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2. The Modus Operandi of Causing Disappearances.

The modus operandi of causing disappearances has changed over time in Sri Lanka, and the rate of reported disappearances increased rapidly in the late 1980s.  Between 1984 and mid-1987, Amnesty International recorded over 680 disappearances in the North and East of people who had been detained by police or security forces, as the Tamil separatist groups gained strength in the wake of the 1983 communal riots. From mid-1987 to March 1990, the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) was responsible for the North and East under the terms of the 1987 Indo-Sri Lanka Accord, and during this period Amnesty International recorded 43 disappearances for which the IPKF was believed to be responsible.[1]  These cases involved mostly young men who had been arrested by uniformed members of the security forces in front of witnesses, but who were never seen again.  The forces involved denied holding the prisoner and relatives were unable to establish their whereabouts.  At times, large groups of young men were arrested together, and simply disappeared.[2]

 After the IPKF arrived in the North and East in 1987, the Sri Lankan security forces moved to the South, where the JVP was mobilising against the Indo-Sri Lanka Accord. The JVP began to target for assassination, members of the ruling party, leftist parties which supported the Accord, members of the security forces and others. As their campaign grew in strength, they used terror tactics to enforce widespread strikes and stoppages of work . In this context, the security forces’ response was to use tactics of counter terror; a massive rise in the numbers of extrajudicial killings and disappearances followed, including abductions and killings attributed to vigilante 'death squads' outside governmental control, which in some cases were subsequently found to have connections with the police or other security forces.[3]

 By June 1990, when hostilities between the LTTE and government forces resumed in the East, the JVP had effectively been crushed in the South. The Sri Lankan security forces returned to the North and East, taking the tactics of widespread killings and disappearances utilised in the South back with them.  Amnesty International estimated that some 3,000 people disappeared in the East in the initial months of resumed fighting there.

 The ways in which persons were removed involuntarily and subsequently made to disappear in the late 1980s/early 1990s are given succinctly in Interim Report II of the Presidential Commission on Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Central, North Western, North Central and Uva Provinces, referred to as the Central   Zone Commission.[4] Extracts from these findings, which relate to cases that the Commission had investigated, are set out below:

 a.       That persons have been involuntarily removed either from their homes, at round ups, at checkpoints or at random sites, by police personnel, members of the armed forces or others, not identified.

b.      In some cases, lists of persons appear to have been given by some politicians of the area. In most other cases, the evidence reveals that the persons involuntarily removed were either Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) organisers or active supporters of the SLFP. It seems clear that political opponents of the then regime had been eliminated under the guise of crushing the JVP.

The very large number of killings and disappearances that took place during the latter part of the 1980s and the early 1990s points to the fact that the removals and killings were with the knowledge and tacit approval of those in power at that time.

An analysis of the removals and killings shows a marked increase from the day of the nominations for the Presidential Election in 1988 and continued in the manner until the general elections and thereafter. The security personnel who until then had dealt with the JVP 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, members of their families would be killed. It is probable that this ploy was adopted by the then government to prod the security forces to crush their political opponents.

 c.       In almost every case the persons removed had been taken away on the pretext that they had to be questioned and their statements recorded.

 d.      In most of such cases the police stations or the army camps of the area had subsequently denied having removed such persons, in spite of some of the witnesses having identified the persons who had participated in such removals.

 e.       In some cases, persons so removed had been seen in custody at police stations and at army detention camps, either by the complainants or by other persons whose evidence was made available to the Commission. No entries of arrest or detention appears to have been made in any of the books or registers maintained by the police or security forces in the case of persons who are alleged to have disappeared.

 f.        When persons went to the police station to complain about the removals they were usually driven away and their complaints were not recorded. In the cases where the complaints had been recorded, what was stated by the complainants had been recorded with distortions.

 g.       A surprising feature is that complaints of abductions in most cases had been entered in the Minor Offences Information Book of the police station. Abduction with intent to kill is punishable under the Penal Code with rigorous imprisonment up to 20 years and a fine. The Officers-in-Charge of police stations concerned and their superiors should be held responsible for this default.

 h.       There had been cases where the Police Headquarters had issued letters denying that certain persons had ever been taken to custody, when there were witnesses who had seen them in custody at the police stations.

 i.         Personal rivalries account for the removals and killings in some cases.



[1] Amnesty International, “Sri Lanka: ‘Disappearances and murder as techniques of counter-insurgency in Disappearances and Political Killings ((Amsterdam, 1994), p. 26.

[2] Ibid

[3] Ibid.  p. 27.

[4] vide at p. 3 of the Report

Posted on 2003-06-15


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