2006 ජනවාරි මස 24 වන දින වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය කරන ලදී. කොළඹ පදිංචි සිංහල කාටූන් ශිල්පී සහ මාධ්‍යවේදී ප්‍රගීත්  එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද 2010 ජනවාරි මස 24 වන දින අතුරුදහන් විය.

මතකයෙන් ගිලිහී ගිය  මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකුගේ ඝාතනය : සුබ්‍රමනියම් සුගීර්තරාජන්

SSR ලෙස වඩා ප්‍රකට සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා දිනපතා පළවන දමිළ පුවත්පතක් වන සුදර් ඔලි හි අර්ධකාලීන ප්‍රාදේශීය  මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු ලෙස ක්‍රියා කළේය. ඔහු දෙදරු පියෙකි. තවත් මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකු සහ SSR මහතා ගේ සමීප මිත්‍රයෙකු මා SSR මහතා ට වෙඩි තබා ඇති ස්ථානය ට රැගෙන යන ලදි. එය ආසන්න වශයෙන් ආණ්ඩුකාරවරයා ගේ කාර්යාලයට මීටර් 100ක දුරින් සහ ඔහුගේ ම නිවසට මීටර් 200 ක දුරිනි. SSR මහතා ගේ තවත් මිතුරෙකු වන මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු පවසා සිටියේ SSR මහතා මෑතක සිට අනාරක්ෂිත භාවයෙන් පෙළෙමින් සිටි බවත් එම නිසා වෙනත් ස්ථානයක ඇති ආරක්ෂිත නිවසක් සොයමින් සිටි බවය. ඇත්තෙන්ම නිවසක් සොයා ගෙන තිබුණ ද ඔහු එයට පිටත් ව යාමට ප්‍රථමයෙන් ඝාතනය ට ලක් විය. මා කතා කළ සියලුම දෙනා ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ ඔහුගේ ඝාතනය ට ආසන්නතම හේතුව විය හැක්කේ “Trinco 5 Case” ලෙස ප්‍රසිද්ධ වූ 2006 ජනවාරි මස දෙවන දින ත්‍රිකුණාමලය වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයින් පස් දෙනාගේ ඡායාරූප ගැනීම යි. මා හඳුනන SSR මහතා ගේ තවත් මිතුරෙකු ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ ජනවාරි මස දෙවන දින උදෑසන SSR මහතා තමාට මෘතශරීරාගාරයේ තැම්පත් කර ඇති ත්‍රිකුණාමලය වෙරළේ දී ඝාතනය කරන ලද තරුණයින් ගේ මෘත ශරීරවල ඡායාරූප ගැනීම ට අවශ්‍ය බව තමාට පවසා සිටි බවයි. අප පොදු මිතුරා SSR මහතා කැමරාවක් ද සහිතව රෝහලට ඇරලවා ඇත. ඔහුට අනුව හමුදාව විසින් මියගිය තරුණයින් ගේ පවුලේ ඥාතීන් ට තබා කිසිවෙකුටත් මෘත ශරීරාගාරයේ ඇති සිරුරු බැලීමට ඉඩ සලසා නොමැත. නමුත් SSR මහතා විසින් බල කර ඇති අතර ඔහු විසින් ලබා ගනු ලැබූ ඡායාරූප ජනවාරි මස 4වන දින සුදර් ඔලි පුවත්පතෙහි පළ විය. තරුණයින් වෙඩි තබා ඝාතනය නොවූ ලෙස පෙන්නුම් කර තිබූ ඡායාරූප මතභේදයට ලක් කරමින් ඔවුන්ගේ සිරුරුවල තිබූ වෙඩි සලකුණු SSR මහතා ගේ ඡායාරූප වලින් මොනවට පිළිබිඹු වී තිබිණි.  Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF)  විසින්  ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ SSR මහතා ගේ ඝාතනය ට පෙර දින ද ඔහු විසින් ත්‍රිකුණාමලය ප්‍රදේශයේ EPDP ඇතුලු දමිළ පාර්ලිමේන්තු කණ්ඩායම් මඟින් සිදු කරන ලබන විවිධ හිංසා පීඩා කිරීම් සම්බන්ධයෙන් විස්තර කරන ලද බවයි.

ත්‍රිකුණාමලය ප්‍රදේශයේ පදිංචි SSR මහතාගේ මාධ්‍යවේදී මිතුරෙකු මා හට ඔහුගේ සහ SSR මහතාගේ සම්බන්ධය පිළිබඳ වත් ඔහුගේ මරණයෙන් පසු තත්වය පිළිබඳවත් පවසා සිටියේ ය. ඔහු කියා සිටියේ SSR මහතාගේ ඝාතනය දැන ගත් සැනින් ඝාතනය සිදු වූ ස්ථානය ට තමා ගිය බවත් පසුව සිරුර බැලීමට රෝහලට හෝ අවමංගල්‍යයට වත් සහභාගී වීමට බිය වූ බවයි. දින දෙකකට පසු ඔහුට “සතුරන් නැසීමේ බලවේගය” හෙවත් “Force destroying the Enemy” යනුවෙන් වන කණ්ඩායමකින් ලිපියක් ලැබී තිබේ. එම ලිපිය මඟින් තමාට වන්නි කොටි ත්‍රස්තවාදීන් සඳහා ප්‍රචාරක කටයුතු කරන බව ට චෝදනා එල්ල කර ඇති බවත් එවැන්නන් තිදෙනෙක් හඳුනා ගෙන ඇති බවත්, එක් අයෙකු ට (සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා) තීන්දුව ක්‍රියාත්මක කර ඇති බවත් ප්‍රකාශ කර ඇති අතර තමාට ද ඊළඟ අවස්ථාව ඇති බැවින් දින ගණන් කරමින් සිටින්න යැයි අනතුරු අඟවා ඇත.

මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකුගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම: ප්‍රගීත්  එක්නැලිගොඩ

SSR මහතා මෙන්ම ප්‍රගීත් එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද තම කාටූන් චිත්‍ර සහ ලිපි මඟින් විවිධ විචාර සහ හෙළිදරව් කිරීම් සිදු කළ බැවින් අදාළ පුද්ගලයන්ගේ උදහසට ලක් ව සිටි අයෙකි. එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ද පුතුන් දෙදෙනකුගේ පියෙකි. අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව CID මඟින්  අධිකරණයට ඉදිරිපත් කරන ලද වාර්තා වලට අනුව එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා කොළඹ දිස්ත්‍රික්කයේ  රාජගිරිය ප්‍රදේශයේ දී හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ සාමාජිකයන් විසින් පැහැර ගෙන ගොස් ගිරිතලේ හමුදා බුද්ධි අංශ කඳවුරේ තබා ඔහු විසින් එවකට ජනපති මහින්ද රාජපක්ෂ මහතාගේ පවුල සම්බන්ධව රචනා කරන ලද ග්‍රන්ථයක් පිළිබඳව ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට ලක් කර ඇත. අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව මඟින් සිදු කළ විමර්ශන වාර්තාවලට අනුව පැහැර ගැනීම සිදු කළ පුද්ගලයන් විසින් තම ගමන නිසි වාර්තා තැබීමකින් තොරව හා අදාළ ගමන් ගත් වාහන සම්බන්ධයෙන් තොරතුරු  සටහන්නො නොකොට  විසි පස් වන දින සිට විසිහත් වන දින පස්වරුව දක්වා අක්කරෛපත්තුව සිට ගිරිතලේ දක්වා ඔහු රැගෙන ගොස් තිබේ. නීතිපති දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව වෙනුවෙන් මෙම නඩුව පැවරු අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුව සහ රාජ්‍ය නීතිඥයින් විසින් දිගින් දිගටම අධිකරණය හමුවේ කියා සිටියේ හමුදාව මඟින් සාවද්‍ය තොරතුරු සපයන බවත්, සාක්ෂි ඇති බව ප්‍රතික්‍ෂේප කරන බවත්, සාක්ෂි සැපයීම ප්‍රමාද කරන බවත් සහ විමර්ශන කටයුතු සහ අධිකරණය නොමග යවන බවත්ය. ඔවුන් තවදුරටත් ප්‍රකාශ කර සිටියේ හමුදාව විසින් විමර්ශන කටයුතු කෙරෙහි අවම සහයෝගයක් දක්වමින් බාධා එල්ල කරන බව සහ සාක්ෂිකරුවන්ට ද බලපෑම් එල්ල කරන බවත් ය. 2010 ජනවාරි 25 එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ව ගිරිතලේ හමුදා කඳවුරේ දී දුටු  සහ ප්‍රශ්න කරන ලද ප්‍රධාන සාක්ෂිකරුවකු විසින් ගිරිතලේ හමුදා කඳවුර තුළදී ඔහුගේ ජීවිතයට හානි සිදු කිරීමට දැරූ ප්‍රයත්නය පිළිබඳව පොලිසියට පැමිණිලි කර ඇත.

එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් සත්‍ය සහ යුක්තිය ඉල්ලමින් සිදු කරන ව්‍යාපාරයේ ප්‍රධාන ක්‍රියාකාරිනියක වන ඔහුගේ බිරිඳ වන සන්ධ්‍යා එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මියට විරුද්ධව පෝස්ටර් පත්‍රිකා එවකට ප්‍රසිද්ධ ස්ථාන වල ප්‍රදර්ශනය කොට තිබිණි.  සැකපිට අත් අඩංගුවට ගෙන ඇප මත නිදහස් කරන ලද නිලධාරීන් ගේ එදිරිවාදිකම් ද නොසලකා හරිමින් එතුමිය විසින් අධිකරණය කෙරෙහි පූර්ණ විශ්වාසය තබමින් තනිවම පවා අධිකරණය හමුවට සිය වරකට වඩා ගොස් ඇත. සැකකරුවන් ට පක්ෂ ව සිටින්නන් විසින් ද එතුමියට එදිරිවාදිකම් කර ඇති අතර මේ නිසා එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මිය විසින් එම බලපෑම් පිළිබඳව පොලිසියට වාර ගණනාවකදී  පැමිණිලි කර ඇත.  මින් එක් පැමිණිල්ලක් වුයේ බොදු බල සේනා සංවිධානයේ මහලේකම්  ගලබොඩ අත්තේ ඥානසාර හිමිට විරුද්ධ පැවති නඩු  විභාගයයි. මැදිහත් සමාදානයක් හෝ කරුණු සමථයකට පත් කිරීමක් වෙනුවට අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාවලියක් මඟින් සාධාරණය ඉටු කර ගැනීම සඳහා ඇය විසින් මෙම අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාවලියට ඒ අනුව එළඹිණි.

ප්‍රකාශනයේ නිදහස 

මා හට හැඟී යන අයුරින් ශ්‍රී ලංකාවේ මෑතකාලීනව ඇති වූ සිදුවීම්  පිළිබඳව සඳහන් නොකිරීමෙන් මෙම ලිපිය අසම්පූර්ණ විය හැක. 2017 වසරේදී මා හට ඉතා ප්‍රබල සහ සැලකිය යුතු තරමේ හැඟීමක් ඇති කළ සිද්ධි කිහිපයක් හරහා මා මෙය සිදු කිරීමට මම ප්‍රයත්න දරමි. කොළඹ  අවට වෙසෙන  බන්ධනාගාර සමූහ ඝාතනයකට විරුද්ධව හඬ නඟන ව්‍යාපාරයක නිරත වන පුද්ගලයෙකු ගේ නිවසට වෙඩි තැබීම,  මානව හිමිකම් නීතීඥයකු ට නාඳුනන දුරකථන ඇමතුම් වලින්  මරණ තර්ජන කිරීම, තවත් එවැනිම මානව හිමිකම්  නීතීඥයකු ට එවකට අධිකරණ අමාත්‍යවරයාගෙන් අන්‍ය ආගම් කෙරෙහි ඇති පීඩන වලට එරෙහි වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් තර්ජන එල්ල වීම සහ මාස ගණනක සේවක වර්ජනයක් අතරතුර වෘත්තීය සමිති නායකයෙකු ද පැහැර ගෙන ගොස් තිබීම එයින් කීපයකි. උපවාසයේ නිරතව සිටි අතුරුදහන් වූවකුගේ බිරිඳ පීඩාවට ලක් වීම, යුද්ධය නිසා මියගිය අයගේ සැමරුම නැවත්වීම, එහි සංවිධායකයන්ට හිරිහැර කීරීම සහ විමර්ශනයට භාජනය කිරීම , රාජ්‍ය ආයතනයක් ඡායාරූප ගත කිරීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් පොලිසිය විසින් තරුණයින් පිරිසක් ප්‍රශ්න කර තර්ජනය කිරීම, මාධ්‍යවේදීන් ප්‍රශ්න කිරීම් වලට කැඳවීම,  ඔවුන් විසින් අතුරුදහන් වීම සහ හමුදාකරණය සම්බන්ධයෙන් සිදු කෙරෙන විමර්ශන වාර්තා කිරීමෙන් වැළැක්වීම සහ තවත් කරුණු මේ අතර වේ. අත්තනෝමතික ලෙස වෙබ් අඩවි අවහිර කෙරිණි.    කිසිඳු මාධ්‍යවේදීයෙකු 2017 වසරේදී  ඝාතනය හෝ අතුරුදහන් වූවේ නොමැති වුවත් පැහැදිලිවම එය නිදහස් අදහස් ප්‍රකාශනය අවහිර කළ වසරක් ම විය. (මෙහි මුල් ඉංග්‍රීසි  ලිපිය  2018 දී පළ වූ හෙයින් 2017 සිදුවීම් පමණක්  පාදකකොට ගෙන  ලියුම්කරු විසින් මෙය ලියා ඇති බව සළකන්න).

එක්නැලිගොඩ, සුගිර්දරාජන් සහ අනෙකුත් වින්දිතයන්ගේ යුක්තිය වෙනුවෙන් වනඅපේක්ෂාව 

එක්නැලිගොඩ මහත්මිය ගේ ධෛර්යසම්පන්න, අධිෂ්ඨානගත  ව්‍යාපාරය සහ සැලකිය යුතු ජාතික සහ ජාත්‍යන්තර අවධානය සහ අපරාධ විමර්ශන දෙපාර්තමේන්තුවේ  විමර්ශන කටයුතු හේතුවෙන් 2015-2016 වසර තුළදී  එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතා ගේ අතුරුදහන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් විවිධ කරුණු අනාවරණය කර ගැනීමට හැකි විය.  නමුත් හමුදාවෙන් ලද හීන සහයෝගය සහ එවකට ජනපති ප්‍රසිද්ධියේ සැකකරුවන් සිර භාරයේ රඳවා ගැනීම ප්‍රශ්න කිරීමෙන් අනතුරුව මූලික සැකකරුවන් ඇපමත නිදහස් වීම යන කරුණු පදනම් කරහෙන නඩුවේ  වර්ධනය ක්‍රමයෙන් හීන වීමටත් පසුබට වීමටත් ලක් විය. එක්නැලිගොඩ මහතාගේ අතුරුදහන් වීමට සාපේක්ෂ ව ඊට වසර 4කට පෙර සිදු කරන ලද සුගර්තරාජන් මහතා ගේ ඝාතනය ට ලැබුණු ජාතික හා ජාත්‍යන්තර අවධානය අඩුය. ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් ඇති නඩුව සහ විමර්ශන කටයුතු වර්ධනයක් නොපෙන්වුවා සේම  ඒ සම්බන්ධයෙන් කිසිඳු සැකපිට අත් අඩංගුවට ගැනීමක් ද නොමැති වීම පුදුමයට කරුණක් නොවේ.

සුගීර්තරාජන් මහතා ඝාතනයට ලක්වී වසර 14 ක් ගත වී ඇත.  එක්නැලිගොඩ  අතුරුදහන් වී වසර 10 ක් ගත වී ඇත. සුගර්තරාජන් සහ එක්නැලිගොඩ  හට සිදු වූ හිංසනයන් වැනි අසාධාරණකම් වලට වගකීමක් පොරොන්දු වූ “යහපාලන” වරම ලද ආණ්ඩුව දැන් තම පාලන කාලය හමාර කොට තිබේ.නමුත් දැන්, ඔවුන් දෙදෙනාට මෙන්ම, කළු ජනවාරියේ සිදුවූ  තවත් බොහෝ අදහස් ප්‍රකාශ කිරීමේ නිදහස උල්ලංඝනය කිරීම් වෙනුවෙන් , නඩු පැවරීමෙනුත්, වරද පිළිගැනීම සිදුවීම හරහාත්  සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය උදෙසා ඇති අපේක්ෂාවන් ඉටු වේ යයි සිතීම අඳුරු සහ දුරස්ථ සිහිනයක්ව තිබේ.

සංස්කාරක සටහන:  මානව හිමිකම්රු ක්‍රියාධරයෙකු වන රුකී  ප්‍රනාන්දු විසින් 2018 ජනවාරි 24 දින අප සහෝදර GroundViews  වෙබ් අඩවියට යන ලද Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January   නම් ඉංග්‍රීසි ලිපියෙහි පරිවර්තනයකි. සංස්කාරක මණ්ඩලය විසින් මුල් ඉංග්‍රීසි ලිපියේ සඳහන්  ඇතැම් කරුණු  යාවත්කාලින කොට තිබෙන බව සලකන්න.

Ekneligoda disappearance – 10 years struggle for truth and justice

First published on 24th January 2020 at https://groundviews.org/2020/01/24/ekneligoda-disappearance-10-years-struggle-for-truth-and-justice/

Today, 10th January 2020, is 10 years since the disappearance of journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Ekneligoda. It also marks 10 years of struggle for truth and justice by his wife, Sandya Ekneligoda and two young sons.

Investigative reports by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to the Homagama Magistrate Courts indicate that Ekneligoda was abducted from Rajagiriya in the Colombo district by Army Intelligence personnel, and taken to Giritale Army Intelligence camp in Polonnaruwa district. There he had been questioned about a book related to Rajapaksha family – which includes present President Gotabhaya and former President Mahinda. Army Intelligence personnel have been arrested as suspects and released on bail. Both the CID and State Counsel leading the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s (AG) department, had repeatedly told courts of the Army providing false information, denying possession of evidence, delaying production of evidence and misleading investigations and courts. They had also reported a lack of cooperation and obstructions towards investigations from the Army, and intimidation of witnesses. A key witness, who had seen and questioned Ekneligoda in the Giritale camp on 25th January 2010, has complained to the Police about a conspiracy to harm his life from the Giritale camp.

The trial for the 2010 January abduction began in November 2019, at a three judge special high court trial at bar, in Colombo. Nine accused are being prosecuted. Separately, in December 2019, trial began in Homagama High Court in relation to abduction of Prageeth in 2009.

Sugirtharajan – killing of Tamil jourmalist on 24th January 2006

Four years before Prageeth’s abduction, in 2006, on the same day, 24th January, Sugirtharajan, popularly known as SSR, a part-time provincial journalist working for the Tamil language daily Sudar Oli, was killed. Like Prageeth, he was a father of two children. He was shot less than 100 meters from the Eastern Governor’s office and about 200 meters from his own house. Before the killing, SSR had been feeling insecure and wanted to find a safer house in a different location. A house had been identified, but he was killed before he could actually move. The reason appears to be the photos he took of 5 youth murdered on the beach of Trincomalee on 2nd January 2006, popularly known now as the “Trinco 5 case”. The military was trying to prevent anyone, even the families of the youth, access to the mortuary to see the bodies, but SSR had persisted. The photos he took were published on “Sudar Oli” newspaper on 4th January 2006. They had shown clear gunshot wounds, thus, disputing the version that the youth had not been shot dead. Reporters sans frontières (RSF) had noted that SSR had also detailed the abuses committed by Tamil paramilitary groups including the EPDP in the Trincomalee region, the day before his murder. One journalist friend of SSR in Trincomalee said he had spontaneously rushed to the spot of the killing when he heard the news, but later, was too scared to go to the hospital to see the body or even for the funeral. Two days later, he had got a letter, from group called “Force destroying the Enemy”. The letter had accused him of canvassing for Vanni Tigers, that 3 such persons had been identified, verdict had been delivered and implemented on one person (Sugirtharajan) and that he should count his days, as he was going to be the 2nd.

