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CHAPTER ELEVEN - PART V - TAMILS LOST IN COLOMBO

The evidence before this commission is that the issue of the involuntary removal/disappearances in Colombo of persons of Tamil origins should not be subsumed in the phenomenon of involuntary removals/disappearances that occurred in the period under review in the context of the insurrection in Southern Sri Lanka.

Around 8% of all incidents from Colombo District reported to this Commission relate to persons of Tamil Origin.1 This percentage rises to 21.7% when the reports to the North Eastern Commission from this category are taken into account.2 Additionally, the following assassinations in the period 1989/1990 have been brought to our notice :

July 1989: Mr. A Amirthalingam, M. P Attorney-at-law, leader of the TULF Group in Parliament and Mr. P. Yogeswaram, Attorney-at-law, former M. P. for Jaffna. Mr. P. Annamalai Attorney-at-law, Mr. Sam Tambimuttu M. P. TULF, Batticaloa Distraict and Mrs. Thambimuttu in May 1990.
Mr. Amirthalingam MP and Mr. Thambimuttu MP were Members of parliament after the July 1989 Election in the newly formed North Eastern Province.

The following paragraph which are based on the cases reported to the Commission will pinpoint.

(A) certain features of divergence of the category under consideration from the total figures.

(B) certain features common to all groups of incidents.

(C) certain features of divergence of the category tender consideration from the total figures.

 

(i) Temporary residence in Colombo

(a) in re: incidents where corpus of Tamil origin: 53%
(b) In re: Colombo District including (a) above: 37.6%
(c) In re: Colombo District excluding (a) above: 29.5%

(ii) Response to summons in respect of temporary residents of Colombo District

(a) In re: Temporary residents of Tamil Origin: 84.8%
(b) In re: Colombo District inclusive of (a) above: 84%
(c) In re: Colombo District exclusive of (a) above: 97.6%

(iii)Availability of evidence to the Commission

(a) Purported Eye-witnesses summoned by the Commission often proved evasive. When they responded m summons, their position was one of denial to beating an eye-witness. In many other cases the summons were returned. This was particularly marked in instances where the corpus was alleged to have been staying at a 'Lodge'. 3

(b) Another obstacle has been the practice of non-disclosure of the source of information by petitioners, who instead, file affidavits to the effect "I was informed", "I believe....", "he has been...." etc. stated in form as fact, though the deponent is not a witness to the incident.

(c) Evidence of the conduct of the petitioner's family's on learning of the disappearance: their endless search for information of him, their numerous letters of inquiry to the authorities contemporaneous V. the alleged disappearance, have been the strongest evidence of the truth of the allegation on involuntary disappearance 4

Alleged Perpetrators

(a) Re: Persons of Tamil Origin :
Security Forces : 40%
Subversive act : 4%
Private enemy5 : 14%
Unknown : 42%

(b) Re. Colombo District including (a) above:
Security Forces : 71.60%
Subversive act : 3.84%
Private enemy : 1.60%
Unknown : 22.92%

(c) Re : Colombo District excluding (a) above :

Security Forces : 75.63%
Subversive act : 3.82%
Private enemy : 0.03%
Unknown : 20.52%

B. Certain Features Common to All Groups of Incidents

1. The attitude of recording/investigating authorities.- One prosecution and 2 police Declarations of Death have resulted from complaints to the police.

The prosecution is in respect of the abduction and murder of a University Student by a mob in ostensible retaliation for a subversive raid and murder of Sinhala persons.

The police Declarations of Death 6 are in respect of 2 persons who have disappeared after abduction following a fight between 2 gangs in a tenement area of Colombo. These Declarations do not contain the grounds on which the Declaration is made, and the issuing officers have been evasive in revealing the grounds to the Commission.

In other cases, the line of investigation is seen to be one of "Our records do not show (the security forces) to be responsible", rather than an approach of : "who did it?"

Eq:-

(i) In 1989 a Jaffna resident wrote to the Minister of Defence alleging the Army had abducted from a Colombo lodge7 his son and 2 other youths who had paid large amounts to a job Agent in expectation of employment abroad. He heard no more, and petitioned this Commission in respect of the disappearance of his son. The commission's inquiry from the Ministry of Defence as the action taken on the father's complaint in 1989, elicited the response : "Inquiries made no information forthcoming to date as to the whereabouts of these persons or being taken into custody by security forces."

(ii) In another case, where a Tamil youth and 2 Sinhala youths were abducted by the Army-Police 3 days after they had gone voluntarily to the Army-Police to give a statement, the responses of the Army-Police to the Commission's Inquiry is: "All Books were destroyed in the 1992 floods".

