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This section will assess the issues arising out of the disappearance of several members of the Buddhist clergy in the three Provinces. 1 The Commission is of the opinion that the impact of the disappearance of Buddhist monks merit special discussion for two reasons: that of placing the Buddhist clergy within the situation which arose during the period under the scrutiny of the Commission and to assess the impact of the disappearance of members of this clergy on society.

Where do they belong?

Persons ordered as Buddhist monks are placed in a special situation in the community. By the ordination, they leave their community of family and friends and join the community of Buddhist monks. Thus, at one level they no longer belong to their family.

This Commission concludes from the evidence before it that in practice, many monks belonged to both the community of monks and their original community of friends and colleagues. The traditional training of the clergy which was restricted to special institutions has changed and the clergy now access education and employment in multi cultural institution. Not only did this create a different awareness within the clergy but also this was the opportunity for interaction between the clergy and the community at a completely different level from the historic role played by the clergy.

What do they do?

A monk has to do so much
He was killed while going to perform his duty 2
He blessed someone who was about to start his election campaign
He chanted Pirith one hundred thousand times for peace
He was politically active and participated in the demonstrations against the Indo-Lanka Accord.

Traditionally and by vocation the clergy were expected to perform the dual function of religious leadership and service to the general community. The clergy has also been increasingly involved in political activity. Rev. Walpola Rahula, in his treatise in Sinhala on "The Heritage of the Bhikku" (Bhikshuwagey Urumaya) states:

We believe that every activity of benefit to mankind today belongs to politics. Everyone accepts that it is the duty of a Bhikku to develop the religion. The development of religion in a country depends on the development of its citizens...Thus, it is suitable that a bhikku engages in activity geared towards the advancement of the citizens without taking into consideration that the activity is political or not, provided that such activity does not contradict the way of life of a Bhukku.

However the increasing politicisation of violence in the period under review, had reduced the space available for non-violent means of engaging in democratic political activity, thus giving rise to several new means of resistance to the dominant political culture of this period.

Manawa Hithawadee Bhikku Peramuna and The Vinivida Magazine

Monks who were of the opinion that the clergy needed to respond as an organisational collective to the threat posed, had organised themselves into the Manawa Hithawaadee Bhikku Peramuna to raise the voice of the monks on these issues. Though this organisation like many others was influenced by the prevalent anti-government sentiments and may have had a leaning towards the JVP there is no evidence to show that it was involved as an organisation in activity. The Manawa Hithawadee Bhikku Peramuna published for a short period a magazine named Vinividha. The founding Secretary Rev. Pitawela Dharmakirthi, 46 years old and a teacher by profession, had been arrested on 20.08.89. and has since disappeared.

Profile of the Disappeared Monks

98 disappearances or killings of monks were established before the Commission.

Age Number Abducted

less than 25 years


between 29 & 35


above 35


















Students 20
Teachers 10
Others 42


The Commission draws attention to the relative high proportion of monks who had received at least secondary school education.


Who Cared

48% of the incidents reported to the Commission were solely by the families of the monks who had disappeared. In some incidents, the temples that the disappeared person belonged to were reluctant to provide any information whatsoever about the incidents.

In 27% of the incidents, both the temple concerned and the families of the disappeared persons participated at various levels to ascertain the whereabouts of the disappeared persons, to report the disappearance to the authorities concerned and to follow it up to the time of giving evidence before the Commission.

In 25% of the incidents, only the temples followed up the incident. In some cases the families of disappeared persons were unable to provide much information to the Commission. Some members of the families had died since the incident and in other the families did not seem interested in following up the cases at all.

In almost 50% of the incidents, witnesses included lay persons including friends, colleagues and neighbours.

These statistics are an indication to the Commission of the relationships maintained by the clergy with the various communities to which they belonged.

How did these Incidents Take Place

1. Responsibility
4.98% of the incidents were at subversive hands. In over 50% the perpetrators were agents of the state. In the remaining 45% the Commission was not able to identify the category of perpetrators involved on the evidence available. However, there were no allegations against personal enemies in cases of disappearance of members of the clergy.

The reason for my son's disappearance was his apparent opposition to the Peace Accord. Is this fair? My son was only 17 at the time that the Accord was signed.

I did not complain to the police - I have a son at home.

Law had turned to unlaw at that time.

