Cyberspace Graveyard for Disappeared Persons





Our Reports

Reports from Others

UN Documents

Other Documents

Cyber Links

Search this section:

Printer Friendly Version

3.2 Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances


Complaints of involuntary removals and disappearances to the police or others in authority proved futile. The police often failed to record such complaints at all. In desperation, relatives of the disappeared sought the assistance of NGOs, both local and international. They even complained to Amnesty International (AI) and the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (UNWGEID), in a bid to trace their lost ones.  The pressure exerted by these organisations, by the UN Commission on Human Rights and by Western aid donors, induced the then President of Sri Lanka, Mr. Ranasinghe Premadasa, to appoint a Commission to inquire into and report on involuntary removals.  However, President Premadasa did not open past disappearances up for inquiry; instead, he created a Commission – referred to as the B.E. de Silva Commission – which was mandated only to investigate disappearances that took place from the date of the Commission’s establishment in January 1991. By this time, the rate of disappearances had anyway declined dramatically compared to its peak in 1989. The earlier mass killings and disappearances remained closed to investigation.

 When the People’s Alliance (PA) party contested the parliamentary elections in 1994, it made the issue of disappearances and human rights protection a major element of its election campaign. The PA promised to put an end to involuntary removals and disappearances and undertook to ensure that those responsible for disappearances would be dealt with effectively.

 After coming to power, the new President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, appointed three Commissions of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons on 13th November 1994. These Commissions operated on a zonal basis: one covered the Northern and Eastern Provinces; the other covered the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces; while the third covered the Central, North Western, North Central and Uva Provinces.[1] These Commissions were mandated to inquire into and report on disappearances that took place after 1st January 1988. They were thus empowered to report on the period of mass disappearances from 1988 – 1990, which the B.E. de Silva Commission had not been authorised to investigate, but they were not empowered to investigate the hundreds of disappearances that had been reported in the North and East and the rest of the country prior to 1988.

 The terms of reference of these Commissions were as follows:

 To inquire into and report on the following -

            a.      Whether any persons have been involuntarily removed or have disappeared from their places of residence at any time after

                    1st January 1988;

             b.      The evidence available to establish such alleged removals or disappearances;

             c.       The present whereabouts of the persons alleged to have been so removed, or to have so disappeared;

            d.      Whether there is any credible material indicative of the person or persons responsible for the alleged removals or


             e.       The legal proceedings that can be taken against the persons held to be so responsible;

 f.        The measures necessary to prevent the occurrence of such alleged activities in the future;

             g.      The relief, if any, that should be afforded to the parents, spouses and dependents of the persons alleged to have been so

                    removed or to have so disappeared.

 These Commissions received about 30,000 complaints in all (which included multiple complaints in respect of many of the disappeared persons). In mid-1997 the Commissions were asked to halt their inquiries and to submit reports on the basis of the complaints they had inquired into to date. Their reports, which were handed to the President in September 1997, have since been published as Sessional Papers.[2]  

 The Commissions were unable to inquire into all the cases reported to them. When they wrote their final reports, a total of 10,136 complaints remained uninvestigated. To deal with these remaining cases, the President appointed another Commission in April 1998, with island wide jurisdiction and with the same mandate as the three zonal Commissions, except that it was precluded from inquiring into new complaints.

 However, around 16,000 further cases of disappearance that had not been reported to any previous Commission were brought to the notice of the All-Island Commission. Although the parties concerned now wished these cases to be investigated and made the particulars available to the Commission, the mandate of the Commission barred it from inquiring into them. These cases have thus not been investigated by any Commission of Inquiry to date. The All Island Commission handed its report to the President in August 2000, but the report is yet to be published.


[1]Hereafter referred to as the Northern Zone, the Southern Zone and the  Central Zone Commissions, respectively

[2] Sessional Paper V of 1997 – Southern Zone Commission Report, Sessional Paper VI of 1997 – Central Zone Commission Report, Sessional Paper VII of 1997 – Northern Zone Commission Report


Posted on 2003-06-15


Cyberspace Graveyard for Disappeared Persons
Asian Human Rights Commission

1 users online
3224 visits
3626 hits