Death threats to journalists and continuing violations of free expression

Yesterday, 23rd January 2020, seven Tamil journalists in Eastern district of Batticaloa were threatened with death, through a leaflet left at the Batticaloa Press Club. A police complaint was lodged, but no protection was offered by the police. About 30 incidents threatening freedom of expression had been reported in local media in 2019, including arrests, questioning, assaults, threats, intimidations, and restrictions of journalists, media personnel, writers, artists and raids on media offices. Also in 2019, during the time of the former president, the state owned TV “Rupavahini” was reported to have been brought under Ministry of Defense and the ICCPR Act was used and threatened to be used against writers. Self-censorship has re-emerged after the presidential elections.

New challenges for truth and justice

There has been some progress in perusing justice for Prageeth, but there is also uncertainties and fears that the progress achieved may not be sustained through the two trials which have just began. After the November 2019 presidential elections, there has been dramatic changes in the CID whose investigations and reports to Homagama courts had enable the trial to commence. A top investigator in the CID had fled the country and the Director of the CID was transferred. During the presidential election campaign, the present President had pledge to release all war heroes.

Compared to Ekneligoda, there has been very little national and international interest about Sugirtharajan, murdered four years before Ekneligoda disappeared. Not surprisingly, there is no progress in investigations and no arrests. Justice for Sugirtharajan is unlikely, as it is for killing numerous other journalists and disappearances of tens of thousands of Sri Lankans.

On 17th January 2020, the new President followed in the footsteps of former Prime Minister Ranil Wickramasinghe in making casual, insensitive and irresponsible statements that disappeared Sri Lankans are dead, without providing details of how, where, when and at whose hands they died to families. He seems to be ignoring the efforts of families of disappeared – some Tamil families have been at continuous roadside protests in the North for nearly three years, others have perused court actions in North and South, held discussions with the political leaders including former President, and involved in variety of initiatives to know the truth – about their disappeared sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, husbands and even grandchildren. The President had also chosen to refer to them as “missing” and tell this to the UN Resident Coordinator instead of to the families of disappeared. The President also says “Most of them had been taken by the LTTE or forcefully conscripted”. It is true that LTTE had taken away many, but many families of disappeared have personally seen their family members and others they knew been taken away by the Army after surrendering at the end of the war – this includes children and a Catholic Priest. They have stated this to Presidential Commissions of Inquiry appointed by Gotabaya’s brother Mahinda Rajapakse and also in Sri Lankan courts. President’s statement saying that death certificates will be issued is also very much concerning, as families only want to have death certificates after knowing for sure their family member are dead, such as by seeing the body, ascertaining identity of remains and / or knowing circumstances of the death. It is also a step backwards from the 2016 amending of the registration of deaths (temporarily provisions) Act no. 19 of 2010 to facilitate issuance of temporary “certificates of absence” till fate and whereabouts of disappeared persons are confirmed.

Signs of hope

In this bleak scenario, there are signs of hope – journalists and others who continue to reveal uncomfortable truths, ask difficult questions, challenge the powerful and the rich and expose past and ongoing abuses such as corruption, militarization, environmental problems, repression of religious and ethnic minorities etc. Many survivors, victim’s families and affected communities continue to pursue truth and justice. On 28th January, media freedom organizations have organized the annual “Black January” commemoration. Despite fears, defiance and resistance is alive and must be nurtured.

Prageeth Ekneligoda’s wife, Sandya Ekneligoda is an icon of defiance, resistance and hopes for justice. A symbol of the power of the vulnerable, overcoming the vulnerabilities of the powerless.  She had braved death threats to her and children, intimidations, discrediting to pursue truth and justice. Hostile posters had appeared in public places against her and there has been online vilifications. Around 2012, she was subjected to harsh questioning in courts by a Deputy Solicitor General at the Attorney General’s Department, implying her search for truth and justice for her husband was bringing the country into disrepute. When Mr. Mohan Peiris, the head of the then Government’s delegation to the UN Committee Against Torture claimed that Prageeth was living abroad, Sandya wrote to the Committee to make further inquiries and in Sri Lanka, persisted in getting Mr. Peiris to testify in courts. She has been in courts more than 100 times, sometimes alone, despite the hostility of suspects and accused from Army Intelligence (and their supporters). When she was threatened inside court premises by Buddhist Monk Galaboda Ethhe Gnanasara, leader of the Bodu Bala Sena, she complained to the police, and later resisted attempts to “settle” the case through mediation. The Magistrate at that time, also complained about the Monk’s behavior in courts on that day and the Monk was convicted for both cases. The former President pardoned the monk, but Sandya is now challenging that pardon in courts. As a mother and a wife, Sandya wrote to the then President Mahinda Rajapakha’s wife, appealing for the first lady’s interventions to help find Prageeth. She stood outside the parliament with her teenaged son and distributed appeals to parliamentarians. She and her son went to the Galle Literary Festival and distributed appeals to the writers and others gathered there. She took the initiative in organizing numerous protests and vigils in Colombo. When it became obvious that Army was not cooperating with the investigators, Attorney General’s Department and courts, Sandya met the then Army Commander personally to appeal for help. She also met with diplomats, UN officials, international organizations and foreign journalists to generate international support to seek truth and justice. She worked with Prageeth’s friends and concerned people to publish books with his articles and cartoons. She also supported Tamil families of disappeared in their struggles, visiting and joining them in protests in the North and talking about their struggles in her own work. And alongside all of this, she also had to struggle to bring up her two teenaged sons, now young adults, trying to fill the void of the disappeared father.

Although I never knew Prageeth personally, in the last ten years, I had spent some significant amount of time with Sandya. Often on the streets at vigils, protests, religious events – in Colombo, but also in North with Tamil families of disappeared. Also in courts, at seminars, meetings. At the UN and with diplomats, foreign journalists. Sometimes interpreting for her. And at her house. This ten year long association with Sandya has been very challenging – her energy, proactive and regular initiatives, courage, determination is difficult to keep up with. But it’s also been one of the most rewarding and inspiring experiences for me as an activist.

දින 900 ක් පුරා විරෝධතා: තවමත් සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය සොයා යමින්

First published on 9th Sept. 2019 at https://www.vikalpa.org/?p=35684

බලහත්කාරයෙන් අතුරුදන් කිරීමේ වින්දිතයන්ගේ අන්තර්ජාතික දිනය අගෝස්තු 30 වැනි දින ට යෙදී තිබිණි. රජයේ සංඛ්‍යාලේඛනවල ට අනුව ශ්‍රී ලංකාවෙන් වාර්තා වී ඇති අතුරුදන් වීම් පිළිබඳ ව 65,000ක ට වැඩි පැමිණිලි සංඛ්‍යාවක් ගොනු වී තිබුන ද, බහුතරයක් ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන්ට, බහුතරයක් මාධ්‍යයන්ට සහ ආණ්ඩුවට එය තවත් එක දවසක් පමණක්ම විය.

අතුරුදන් වූවන් ට සිදු වූයේ කුමක්ද යන්න සහ ඔවුන් සිටින්නේ කොහේද යන්න විමසීම සඳහා ක්‍රියාත්මක වන රාජ්‍ය ආයතනය වන ‘අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය’ විසින් කොළඹ දී සාකච්ඡාවක් සංවිධානය කර තිබුණි. එම අවස්ථාවට සහභාගී වූ අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල සාමාජිකයන් විසින් සංවේදී මතකයන් අකුරු කොට තිබූ අතර, ඔවුන්ගේ ආදරණීයයන්ගේ ඡායාරූප ද එහි ප්‍රදර්ශනය කර තිබුණි.

කෙසේ වුවද, උතුරේ සහ නැගෙනහිර මේ තත්ත්වය වෙනස් ව පැවති අතර, දමිළ ජාතික අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් මහපාරේ විරෝධතා පැවැත්වූහ. ඔවුන්ගෙන් බහුතර දෙනා දින 900ක ට අධික කාලයක් මහපාර අද්දර විරෝධතාවේ යෙදෙන අතරතුර, අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය, ජනාධිපතිවරයා, ඇමතිවරු, වෙනත් දේශපාලකයන් සහ නිලධාරීන් සමග සාකච්ඡා ද පැවැත්වූහ. නැගෙනහිර පළාතේ විරෝධතාව කල්මුණේ හි දී පැවති අතර, උතුරු පළාතේ විරෝධතාව ඕමන්තෙයි හි දී පැවැත්විණි. ඕමන්තෙයි හි පැවති විරෝධතාව ට කොළඹින් මා හා තවත් මිතුරන් කිහිපදෙනෙක් සහභාගී වූ අතර, ඒ අතර සිය සැමියා හා පුතුන් අතුරුදන් වූ මුස්ලිම් හා සිංහල ජාතික කාන්තාවන් දෙදෙනෙක් ද විය. එහි සිටි පවුල් මා හා පැවසුවේ ඔවුන් විරෝධතාව සඳහා ඕමන්තෙයි තෝරාගැනීම ට විශේෂ හේතුවක් ඇති බව යි.

ඔවුන්ට අනුව, ඔවුන්ගේ ඥාතීන් යුද්ධයේ අවසාන කාලයේ හමුදාව විසින් කැඳවාගෙන යාමෙන් පසු අතුරුදන් වූ අය වූහ. අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ කාර්යාලයේ සාමාජිකයන් අතුරින් පවුලේ සාමාජිකයෙක් අතුරුදන් වීමට ලක් වූ එකම සාමාජිකාව වන, මඩකලපුවෙන් පැමිණි ජෙයදීපා පුණ්‍යමූර්ති නම් දමිළ ජාතික කාන්තාව විසින් කොළඹ පැවැත්වුණු අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ කාර්යාලය මගින් සංවිධානය කළ උත්සවයේ දී ඉස්මතු කළ කරුණක් වූයේ අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වලට අවශ්‍ය වන්නේ කුමක්ද යන්න පිළිබඳව රජයේ ආයතනවලට කිසිදු අවබෝධයක් නොමැති බව යි. එමෙන්ම අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වලට අවශ්‍ය අනුකම්පාව නොව ඔවුන්ගේ ප්‍රශ්නවලට පිළිතුරු බව ද ඇය වැඩිදුරටත් පවසා සිටියා ය.

වසර ගණනක් පුරාවට හැකි පමණින් සිය දායකත්වය ලබා දී තිබියදීත්, පිළිතුරු නොලැබීම පිළිබඳව අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ඇතුළු රාජ්‍ය ආයතන ගැන වූ කලකිරීම සහ විශ්වාසය කඩවීම ඕමන්තෙයි විරෝධතාවේ දී පැහැදිලිව පෙනුනි. මේ නිසා ජාත්‍යන්තර මැදිහත්වීම් අත්‍යවශ්‍ය බව ට වූ අඛණ්ඩ ඉල්ලීම් සඳහා මඟපෑදුවේය. එහෙත්, අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් ඔවුන් වෙනුවෙන් පිහිටුවන ලද නවතම රාජ්‍ය ආයතනය ට එක් අවස්ථාවක් ලබා දීම සඳහා උත්සුක විය. ඔවුන් විශේෂයෙන් සඳහන් කර සිටියේ තමන් සිද්ධීන් 5ක් පිළිබඳව පසුගිය මාසයේ දී අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ට තොරතුරු ලබා දුන් බවත්, තමන් ඔවුන් ගැන විශ්වාසය තබන්නේ අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ඒවා ගැන සත්‍යය විමර්ශනය කරන ආකාරය මත පදනම් ව විනා ඔවුන් විසින් විවෘත කරන කාර්යාල ගණන හෝ ඔවුන් විසින් ප්‍රදානය කරන හානිපූර්ණය කොපමණද යන්න මත පදනම්ව නොවන බවයි. කෙසේ වුවද, සමහර පවුල් තවමත් පවසා සිටින්නේ තමන්ට අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ගැන කිසිදු විශ්වාසයක්, හැඟීමක් නොමැති බවයි.

වසරකට පෙර, අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය විසින් වැදගත් නිර්දේශ කිහිපයක් නිකුත් කරන ලදී. කෙසේ වුවද, ඒවා ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීමේ ප්‍රගතිය ඉතා සුළු බව එහි සභාපතිවරයා මේ වසරේ පිළිගත්තේය. ඔවුන් විසින් නිර්දේශ කරන ලද අන්තර්කාලීන සහන ලබාදීමවත් අවම වශයෙන් සිදු වූයේ නැත. මෙය අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය ට පමණක් නොව හානිපූර්ණය පිණිස වන කාර්යාලය ට ද කළු පැල්ලමකි. වින්දිතයන්ගේ අයිතීන් සුරැකීම සඳහා අවශ්‍ය පියවර ගැනීමට බලතල ලද ව්‍යවස්ථාපිත ආයතනයක් ලෙස අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලය තම නිර්දේශ ක්‍රියාත්මක කිරීම සඳහා මීටත් වඩා ක්‍රියාකාරී ප්‍රවේශයක් ගත යුතු අතර, අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් විසින් ගන්නා අධිකරණ ක්‍රියාමාර්ග, අනුස්මරණ, ලේඛනගත කිරීම් සහ වෙනත් දුක්ගැනවිලි සඳහා සෘජුවම මැදිහත් වෙමින් සහයෝගය ලබාදිය හැකි ආකාර මොනවාද යන්න සලකා බැලිය යුතු ය.

ඕමන්තෙයි විරෝධතාවේ දී මෙන්ම ඊට පෙරත්, සමහර පවුල්වල සාමාජිකයන් පවසා සිටියේ සත්‍යය සහ යුක්තිය වසන්කිරීම සඳහා හානිපූර්ණය යොදාගැනීමේ අවදානමක් ඇති බවත්, ඔවුන්ට අවශ්‍ය යුක්තිය විනා හානිපූර්ණය නොවන බවත් ය. කෙසේ වුවද, අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් බහුතරයකට එවැනි අන්තර්කාලීන සහන සහ හානිපූර්ණ අත්‍යවශ්‍ය වන අතර, ඒවා ප්‍රතික්ෂේප කිරීම ඔවුන්ට අවාසිදායක විය හැක. නමුත් එක් අයිතියක් තවත් අයිතියක් සඳහා හුවමාරු කරගැනීම පිළිබඳව අපි අවධානයෙන් සිටිය යුතු ය. අතුරුදන් වූවන් පිළිබඳ කාර්යාලයේ සාමාජිකා ජෙයදීපා අවධාරණය කර ඇත්තේ නිර්දේශිත අන්තර්කාලීන සහනාධාරය (මසකට රු. 6000 බැගින්) යනු අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල් විසින් සත්‍යය සොයායාම වළකාලන ආකාරයේ යමක් නොවන බවයි. මගේ අත්දැකීම්වලට අනුව නම්, එවැනි සහායන් හරහා විරෝධතා, අධිකරණ නඩු සහ අන්තර්ජාතික උද්දේශනවල නියැලීම පිණිස අදාළ පවුල් ශක්තිමත් කරන අතර, ඔවුන් දානපතියන්, රාජ්‍ය නොවන සංවිධාන, කතෝලික දේවස්ථාන, විදෙස් ඩයස්පෝරාවන් ආදීන් මත යැපීම ද අවම කරයි.

අතුරුදන් වීම් පිළිබඳව ගැනෙන උත්සාහයන් ආවරණය කරමින් ආරක්ෂක හමුදාවේ අඳුරු සෙවනැල්ල පැතිර ගොස් තිබේ. මාධ්‍යවේදියෙකුගේ සහ තරුණයන් කිහිපදෙනකුගේ අතුරුදන් වීම සම්බන්ධයෙන් පසුගිය වසර කිහිපය තුළ දී හමුදා සහ නාවික හමුදා නිලධාරීන් කිහිපදෙනෙකු අත්අඩංගුවට පත්ව ඇත. එමෙන්ම පසුගිය කාලයේ ශ්‍රී ලංකා අධිකරණය විසින් හමුදාව අතුරුදන් කිරීම් සඳහා වගකිවයුතු බවට තීන්දු කර ඇති අතර, සමහර විටෙක ඒ සඳහා වරදකරුවන් කර ඇති අවස්ථාවන් ද දක්නට ලැබේ. මානව හිමිකම් කොමිසම විසින් පත්කළ විශේෂ කමිටුවක් මගින් අතුරුදන් වූ බවට සැලකෙන පුද්ගලයන් හමුදාව විසින් සිය භාරයට ගත් බව සාක්ෂි සහිතව සොයාගෙන ඇතිමුත් ඔවුන්ව නිදහස් කළ බවට හෝ වෙනත් යම් තැනක රඳවාගෙන ඇති බවට හෝ ඔවුන් ජීවතුන් අතර සිටින බවට කිසිදු සාක්ෂියක් මෙතෙක් සොයාගෙන නොමැති වග ද ද මෙහිදී විශේෂයෙන් සඳහන් කළ යුතුය. ඔවුන්ගේ ආදරණීයයන් හමුදාව විසින් රැගෙන ගිය පසුව නැවත නොදුටු බවට හෝ ඔවුන්ව අවසාන වරට දුටුවේ හමුදා කඳවුරුවල බවට අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල අය කඳුළුබර දෙනෙතින් යුතුව හඬමින් කියා සිටින විශ්වාස කටයුතු කතා මම ද අනන්තවත් අසා ඇත්තෙමි. එහෙත් දැන්, අතුරුදන්වීම්වලට වගකිවයුතු බවට විශ්වාස කෙරෙන, හිටපු හමුදා සොල්දාදුවෙක් සහ ආරක්ෂක ලේකම්වරයෙක් ජනාධිපති අපේක්ෂකයෙක් ලෙසින් අප හමුවේ සිටී. අපරාධ සැකකරුවෙකුට ආරක්ෂාව ලබාදුන් බවට සහ අතුරුදන් වීම් පිළිබඳ ව විභාග වෙමින් පවතින අධිකරණ නඩුවක සාක්ෂිකරුවෙකුට තර්ජනය කළ බව ට චෝදනා ලබා අත්තඩංගුවට පත් වූ පුද්ගලයෙක් අප රටේ ආරක්ෂක මාණ්ඩලික ප්‍රධානියා ලෙස කටයුතු කරමින් සිටී. එමෙන්ම අපේ නවතම හමුදාපති, යටත් වූ පුද්ගලයන් සියගණනක් යටත් වීමෙන් පසු අතුරුදන් වීම සම්බන්ධව වගකිවයුතු බවට චෝදනා ලද්දෙකි.

ඕමන්තෙයි හි පැවති විරෝධතාවේ ප්‍රදර්ශනය කර තිබූ තවත් බැනරයක, සිය අතුරුදන් වූ ඥාතීන් පිළිබඳ සත්‍යය විමසන අතරතුර මරණයට පත් වූ අතුරුදන් වූවන්ගේ පවුල්වල සාමාජිකයන් 52 දෙනෙකුගේ ඡායාරූප මුද්‍රණය කර තිබිණි. යුද්ධයෙන් යන්තමින් දිවි ගලවාගත් ඔවුනට මහාපාර අද්දර විරෝධතාවේ යෙදෙමින්, බියගැන්වීම් සහ තර්ජනවලට නිර්භීතව මුහුණදෙමින්, අව්-වැසි, දුහුවිල්ල නොතකා, අවම පහසුකම් සහිතව සහ ඉතා සුළු ආහාර සලාක මත යැපෙමින් දරාගැනීමට සිදුව තිබුනේ සුළුපටු ශාරීරික සහ මානසික පීඩාවක් නොවේ.