2. Impunity
The Commission notes that the pattern of the establishment of the climate of impunity as described in Chapter Six was apparent in the evidence of the petitioners in these cases as well. The evidence before the Commission shows that the arrival of arresting authorities in vehicles without number plates at any time of the day and night, the breaking down of doors and forcible entry, intimidation and assault in public or in the temple or even on the highway, were common occurrences in respect of monks as well.

3. Political Opposition to the governing party
There is evidence that some monks were arrested because of their political opposition to the governing party at that time. As a witness stated in connection with the abduction of a monk from Abhinawaramaya, Papiliyawela. "His SLFP membership was the cause of his abduction".

Abductions during curfew hours were clearly with official authority. Vehicles without registration numbers were used in some incidents. The abduction from Jayasumnaramaya of Mount Lavinia is one such instance. An instance where Bhikkus and attendants of Sri Jinaraja Viharaya, Veyangoda in Gampaha District were shot and their bodies left at the foot of the Bo Tree by armed persons who came in heavy vehicles in the curfew hours is another.

Evidence was given to the Commission of instances of lay-people as well as Bhikkus who had implicated other Bhikkus in order to obtain the custodianship of the temple concerned.

4. Activities of the JVP
There is evidence of monks who were opposed to the JVP and held other political views being assassinated. Ven. Pohoddaramulla Pemaloka, Chief Adviser of the Sri Lanka Mahajana Party, and Ven. Kotikawatte Suddhatissa are two examples. Reports were received that in some areas of the South monks were shot in the mouth for preaching Bana at the traditional memorial ceremony for those killed by the JVP.

Impact of the Disappearance
This Commission has already made a detailed analysis of the impact of disappearances on the community in Chapter Twelve and shall only outline some special issues related to the clergy at this juncture.
1. Disjunction between Communities

No one connected with the temple took any interest regarding this abduction.

I spent 14 years, the best part of my life, in the temple, why do they not care any more? 3

We don't even know where his family is any more, he was with us since he was ten years old.

The Commission notes that it was only in respect of 27% of the incidents that the clergy and the laity acted together in respect of following up the disappearances. In all the other ceses, only one group was interested in following up the incidents although the Commission took steps to notify all parties of the complaints made to it.

2. The failure of the traditional organisational structures of Buddhist monks to respond to the crisis situation
Many witnesses reported to the Commission that the traditional organisational structure of Buddhist monks - Nikayas, Sanga Sabha etc. did not have structures for the entertainment of complaints or for interventions in incidents of abduction and disappearance of member-monks. The teacher-pupil relationship arising between the abducted monk and the senior monk who inducted him in to the order had mainly failed to respond to this new crisis situation.

3. The Clergy at Risk

So many young priests gave up robes because of the situation during this period.

Several of the lay witnesses who gave evidence before the Commission were monks who had disrobed since the incident described by them. The evidence before the Commission of some Viharadhipathi's perception was that they were an increasingly vulnerable groups of person. Their dress and manner set them apart, easy to identify, but at the same time, the identification was often very skewed by their robes.

The destruction of a clever priest like this with a brilliant future is a loss to the country and to the sasana.
This temple was built at the request of the villagers, despite immense obstacles. He is the one who was always working. No there is no one to ensure its continuance after me.

Almost all the priests whose disappearance/killing was reported to the Commission were persons who were outstanding in the temple and/or the area they came from. Many had been involved in political activity at various levels and were often identified as dynamic personalities on whom many persons and ideologies depended.

4. Grief

He was ten years old when he came to me. I am constantly pained by his loss. By looking for him, I now am ill - physically and mentally - his mother is also ill.

This Commission notes that both members of the clergy as well as the family are deeply grieved by these disappearances.

Loss of Support

All my other children are unemployed - only this son could help.
Please find him - if he is not there, find suitable employment for my other children
The temple is not the same without him - he did so much.

The Commission notes that many of the disappeared monks whilst being within the temple, continued to support their families as well.



His mother is 75, Please help her - someone will help us.

This Commission recommends that the compensation payable in respect of a disappearance of a monk should be payable to the family.


End Notes:

1. The Persons reported to have disappeared were all members of the Buddhist clergy.

2. This monk was killed on his way to an almsgiving for a supporter of the United National Party who had been himself killed, allegedly by subversives.

3. Letter to the family from a monk who was in detention at the time that the letter was written and has subsequently disappeared.

Posted on 1999-01-01


Cyberspace Graveyard for Disappeared Persons
Asian Human Rights Commission

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