(iii) The abduction of K, a Human Rights activist and employee of the Sri Lanka Broadcasting Corporation abducted in a police jeep was witnessed by a senior official of the SLBC, who gave detailed evidence before the Commission. K had been abducted 3 months earlier too by the police. On that occasion he was released without charge after Human Rights organisations traced him to police station concerned. There is no acknowledgement of arrest or detention by the police. The CID's report is also to the same effect. The motor cycle K was riding at the time he was abducted has been returned to family by the police with the statement that it was found on the road. 8

2. Effect on Families.- The same feeling of emotional devastation and unjust persecution, the same scene of economic hardship and insecurity, as was evident in respect of other families of the disappeared, were evident here.

A Colombo Tamil mother who had lost 3 sons, was desperate about the plight of her grand-children (whose mother had deserted them). She had a record of several attempts to commit suicide.

A Negombo Tamil wife of a Jaffna Tamil, both devout Hindus, related how she had herself and her children had converted to Roman Catholicism in search of spiritual comfort on the abduction and disappearance of her husband.

A high-ranking civil servant who had taken early retirement consequent on the disappearance of his son, gave graphic description of the continuing emotional ill-effects on his son due to his transfer from Batticaloa to detention at Boossa; the mental instability created in the boy (who was physically big made though only 16) by reason of the physical aggression of non-Tamil speaking guards at the detention camp; so that the boy still tremble when addressed in Sinhala, and longed to be back in Batticaloa. The father did not speak of the emotional damage to himself by reason of his son's experience, but it was very evident to the Commission.

The same theme of the continuing ill-effects to an individual and his family was reflected in the evidence of a very humble family of Narahenpita who described how their son who had lost his power of speech after the sight of bodies by the road-side in the '83 Riots, was picked up by a passing Army jeep on Havelock Road, as the family stood by the road-side near the Kovil a mile from the spot where Ranjan Wijeratne Minister of Defence had come by his death in a bomb attack on the previous day. The medical reports of the boy, and news paper advertisements placed by the family asking for news of him were produced to the Commission.

The sense of isolation and being singled out for prosecution, felt by many, was expressed vividly in the letter to the Commission of a father whose Moratuwa University qualified son had disappeared after abduction in '89 in Colombo. He wrote:

May be you are not aware that letters reach us only occasionally, and that persons wait months after the purchase of a ticket for passage to Colombo. Please give me at least 6 months notice of the date of inquiry.

3. The Reason for the Abduction/Disappearance.- The reasons for acting outside the law, are immaterial both in National law and in Human Rights law. 9

A brief consideration of this aspect is rendered relevant however by reason of the

perceptions of petitioners.

The petitioner's perception was that the reason for the abduction/disappearance lay in a factor specified to the corpus 10 or that it was explicable wholly in terms of "being a Tamil"/"being a Tamil in Colombo" 11

An ignorance of/a reluctance to acknowledge, any involvement of the corpus in subversive activity, was apparent in the position taken up by the petitioners in respect of this group of the disappeared. This is with the position taken up by the families affected by the Southern insurrection.

There is no evidence before the Commission that the politicisation of violence inherent in subversive action has won the acceptance or approval of any of the families who came before the Commission or the communities they belong to. However, the state should refrain from taking a form which comes to be seen by these families and communities as rendering the state itself a co-participant in the politicisation of violence.

 

End Notes:

1. 70 incidents.

2. 150 incidents.

3. 27% of cases reported to this Commission allege the corpus was abducted or otherwise disappeared while staying at a Lodge. Not a single eye-witness has come forward to give evidence in respect of these incidents.
The situation is different when they have been residing in a home.

4. This is a feature common to cases from all 3 provinces.

"Would I have been searching like this, had I news of him?" said a father from Matara giving evidence before the Commission in respect of the disappearance of his son in Matara. His words are equally apposite to the cases under consideration in this chapter.

5. eg:

(i) We have received reports of cases of the payment of considerable sums to a job agent who then decamps with the money after providing misinformation to security forces who acting on it abducted the corpus from the 'Lodge' where he is staying.

(ii) 2 brothers from tenement in Colombo, were abducted by the security forces just prior to the date when their evidence was due to be recorded as eye-witnesses in a murder trial in the High Court. The accused ni the murder inquiry were discharged thereafter for want of evidence.

6. A police declaration of death by the officer-in-Charge of a police station states that it is his opinion that a person who was resident in his area is no longer alive. This document does not state the grounds on which the finding is based. It is issued in order to enable the recipient to benefit under the Most Affected Persons Scheme (MAPS) of REPPIA.

7. Hostel

8. The failure to investigate is discussed further in Chapter Six.

9. Except in very narrow circumstances that do not need consideration here.

10. Ex: The Job Agent who was defaulting with the money paid to him by the corpus, had laid false information against him, either with the security forces or with the Armed Political Groups.

11. i.e. placed these events in the context of "reprisals against Tamils."

Posted on 1999-01-01



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