තව බොහොමයක් දෙනා දුක්විඳිමින් සිටිති. ඔවුන්ගෙන් කීදෙනෙක් අතුරුදන් වූ තම ආදරණීය ඥාතීන්ට සිදු වූයේ කුමක්ද යන්න නොදැනම මරණය වැළඳගනීවී ද? අතුරුදන් වීම් සම්බන්ධ දැඩි නීතිමය තහනම් සහ ඒ පිළිබඳ වන අතිශය දේශපාලනික ස්වභාවයක් තිබුන ද, අතුරුදන් කිරීම් පිළිබඳ කතිකාවේ වැදගත්ම ස්ථානයක් ලැබිය යුත්තේ එම දුක්ඛාන්තයේ ඇති අතිශය පුද්ගලික ස්වභාවය සහ එහි අර්බුදකාරී තත්ත්වය සඳහා ය. මරණයට පත් වූ 52 දෙනාගේ සහ අනෙක් අයගේ නොනවතින අරගලය නිෂ්ඵල ව්‍යායාමයක් බවට පත්නොවිය යුතු අතර, ඒ සඳහා ඔවුන් ට ශ්‍රී ලාංකිකයන්ගේ සහ අනෙකුත් යහපත් ප්‍රාර්ථනාවන් ඇති මිනිසුන්ගේ සහයෝගය වැඩි වැඩියෙන් අත්‍යවශ්‍ය වේ.

(2019 සැප්තැම්බර් මස 01 වැනි දා ද සන්ඩේ ඔබ්සර්වර් පුවත්පතේ පළ වූ රුකී ප්‍රනාන්දු විසින් රචිත ලිපියක සිංහල පරිවර්තනයකි.)

900 days of protests: Still searching for truth and justice

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/09/01/opinion/900-days-protests-still-searching-truth-and-justice on 1st Sept. 2019

August 30 was the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. Despite Government figures indicating more than 65,000 complaints of disappearances in Sri Lanka, for most Sri Lankans, most media and the Government, it was just another day.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the state institution responsible for tracing the fate and the whereabouts of disappeared persons organized a discussion in Colombo. Families of the disappeared had written moving memories and placed photos of their loved ones at the event.

In the North and the East, Tamil families of the disappeared took to the streets. Many of them had been at roadside protests for more than 900 days, engaged in discussions with the OMP, the President, Ministers, other politicians and officials. There was one protest in Kalmunai in the East and another in Omanthai in the North. I joined the one in Omanthai with some friends from Colombo, including a Sinhalese and a Muslim, women whose husbands and sons had disappeared. The families told me they chose Omanthai for its significance – according to them, their relatives had disappeared on the last days of the war, after being taken away by the military.

At the OMP event in Colombo, Jeyatheepa Punniyamoorthy, a Tamil woman from Batticaloa and the only member of the OMP who had a family member disappeared, highlighted that state institutions didn’t realize what they (families) wanted, and that families of disappeared didn’t want pity, they just wanted answers.

At the Omanthai protest, frustration and lack of faith in state institutions, including the OMP, were strong, based on a history of engaging and not getting answers. This led to continued demands of international involvement. But the families were still willing to give the latest state institution a chance – they highlighted that they had presented details of five cases to the OMP last month and that their trust in the OMP would be based on how the OMP finds the truth about these, rather than the number of offices opened or reparations awarded. Some families still insist that they don’t feel the OMP is their office.

A year ago, the OMP issued some important recommendations. This year, its Chair admitted that there had been little progress in implementation. Even the disbursement of interim relief that they had recommended had not commenced. This is ominous, not just for the OMP, but also for the Office of Reparations. As a statuary institution mandated to take measures to protect the rights of victims, the OMP may have to adopt a more activist approach to have their recommendations implemented, and consider ways of intervening directly to support the initiatives of families in court cases, memorization, documentation and other agitations.

At the Omanthai protest, and even before, some family members shared their feelings that reparations may be used to sidestep truth and justice, and said they want justice, and not reparations. However, many families of the disappeared desperately need interim relief and reparations and it would be a pity to reject them that. Trading off one right over the other is something we should be careful about. OMP member Jeyatheepa had said the interim relief (Rs. 6,000 per month) recommended by the OMP is not something to deter families from finding the truth. In my experience, such assistance could strengthen the family’s struggles such as protests, court cases, and international advocacy and make them less dependent on donors, NGOs, churches, diaspora, etc.

The dark shadow of the military hangs over the efforts to address disappearances in Sri Lanka. In the last few years, Army and Navy personnel have been arrested in relation to the disappearance of a journalist and some youth. In the more distant past, the Sri Lankan courts have determined the military to be responsible for disappearances and even convicted some. A special committee of the Human Rights Commission has found evidence of disappeared persons having been taken into custody by the army and no evidence of them being released or detained elsewhere or that they are alive. I have also heard crying family members narrate compelling stories of how their loved ones had disappeared after being taken away by the military or were last seen at military camps. And now, we have a former soldier and defence secretary as a presidential candidate who is widely believed to be behind disappearances. We have a Chief of Defence Staff who had been arrested after being accused of harbouring a suspect and threatening a witness in a pending court case related to disappearances. And an Army Commander who is implicated in disappearances of hundreds after surrendering.

The Omanthai protest had a banner with 52 photos of family members that had passed away while searching for truth. The gruelling days at roadside protests, braving intimidation, the sun, the rain and dust, with meagre meals and facilities would have had to bear a heavy physical and emotional cost, who had barely survived the war.

Many others are ailing – how many of them would pass away without knowing what happened to their disappeared family members? Despite the strict legal prohibitions and immensely political nature of disappearances, it’s the deeply personal nature of the tragedy and struggles that must be central to the discourse on disappearances. The struggles of the 52 who had passed away and others continuing must not be in vain and they need more support from all Sri Lankans and people of goodwill.

Families of the disappeared: Two years of protests, what must they do next?

First published at http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2019/03/03/news-features/families-disappeared-two-years-protests-what-must-they-do-next on 3rd March 2019

The biggest protest I had ever participated in or seen in Kilinochchi took place last week. It was organised by the Tamil families of the disappeared, to mark two years of roadside protests and demanding information about loved ones who had disappeared. It was a gruelling march of more than six km that took over two hours, through the sprawling A9 road in Kilinochchi, braving extreme midday heat.

Perhaps, this pales in the context of the families having braved the sun, rain, dust, fumes, intimidation, threats and assaults for two years. Several elderly mothers collapsed during the march. But more died in the course of continuous protests, not knowing what happened to their loved ones.

Colombo

Colombo seemed indifferent. When one of the women leading the Kilinochchi protest called me, she had a clear request. She asked me to join them on February 25, bringing the Sinhalese and English media, colleagues from Colombo and others from the international community. I did ask many, but predictably, there was not much of a response. The protest coincided with the first year anniversary of the Office of Missing Persons (OMP).

The OMP it had initiated inquiries and made interventions on some cases and referred to its primary mandate as being to ‘Search and trace tens of thousands of missing and disappeared persons’.

But the Office provided no information on the number of persons it had made progress searching for or specific progress made in a single case. Neither did it provide an assessment about progress made in implementing recommendations made in an interim report six months ago. In this context, it was not surprising to hear families of the disappeared protesting in Kilinochchi reiterating that they had no hope or confidence in the OMP.

One woman at the protest was clutching a letter sent by a previous Presidential Commission of Inquiry led by Maxwell Paranagama, which had functioned under President Mahinda Rajapaksa and President Maithripala Sirisena, The letter promised investigations, but the lady had not heard of any progress or results on investigations. Protesters told me that might be what the OMP might end up doing as well.

Geneva

Geneva also seems indifferent. Last week, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) started its 40th session, where it is due to review progress made by the Sri Lankan Government in terms of commitments made on accountability and reconciliation at the UN body three and half years ago. At the Kilinochchi protest, there were many references to the UN, demanding an increased role from it. The protesters recalled that resolution 34/1 of the UNHRC was due to inaction of the Sri Lankan Government on resolution 30/1 and commitments therein.

They demanded the UN to ‘Stop giving Sri Lanka more time’, instead to consider other options of ensuring reconciliation and accountability. But the first draft of a resolution on Sri Lanka to be adopted by the Council dated February 27, two days after the Kilinochchi protest, had no reference to, nor reflected the spirit, grievances, aspirations and efforts made by families of the disappeared on the road continuously for two years.

For me, it seemed that protesting families increased demands from the UN were not based on faith in the UN, but deep frustration and disappointment in the political leadership, and institutions such as the judiciary and the OMP.

Indeed, when I joined the same families at a similar protest on the 100th day of their continuous roadside protest, they blocked the A9 road for about five hours and their primary demand was to meet the President. The families also seem to have very little faith in Tamil politicians and insisted that Tamil politicians with access to the international community, donot represent them.

Hartal

A significant feature of the Kilinochchi protest last week was the hartal across the Northern Province. Shops, eateries, some supermarkets and banks were shuttered. There were no local buses and very few vehicles on the main roads. Hartals usually inconvenience the poor. Those who use public transport end up being stranded, daily wage earners lose their income. But my impression was that many joined the hartal sympathising and supporting the struggle of families of the disappeared. The popular women led eatery in Kilinochchi, Ammachi was closed, which meant loss of income.

I met some of the women at the protest, easily identifiable by their Ammachi t-shirts. After the protest, a shop keeper in Iranaipalei in the Mullaitivu District, about an hour’s drive away from the Kilinochchi protest, told me he could not go for the protest, but closed his shop in support of the protest. A trishaw driver who had stayed home in Mullaitivu expressed similar sentiments. Some of the female community leaders of the Kepapilavu community, themselves at a roadside protest for two years demanding release of military occupied land, also joined the Kilinochchi protest.

So did families of the disappeared, women’s activists, Christian clergy from across the North and the East. Many Tamil journalists from the North were covering the protest. Some Tamil politicians also joined, but played a low profile role, heeding the explicit demands from protest leaders that politicians should not be at the forefront of the demonstrations.

Reprisals

The day of the protest and hartal was also the day three habeas corpus cases in relation disappearances were being taken up in Jaffna courts, where a serving senior military officer is implicated. A female activist involved in the case had allegedly been assaulted and hospitalised last year and lawyers have allegedly been intimidated.

Even on this day, a lawyer was reportedly subject to intimidation as she was leaving courts after appearing in the case, with men on a motorbike trying to crash into her car. Last year had allegedly seen several incidents of reprisals against both Tamil and Sinhalese families of the disappeared.

Importance of solidarity

My visits and interactions with protesting families had led me to write about my experiences and reflections. The last two pieces I wrote to this paper on disappearances was about 366 days and then 500 days of the continued roadside protests. As I contemplated writing about the 730 days of the protests, I wondered what new things I could write. Not much seems to have changed, except continuing reprisals, increasing frustration and desperation.

The same lines with which I finished off my 500 days articles sums up my feelings today.

“As they wait for answers from the Government and institutions such as the OMP and judiciary about their loved ones, families of the disappeared deserve more coverage by mainstream Sinhalese and English media. They need continued solidarity from society – Sri Lankan and international. The struggle of the families must become a struggle of all Sri Lankans”.

The hartal showed that the North is listening and in solidarity with Tamil families of the disappeared. But Colombo (and the rest of Sri Lanka) and Geneva (and the world) doesn’t seem to be listening. What the families can do next remains a big question mark.

புதிய பயங்கரவாத எதிர்ப்புச் சட்டமூலம்: அநீதியை நடைமுறைப்படுத்தும் நவீன அனுமதிப் பத்திரமா?

First published at https://maatram.org/?p=7569 on 19th February 2019

சுமார் 40 வருடங்களுக்கு மேற்பட்ட காலம் சித்திரவதைக்கு உட்படுத்துவதற்கும், பாலியல் துன்புறுத்தல்களுக்கும், வலுக்கட்டாயமாக ஆட்களைக் காணாமல் ஆக்குவதற்கும், நீண்டகாலம் ஆட்களைத்  தடுப்புக் காவலில் வைப்பதற்கும் வழங்கப்படும் ஓர் அனுமதிப்பத்திரமாகப் பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் (Prevention of Terrorism Act – PTA) பயன்படுத்தப்படுகிறது. பயங்கரவாதம் தொடர்பாக, ஒரு சாதாரண சந்தேக நபர் மாத்திரமல்லாமல் ஊடகவியலாளர்கள், சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் என்போர் இச்சட்டத்தின் கீழ் கைதுசெய்யப்பட்டதோடு, அரசாங்கத்திற்கு எதிராக முன்வைக்கப்படும், விமர்சன ரீதியான கருத்துக்களை ஒடுக்குவதற்கும், இச்சட்டம் மிக மோசமாக பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டுள்ளது. குறிப்பாக தமிழ் மக்களுக்கு எதிராக, இது அநேகமான சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் தவறான முறையில் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டுள்ளது.

தற்போதைய அரசு பதவிக்கு வந்த பின்னர், இவ்வொடுக்குமுறை ரீதியான பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தை நீக்குவதாகவும், சர்வதேச ரீதியாக சிறந்த நடைமுறைக்கு ஏற்பவும் பயங்கரவாதத்திற்கு எதிராக ஒரு சட்டத்தை சமர்ப்பிப்பதாகவே பல்வேறு சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் உறுதிமொழிகள் வழங்கப்பட்டன. இதன் விளைவாகவே, கடந்த ஆண்டு செப்டெம்பர் மாதத்தில் புதிய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் ஒன்று வரையப்பட்டது. இவ்வரைவு ஆங்கிலத்தில் பயங்கரவாதத்திற்கு எதிரான சட்டம் (Counter Terrorism Act – CTA) எனப் பெயரிடப்பட்டது. சிங்கள மொழியில் பழைய பெயரில் பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் என அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்பட்டு, வர்த்தமானப் பத்திரிகையில் வெளியிடப்பிடப்பட்டுள்ளமை ஒரு வகையில் கேளிக்கூத்தாகும்.

“பயங்கரவாதம் என அறிமுகப்படுத்தப்படும் தவறுகள் சம்பந்தமாக நடவடிக்கை எடுப்பதற்கு சுமார் 14 சட்டங்கள் – தண்டனைச் சட்டக் கோவையின் 6 வாசகங்கள் உட்பட சுமார் 20 சட்டங்கள் இலங்கைச் சட்டத்தில் உள்ளடக்கப்பட்டுள்ளன. அதேசமயம், அவசரகால நிலைமையின் கீழ் செயற்படுவதற்கு ஜனாதிபதிக்கு அவசரகாலச் சட்டத்தை பிரகடனப்படுத்தும் அதிகாரமும் உண்டு. நிலைமை இவ்வாறு இருக்கையில், பயங்கரவாதம் தொடர்பாக தனியான விசேட சட்டத்தின் அவசியம், வெறுமனே சிறுபான்மை சமூகங்கள் அரசுக்கு எதிராக முன்வைக்கும் விமர்சன ரீதியான கருத்துக்களை ஒடுக்குவதாகவே அமையும். ஆகவே, பயங்கரவாதத்தை ஒடுக்குவதற்கு ஏற்கனவே உள்ள சட்டங்கள் போதுமானவை என்பது எமது கருத்தாகும்.”

முன்னைய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் பயன்படுத்தப்பட்டது போலவே, இப்புதிய சட்ட மூலமும் சாதாரண மக்களுக்கும், ஊடகவியலாளர்களுக்கும் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்களுக்கும் எதிராக தொந்தரவுகளை மேற்கொள்ளக்கூடிய வகையில் பயன்படுத்துவதற்கு அவசியமான வாய்ப்புக்களை முறையே வழங்கியுள்ளன.

இச்சட்டத்தில் பரந்துபட்ட தெளிவின்மை காணப்படுகிறது. பயங்கரவாதம் என்பதற்கு வரைவிலக்கணமாக கருதக்கூடிய தவறுகள் பற்றி சரியான விளக்கம் வழங்கப்படவில்லை. இதன் காரணமாக இச்சட்டத்தைப் பயன்படுத்தி, அரசியலமைப்பின் மூலம் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ள கருத்துச் சுதந்திரம், ஒன்றுகூடும் சுதந்திரம் மற்றும் ஒரு சங்கத்தை உருவாக்கும் சுதந்திரம் என்பன மட்டுப்படுத்தப்படுவதற்கான வாய்ப்பு உண்டு. அடிப்படை மனித உரிமைகள் கூட நல்லெண்ணத்தோடு அமுல்படுத்தியிருந்தால் மாத்திரமே பயங்கரவாத செயலாகக் கருதப்படமாட்டாது.

இச்சட்டத்தின் கீழ் கைதுசெய்யப்பட்ட நபர் உடல் ரீதியாக பாதிப்புக்கு உள்ளாக்கப்படாத வகையில் பேணப்படுவது கட்டாயப்படுத்தப்படவில்லை. கைது செய்யப்படும் நபர், கைது செய்யப்படுவதற்கான காரணமும் அதற்கு ஏற்புடைய ஏனைய தகவல்களையும் அறிவித்தல் கட்டாயமாக்கப்படவில்லை. பின்னர் இவ்வாறு செய்வதற்கான காலச் சட்டகம் வழங்கப்படவும் இல்லை. குடும்ப உறுப்பினர்கள் கைதுசெய்யப்படும்போது அந்த இடத்தில் பிரசன்னமாக இருந்தாலும் கைது செய்யப்பட்டமைக்கான விவரங்களை அவர்களுக்கு அறிவிப்பதற்குக் கூட 24 மணித்தியாலங்கள் வழங்கப்படவில்லை. குடும்பத்திலுள்ளோர் கைதுசெய்யப்படக்கூடிய வேறு சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் அவ்விடத்தில் இருந்தவர் அல்லது அவர்கள் கைது செய்யப்பட்டமையை அறிவிப்பது கட்டாயப்படுத்தப்படவில்லை. அதே சமயம் பெண் சந்தேக நபர்கள் பெண் பாதுகாப்பு உத்தியோகத்தர்களால் கைது செய்யப்பட வேண்டுமெனவும் அவர்கள் விசாரணைக்கு உட்படுத்தப்படும் போது கட்டாயமாக ஒரு பெண் உத்தியோகத்தர் அவ்விடத்தில்  பிரசன்னமாக இருத்தல் வேண்டுமென்பதும் அத்தியாவசியப்படுத்தப்படவில்லை.

பொலிஸார் தாக்கல் செய்த தடுத்து வைக்கும் கட்டளைக்கு நீதவானின் அங்கீகாரம் பெறல் வேண்டும். அதே சமயம், ஒரு நபர் இரண்டு வாரங்கள் வரை தடுத்து வைப்பதைத் தீர்மானிப்பவர் பொலிஸ் உத்தியோகத்தர் ஆவார். மேலும், இத்தகைய தடுத்துவைக்கும் கட்டளையை, 8 வாரங்கள் வரை நீடிப்பதை  நீதவான் அங்கீகரிக்க முடியும். பொலிஸார் கைதுசெய்தமை தொடர்பாக மனித உரிமைகள் ஆணைக்குழுவிற்கு அறிவிப்பதற்கு 22 மணித்தியாலங்கள் கால அவகாசம் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ளது. அவருடைய வழக்கு ஒரு வருடத்தை விட அதிக காலகட்டத்திற்கு இழுபட்டுக்கொண்டு போனால் மாத்திரமே சந்தேக நபருக்கு பிணை வழங்கப்படும். தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருப்பவரின் சட்டத்தரணி மற்றும் குடும்ப அங்கத்தவர்கள் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் அமைவிடத்திற்கு பிரவேசிப்பதாயின் அந்த நிலையத்திற்குப் பொறுப்பான அரச அதிகாரியின் முன்னங்கீகாரத்தைப் பெறுதல் வேண்டும். அமைச்சர் ஒருவர் தீர்மானிக்கும் அமைவிடத்தில் மற்றும் நிலைமைகளின் கீழேயே முடிவு எடுக்கப்படுகிறது. இத்தகைய தடுத்து வைத்தலுக்கு எதிராக ‘மீளாய்வுக் குழுவிடம்’ மேன்முறையீடு செய்ய முடியும். எனினும் இம்மீளாய்வுக்குழு அமைச்சர், அமைச்சுச் செயலாளர், அமைச்சரினால் நியமிக்கப்படும் மேலும் இருவரை உள்ளடக்கியதாக அமையும். சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்களுக்கும் ஊடகவியலாளர்களுக்கும் எதிரணி அரசியல்வாதிகளுக்கும் எதிராக ஆட்சி அதிகாரத்தில் உள்ள அரசியல்வாதிகளும் பொலிஸாரும் பயங்கவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தைப் பயன்படுத்தும் எமது வரலாற்றைக் பின்னோக்கிப் பார்க்கையில், இச்சட்டத்தின் மூலம் அமைச்சருக்கும் பொலிஸாருக்கும் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ள அதிகாரம் ஒரு நரியிடம் கோழிக் குஞ்சுகளை ஒப்படைப்பதற்கு ஈடாகும் என்ற கருத்து எமக்கு  மேலும் சந்தேகத்தை ஏற்படுத்துகிறது.

