Item 11(b) – Civil and Political Rights: Disappearances and Summary Executions

Presented by Sanjeewa Liyanage,

Mr. Chairman,

On behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre I would like to draw the attention of this commission to a grave human rights problem faced in many Asian countries. Systematic causing of mass disappearances has left a permanent mark in the conscience of the many states in Asia as well as international community.  Enforced and involuntary disappearances is one of the horrifying and ugly phenomenon faced by the peoples of many Asian countries especially in Punjab in India, Kashmir, Aceh in Indonesia, East Timor, and Sri Lanka.  When a person disappears, there are many who are affected by such single instance.  Parents, brothers, sisters, children, relatives and friends of that disappeared person would suffer for many generations to come.  For them, it is not an easy experience to simply forget what happen and get on with life.  Often these human aspects are gone un-noticed.

Disappearances continues to take place up to this date in Aceh in Indonesia as well as in West Papua.  It has been a general pattern that occurrence of involuntary disappearance follow each time when there is an escalation of political activities in these areas. Until now, there has not been any serious effort by the Indonesian government to attend to the problem of involuntary disappearances in an effective manner.

The Asian Legal Resource Centre raised the issue of enforced and involuntary disappearances in Sri Lanka during the 55th Session of this Commission.  Since the State party has taken then hardly any significant action concerned to prosecute the offenders of over 30,000 disappearances.  After ten years of grossly inadequate action by the State party, it is possible that they hope the matter will recede from memory and be forgotten.  In fact, the people can never forget and the psychological wounds which can never be healed until a full investigation into every case along with criminal trials is carried out.  Meanwhile more disappearances have been reported this year. The public confidence in the law enforcement machinery is at an all-time low.

United Nations agencies, too, are well informed of the vast scale of disappearances that have occurred and negligence to prosecute offenders. The UN Human Rights Commission itself has made strong statements on the issue several times.  The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances has made many recommendations, which it recently noted have not been implemented. The Working Group visited Sri Lanka in 1999 and its public statements show a lack of progress.  We note that the Asian Human Rights Commission has kept the UN Secretary General and the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights informed about the situation.

Mr. Chairman,

From a legal point of view, there is hardly any doubt that disappearances in Sri Lanka constitute a crime against humanity.  The disappearances can also be considered a gross abuse of human rights, in the manner that term was used by the UN Secretary General during the last session of this Commission. The factual basis for this legal position has been established by the four Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons.  In fact, one Presidential Commission came to the finding that, “In the given context [Sri Lanka], the word “disappearances” is only a euphemism for the death caused by extra-judicial killings.”  The evidence shows that there has been large-scale torture, that people have been killed after being arrested, and that the persons in the highest level of the government in power planned and ordered these disappearances.

The reasons for these disappearances should shock the international community: they were for the purpose of winning two elections, one Presidential and the other General.  The disappearances created a climate of terror, which enabled public opinion to be manipulated.  Following finding of the one of the Commissions referred to above is relevant: “The graph [a graph attached to the Commission’s report] established that removal and killings showed a marked increase from the nomination for the presidential election in 1988 and continued in that manner until the general election and thereafter. The security personnel who until then had dealt with JVP [Janatha Vimutthi Peramuna] problem in a fair manner were goaded into indiscriminate removals and killings, after an alleged ultimatum purported to have been issued by the JVP, that unless the service personnel deserted their posts, the members of their family would be killed. It was probable that this was a ploy adopted by then government to use security forces to crush their political opponents” (page 3-4, Presidential Commissions of Inquiry Into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons, in Central, North Central and Uva Provinces).

Mr. Chairman,

Despite such findings by Commissions in Sri Lanka, the perpetrators are still moving about freely. Despite international awareness of the grave crimes involved, no attempt has been made to address the issue with the seriousness it deserves.  We urge that the matter be dealt with on the basis of a crime against humanity and that an International Tribunal be established with the cooperation of the State party concerned to bring to justice the persons responsible for the crimes.  We all know that there have been over 30,000 extra-judicial killings as well as torture, illegal detention and killings while in legal custody in Sri Lanka.   Until this matter is dealt with in an adequate manner, through the establishment of an International Tribunal, it will continue to hurt the conscience of the international community.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.


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The Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC) works towards the radical rethinking & fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in Asia, to ensure relief and redress for victims of human rights violations, as per Common Article 2 of the International Conventions. Sister organisation to the Asian Human Rights Commission, the ALRC is based in Hong Kong & holds general consultative status with the Economic & Social Council of the United Nations.

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