Families of those missing in Sri Lankan civil war continue to demand justice

Colombo, 27 (EFE).- Hundreds of family members of those who went missing during the Sri Lankan civil war (1983-2009) demonstrated on Thursday in Colombo, demanding justice for the atrocities committed during this dark period that still affects thousands of families.

The protest in front of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) in Colombo was attended by mothers, wives, and fathers of the thousands of people who went missing during the war, most of them members of the Tamil community for alleged suspicion of links with the guerrillas.

S. Parwathi, 69, has experienced decades of suffering. Her life changed on Oct.10, 1989, when she last saw her brothers Baleshwaran, 31, and Sivaperumal, 22, who were forcibly taken in a van by plainclothes men claiming to be from the armed forces.

“It was a frightening period to be a Tamil in Colombo. My family was living happily and had a thriving business. I feel it was not a good time to be Tamil and successful,” Parwathi told EFE.

A Sri Lankan elderly woman holds a portrait of a relative who went missing, during a protest demanding justice for the disappearances of their loved ones, in Colombo, Sri Lanka, 27 October 2022. EFE/EPA/CHAMILA KARUNARATHNE

Neither Parwathi nor her family know what happened to her brothers that day. More than three decades later, she is still searching for answers, wondering if they are still alive.

For Jayanthi Amarasinghe, 67, the agony began on Dec.11, 1989, when her husband Newton, then 44, and son Janaka, 17, were taken away from their home by men dressed in black.

Jayanthi still believes the kidnappers were policemen.

“I went to the police looking for my husband and child. They turned me away calling me a mad woman. Someone told me to go to the cemetery to look for them,” Jayanthi told EFE.

“When I went to the cemetery there were pieces of flesh from people who were killed there. The caretaker at the cemetery told me that he heard a young boy crying to his father before they were shot and killed,” she added.

Convinced that they were her loved ones, Jayanthi collected the flesh that was splattered on the ground and returned home.

“I still don’t know if the flesh I brought home were my husband’s and son’s. I don’t know if they were killed,” she said.

Several other families demonstrated with banners and photographs of their loved ones in front of the Monument for the Disappeared at Randdoluwa, Seeduwa in the country’s Western Province, to observe the 32nd anniversary of the commemoration of the disappeared people.

Besides Tamils, thousands of Sinhalese people also were forcefully disappeared between 1989 and 1990 over alleged links to leftist groups.

The organization Families of the Disappeared (FOD) works to unite the Mothers of the South, as activists refer to the families of the missing from the Sinhalese community, and the Mothers of the North (Tamils) to fight for justice.

“We are making very slow progress, but we are making progress. We believe that mothers from the South have a strong voice, and with their help, we can find justice for what happened in the North and South,” FOD activist Brito Fernando told EFE.

Sri Lanka has one of the largest recorded numbers of missing persons in the world, between 60,000 and 100,000 persons across all ethnic groups and religious communities since 1980, according to data from United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, cited by Human Rights Watch.

The government of Sri Lanka this month increased the payment granted to the families of the disappeared from 100,000 to 200,000 Sri Lankan rupees (some $550), an unjust and insufficient amount for the victims.

“For years we are living in extreme sorrow. We are also living in poverty. If we are not going to see our loved ones again, then at least the government must give us compensation to help us,” a demonstrator told EFE without revealing her name. EFE

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