இச்சட்டத்தின் மூலம் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருப்போரின் உடலில் ஏதாவது காயங்கள் உண்டா என பரிசீலனை செய்வதற்கு பொலிஸ் நிலையப் பொறுப்பதிகாரியிடம் அதிகாரம் ஒப்படைக்கப்பட்டுள்ளதோடு, அவர் அத்தகைய காயங்களை அவதானித்தாரேயாயின், ஒரு சட்ட வைத்திய அதிகாரியிடம் தடுப்புக் காவலில் வைத்திருப்பவரை ஒப்படைத்து, சட்ட வைத்திய அறிக்கையைப் பெற வேண்டும். நீதவான் அல்லது மனித உரிமைகள் ஆணைக்குழு உத்தியோகத்தர் ஒருவர் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருக்கும் இடத்திற்கு வருகை தரும் சந்தர்ப்பத்தில் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டவர் மனிதாபிமானம் அற்ற கவனிப்பின் கீழ் தடுத்து வைக்கப்பட்டிருப்பின், அவர்கள் சிறைச்சாலை கண்காணிப்பு உத்தியோகத்தருக்கு அல்லது பொலிஸ் மா அதிபருக்கு அறிவித்தல் வேண்டும். இது தொடர்பாக உரிய நடவடிக்கைகளை எடுத்து ஏற்புடைய மனிதாபிமான நிலைமைகளை வழங்குமாறு நிர்ப்பந்திக்க முடியாது. சந்தேக நபர்கள் தடுப்புக் காவலில் இருக்கும்போது, துன்புறுத்தல்கள் இடம்பெறுமாயின் அல்லது  பாலியல் வன்முறைகளுக்கு உட்படுத்தப்படுவார்களேயாயின், முன்னைய  பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச்சட்டத்தின் கீழ் அதற்கான ஏற்பாடுகள் இருந்தன. ஆனால்,உத்தேச புதிய சட்டம்  நிலைமைகளை மேலும் மோசமாக்கலாம்.

அமுலில்  உள்ள பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தின் கீழ் கைது செய்யப்படுதல், குறிப்பிட்ட அமைவிடங்களுக்குப் பிரவேசித்தல் மற்றும் பொருட்களை கைப்பற்றுதல் ஆகிய  நடவடிக்கைகளை பொலிஸ் உத்தியோகத்தர்கள் மாத்திரமே  மேற்கொள்ள முடியும். ஆனால், புதிய சட்டத்தின் கீழ் முப்படையினருக்கும், கரையோரப் பாதுகாப்பு பிரிவினருக்கும் இவ் அதிகாரங்கள் கிடைக்கின்றன. அதேசமயம் பொலிஸார், பாதிக்கப்பட்ட தரப்பினருக்கு அவர்களது மனக்குறைகளை எடுத்துக்கூற சந்தர்ப்பம் வழங்காமல், ஒரு கூட்டத்தை, ஒரு பேரணியை அல்லது ஒரு செயற்பாட்டை நிறுத்துவதற்கு நீதவானிடம் கோரிக்கை விடுக்கலாம். மறுபுறம் ஏதாவது ஓர் அமைப்பை, பொது அமைவிடத்தை அல்லது வேறு ஓர் இடத்தைத் தடை செய்யப்பட்ட அமைவிடமாக கால வரையறையின்றி பிரகடனப்படுத்தும், கட்டளையை விடுப்பதற்கு முன்னர், அவ்விடயத்தைச் சவாலுக்கு உட்படுத்துவதற்கு பாதிக்கப்பட்ட தரப்பினருக்கு வாய்ப்பு கிடைக்கமாட்டாது. அதேசமயம் அமைப்புக்களின் கூட்டங்கள், நடவடிக்கைகள் மற்றும் நிகழ்ச்சித்திட்டங்களை நடத்துவதைத் தடுத்தல், வங்கிக் கணக்குகள், வேறு நிதி வைப்புக்களை பயன்படுத்துதல் அல்லது அவற்றை ஈடுபடுத்துவதைத் தடை செய்தல், உடன்படிக்கைகளுக்கு வருவதை தடை செய்தல், நிதி சேகரித்தல், நிதி அளித்தல், சொத்துக்களை ஒப்படைப்பதை தடை செய்தல், நிதி அல்லது சொத்துக்களை ஒப்படைப்பதை தடை செய்தல்,  ஓர் அமைப்பின் சார்பில் அழுத்தங்களைப் பிரயோகித்தல், கோரிக்கைகளை முன்வைத்தல் என்பவற்றை தடுப்பதற்கு அமைச்சருக்கு அதிகாரம் உண்டு.

தற்போதைய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தில் வழங்கப்படாத, புதிய சட்டமூலத்தின் மூலம் ஒப்படைக்கப்படும் மேலதிக அதிகாரங்கள் ஜனாதிபதிக்கு உண்டு. உதாரணமாக, ஊரடங்குச் சட்டத்தை பிரகடனப்படுத்துவதற்கும், பொது மக்களின் ஒழுங்கைப் பேணுவதற்கு முப்படையினரை அழைப்பதற்கும் அதிகாரம் ஜனாதிபதிக்கு  வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ளது.

அதே சமயம், புதிய சட்டத்தின் கீழ் பகிரங்கமாக மன்னிப்புக் கோருவதற்கும், புனர்வாழ்வு அளிக்கப்படுவதற்கும், சமூக சேவையில் ஈடுபடுத்துவதற்கும் அதிகாரம் உண்டு. இவற்றின் மூலம் இழைத்த குற்றத்திற்கு நஷ்ட ஈடு செலுத்துவது ஏற்றுக்கொள்ளப்படமாட்டாது. இந்நிலைமையின் கீழ் வழக்கு விசாரணைகளுக்கு நீண்டகாலம் எடுக்கப்படுவதனால், சட்டத்தரணிகளின் கட்டணம் என்பன பாதிக்கப்பட்டோர் தாங்க முடியாத அளவு உயர்ந்து செல்கின்றது. எனவே, பலர் நீதிமன்ற நடவடிக்கைகளின் மூலம் தமது குற்றமற்ற தன்மையை நிரூபிப்பதற்கு கஷ்டப்படுவதற்குப் பதிலாக, குற்ற ஒப்புதலை ஏற்றுக்கொள்வதற்கு இடமுண்டு. இத்தகைய சந்தர்ப்பங்களில் குற்றப்பகர்வு பத்திரத்தின்படி சட்டமா அதிபர் குற்றச் சாட்டுக்களை வாபஸ் பெறும் போது, தண்டனைக்காக நீதிமன்ற அங்கீகாரத்தை கோரும் மேலதிக அதிகாரமும் வழங்கப்பட்டுள்ளது.

புதிய சட்டத்தை வரைந்து வர்த்தமானி அறிவித்தலில் வெளியிட்ட பின்னர், சிவில் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் இச்சட்டத்தின் மூலம் அரசியலமைப்பின் அடிப்படை உரிமைகள் மீறப்படுவதாக பிரகடனப்படுத்தி, உயர் நீதிமன்றத்தில் மனுக்களை சமர்ப்பித்ததோடு, உயர் நீதிமன்றம் மனுக்களைப் பொருட்படுத்தாமல் மரண தண்டனையை கொண்டுவருவதன் மூலம் அனைத்தும் ஏற்கனவே இருந்ததை விட மோசமான நிலைக்கு தள்ளப்பட்டுள்ளது.

புதிய பயங்கரவாத எதிர்ப்புச் சட்டமூலம் தொடர்பாக இலங்கையின் பல்வேறு மாகாணங்களிலும் இடம்பெற்ற கலந்துரையாடல்களின்போது மதத் தலைவர்கள், ஊடகவியலாளர்கள் மற்றும் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் பலர் வருகை தந்திருந்தனர். பல பெண்களின் குழுக்களினால் இக்கலந்துரையாடல்கள் ஏற்பாடு செய்யப்பட்டன. இவற்றில் உருவாகிய முக்கியமான கருத்துக்களும் கோரிக்கைகளும் பின்வருமாறு: ஏற்கனவே அமுலில் உள்ள பயங்கரவாததத் தடைச் சட்டத்தை நீக்கவேண்டிய அதேவேளை புதியதோர் சட்டம் அவசியம் இல்லை என்பதாகும். மட்டக்களப்பில் இடம்பெற்ற ஒரு கலந்துரையாடலில் பங்குபற்றிய 3 தமிழ் நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்கள் கூறியதாவது: இந்த வரைபை அவர்கள் எதிர்ப்பதாகக் குறிப்பிட்டனர். ஆனால், தமிழ் தேசியக் கூட்டமைப்பு இது பற்றி தெளிவான ஒரு நிலைப்பாட்டை வெளியிடவில்லை. பழைய மற்றும் புதிய பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்திற்கும் தெளிவான எதிர்ப்பை சுட்டிக்காட்டிய ஒரே அரசியற் கட்சி மக்கள் விடுதலை முன்னணி மாத்திரமே என்பதை இங்கு குறிப்பிட்டேயாக வேண்டும்.

கடந்த 6ஆம் திகதி, இச்சட்டம் தொடர்பாக 20 நாடாளுமன்ற உறுப்பினர்களை உள்ளடக்கிய துறைசார் மேற்பார்வைக் குழுவின் கூட்டம் இடம்பெற்றது. இதன்போது சிவில் சமூகச் செயற்பாட்டாளர்கள் மற்றும் சுயாதீன சட்டத்தரணிகளுடன் இது பற்றிய கலந்துரையாடல் இடம்பெற்றது. அடுத்த கூட்டம் பெப்ரவரி மாதம் 20ஆம் திகதி (நாளை) இடம்பெறவுள்ளது. அன்றைய திகதிக்கு முன்னர் இது பற்றிய எழுத்து மூலமான சமர்ப்பணங்களை வழங்குமாறு வருகை தந்தோரிடம் கேட்டுக்கொள்ளப்பட்டது. பெப்ரவரி 11ஆம் திகதி இது தொடர்பாக இடம்பெற்ற கலந்துரையாடலின் போது வெளிவிவகாரஅமைச்சர் பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டத்தை அமுல்படுத்தும்போது மனித உரிமை மீறல்கள் இடம்பெற்றதை ஏற்றுக்கொண்டாலும், அத்தகைய ஒரு புதிய சட்டத்தின் தேவையை உறுதியான நிலைப்பாடாக முன்னெடுத்தார். அரச தரப்பினரினதும் சட்டத்தரணிகளினதும் சட்டமா அதிபர் திணைக்களத்தினதும் கருத்து பின்வருமாறு அமைந்துள்ளது, “புதிய சட்டம் அத்தியாவசியமானது – தற்போது சிறு சிறு மாற்றங்களை மாத்திரமே செய்ய முடியும்.”

ஏற்கனவே, அமுலில் உள்ள பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் மற்றும் புதிய வரைவு ஆகிய இரண்டின் மூலம் தடுத்து வைக்கப்படுவோரின் உயிர்வாழ்வுக்கான பாதுகாப்பு, சுதந்திரம், உடல் உள நலத்திற்கான அச்சுறுத்தல் ஏற்படும் அதேவேளை, அடிப்படை மனித உரிமைகள் மட்டுப்படுத்தப்படுகின்றன. அதேசமயம் பரந்துபட்டதும் தெளிவற்றதுமான வரைவிலக்கணங்களின் மூலம், சட்ட ரீதியாக வேறு கருத்துக்கள் முன்வைக்கப்படுகின்றன. அடிப்படை உரிமைகளை அனுபவிப்பதற்கும் ஜனநாயகப் பிரஜைகள் என்ற வகையில் செயற்படுவதும், பயங்கரவாத நடவடிக்கைகளாக மாறுகின்றன. அதேசமயம், இதன் மூலம் நீதிமன்ற மேற்பார்வையையும் தற்றுணிபையும் குறைக்கும், அமைச்சரினதும் பொலிஸாரினதும் ஆயுதப் படைகளினதும் கரையோரப் பாதுகாவலர்களினதும் தற்றுணிபுக்கு ஏற்ப நடவடிக்கைகளை மேற்கொள்வதற்கு அத்துமீறிய அதிகாரங்கள் அல்லது பாரிய அதிகாரங்கள் வழங்கப்படுகின்றன. அடிப்படையில் பொலிஸாரும் அமைச்சரும் விசாரணையாளர்களும் நீதிபதிகளும உரிய வகிபாகத்தை மேற்கொள்கின்றனர்.

தேசிய பாதுகாப்பு, பயங்கரவாதம் ஆகிய சொற்களைப் பயன்படுத்தி, நீதிமன்றம் மேற்பார்வை செய்யாமல் இருப்பதற்கும் இச்சட்டத்தில் ஏற்பாடுகள் உண்டு. இதனூடாக சிவில் சமூக வாழ்க்கை இராணுவ மயமாக்கப்பட முடியும். அதேவேளை சட்டத்தின் ஆட்சியினூடாக நிர்வகிக்கப்படும் ஜனநாயக சமூகம் அமுலில் உள்ள ஒரு நாட்டிற்குப் பதிலாக தேசிய பாதுகாப்பை முன்னுரிமைப்படுத்தி அதிகாரபூர்வமான ஓர் ஆட்சியாக சமூகம் மாறக்கூடும். இது நல்லிணக்கத்திற்கு பாதகமாகவே அமையும். இதன் மூலம் அதிகாரத்திலுள்ளோருக்கு இனத்துவம், மொழி, மதம் மற்றும் அரசியல் கருத்திற்கு ஏற்ப தம்முடன் உடன்படாத குழுக்களை ஒடுக்குவதற்கு சந்தர்ப்பம் கிடைக்கின்றது. அது எதிர்கால நெருக்கடிக்கு (பயங்கரவாத்தை தடை செய்யும் சட்டத்தின் வரலாற்றை நோக்குகையில் இடம்பெற்றது போலவே) காரணமாக அமையலாம்.

பயங்கரவாத தடைச் சட்டத்தை நீக்கி அதற்கு ஒப்பான மற்றுமோர் சட்டத்துடன் தொடர்புபடுத்துவது எந்த வகையிலும் அவசியமில்லை. நாடாளுமன்றத்தின் மூலம் கட்டாயமாக பயங்கரவாதத் தடைச் சட்டம் நீக்கப்பட வேண்டும். அதனைச் செய்ய முடியும். அமைச்சரவை புதிய சட்ட வரைவை வாபஸ் பெற வேண்டும் அல்லது நாடாளுமன்றத்தினாலேயே அது கட்டாயமாக தோல்விக்குட்படுத்தப்பட வேண்டும். தற்போது அமுலில் உள்ள சட்டங்களின் ஊடாக பயங்கரவாதம் என அடையாளப்படுத்தப்படும் தவறுகள் தொடர்பாக நடவடிக்கை எடுக்க முடியும்.

 தமித் சந்திமால் மற்றும் ருக்கி பெர்னாண்டோ

 


(17.02.2019 அனித்தா’ வாராந்திர சிங்களப் பத்திரிகையில் வெளிவந்த கட்டுரையின் தமிழாக்கம்)

Keppapulavu: Land Struggle Reaches Boiling Point after 700 days of protest

First published at https://groundviews.org/2019/01/22/keppapulavu-land-struggle-reaches-boiling-point-after-700-days-of-protest/ on 22nd January 2019

“We want to sleep, cook, eat in our own house and farm our own land”

700 days is a long time for a day and night protest outside an Army camp. Since March 1, 2017, the people of Keppapulavu, located in the Mullaitheevu district in Northern Sri Lanka, have been doing just that. They have had to brave intimidation and harassment from the Army, Police and intelligence agencies, and also brave the sun, rain, heat, cold and dust. They have faced challenges in continuing their livelihoods, sending children to school and caring for their elderly. It is the longest running community-led day and night continuous protest for land in Sri Lanka. They have also engaged in protests in Colombo and elsewhere, and have participated in meetings with government politicians, local Tamil politicians, government officials, the media, religious clergy, representatives of international community and others.

Last year, President Sirisena promised to return occupied lands in the North and East by December 31, 2018. When this promise was broken, Keppapulavu residents marched to the Army camp and demanded their land. The Army refused to speak to them. In subsequent discussions with government officials, an Assistant Government Agent (AGA) had promised them their land would be released by January 25, 2019.

Soon after, one of the staff officers of the newly appointed Northern Governor had met some members of the Keppalulavu community. Afterwards, on Sunday, (January 20) the Governor also met them. Both had requested more time, but the community members, who had seen so many similar “time-buying” exercises, insisted that January 25 be the final day when all the land would be returned to them. One lady had asked the Governor whether he was going to ensure release of land by January 25, or whether he wished to see the guns of the Army turned on her and other villagers.

“If our lands are not released by 25th January, we will go and reclaim our lands” is what the villagers told me, and what they had told the Army, the Governor of the Northern Province and government officials in meetings they had had the last few days and weeks.

The occupied land sits between the main road between Puthukudiyiruppu and Vattrapalai and borders the Nanthikadal lagoon. It’s very fertile agricultural land and the lagoon has plenty of fish, prawns and crabs. “We can cross our legs and sit in the garden and still have enough food” one man told me. In addition to the houses, most of the community buildings such as the community hall, school, Rural Development Society (RDS) and places with strong emotional attachments such as the church and cemetery remain occupied by the Army. The community life in this village, woven around agriculture and fishing, and the traditional and rich cultural and religious practices, was destroyed first by the war and then by the Army occupation.

“We work hard, fish, farm, and the Army which gets government salaries, enjoys the fruits of trees in our gardens, lives in our houses, and use our community buildings” says Vivekanandan, a villager from Kepapulavu. He goes on, “Why can’t they at least allow us to enjoy the fruits of trees in our gardens?”

His home, as well as the land and homes of other Keppapulavu residents’, now Army-occupied, was visible from across the road, with the beautiful view of Nanthikadal lagoon beyond it. Listening to them was heart breaking as well as making me angry.

“Why are they (the Army) in our houses, our lands, when there is so much forest land around the area?”

“We want to live peacefully with Sinhalese. Why are they (Army) obstructing this by occupying our land? Do they want Prabhakaran (the late leader of the LTTE) to come back?” was another question that was raised.

I recalled similar sentiments heard during my previous visits spanning several years. “Every year our land changes more and more. Some houses have been destroyed. The wells have been closed. Other buildings have been put up. Boundaries have been demarcated differently. But the jak and coconut trees which we planted have started bearing fruit.”

“When I enter my home, it feels as fondly familiar to me as the love of my mother and father…”

I had known some of these community members for around 10 years, when they were being detained in “Menik Farm”. Even then, they always talked about the richness and beauty of their lands and their yearning to return. Even when I met them after they had been compelled to accept alternative lands in a nearby jungle area, they insisted on the right to return to their own land.

The day I visited Keppapulavu was also the day President Sirisena had visited nearby Mulliyawalai, around 10 kilometres away from the protest site. But the long suffering and struggling Keppapulavu people were clearly not of concern to the President who is the son of a farmer, and from an agricultural area.

