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.
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.
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.
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.
of reference of these Commissions were as follows:
inquire into and report on the following -
Whether any persons have been involuntarily removed or have disappeared
from their places of residence at any time after
1st January 1988;
The evidence available to establish such alleged removals or
The present whereabouts of the persons alleged to have been so removed,
or to have so disappeared;
Whether there is any credible material indicative of the person or
persons responsible for the alleged removals or
The legal proceedings that can be taken against the persons held to be so
The measures necessary to prevent the occurrence of such alleged
activities in the future;
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.
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.
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.
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.
Posted on 2003-06-15