It is now over 10 years since the rate of disappearances in Sri
Lanka reached its peak, but it now looks likely that most perpetrators of
disappearances will not be brought to book at all, and the practice of causing
disappearances will continue. The three zonal commissions appointed by the
President to investigate disappearances handed their reports to the President in
1997. Who knows how long it may take for the culprits they identified to be
brought to book? By then, many of the complainants and witnesses may be no more
and the likelihood of these cases ending in convictions becomes all the more
bleak. The report of the All-Island Commission on Disappearances was handed to
the President in August 2000, and is yet to be made public.
Both the government and the main opposition party have in various
ways either condoned disappearances or been silent spectators while persons
disappeared during their respective regimes. Consequently, there is no strong
lobby in parliament to press for speedy action against the perpetrators of
disappearances; perhaps this is because the practice has been so widespread and
that too many people are implicated. The present government came to power in
1994 with a pledge to end disappearances and other human rights violations.
Today, however, it stands accused of hundreds of disappearances during its own
time in power and has not shown itself determined to act against perpetrators
and halt this practice. It lacks the will and the commitment that goes beyond
There is no substitute for swift and effective action against
perpetrators irrespective of their rank or status. This will require changes in
the law, administrative procedures and even the judicial structure to expedite
the disposal of cases pertaining to disappearances.
The Commissions of Inquiry into Disappearances made exhaustive
recommendations on the changes to law that are necessary to prevent further
disappearances occurring in the future. These recommendations need to be
carefully studied and implemented diligently, under the supervision of a body
charged with this task. If they are not acted upon, the reports of these
Commissions will become a dead letter, confined to the archives for the use of
researchers and historians.
It is left for the government to honour its election pledge and
prove its commitment to the eradication of violations of human rights in general
and disappearances in particular, from the face of Sri Lanka.
Posted on 2003-06-15