It is now nearly 10 years since the end of the war. And it is more than 10 years since the Army had forcibly occupied Keppapulavu. For the people of Keppapulavu, justice, peace and reconciliation remain empty words – until and unless they are able to return to their houses, lands, and way of life.

As they said, “We have survived the war but, now we have to die for our lands!”

Sri Lanka’s Stalled Reforms

First published at https://intpolicydigest.org/2018/09/12/sri-lanka-s-stalled-reforms/ on 12th September 2018

Ruki Fernando is a human rights activist based in Colombo, Sri Lanka. This interview has been edited lightly.

Three years on, what’s your broad take on the coalition government’s performance? Where does the reform agenda currently stand?

Some reforms have happened since 2015 to varying degrees, but many of the promised reforms have come to a standstill and seem unlikely to happen by next year.

The release of some lands occupied by the military after months of protests, the release and indictments of some political prisoners, more space for free expression and assembly compared to years under the previous regime, arrests of some Navy and Army personnel in relation to a couple of disappearance cases, convictions of Police and Army personnel (for torture, killing of civilians and rape), are also some positive things seen since 2015. The passing of the 19th amendment to the constitution reducing the powers of the executive president and strengthening independent institutions and checks and balances, the ratification of the International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances and making this a crime in Sri Lanka, the passing of the Right to Information Act were some progressive legislative changes – while the proactiveness and independence displayed by the leadership of the Human Rights Commission and the Right to Information Commission were also positive features.

But the reluctance of the government and lack of leadership by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to carry forward the reform agenda overshadows these gains. Much of the land occupied by the military during and after the war still remains in their hands. Releases were often due to long drawn out overnight protests and direct action by affected communities. The possibilities of reconciliation through land releases was negatively affected by the arrogance and viciousness of the military – who after benefitting from decades of occupation, called the return of lands “gifts,” organized ceremonies for themselves where military leaders were glorified and had destroyed and damaged some properties just before handing them over.

Political prisoners acquitted by courts after up to 15 years in detention have received no apology or reparations and many still languish in prison, including based on confessions made during detention, which are likely to have been under duress. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) has not been withdrawn despite the commitment to do so three years ago. Alternatives to the PTA were drafted in utmost secrecy from the citizenry and leaked versions contained draconian provisions. Abduction, assaults, death threats, intimidation, discrediting and surveillance of activists continues. An attempt to bring in a draconian amendment to the Voluntary Social Services Organizations Act was only withdrawn in the face of stiff opposition from civil activists and organizations. Violence against Muslims and Christians continued, including on a mass scale, such as in March this year around Kandy. Debt has reached life-threatening proportions.

Three years after ambitious promises to set up institutions to deal with wartime abuses, only one, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) has been set up, and that too is limping forward. A draft bill was rushed through the cabinet to establish an Office for Reparations. There is not even draft legislation for the two other institutions promised – a truth commission and judicial mechanism with a special counsel. The president, prime minister and other politicians have backtracked on the promise to include foreign judges, prosecutors, defense lawyers and investigators in the judicial mechanism. 

More specifically, what do you expect to happen in terms of constitution-building?

There has been some progress, with some public consultations, six subcommittee reports and a steering committee report from the Constitutional Assembly, consisting of all the parliamentarians. However, there is a lot of uncertainty about whether a new constitution will see the light of day. Even if it does, there are serious concerns about whether it will bring substantial changes – such as the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights as justiciable rights, doing away with ancient laws that facilitate the applicability of discriminatory laws against women and children, providing the foremost place to the majority religion and a lesser place to other religions, abolition of the executive presidency and power-sharing arrangements, which is also crucial for resolving the ethnic conflict that led to war.

How effective will the Office on Missing Persons be?

The OMP has been functioning for just over six months, but it’s too early to tell how effective it will be. OMP members tried make up for a lack of consultations before it was set up, by having a series of consultations about how it should function. It has stronger enabling legislation than previous Commissions of Inquiry and the chairperson and members have shown sensitivities in acknowledging the frustration, disappointment and anger of many families of the disappeared and missing who have approached multiple commissions, police, courts, et cetera and not received the answers they are seeking. But other than passionate appeals to give the OMP a chance and stating that they will try to do better than previous government initiatives, and publishing an interim report, I have seen nothing to indicate the OMP will be more effective than the large number of previous Commissions of Inquiry. The inclusion of a senior retired Army officer as a member of the OMP, in a context where many families believe their relatives were taken away by the Army (and where Army personnel have been convicted by courts and both Army and Navy personnel have been arrested on suspicion in relation to disappearances), has also contributed to making many families of the disappeared lose confidence in the OMP and be skeptical. It is this anger, suspicion and frustration that have led to protests against the OMP by some families of disappeared, leading to even the unacceptable situation of them blocking other families of the disappeared from engaging with the OMP. 

The first major specific public promise made by the OMP was to release an interim report on the 30th of August – the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances. But instead of fulfilling this promise, the OMP postponed the release of the report – in order to hand over the report first to the president, though they have no legal obligation to do so. Though this may be a strategic decision by the OMP, it has led to concerns that the OMP is prioritizing presidential appeasement and not giving primacy to the families of the disappeared and missing. The report dated the 30th of August was presented to the president on the 5th of September and released to the public on the 6th.

Despite the history of reports and recommendations by previous Commissions of Inquiry, much of which have been ignored by successive governments, the OMP too has opted to prioritize another report with observations and recommendations. This is despite the OMP being legally empowered to provide welfare services, trace the disappeared and inform the families.

The recommendations in the report include amendments to existing laws to strengthen the legal framework in criminalizing and prosecuting enforced disappearances, that state officials including members of the armed forces and police who are named as suspects or accused in relation to abductions and enforced disappearances should be suspended and not transferred, promoted or offered any other office, publishing a list of detention centers and detainees, designating a national day for the disappeared, preserving sites of mass graves as memorial spaces and restoring a monument for Sinhalese youth that disappeared in late 1980s that was destroyed by the previous government.

Disappointingly, the OMP has not called on the government to release a list of those who surrendered to the Army at the end of the war, many of whom disappeared afterwards. The release of this list has been a central demand made to the president and also to the OMP by Tamil families who have been at continuous roadside protests for more than 550 days. The OMP has also opted to call for reform of some provisions of the draconian PTA instead of total repeal, without questioning the need for counterterrorism legislation, which has a history of abuse in Sri Lanka and across the world. 

The report also has some constructive and practical recommendations on “interim relief,” including a monthly cash payment and other facilities related to debt relief, housing, education, employment and livelihood development.

Observations and recommendations in the interim report are significant and important, but unlikely to impress families of the disappeared. What would have made a difference is if the OMP had done in the first six months or will do in the next few months what many families of disappeared have asked them to do and that they have a legal mandate to do: Establish the fate and whereabouts of a few of the disappeared and inform their families. Or at least start providing information relating to the status of investigations, on individual cases, to respective families. The interim report says the OMP started to carry out inquiries with relevant authorities on specific cases. However, even statistical and general information about progress made is not mentioned in the report.

Would you talk about some of the criticisms surrounding the creation of the Office for Reparations?

As is the usual custom of this government, the draft bill had been drafted in secret, without adequate consultations before it was approved by the cabinet. On the draft bill, there are concerns about unnecessary powers being granted to the cabinet and parliament, making the awarding of reparations a long drawn, politicized process and the office not being an independent one with decision-making powers.

What about President Sirisena’s plan to reinstate the death penalty?

This was a shock, as for more than 40 years, through civil war and insurrections, Sri Lanka was one of 29 countries that had maintained a moratorium on the death penalty. Another 106 countries had abolished it fully by 2017, and only 23 countries were known to have carried out executions in 2017. There is no evidence in Sri Lanka, or in other countries, that the death penalty has reduced crime by having a deterrent effect. In Sri Lanka, there are serious deficiencies in the criminal justice system, including a lack of easily accessible, quality legal aid. 

The death penalty is an irreversible form of punishment which grants no space to consider new evidence that may emerge after a conviction is made, for example through new technology, indicating a wrongful conviction. It has been pointed out that in countries such as America, Canada and the United Kingdom, people wrongly convicted have been released from death row decades after they were put there as new evidence has shown they were wrongfully imprisoned.

If some detainees are engaged in drug-related offences from within prison grounds, cited as a reason to reintroduce the death penalty, security in prisons must be strengthened, including by using new technology, without infringing on the rights of detainees. Prison officials responsible for such crimes from within prisons must be held accountable.

What Sri Lanka must do is ratify the 2nd Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights that calls for the abolition of the death penalty and abolish the death penalty from our books, as about 85 countries had done by the end of 2017.

How concerned are you about reports of abduction and torture since Sirisena became president?

Abductions have continued since President Sirisena took office – in the war-affected North, and even in Colombo in 2017, such as the abduction of the trade union leader and attempted abduction of a student activist. However, many abducted appear to have been released, though I’m also aware of those who have disappeared under this government and not been found.

Attacks, threats, intimidation and surveillance of families of the disappeared campaigning for truth and justice have also continued under President Sirisena. Their supporters, including activists and journalists have also been attacked, threatened, obstructed and interrogated. Several such incidents were reported in July this year; I had mentioned two in an article I wrote last month.

The continuation of torture too has been a major concern under the Sirisena presidency.

Will provincial council elections be held this year?

There is no certainty when provincial elections will be held.

What’s your assessment of a possible Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidential campaign? Who do you see as viable candidates for the presidency?

Rajapaksa political forces have always been strong, even in 2015, and appear to be gaining ground in the face of failures by the present coalition government. Despite much hype beforehand, the “Jana Balaya” (People’s Power) rally in Colombo on the 5th didn’t indicate mass public support for Rajapaksa-led political forces and there didn’t even appear to be a clear and strong political message from the rally. Though Gotabaya was seen participating in the rally, he didn’t play a leading role and there is also uncertainty about whether he will be a presidential candidate for the Joint Opposition, representing Rajapaksa political forces. There is also no clear indication whether Sirisena – Wickremesinghe and their allies will contest together or separately, and if together, who might be a “common candidate.” But the rather unexpected emergence of Sirisena as a successful presidential candidate, with a broad alliance of political and civil forces’ support, makes me wonder whether there could be another person who could gain widespread support, across political and civil forces – but I only hope it would be one that will not let us down like Sirisena has done.

DISAPPEARANCES IN SRI LANKA: 500 DAYS OF PROTESTS

First published in the Sunday Observer of 29th July 2018 http://www.sundayobserver.lk/2018/07/29/opinion/disappearances-sri-lanka-500-days-protests

Earlier this month female activists in the North and the East were subject to assault and other intimidation, which allegedly appears to be in relation to their work on disappearances, in courts and at the UN.

The Office of Missing Persons consultation meetings in Jaffna and Kilinochchi also met with fierce resistance by some families of the disappeared. July also saw the first significant solidarity protest in Colombo to mark 500 days of roadside protests by families of the disappeared in the North and the East.

Two weeks ago, I went to Jaffna Hospital to visit an activist I have known for many years. Her head was bandaged, left eye and cheek swollen and bruised. She had been attacked with an iron rod close to the Vaddukottai Police Station in the Jaffna district. The activist had been assisting families of the disappeared and lawyers in habeas corpus cases in Jaffna courts. According to documents filed in court and based on the magisterial inquiry, the military is allegedly implicated in the disappearances.

These disappearances had happened in 1996, when Jaffna was under Army control, under the Presidency of Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is now Chairperson of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR). The activist was attacked three days after the last hearing of the case.

She had been warned by an unidentified person not to get involved in the case. Others involved in the case have also been subject to intimidation in the past few months.

Two days before, I had met a Tamil activist from the East, whose husband had been a victim of an enforced disappearance. Having had no response from Sri Lankan authorities, she had for the first time, gone to Geneva to seek help from the UN Human Rights Council.

There, an event she was speaking at was disrupted by group of persons she suspects to be linked to the military. After the disruption, she fainted while at the head-table, had to receive immediate medical treatment and was later hospitalised.

Her trauma continued when she returned. She told me that as she was looking for her baggage in the airport, she was questioned by some officials at the airport. After reaching home, she alleged that she was interrogated by people suspected to be from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) about meetings she had at the UN in Geneva.

A few days later, an iron rod was thrown at her, when she was on a bicycle with her son in her hometown.

The brutal attack on the Jaffna disappearance activist happened while the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) was holding consultations in the town. The next day, OMP held a similar meeting in Kilinochchi. From the Jaffna hospital, I went to the OMP meeting in Kilinochchi, arriving earlier than the scheduled 9.30 a.m. I found the small access road crowded with protesters, mostly Tamil mothers and wives of those disappeared. Some of them had been protesting for more than 500 days continually, had met the Sri Lankan President several times, and complained to various state institutions and Commissions of Inquiries.

Frustrated and fed up, they had no faith in new institutions. They politely and patiently explained this to the equally polite and patient Chairman of the OMP, who had come out to the street to talk to them. The protest leaders agreed with OMP Chair’s appeal not to obstruct families who wanted to attend the OMP meeting, but insisted on their right to communicate their message to families going for the meeting. I observed that some such attempts bordered on physical obstruction, though the road and gate was cleared for anyone to go to the OMP building.

Some families who were keen to go to the OMP meeting, argued with protesters, with one elderly lady telling a protest leader “you deal with your son’s disappearance the way you want, I will deal with disappearance of my son the way I want”.

While I share the frustrations of protesting families, I hope their leaders will find more respectful ways of engaging with families of disappeared who want to engage with the OMP.

In the end, only about 10 families attended the meeting with OMP. During the meeting, one family of the disappeared asked the OMP to deliver justice instead of having meeting-after-meeting. Another shared the belief that a 15 year old child taken away by the LTTE was still alive and another stressed the importance of livelihood assistance. The question of those who had disappeared after surrendering to the Army was also raised.

500 days of day and night protests

From the Kilinochchi OMP meeting, I went to Vavuniya, to spend some time with families of the disappeared who have been protesting day and night at a roadside tent for more than 500 days. They shared difficulties of sustaining such a long protest. Anger and disappointment with the Government, Tamil politicians, media, activists and society in general was visible. I again felt weakening health conditions and resolve of some protesters and a few days after my visit, I heard about the death of the eighth protestor who had died during the 500 days. It was also sad to see escalating tensions between protesting families with activists, politicians and even non-protesting families of the disappeared, inevitable given their hostile, inhospitable, frustrating and traumatic experiences.

Although the families must finally decide about how to protest, it would be insensitive to encourage continued protests in the context of authorities, media and society at large that are not sympathetic to their plight. Elderly and physically and emotionally frail mothers and fathers who are protesting are vulnerable to harsh conditions. I had always hoped protesters will consider forms of continuing protests less harmful to themselves, so, I was relieved to hear last week that some of the protesters had decided to change strategy.

Challenges facing families and the OMP

In my conversations with families of disappeared, food, education, healthcare, housing and livelihoods have emerged as major challenges to families of the disappeared – and especially to those protesting for 500 days. Once, when I arrived at a protest site late morning, the protesters had not had any breakfast. Families at one protest site told me that they get five lunch packets from a local trader and share them.

The latest attacks on Tamil women disappearance activists in North and East comes after the vicious hate campaign including death threats against the brave and determined Sandya Ekneligoda, a Sinhalese from a Colombo suburb and wife of a disappeared journalist. Such attacks may deter activism and increase anger, frustration and suspicion against the judiciary or institutions such as the OMP, and radicalise families and others.

Families of the disappeared confront the OMP with the legacy of broken promises by successive Governments and the failures of past Commissions to provide redress. To their mind, there is no compelling reason to trust that the OMP will deliver. Families who have been deceived and dismissed repeatedly even by the current ruling administration will not be convinced by technical answers about how the OMP is different to other mechanisms.

Discussions between protestors and the OMP Chair and Members in Kilinochchi and their memo to the Office indicate they were open to engage conditionally with the mechanism and should be taken seriously. After five months of operation, the OMP does not appear to have started tracing the disappeared and missing. The challenge for the OMP is to deliver on actions and in months, rather than years.

Solidarity

This note would not be complete without mention of the 30-hour overnight protest vigil in Colombo to show support and solidarity towards the 500 days continuing protests by Tamil families of the disappeared in the North and the East. It was a first such solidarity action in Colombo and a personal initiative of a small group of committed young activists. It was heartening to have few Sinhalese and Muslim families of the disappeared from around Colombo such as Sandya Ekneligoda, Mauri Jayasena and Sithi join us. Some people walking by and the occasional trishaw and motorcycle stopped and asked for details. Both drivers of the two trishaws I got in chatted with me about it. Others in vehicles, including Army officers, opened their windows and accepted our information leaflet.

As they wait for answers from the Government and institutions such as the OMP and judiciary about their loved ones, families of the disappeared deserve more coverage by mainstream Sinhalese and English media. And they need continued solidarity from Sri Lankan society and internationally. The struggle of the families must become a struggle of all Sri Lankans.

(The writer is a human rights activist)

Freedom of Expression on the decline in Sri Lanka

First published on 3rd May 2018 at http://groundviews.org/2018/05/03/freedom-of-expression-on-the-decline-in-sri-lanka/

The last twelve months, since World Press Freedom day 2017, has not been a good year for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. The war ravaged North bore the brunt of repression, while there were also several incidents in other parts of the country. Victims included journalists, lawyers, activists, artists and in particular those speaking out and advocating on issues such as of women’s rights, gender and sexuality. A website that had published content critical of the President was blocked, following an intervention from the Presidential Secretariat. With very few exceptions, impunity reigned for past violations of free expression, including most serious ones such as killings and disappearances of journalists and media workers and arson attacks on media institutions. At an event organized by the Free Media Movement (FMM) on the eve of World Press Freedom day, all the speakers and several participants acknowledged the lack of movement in structural reforms to the media in Sri Lanka in the last year.

Free Expression in 2017 – 2018 in the North

In March this year, the Army was reported to have detained and questioned Shanmugam Thavaseelan, a Tamil journalist reporting about Army’s alleged attempts to seize the land of a destroyed LTTE cemetery. When the journalist had refused to hand over his camera to be searched, he was interrogated by the Army who implied that his days were numbered and also subjected him to verbal abuse. The Army appeared to have acknowledged this during an inquiry by the Human Rights Commission, but there were no reports of even disciplinary action against the responsible officers. In December last year, a group of Tamil journalists doing research on Sinhalisation in the Tamil majority Mullaitivu area were reported to have been detained and questioned by Army and Police, their cameras and equipment seized and photos and videos deleted. The identity details and vehicle registration numbers were also recorded and were photographed by the soldiers.

Also in December, in two separate incidents, two Tamil journalists, Subramaniam Baskaran and Shanmuganathan Manoharan were reported to have been beaten. In July, another Tamil journalist, Uthayarasa Shalin was reported to have been stopped by two soldiers when he was travelling to Maruthankerny, to report on a protest by Tamil families of disappeared, and accused of writing lies. Also in July, Northern Tamil print and broadcast journalist T. Pratheepanwas reported to have received multiple summons by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to appear in Colombo to testify about broadcasting a press conference, and after informing his inability to travel to Colombo, he was interrogated for three hours about the press conference and was asked to produce footage. His statements, given in Tamil, were transcribed in Sinhala – a language he does not understand and he was pressured to sign this Sinhala document despite being unable to verify its contents. Tamil journalists in the North reported continued surveillance and intimidations.

In a bizarre incident, V. S. Sivakaran, the head of the Federation of Community Organisations in Mannar was reported to have been summoned to appear before the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID) in Colombo, in relation to a letter he had written to President Sirisena, ahead of the latter’s plans to visit the opening of an allegedly illegally constructed Buddhist temple in the vicinity of the historic Thiruketheeswaram Hindu Temple in an area with no Buddhist residents. In his letter, Sivakaran is reported to have criticised the President for his planned participation in the event and that the President’s attendance at the opening ceremony would be marked with protests from aggrieved locals. Sivakaran had not issued any threat to the President’s person.

 Mariyasuresh Easwary, a Tamil woman whose husband had disappeared and has been vocal leader of a prolonged protest demanding truth and justice was assaulted in Mullaitivu. A rights activist was interrogated and beaten on his way home after speaking at an event. A memorial event to remember and grieve for Tamils killed in the war was stopped and organisers harassed and subjected to investigations. In November, two Tamil youths from the Vavuniya district in the Northern Province posted a photo on Facebook showing the Vavuniya District Secretariat office, the purpose of which appeared to be to draw attention to a poster of a tree planting campaign and a large tree behind the poster that looked as if it had been cut. They were questioned by the Vavuniya police, and made to sign an affidavit written in Sinhala, a language they don’t understand, and were told that they could lose their jobs and that they could not photograph Government offices nor critique their actions.

These incidents indicate a trend where the Army and Police seems determined to restrict reporting on matters considered to be sensitive such as disappearances, remembering war-dead, Sinhalisation, land, militarisation and anything critical of the government.

Freedom of Expression outside the North

While freedom of expression was under the greatest strain in the North, there were also several alarming incidents across the rest of the country from 2017 to 2018. Lakshan Dias, a human rights lawyer speaking about the rights violations of religious minorities on TV was threatened by the then Minister of Justice and was compelled to flee the country temporarily, and was subjected to lengthy interrogation on return. Sudesh Nandimal De Silva, an eyewitness and vocal campaigner seeking justice for prison massacre had his house shot at, and received death threats by phone. Human rights lawyer Senaka Perera who had filed a petition on behalf of Nandimal, also received death threats by phone. There were vicious threats online against them and others campaigning for justice. On October 6, Police Assistant Superintendent Roshan Daluwatte was recorded assaulting journalist Susantha Bandara Karunaratne while the latter was being taken into custody. The video of Karunaratne being held by two police officers while Daluwatte slapped him went viral online and was widely broadcast on television. The Human Rights Commission launched an investigation into the incident shortly after.

In general, foreign journalists found access and the working environment  in Sri Lanka favourable, but in March 2018, a week after the attacks on Muslims by mobs identifying as Buddhists, heavily armed Army and Navy personnel tried to stop an Al Jazeera crew with government accreditation, from filming by the roadside. One soldier warned that they don’t like the situation ongoing in the area being known overseas and another stated that they had been ordered not to allow filming in the area, though this was later denied by the Director General of the Government Information Department.

Free Expression online

In March this year, the government restricted access to several social media platforms for several days in the aftermath of attacks against Muslims by mobs identifying themselves as Buddhists in the Kandy district. Right To Information (RTI) requests by the editor of the citizen journalism website Groundviews revealed that the website Lanka E News was blocked, after a letter from the Presidential Secretariat to the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission noting that the website has been publishing false articles about the President and family members and asking the TRC’s Director General to “take suitable action”. Earlier on, Groundviews had managed to obtain a list of 13 websites that had been blocked from 2015onwards by the TRC, with at least in four instances, the order coming directly from the Presidential Secretariat, who via the Media Ministry had made applications to block specific websites, often on the grounds of providing incorrect or false information about the President.

 Reprisals for expressing opinions and advocating on women’s rights, gender and sexuality

In April this year, a performance in Colombo titled “Cardinal Sin”, by Grassrooted Trust, looking at proposed reforms to abortion law was barred by the government’s censorship arm, the Public Performance Board. The performance was part of an annual event called “V day”, the 2018 version of which was called “PatriANarchy” focusing on how patriarchal values continue to inflict violence in Sri Lanka.

The Muslim Personal Law Reforms Action Group (MPLRAG) , which have expressed strong positions against discriminatory and oppressive elements of the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) have often come under attack in social media, with accusations ranging from them being a group operating in secret, being Israeli agents, not looking like Muslim women etc. Those expressing opinions and advocating in favor of equal rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender persons also faced vicious attacks on social media. Women’s dresses, ranging from abaya to bikini also drew criticism on social media. In April this year, the English language “Daily Mirror” newspaper used words such as “nag”, “nitpick”, bemoan”, “lamenting” to describe women who went to courts against discriminatory laws.

Impunity

In August 2017, Nadesapillai Vithyatharan, who was abducted in 2009, tortured and subsequently dumped on the roadside while he was editing the Colombo based “Sudar Oli” paper during the war had asked a senior Sri Lankan journalist Sunanda Deshapriya, ‘Why is this Government not investigating my abduction? Is it because I am not a Wickrematunge or Ekneligoda?’ The then Secretary to Defense had told an Australian TV, “Vithyatharan is a terrorist, so we arrested him”, and Vithyatharan identified two policemen who came to abduct him by name as Ranganathan and Wijerathana. But still, there is no arrests and none of these three have been even questioned to the best of our knowledge.

Tamil journalist Subramaniam Ramachandran disappeared in February 2007 after being seen at an Army checkpoint.

Another Tamil journalist Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan was killed in January 2006 after he had published photos indicating 5 youth killed in Trincomalee in 2006 were by shooting and not due to grenade injuries as narrated by the Special Task Force (STF) of the Police. The Uthayan newspaper office have been subjected to arson attacks and it’s journalists and media workers killed, disappeared, assaulted and threatened numerous times during and after the war, but no one has been arrested, prosecuted or convicted.

In contrast, there has been some progress on three few high profile journalists cases in Colombo. In relation to the killing of Sunday Leader newspaper’s editor Lasantha Wickramatunga and the abduction and torture of Deputy Editor of the Nation newspaper Keith Noyahr, a senior Police Officer an Army Officers were arrested this year.

But after some arrests and revealing of significant information to courts, the case of Prageeth Ekneligoda disappearance seems to be stagnating since about 2016 when all the suspects were released on bail, the last of which was just after a public statement of the President criticising the detention of Army intelligence personnel. Both the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and State Counsel leading the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s (AG) department, had repeatedly told courts of the Army providing false information, denying possession of evidence, delaying production of evidence and misleading investigations and courts. They had also reported a lack of cooperation and obstructions towards investigations from the Army, and intimidation towards witnesses. A key witness, who had seen and questioned Ekneligoda in the Giritale camp on 25th January 2015, has complained to the Police about a conspiracy to harm his life from the Giritale camp.

Significantly, more than three years after the new government came into power, there have been no prosecutions even in these cases, in May 2008, January 2009 and January 2010 respectively.

Conclusion

In the annual World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reports without Borders (RSF), Sri Lanka still languishes in the “bad” or “red” category (Above very bad, but below Good, Fairly Good, Problematic), placed 131 out of 180. The RSF index indicates that Sri Lanka’s situation on press freedom has improved in relation to other countries by ten notches in the last year, but it should not be misunderstood or misinterpreted as indicating an improvement of the situation of press freedom in Sri Lanka since 2017.

Although there has been no killings or disappearances of journalists, media workers or arson attacks on media institutions during this period, the many threats to Freedom of Expression in last 12 months such as those mentioned above, and impunity for past violations, makes it clear that Freedom of Expression was on the decline in Sri Lanka in 2017-2018.

366 days – Roadside Protests in Kilinochchi

First published at http://groundviews.org/2018/02/22/366-days-roadside-protests-in-kilinochchi/ on 22nd Feb. 2018

366 days (as of 20th Feb) is a long time to be at a 24 hour roadside protest. That’s how long Tamil families of disappeared in Kilinochchi have been there. In the coming days and weeks, protests by families of disappeared in Vavuniya, Mullaithivu, Maruthankerny (Jaffna district) and Trincomalee will also reach one year.

Most of the protesters were elderly mothers and fathers and those physically and mentally injured by the war. They have been braving the sun, rain, cold, dust, insects, mosquitos etc. Some had been hospitalised. I was told 7 women had died during the past 366 days. One woman leading the protest in Mullaitivu was assaulted, and received threats to stop. The protestors have been subjected to constant surveillance. While protesting, they had also struggled to take care of their other children at home, engage in livelihoods, find the bus fare to come to the protest site and a range of other practical problems. From the day I first met them one year ago, and through subsequent visits, I have seen them getting sick, hungry, cold, sweating, their spirit and physical strength deteriorating. But they have not given up.

They have told me that their protest is not leveled against the government, military or anyone else. They just want to know whether their disappeared children, grandchildren, husbands, are alive or dead. Many believe their loved ones are alive and want to know where they are being held. They want to see them. If dead, they want to know what happened and to receive their remains. Many protesting families had seen their loved ones surrendering to the Army in front of their own eyes, after which they were never seen again.

The beginning and evolution of the protests  

The protests started with some families of the disappeared in Vavuniya staging a fast unto death in January 2017. One of the leaders, Jeyavanitha, a Tamil mother, has a 2015 election campaign leaflet of President Sirisena and asserts that one of the school girls in uniform next to the President is her daughter.

As health conditions of the elderly women fasting in Vavuniya deteriorated, the State Minister of Defense met the families at the protest site. He promised a meeting with several senior Ministers in Colombo, and families agreed to temporarily suspend the protest. That meeting happened, but was marred by controversy, as the government had invited some Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs, who the families didn’t want to attend. The TNA MPs had eventually left, but based on what the State Minister for Defense had told him, the TNA Spokesperson reported to media that the families wanted priority for their own family member’s cases. Several of those actually present at the meeting till the end told me that they never asked for this, and insisted on answers to all families of disappeared. The meeting never yielded anything, and after waiting for two more weeks, the families in Vavuniya recommenced their protests, which will reach one year on 24th February 2018. Around the same time, protests started in four other places in the North and East.

Other forms of struggles and the ethnic factor

Not all Tamil families of disappeared in the North and East are involved in these protests. Several have filed Habeas Corpus cases, which are pending in courts in Jaffna, Mullaithivu, Vavuniya, Mannar and Colombo. Last year, some families of Tamil men who were taken away by the Army in 1996 in Jaffna, filed fresh Habeas Corpus applications. Based on this, an Army officer alleged to have been responsible and now serving as a Major General in Mannar, has been summoned to appear before courts. In different cases filed in Mannar and Colombo in relation to different incidents, Police investigations have revealed the complicity of the Navy in disappearances. Last year, families of the disappeared in Mannar published a book with the stories of their loved ones. There have also been been protests on significant days, such as on International Human Rights day and the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances.

To me, in a way, the yearlong protests in five places symbolises the hard and long struggles waged by vast majority of families of disappeared.

There is also an ethnic factor in the protests and campaigns. A large number of Sinhalese have also disappeared, mostly in the late 1980s. Their families, through movements such as the Mothers Front and supported by domestic and international rights activists and politicians that included former President Mahinda Rajapakse and present Minister Mangala Samaraweera, campaigned heavily for truth and justice in the 1990s, which was a factor in toppling the repressive UNP government of that time. But in recent years, Sinhalese families have not been campaigning so visibly, with a few exceptions like Sandya Ekneligoda and Mauri Jayasena, whose husbands had disappeared in 2010 and 2013 respectively.

Support for the protests

The last few years, especially in 2017, have also seen many protests in Sri Lanka. The most visible had been a series of sustained protests by students against the privatisation of health & education. There was also a several month-long overnight protest in Colombo against the exploitative manpower system by workers. Communities negatively affected by development projects, such as in Jaffna, Bandarawela and Colombo have also been protesting, while there were also protests against caste-based oppression by communities in Jaffna and campaigns demanding justice and freedom for political prisoners, which included a fast by 3 prisoners.  Month-long day and night protests were also held in the North, demanding back lands occupied by the military. Some of these protests had achieved their aims, while some ended without clear results.

But along with protests to regain military occupied lands in the North, the protests by families of disappeared are the longest running. The protests by families of disappeared has also been internationalised and seem to be protests that had become most controversial and immensely political, despite the deeply personal nature of the problem. This is probably why there have been very few sympathisers and even less number of people who want to actively support the protests.

Although some Northern Tamil politicians and political commentators appear to be ignoring the protests and not recognising their significance, the protests had received significant support and sympathy in the North. Hindu and Christian clergy and institutions, journalists, university students, three wheel taxi drivers and shop owners etc. have extended support, in addition to politicians and activists. However, solidarity and support from rest of the country, especially from Colombo, has been minimal. Despite all the protests being led by women, with the majority of participants also being women, Colombo-based women’s movements both new and old, don’t appear to be actively supporting their sisters at the protests.

A prominent exception has been Sandya Eknaligoda, wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda, who had been travelling to the North and East to join the protesters regularly. She was also able to mobilise a few other Muslim, Sinhalese and Tamil families of disappeared from around Colombo to join in solidarity.

Considering the unprecedented longevity, widespread nature and intensity of the protests and the desperation of the protesters, there has been minimal media coverage of the protests on mainstream Sinhalese and English media. Other Colombo-centric protests and struggles, such as one against the privatisation of health and education by university students and against the sexual abuse of children in an orphanage in Colombo, received much more mainstream media coverage. I can’t help wondering whether the political controversy about the protests, the ethnic factor and the fact that these were happening in the North and East may have deterred Sinhalese and English media from giving adequate coverage.

Domestic and International dimensions

On the 100th day of the protest in Kilinochchi, the protesters blocked the A9 road for about 5 hours and demanded to meet the President. Since then, the President had met the protesters at least thrice, but he had let them down badly – breaking the promises and also the trust and hope they placed on him. The protesters had also met Ministers and other Government officials. They had also tried to engage with Sinhalese public, with appeals and banners in Sinhalese. But in contrast to this approach of the families, a statement issued in solidarity with the protests by organizations working primarily in the North and East focused their demands on the international community. However, a lack of response, support and sympathy from within Sri Lanka, coupled with a push from some Tamil activists and politicians, appear to have made the families also lean more and more towards foreign diplomats and UN officials to find the answers they are seeking.

The future of the protests

The protests are far from over. And the answers sought by the protesters still seem distant. Their courage and determination has been exceptional, but the cost on protesters has been very heavy. The future of the protests has to be and will be decided by the families. But as the five protests complete one year, I hope they can have the space to assess what has been achieved and plan ahead, perhaps to a transit to a different form of struggle, which may be more sustainable, less costly on themselves and have the potential to bring them closer to the answers they are seeking.  It is also a time for those of us who have been associated or sympathetic towards the protests and the cause, to have self-reflections about roles we have played and could have played, and see how better we can support continuing struggles in the longer term, and mobilise more support.

Ekneligoda, Sugirtharajan and 24th January

First published at https://groundviews.org/2018/01/24/ekneligoda-sugirtharajan-and-24th-january/ on 24th January 2018

For several years, the Free Media Movement (FMM) of Sri Lanka and free expression advocates have dubbed January as “Black January”. This was in the context of a large number of journalists killed, disappeared, assaulted, as well as attacks on media institutions – all in January.

24th is one such black day in January. The Trincomalee based Tamil journalist Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan was shot dead on 24th January 2006. The Colombo based Sinhalese cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared on 24th January 2010.

The almost forgotten journalist killing: Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan

Sugirtharajan, popularly known as SSR, was a part-time provincial journalist working for the Tamil language daily Sudar Oli. He was a father of two children. He had been staying a few kilometers from the office of the Eastern Province Governor. A journalist and close friend of SSR, took me to the spot SSR was shot. It was approximately less than 100 meters from the Governor’s office and about 200 meters from his own house. Another journalistic colleague and friend of SSR told me that before the killing, SSR had been feeling insecure and wanted to find a safer house in a different location. A house had been identified, but he was killed before he could actually move. Everyone I spoke to mentioned that the nearest reason for his killing would have been the photos he took of 5 youth murdered on the beach of Trincomalee on 2ndJanuary 2006, popularly known now as the “Trinco 5 case”. Another friend of SSR, also known to me, told me that on the morning of 3rd January 2006, SSR had told him that he wanted to get photos of the five youth killed, whose bodies were at the mortuary. Our mutual friend had dropped SSR, armed with a camera, at the hospital. According to him, the military was not allowing anyone, even the families of the youth, access to the mortuary to see the bodies. But SSR had persisted. And finally, the photos he took were published on “Sudar Oli” newspaper on 4th January 2006. They had shown clear gunshot wounds, thus, disputing the version that the youth had not been shot dead. Reporters sans frontières (RSF) had noted that SSR had also detailed the abuses committed by Tamil paramilitary groups including the EPDP in the Trincomalee region, the day before his murder.

One journalist friend of SSR in Trincomalee spoke to me at length about his association with SSR and aftermath of his killings. He said he had spontaneously rushed to the spot of his killing when he heard the news, but later, was too scared to go to the hospital to see the body or even for the funeral. Two days later, he had got a letter, from group called “Force destroying the Enemy”. The letter had accused him of canvassing for Vanni Tigers, that 3 such persons had been identified, verdict had been delivered and implemented on one person (Sugirtharajan) and that he should count his days, as he was going to be the 2nd.

Disappearance of a journalist: Prageeth Ekneligoda

Like SSR, Prageeth Ekneligoda had also attracted the wrath of persons he had critiqued and exposed through his writings and cartoons. Prageeth also is a father of two boys. Reports by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) to the Courts indicate that Ekneligoda was abducted from Rajagiriya in the Colombo district by Army Intelligence personnel, and taken to Giritale Army Intelligence camp, where he had been questioned about a book related to family of then President Rajapakse. According to CID investigation reports to courts, the abductors had moved from Akkaraipattu to Giritale from 25th until the 27th afternoon, without proper records of their movements and that of vehicles. Both the CID and State Counsel leading the case on behalf of the Attorney General’s (AG) department, had repeatedly told courts of the Army providing false information, denying possession of evidence, delaying production of evidence and misleading investigations and courts. They had also reported a lack of cooperation and obstructions towards investigations from the Army, and intimidation towards witnesses. A key witness, who had seen and questioned Ekneligoda in the Giritale camp on 25th January 2015, has complained to the Police about a conspiracy to harm his life from the Giritale camp.

Hostile posters had appeared on public places against Ekneligoda’s wife, Sandya Ekneligoda, the central figure in the campaign for truth and justice in Ekneligoda’s disappearance. She has faithfully gone to courts more than hundred times, often alone, despite the hostility of suspects who were from Military Intelligence, that had been arrested and subsequently released on bail. The suspect’s supporters had also been hostile to Sandya, and she was compelled to complain to the Police about intimidation from one of these, Galaboda Ethhe Gnanasara Thero, leader of the Bodu Bala Sena. A separate case is progressing in relation to this, after Sandya had insisted on justice through the judicial process instead of “settling” the matter through a mediation board.

Free expression today

I feel this write-up will not be complete without briefly looking at free expression in Sri Lanka today. I will try doing this through some incidents that made strong impressions on me in 2017. In and around Colombo, the house of a vocal campaigner against a prison massacre was shot at, a human rights lawyer got death threats from an unknown caller, another rights lawyer was threatened by the then Minister of Justice for speaking out against violence against religious minorities and a trade union leader was abducted amidst months long worker’s protest. In the former war ravaged North, a protesting wife of a disappeared man was assaulted, a memorial for war dead was stopped and organizers harassed and subjected to investigations, youth were questioned and threatened by Police for posting photos of a government office and journalists were summoned for questioning, stopped from engaging in investigative journalism and reporting issues such as disappearances and militarization etc. Websites have been blocked arbitrarily. There are many more I can add to the list. Clearly, although no journalist was killed or disappeared in Sri Lanka in 2017, it was still a bad year for free expression and fundamental freedom.

Prospects for justice for Ekneligoda, Sugitharajan and other victims

The courageous, determined and sustained campaign of 8 years by Sandya, significant national and international media attention and investigations by the CID appears to have brought out some truths about the disappearance of Ekneligoda in 2015-2016. But progress appears to have stalled, or even moved backwards last year, primarily due to lack of cooperation from the Army and key suspects being released on bail a few weeks after President publicly questioned their detention. Compared to Ekneligoda, there has been very little national and international interest about Sugirtharajan, murdered four years before Ekneligoda disappeared. Not surprisingly, there is no progress in investigations and no arrests.

It is twelve years since Sugirtharajan was killed. Eight years after Ekneligoda disappeared. And three years since a government that had a mandate of “good governance” came into power, promising accountability for past violations, such as against Sugirtharajan and Ekneligoda. But right now, for both of them, as well as numerous other freedom of expression violations, including in Black January, prospects for truth and justice through prosecutions and convictions appear bleak and a distant dream.

Sri Lankans must push the government to fulfill its undertakings

First published at https://international.la-croix.com/news/sri-lankans-must-push-the-government-to-fulfill-its-undertakings/6374 on 18th Nov. 2017

The people of Sri Lanka should be wary of depending too much on international involvement – like UN experts – in ensuring the upholding of rights, dignity, and well-being of its citizens.

Successive Sri Lankan governments have ratified various international human rights’ treaties, but they are still being found wanting on home turf.

These treaties include provisions against torture, discrimination, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary detention. They protect freedom of expression, assembly, association and religion as well as rights to equality before the law, housing, education, and healthcare.

There are also specific measures set out in these treaties covering women, children, migrant workers and people with disabilities.

However, many Sri Lankans are still denied these rights and justice after violations during the war. The government has received more than 65,000 complaints of disappeared persons and there is no clarity about numbers killed – UN has said it could be about 70,000.

The Sri Lankan government has made a series of commitments to all its citizens, focusing on abuses of the 26-year civil war that ended in 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE which fought for a separate state.

This includes prosecution of human rights violations and establishing an effective “Office of Missing Persons” as well as a mechanism to deal with reparations. Lack of progress on these issues led to series of public protests.

There have been a series of visits by United Nations rights’ experts and officials. Superficially, this looks impressive.

However, an actual implementation of their recommendations — as well as fulfillment of commitments the government has made to Sri Lankans — is far from imposing.

And during a recent visit by UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff, the government took the unprecedented step of stating it is not bound to implement UN expert recommendations.

Anyway, a democratically elected government should not be waiting for UN findings and recommendations in order to ensure the upholding of rights, dignity, and well-being of its citizens.

As I write this, the Sri Lankan parliament is debating proposed constitutional changes following a public consultation process.

People from all walks of life presented their grievances, aspirations, and suggestions, about a wide range of issues, covering historical and structural injustices related to the war and beyond.

However, many recommendations on issues such as power sharing — as well as gender, economic and social rights — appear unlikely to be implemented.

Some leading Buddhist monks and the Bar Association of Sri Lanka, are now questioning even the need for a new constitution. If there is a new constitution, it’s likely to be a political compromise.

But at the minimum, I hope it will include a strong bill of rights and a further devolution of power. And measures to address injustices committed during or arising from the civil war and preventing such occurrences again.

On the ground, despite some positive changes, recurrence of old abuses is part of daily life, especially for Tamils in the war-ravaged north.

For example, restrictions continue on the formal mourning of war dead. The military is still occupying large amounts of public and private lands and intruding into civilian activities.

And although the level of abuses is less than under previous government, even in 2017, there are reports of abductions and torture. There are also fresh arrests under a draconian anti-terror law that the government promised to repeal two years ago, under which I’m still under investigation after nearly 4 years.

De Greiff rightly suggested it was wrong to equate reconciliation and transitional justice only to criminal accountability.

But it is surprising that he did not highlight the government’s backtracking on a commitment it made two years ago to establish a special judicial mechanism.

It envisaged the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and investigators, in context of a large number of Sri Lankan survivors and victim’s families failed to obtain justice through domestic legal mechanisms.

And it is strange that De Greiff presented the cost of delaying land releases in terms of a disincentive for foreign investors more than as a major problem for ordinary local people. Overall, his comments don’t appear to reflect the desperation, frustration, and anger of victims and their families.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights is preparing to present an update on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council in March next year.

I hope the update will present a realistic assessment and insist on a timetable with clear benchmarks for implementation of commitments the government has already made to its citizens.

I also hope member states of the UN will be wary of heaping premature and disproportionate praise on Sri Lankan government’s empty rhetoric and promises.

International involvement in transitional justice is essential.

However, Sri Lankans should be wary of depending too much on international involvement without pushing our government to fulfill its own undertakings.

“We vehemently refuse to be deceived again”: Protests by families of disappeared, continuing abductions and empty promises

First published on 30th August 2017, at http://groundviews.org/2017/08/30/we-vehemently-refuse-to-be-deceived-again-protests-by-families-of-disappeared-continuing-abductions-and-empty-promises/

Above was the last line in a press release issued on 17th August, by Association for Relatives for Enforced Disappeared in Kilinochchi district, at a press conference in Colombo. It came in context of 6 month long protests by Tamil families of disappeared in the North and East, and empty promises by President Sirisena and much talk about a new Office of Missing Persons.

Today, 30th August, the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances[i]. The above could be a good start to reflect about preventing disappearances and searching for truth, justice and reparations for disappearances that has happened in Sri Lanka. Three trends come to my mind.

Reports of continuing abductions / disappearances and threats to those campaigning

Earlier this month, an activist based in the North was reported to have gone missing[ii]. Last month, there were reports of an attempted abduction of a student activist in Colombo[iii]. Earlier this year, a trade union leader was abducted in Colombo and released after being warned to “mind his own business”. The latter two had happened at the height of protests by students and workers. Based on sworn statements of survivors, the International Truth and Justice Project has reported 21 persons having been abducted / illegally detained and subjected to torture or sexual violence in 2016 and 3 in 2017[iv]. I couldn’t find information about the fate of the first person, but the others have been released, some after warnings and some after paying money. Two weeks ago, the wife of a disappeared man reported having being slapped and warned of “severe consequences” if she didn’t give up the (6 month long) protest she had been part of[v]. And in March 2017, soldiers were reported to have photographed, followed and threatened Northern journalists who were on an assignment to cover a protest by families of disappeared. The soldiers had insisted that the journalists needed to get soldier’s permission[vi]. All of the above, except the trade unionist and student activist, were Tamils.

Lack of answers after six months of protests and meetings with the government

Tamil families of disappeared, largely women, have been engaged in continuous and indefinite protests in five locations in the North and East, for about 6 months. One of their primary demands is that President Sirisena keep a promise he made to them to “release lists of persons who surrendered to the Armed forces in the final phase of the war”[vii] on 12th June 2017. Sinhalese family members of disappeared, like Mauri Jayasena from Anuradhapura also continued their unceasing campaigns to find truth and justice for their disappeared husbands. But despite multiple engagement and dialogues with the government, there have been no answers to them.

Empty promises of institutions and laws

The above trends appear to be largely ignored by the government, and those sympathetic and supportive to it. Instead, they there is optimistic talk about the OMP and a draft bill criminalizing disappearances. Almost as if disappearances in Sri Lanka could be addressed only through these, while ignoring continuing abductions, threats to campaigners, long protests and empty promises.

These three trends indicates a serious disconnect in addressing disappearances in Sri Lanka. But it doesn’t have to be so. The protesting families and many of their supporters are also expecting the law criminalizing disappearances to be enacted sooner than later[viii]. And they are supporting a victim centric, effective, independent OMP to be set up soon and have repeatedly made practical contributions towards this[ix]. They have been engaging with numerous Ministers, Government officials, at the protest sites and also by coming to Colombo. Several families leading the protests and some of their supporters had also served in the Zonal Task Force of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation mechanisms, a government initiative.

But how could families of disappeared have faith in promised institutions and laws when reports of abductions continue to emerge and there are reprisals against campaigners, and when there is no indication of firm, fast and transparent action against those responsible? Other key factors to bridge the disconnect will be if President can keep the promises he made, and if there is more sensitivity and support towards mothers, wives, fathers who have been at roadside protests in the North and East from rest of the country.

Evolution of the protests

The protests started with families of disappeared persons in Vavuniya staging a fast unto death in January this year, demanding information about their family members who had disappeared. Their leader, Jeyavanitha, a Tamil mother, clutches a campaign leaflet of President Sirisena and asserts that one of the school girls in uniform next to the President is her daughter.

As health conditions of elderly women fasting in Vavuniya deteriorated, the State Minister of Defense met the families at the protest site. He promised a meeting with several senior Ministers in Colombo, and families agreed to temporarily suspend the protest. That meeting was marred by controversy, as the government had invited some Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs, which the families didn’t want. TNA MPs had eventually left, but based on what the State Minister for Defense had told him, TNA Spokesperson reported to media that the families wanted priority for their own family member’s cases. Several of those actually present at the meeting till the end told me that they never asked for this, and insisted on answers to all families of disappeared. More than 6 months after, the meeting had not yielded anything. But in meantime, the families had waited for two weeks and recommenced their protests, which has now exceeded 6 months in it’s second phase.

The Vavuniya protests appeared to have triggered series of protests by other Tamil families of disappeared, with protests starting in Maruthankerny, Mullaithivu and Killinochchi in the North and Trincomalee in the East. Most at the vigil were women. They had to battle cold nights at the beginning and then the heat, dust and rain. While participating in these protests on behalf of disappeared children, women had to send other children to school and worried about safety of teenaged girls at home. Some went to work and came to the protest site in the night. During my visits to them from January to August, I sensed dejection, desperation and waning of spirit and physical strength. But families have disappeared have held on till now.

On 30th May, after 100 days of protesting, the families in Kilinochchi, convened a larger protest, with families of disappeared from all major districts in North and others from East and few from Colombo joining them. Police tried to obtain a court order to prevent it, but the Magistrate refused. Protesters rejected meetings with the Prime Minister and yet another “Committee”, but after a 5 hour blockade of the major A9 road to north, during which only ambulances were allowed to pass, they obtained a meeting with the President, which happened on 12th June – in which the President made promises that have not been fulfilled todate.

The protesters had tried to reach out to Sinhalese, through appeals, letters and banners in Sinhalese. Despite their desperate situations, and weariness in repeating their stories and being photographed by strangers I took with me everytime I visited, we were always warmly welcomed and even offered meals. Some expressed disappointment about lack of support from activists from Colombo and other parts of the country, and from Tamils in the North itself. Two weeks ago, the families came to Colombo to reach out to Colombo based media.

A few Hindu Temples, Churches, shop owners, journalists and Tamil diaspora groups had extended support by providing food. The protest in Kilinochchi has been held in the premises of the Kandasamy Temple. University students, auto drivers, shop owners, clergy have also extended symbolic support by visiting and in April, a day of hartal was observed across the North. Few Sinhalese, Muslim and Tamil families of disappeared, including Sandya Ekneligoda, wife of disappeared journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda and an award winning prominent activist, travelled several times from Colombo to extend solidarity and support. 

OMP

The President has been stalling the establishment of the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP), promised in September 2015, and for which legislation was rushed through in August 2016, bypassing promised consultations with families of disappeared and public. Then, after 10 months of silence and apparent loss of interest, an amendment was passed by parliament, removing an article that enabled the OMP to enter into agreements with external parties. Suggestions by families of disappeared were not even considered as amendments. And finally, last month, a gazette notice was issued, assigning the OMP to a ministry held by the president – when the constitution prohibits the President from holding this ministry. The requirement in the OMP Act to gazette a date OMP will come into effect is yet to be fulfilled, and there is no indication when this will be done. If the OMP is established under the present ministry it has been assigned to, it’s legal standing is questionable. And so, nearly 2 years after the promise, there is still no OMP, there is no time line for its establishment, leave alone when it will give answers to families who have been waiting for decades.

The OMP is latest of number of Commissions of Inquiries appointed by successive Sri Lankan governments, to address disappearances. According to the government, more than 65,000 complaints have been received by these Commissions since 1994[x]. Despite promises made nearly two years ago, the government has failed to publish key reports of previous Commissions, such as the Mahanama Tillekeratne and Paranagama Commission, the latter having functioned under both the previous and present government.

The government has made legislative provisions have been made to issue Certificates of Absence, but it’s not clear what procedures have been put in place to actually issue these.  Earlier this month, I met government officials across the Killinochchi district who told me they had not heard anything about this.

The government ratified the International Convention against Enforced Disappearances, but without accepting article 31 that will allow families of disappeared and other Sri Lankans to complain to the UN Committee monitoring the implementation of the convention.  The government has also promised to criminalize enforced disappearances,  but that too has not happened for nearly two years. A draft bill was expected to have been debated in parliament, but was postponed indefinitely. And at the same time, the government has failed to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and counter terrorism laws are being drafted without any public consultations, containing draconian provisions that can serve as license for enforced disappearances.

Economic justice

Despite widespread poverty amongst families of disappeared, there are no systematic initiatives to ensure economic justice for families. For many families, poverty is linked to the disappearance of the main breadwinner of the family. The right of the families to reparations has been relegated to an Office for Reparations, an entity that is likely to take even longer than the OMP to be established. There has been no response from the government to appeals for interim relief. But, even amongst supporters of families of disappeared, and amongst families themselves, there appears to be reluctance to talk about this important aspect. This is probably due to fear that it may undermine demands for truth and criminal justice, including through offers of minimalistic, temporary and unsustainable financial and material assistance. “We want our children, not chicken or certificates” thus became a slogan at protests and during hearings of Commissions of Inquiries. Administrative measures such as certificates of justice, interim relief measures or sustainable livelihoods, must be seen as a right by itself that compliments and not substitutes rights to truth and criminal justice. Protests, court cases, international campaigns etc. are likely to be more stronger, sustainable and independent if families of disappeared, especially mothers and wives, have stable livelihoods and are able to feed, educate, house, provide healthcare for one’s children who are still with them.

Moving forward

It’s important for the OMP to be operational as soon as possible, firmly rooted within constitutional provisions, with no ambiguity about its legal standing. At least at this stage, the recommendations of the families of disappeared should be taken seriously, including having families of disappeared and individuals of integrity and competence, who have confidence of many families of disappeared, women, ethnic and religious minorities in leadership positions. Independent international involvement is a must. And the government should criminalize enforced disappearances, upholding the spirit and letter of the International Convention, before the OMP begins its operations.

But the OMP should not be the only focus. The families of disappeared await response of the President to promises he made to release lists of detainees, surrendees and detention centres and publishing of Commission of Inquiry reports that many of them gave testimony to. In context of broken promises in the past, they don’t have much faith in the President’s promises. Hence, they have decided to continue the protests while awaiting a response. But there appears to be little support for these 6 month long protests and urgent demands of the families from the mainstream media and most activists in North & East, Colombo and rest of the country.

This is also a time for families of disappeared to assess their long struggles, recognize some achievements and plan next steps and phases of what is likely to be an even long and continuing struggle. This could include thinking of effective, long term and sustainable alternative strategies to present form of continuous protests. It would be important to think about strengthening alliances in Colombo and across Sri Lanka as well as internationally – with families of disappeared across the country and beyond, and potential allies such as activists, artists, academics, clergy, trade unions and mainstream Sinhalese and English media. The disastrous memorandum emanating from protest in Vavuniya in June, literary saying “we only believe in USA, only USA can help us, USA come and save us”, could serve as a wakeup call for all Sri Lankans. To be conscious of various political influences  on the protests, but not to dismiss what’s fundamentally a struggle by desperate families to find their loved ones who had disappeared. And 30th August can also be a day to reflect why our elderly mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers, had to resort to such desperate and drastic calls, undertaking roadside protests for more than 6 months to find disappeared family members.


[i] http://www.un.org/en/events/disappearancesday/

[ii] https://twitter.com/garikaalan/status/900005138412191744

[iii] http://www.hirunews.lk/166456/two-ministers-accuse-police-for-their-attempt-to-abduct-convener-medical-faculty-student-activists

[iv] http://www.itjpsl.com/assets/ITJP_unstopped_report_final.pdf (page 8, section 1 – B)

[v] http://www.jdslanka.org/index.php/news-features/human-rights/702-tamil-woman-activist-campaigning-for-disappeared-threatened-with-death

[vi] http://www.tamilguardian.com/content/tamil-journalists-threatened-sri-lankan-soldiers

[vii] https://english.dgi.gov.lk/news/latest-news/1265-president-meets-family-members-of-missing-persons

[viii] https://www.slguardian.org/2017/07/sri-lanka-womens-call/

[ix] Press Release by Association for Relatives of the Disappeared, 17th August 2017

[x] http://www.mfa.gov.lk/index.php/en/media/media-releases/6502-cabinet-certificates-of-absence

Draconian law cripples Sri Lanka’s reconciliation hopes

“The country’s leadership needs to act on commitment to repeal Prevention of Terrorism Act”

First published at http://www.ucanews.com/news/draconian-law-cripples-sri-lankas-reconciliation-hopes/78188 on 3rd Feb. 2017

In March 2014, my colleague, Father Praveen and I were arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act by the Terrorist Investigation Department, under Sri Lanka’s authoritarian government of former president Mahinda Rajapakse.

Three months ago, under the new government whose slogan has been good governance and rule of law, I was briefly detained and interrogated at the airport while traveling to the United Kingdom for meetings related to human rights. More than two years after the new government came to power, the investigation against me and Father Praveen continues and we are still terrorist suspects.

Court orders restricting our freedom of expression, obtained in March 2014 by the state are still in place. Our electronic equipment, confiscated at that same time, has still not been returned. The investigation led to me being publicly discredited as a terrorist supporter. My parents and I will find it difficult to ever recover.

We were arrested while looking into the arrest of a large number of Tamils in north Sri Lanka, including Balendran Jeyakumary, the mother of a disappeared child, who had been a vocal campaigner against forced disappearances. Although Jeyakumary was conditionally released two months after President Maithripala Sirisena took office in January 2015, she was re-arrested a few months later and detained for about a week.

She was again summoned for intense interrogation in August 2016. She still must report to the police every month and must go to court regularly. She also faces social isolation, struggles to find work and has been compelled to keep her young daughter in a hostel. The arrest ruined her and her daughter’s life.

 

Continuing use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 

The United National Party and the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the two parties that have ruled Sri Lanka since independence, have used the act to suppress dissent for decades.

In 2008, during the last phase of the war, the act was used to arrest, detain and convict Tamil journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam. In 2009, it was used to detain Christian activist, Santha Fernando. After the war, in 2013, it was again used to arrest and detain opposition Muslim politician, Azath Salley. These are a few better-known examples.

A coalition of the two main parties formed a government in 2015 and continued to use the terrorism act to arrest and detain people, mostly Tamils, albeit on less intense scale.

Some were abducted and later found to be detained. No one has been held accountable for these abductions, bringing into question whether the directives on arrest and detention by President Sirisena in June 2016 have had any impact.

The arrest and detention of Jeyakumary, Tissainayagam, Santha, Salley, as well as Father Praveen and I received national and international media coverage and we had the support of committed lawyers and activists as well as the diplomatic community.

I believe we were released, after periods ranging from few days to two years, due to that support. But people who didn’t get such attention, continue to languish in jail without charge. When they are charged, trials can take years.

In 2015, two Tamil mothers were acquitted after being detained for a total of 22 years. There has been no acknowledgement of their suffering, no apology and no compensation.

I have been told by detainees and lawyers that charges were framed and convictions obtained based on confessions made under duress, as the terrorism act allows such evidence to be admitted for trial. Most detainees I have met have been tortured. They have been scarred for life, mentally and physically.

 

Replacing the act but retaining its draconian features

Recently, I saw a leaked version of a draft policy and legal framework for the Counter Terrorism Act, that will replace the previous act. Like its predecessor, it contains many draconian clauses. It has vague and broad definitions that could infringe on free expression and activism and grants excessive powers to the police to detain people for long periods without judicial supervision.

The spirit and purpose of the old and new acts are similar: giving extreme powers to the executive, military and police in the name of preventing and countering terrorism, and disregarding life, liberty and dignity.

The previous act served as a license for enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention and torture. It removed lifesaving protections when they were most needed: within the first few hours and days of a person being arrested.

The new Counter Terrorism Act seeks to extend this license with a new label and face. No official information has been made available to Sri Lankan citizens about the replacement act either.

 

Sri Lanka’s international obligations and waning international interest

Numerous U.N. treaty bodies have pointed out the terrorism act’s incompatibility with Sri Lanka’s international obligations, most recently the Committee against Torture in December 2016.

For several years, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights raised similar concerns. But at the same time, some U.N. officials appeared to be willing to ignore these concerns or place excessive confidence and faith in the Sri Lankan government. In a report released earlier this month, the European Commission said that Sri Lanka must ensure its counter-terrorism legislation is in line with international human rights conventions. But it still granted trade privileges to Sri Lanka assuming the “government has started a legislative process to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act and is making good progress in releasing persons detained under it.”

This appears optimistic at best. While some detainees were released in 2015-2016, there have been many new arrests. Cases continue at a snail’s pace and even those released continue to be harassed.  The terrorism act reform process is shrouded in secrecy, with the government appearing to consult the European Commission, U.N. and a few experts of their choice, instead of being transparent with the victims, their families and the Sri Lankan people.

 

Way forward

Repealing the Prevention of Terrorism Act and getting justice for detainees is a crucial element in forging reconciliation. How can we victims and our families talk of reconciliation if we are still being detained, investigated and face continuing restrictions?

How can we talk of reconciliation if there is no acknowledgement, no apology and no reparations? How can we believe guarantees of non-reoccurrence when the new government did not repeal the act for two years, when secret processes are underway to bring in similar laws, and persons continue to be abducted?

As a victim of the terrorism laws, what I think needs to be done is to ensure justice to all past and present detainees, repeal the legislation and, instead of focusing on equally draconian new anti-terror laws, focus on strengthening legal and institutional frameworks to combat crime and terrorism, while ensuring due process and protections.

The coming months could be crucial. The Council of Europe and the European Parliament must insist on the repeal of the terrorism act before enhanced trade status is granted. At the March session of the U.N. Human Rights Council, its member states and the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights must insist that the government fulfills its October 2015 commitment to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act in line with international standards. Both the U.N. and E.U. must stand for justice for terrorism detainees.

But what’s most needed is for the Sri Lankan people to recognize the injustices that have been done to their fellow citizens, brothers and sisters and express outrage about laws that infringe on their safety, freedom and dignity.

The president and prime minister must be transparent about efforts to bring in similar laws. Catholics and church leaders, the majority of whom have been silent, should be part of this, insisting that unjust laws are against the faith and that to justify them or be silent is a sin.

Can the Office of Missing Persons make a difference?

First published at http://www.ucanews.com/news/can-the-office-of-missing-persons-make-a-difference/77471 on 2nd November 2016

Ruki Fernando, Colombo
Sri Lanka November 2, 2016

Sri Lanka has a legacy of disappearances. According to the government, 65,000 complaints have been received since 1994.

The country also has a legacy of government failure to uphold the rights of victims’ families to truth, justice and reparations.

Sri Lankan society also has a legacy of apathy in the face of mass disappearances — in the past and even now.

Since the end of the civil war in 2009, families of the disappeared have become symbols of resistance and courage — the front line in the pursuit of truth and justice.

The international attention they have attracted has ensured that the present Sri Lankan government has given some priority to addressing disappearances. In August, parliament passed a law to establish the Office of Missing Persons.

The move followed a visit by the United Nations’ Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in November last year, 16 years after their last visit. The government also ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances in May.

However, the government has stopped short of allowing Sri Lankans to lodge complaints directly with the committee monitoring the implementation of the convention. The criminalization of enforced disappearances, an obligation after ratifying the convention, has not happened.

The government had committed to nation-wide consultations on transitional justice mechanisms such as the Office of Missing Persons. But instead of consulting the people, the government relied on a secret process to come up with a draft bill to establish the office.

In May, the Foreign Ministry held a hastily convened briefing for a few activists. At the insistence of the activists, a further briefing was held with some families of the disappeared. Four days later the draft bill was approved by the cabinet and subsequently passed by parliament with some amendments, but without a substantial debate on the bill.

The Office of Missing Persons Act has some positive features. There are no time limits or geographical restrictions on claims, anonymity is guaranteed for witnesses and there are powers to summon people, obtain documents and issue search warrants and court orders. The Office of Missing Persons can also have branch offices.

But there are limitations. There is little place for victims’ families to participate in the Office of Missing Persons processes. Furthermore, the Act does not give the office the authority to prosecute. One of its clauses states that the office’s findings cannot lead to civil or criminal liability. There is also no requirement for the Office of Missing Persons to work in tandem with prosecutorial bodies.

Despite widespread poverty, there are no initiatives to ensure economic justice for families or offers of interim financial and material relief. The right of the families to reparations has been relegated to an Office for Reparations, a totally separate entity that is likely to take longer to establish.

Progress in the courts has been slow and unpromising. While there were regular hearings at the Magistrate Courts for disappeared Sinhalese journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, there have been no indictments against any of the suspects arrested.

This month, the president expressed displeasure about military personnel being detained and his wife had complained of threatening calls. There appears to be no progress for many other cases, including well-known cases of Tamils such as journalist Ramachandran Subramanium, Catholic priests Father Jim Brown and Father Francis Joseph, and human rights activist Stephen Suntharaj.

Catholic priests have been amongst the disappeared, yet, by and large, church leaders and the Catholic community has not been an active supporter of the families of the disappeared. There have been some notable exceptions but these individuals have faced arrest, threats, intimidation and been branded “traitors.”

In the months leading up to the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons, several cases of abductions were reported, with at least 10 between March and June this year. At least two of those who disappeared have not returned, despite complaints to the police and Human Rights Commission. Some have been reported to have been found in police or remand custody and others dumped by the roadside after being abducted.

The Office of Missing Persons, like other transitional justice mechanisms, came out for the Sri Lankan government’s commitments to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva in September 2015. It appears these were more about placating the international community than addressing the grievances of families of the disappeared.

However, there is still hope the Office of Missing Persons can make a difference.

For this to happen the office must appoint individuals of integrity and competence. These appointments should include family members of the disappeared. They should encompass women, ethnic and religious minorities. Independent international involvement is a must. The government should criminalize enforced disappearances before the Office of Missing Persons begins its operations.

But in the end, the success of the Office of Missing Persons will depend on Sri Lankans. The families of victims and activists, including Catholics, will have to critically engage with the Office of Missing Persons in order to ensure it delivers on what it promises.

Ruki Fernando is a human rights activist and consultant to the Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation Commission of the Conference of Major Religious Superiors in Sri Lanka. He is also a member of the Asia-Pacific chaplaincy team of the International Movement of Catholic Students.

UN Chief’s Visit to Sri Lanka Does Little to Address Struggles of Those Awaiting Justice

First published at http://thewire.in/65729/un-secretary-generals-visit-and-tears-of-sri-lankan-survivors/ on 13th September 2016

Ban Ki-Moon acknowledged the “big mistakes” the UN made in relation to Sri Lanka under his leadership, but is yet to lay out a concrete rights-based strategy for the country.

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UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in Colombo. Credit: Reuters

Madushka De Silva disappeared on September 2, 2013 in Anuradhapura – Sri Lanka’s Sinhalese-Buddhist heartland in the North Central Province. The third anniversary of his disappearance coincided with Ban Ki-Moon’s visit to the country. On that day, the UN secretary general was so close, and yet so far from De Silva’s wife, Mauri Inoka.

While Inoka, along with about 12 activists, was confronting a hostile police on the streets of Colombo, who claimed to be concerned about the security of the secretary general, Moon was at the nearby Hilton Hotel with his delegation, politicians, government officials and some of Colombo’s diplomats and civil society activists. The secretary general, or even a member of his delegation, had no time to drop by and spend a few minutes with Inoka, who had submitted a formal complaint about the disappearance of her husband to the UN. When she went to the hotel to attend the secretary general’s “public” lecture, she was turned away, as she was not on the list of “public” who were invited to this “public lecture”.

Beyond the physical distance and barriers, Inoka’s frustrations with the new government appeared to be in stark contrast with the secretary general’s optimism and praise for the new government. Or perhaps, it showed the distance between the diplomatic niceties of the UN and the tears of Inoka and her children along with the tens of thousands like her.

 Attacks on freedom of expression and assembly

Inoka had spent the previous night and day on Colombo’s popular beachfront, Galle Face Green, observing a 24-hour protest vigil. For three years, she had been calling on authorities to investigate the disappearance of her husband and provide some interim relief to her and her children. However, she hasn’t receives any answers in the past three years and they don’t appear to be forthcoming in the future.

In desperation, Inoka, together with 12 friends and supporters, organised a peaceful and silent march towards the Presidential Secretariat and the Hilton Hotel. “We were armed with only photos of Madushka and banners. Vehicles and pedestrians passed by us freely, with absolutely no disruption. But despite our pleas, we were stopped by the police, violating our rights to freedom of expression and assembly,” she said. “After we were compelled to disperse, a lawyer and an activist at the protest were stopped and subjected to intimidation by the police when they were leaving.”

Instead of expediting the investigation into her husband’s disappearance, the police have started investigating Inoka and some activists who were supporting her. She and at least four activists have been summoned to the Fort Police Station on the morning of September 14. Some of the activists have expressed fears of being arrested.

On August 31, hours before the secretary general arrived in Colombo, several university students were reported to have been hospitalised due to the teargas and water cannons used by the police to disperse them from staging a protest march against a private medical college and demanding an increase in the university intake.

On the day after the secretary general left from Sri Lanka, the police stripped a young man on the road and assaulted him on charges of being a drug user. When a journalist challenged the police conduct, he too was assaulted.

Although the space for freedom of expression and assembly has increased since January 2015, such incidents have happened regularly in the past 20 months, especially in the highly militarised North.

Despite these incidents, the secretary general chose to unreservedly welcome the good governance initiatives of the new government.

Long wait 

More than 100,000 Sri Lankan families, who have reported missing relatives since the 1980s, share the pleas of Inoka.

Like Inoka, nearly all families await truth, justice and reparations. When the secretary general visited the war-torn Jaffna, several Tamil families of the disappeared, from across the North, lined up the streets with photos of their loved ones, placards demanding truth and justice, and with tears in their eyes.

Protesters rally as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visits Sri Lanka. Credit: Reuters

Protesters rally as UN chief Ban Ki-moon visits Sri Lanka. Credit: Reuters

A few days after the secretary general left, a young Sinhalese boy was reported to have disappeared in the Southern city of Hambantota after last being seen in police custody. The day before the arrival of the secretary general, an ex-LTTE cadre – a Tamil – was reportedly abducted in a white van, in the highly militarised Northern city of Kilinochchi.

He was later reported to have been found in police custody, just like several other Tamils who were abducted earlier this year. The whereabouts of at least two other Tamils who disappeared from the North earlier this year remain unknown despite complaints to the authorities.

Ironically, the abduction of the ex-LTTE cadre was reported to have happened on the International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances, in the same month parliament approved the setting up of an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) – the government’s latest initiative to address disappearances – and three months after Sri Lanka ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.

Despite serious concerns being expressed about the “consultation” process and the OMP by families of disappeared, byactivists and by the government’s own Consultation Task Force, long before and even during his visit, the secretary general chose to welcome both.

Tamils, whose lands are occupied by the military, also took to the streets of Jaffna when the secretary general present. Some of them travelled several hours and over hundred kilometers and were probably consoled by the fact that the secretary general had called for speeding up process of return of land so that they could return home.

Before the secretary general arrived in Colombo, families of the Welikada prison massacre and eyewitnesses who were being threatened and intimidated appealed to him for a meeting. They also pleaded with him to highlight the lack of progress in investigations and prosecutions in his private meetings and his public remarks to the media. While the contents of private discussions are unknown, there was no reference to impunity in relation to this single largest post-war massacre in any of secretary general’s public remarks.

He, however, did emphasise that the victims deserve to have their voices heard, that they deserve credible, transparent and solid transitional justice mechanisms and that they cannot wait forever. He also indicated that he had stressed the importance of these with political and military leadership.

UN’s failure and attempts to move on

The secretary general was forthright about what he called the “big mistakes” that the UN made in relation to Sri Lanka under his leadership, and that if the organisation had been more engaged, they could have saved several more human lives.

Despite this having been acknowledged in 2011 by the secretary general’s panel of experts and subsequently by a UN internal review report, the secretary general personally acknowledging this in Sri Lanka was of significance. He, however, stopped short of apologising for this monumental failure under his leadership and avoided facing those who were abandoned by the UN, despite some of them lining up the streets in Jaffna while he was there.

Instead, the secretary general remarked that the UN had learnt “very hard lessons from Sri Lanka where the fog of war had obscured the centrality of human rights” and that the UN had taken steps to ensure that human rights were at the centre of all its decision-making. He squarely attributed the Human Rights up Front (HRuF) initiative as a response to the mistakes the UN made in Sri Lanka and the lessons they had leant.

Looking ahead

If the UN’s HRuF were to become a reality, a good place to start would be Sri Lanka – the tragedy that led to the initiative. The report of the panel appointed by the secretary general helped kick start subsequent actions on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council and by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). However, a coherent rights-based strategy from the UN towards Sri Lanka is not yet visible.

The new government has improved relations with the UN and intensified engagement with UN officials. But despite this, the secretary general doesn’t appear to have elicited a major commitment from the Sri Lankan government during the visit, such as ways to engage with the Human Rights Council beyond March of next year, or establishing an OHCHR field office in Sri Lanka.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to engage with UN officials and the member states, especially to get a response for people like Inoka, the families and eyewitnesses of the Welikada prison massacre and the many survivors and families of victims from the North who ask, “will the UN listen to us, what they will do for us?”

Last week I choose to be with Inoka at her vigil and forego the meeting with the secretary general. But, despite survivors, families of victims and some activists trying to communicate reports of continuing violations, and the limited progress in addressing impunity to the UN, rights issues didnot feature prominently in the secretary general’s public remarks.

Neither was there much symbolic action expressing solidarity and support for the struggle for rights by Inoka and others like her.

The UN, especially the incoming secretary general should be careful not to get carried away with the “charm offensive” of the Sri Lankan government and its ambitious promises. Changes for the better, after an end of a three decade brutal war and a decade of authoritarian rule, should not lead to Sri Lanka being prematurely marketed as a “success story,” even before the survivors and the families of victims experience tangible changes in their lives.

While much of the reform must happen within Sri Lanka, the UN officials and member states still have an important role to play beyond praising the positive initiatives and the progress made. The secretary general, the High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN’s various mechanisms and institutions should try to provide an objective picture of the situation in Sri Lanka to the UN member states, find ways of continuing engagement over the next few years and give a central place to the tears, cries, struggles and expectations of Inoka and others like her.

Latest measures to address disappearances in Sri Lanka

First published in the report “Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka: 17Aug 2015 – 17 Aug2016” by INFORM Human Rights Documentation Centre on 18th August 2016

 

By the time the new Parliament was elected in August 2015, families of the disappeared had emerged as strong civil movements in Sri Lanka. Their courage and persistence have helped bring about significant developments in relation to addressing disappearances.

The most significant is the Government’s decision to create an Office of Missing Persons (OMP), which received approval by Parliament in August 2016. Almost until the OMP was set up, a Commission of Inquiry, appointed by the previous President, continued to function. In July 2016, the Government introduced a draft law to facilitate the issuance of certificates of absence to families of the disappeared.[1] In November 2015, the UN’s Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances visited Sri Lanka after the Government allowed entry, 16 years after their last visit.[2] In May 2016, the Government ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances[3] and committed to pass legislation to make disappearances a crime under Sri Lankan law.

OMP

Despite a commitment to consult people about the proposed transitional justice mechanisms, the draft Bill for the OMP, the first of four transitional justice mechanisms initiated by the Government, was drafted in secret, even before formal public consultations began. Just before the draft bill was approved by Cabinet, there was a hastily convened briefing for few activists, followed by another slightly broader briefing, both in Colombo.[4]

The Bill was passed on 11th August with some amendments to the draft Bill. There was no substantial debate on the Bill, with the former President Rajapakse’s allies criticising it and the Government limiting itself to defending it. Neither the amendments nor the final version of the Bill, as enacted, are available at the time of writing this article.

The draft Bill had some positive features in relation to the right of the families to truth, with no restrictions on temporal or geographical restrictions, clauses guaranteeing anonymity for witnesses, opportunities for international expertise, powers to summon any person and obtain documents and other materials, make unannounced visits to relevant places, and seek search warrants and court orders for exhumations. The OMP will also have branch offices.

But there were numerous areas where the OMP Bill needed improvement.[5] The draft did not give the OMP prosecutorial authority and this may hamper the possibility to offer plea bargains, immunity in exceptional circumstances, and other forms of incentives to elicit information. Considerations such as gender and ethnicity were not specified. Families were not guaranteed involvement at any level in the OMP’s structures. There was no requirement for the appointing authorities to give time and opportunities to families of the disappeared and others to comment on nominees or make nominations for the seven Members (the highest positions in the OMP). The regularity to provide information to families was not specified and it was not obligatory to provide maximum information to families. There was no process set out for the OMP to take into account existing information and evidence before requiring families to give evidence again.

The right to pursue justice was compromised by the OMP not having prosecutorial authority and being given the discretion to share information with the external investigative and prosecutorial bodies where offences are involved. There was no provision to ensure that tracing investigations would be done in tandem with criminal investigations or that the OMP would ensure information and evidence discovered would be treated with best international criminal investigation standards, to enable them to be admissible during any subsequent prosecutions. Also, if enforced disappearance is not made a crime in Sri Lanka prior to the OMP beginning to operate, there will likely be barriers to holding perpetrators responsible for the crime of ‘enforced disappearance’ (and instead being limited to lower level crimes).

Slow judicial processes 

While there were regular hearings at the Magistrate Courts on the case of the disappeared Sinhalese journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda, there were no indictments against any of the suspects arrested. Further, there did not appear to be even minimal progress on many other cases, including well known cases of Tamils such as the journalist Ramachandran Subramanium, Catholic Priest Fr. Jim Brown, and human rights activist Stephen Suntharaj. Habeas corpus cases in relation to those who were alleged to have surrendered in front of eyewitnesses to the Army and then disappeared on the last day of the war dragged on, with the Army refusing to provide a proper list of those who had surrendered, despite repeated requests by Courts.

Continuing abductions

Alarmingly, cases of abductions continue to be reported, with at least 10 cases reported between 30th March and 30th June this year. At least two of those who disappeared have not returned, despite complaints to the Police and Human Rights Commission. Some have been reported to have been found in Police or remand custody after being abducted.

In order to make the OMP effective, the Government should criminalise enforced disappearances and ensure that the discretion and ambiguity in the OMP Act is used in favour of families of the disappeared. But even as the OMP starts its operations, habeas corpus cases and other cases related to disappearances pending for long years in the courts could be expedited. And unless there is a full stop to continuing disappearances and abductions, some of the steps the Government has taken to address past disappearances may not have much credibility.

[1] For information relating to concerns about the draft legislation on certificates of absence, see Memorandum to the Consultation Task Force, dated 23 July 2016, https://www.scribd.com/document/319070165/Memo-to-CTF-COA-22-July-2016.

[2] Preliminary observations at http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16771&LangID=E.

[3] International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, adopted 20 December 2006, UN Doc. A/61/488 (entered into force 23 December 2010).

[4] For further information, see Follow-up letter to the Foreign Minister on the OMP, dated 16 May 2016, https://www.scribd.com/doc/312730188/Memorandum-to-the-Foreign-Minister-THE-OFFICE-OF-MISSING-PERSONS.

[5] For further information, see Memorandum to the Consultation Task Force on amendments to the OMP Bill, dated 5 July 2016, https://www.scribd.com/document/317667408/Memo-to-CTF-OMP-Bill-5-July-2016. See also Memorandum to the Consultation Task Force, dated 1 May 2016, https://www.scribd.com/doc/311091283/Memorandum-to-the-Consultation-Task-Force-The-OMP-1-May-2016.