Families of forcibly disappeared persons mark six years of struggle in Sri Lanka

Holding banners and black flags, hundreds of relatives of disappeared Tamils marched in the northern Sri Lankan town of Kilinochchi demanding justice and accountability

February 22, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Relatives of disappeared people march in Sri Lanka. Photo: Jegan Ganeshan

On Monday, February 20, hundreds of relatives of disappeared Tamils marched from Kandasamy Temple to Dept Junction in the northern town of Kilinochchi demanding justice and an international probe into the enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka. 

While marking six years of their struggle to discover the whereabouts of their loved ones, the relatives of forcibly disappeared persons gathered under the banner of ARED (North-East Association of Relatives of Enforced Disappearances), the rights body that has been highlighting the issue of enforced disappearances across the country. 

The dozens of women partaking in the protest were holding black flags and banners highlighting the missing individuals and the years of suffering experienced by them and their families. 

They continue to demand accountability and have demanded an end to the intimidation and increasing threats and harassment they are facing. “We have turned down the government compensation of SLR 200,000 (USD 552) offered to affected families. Families are not seeking blood money, they need answers from the OMP (Office of Missing Persons),” one protester said.

The OMP is an “inactive mechanism” established by the authorities in 2016 to address the concerns surrounding enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka following pressure mounted by international rights bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council.

Sri Lanka ranks second-highest in the world when it comes to enforced disappearances. According to estimates of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, as many as 100,000 have been reported disappeared since the 1980s, the majority of them during the internal armed conflict. Several rights organizations, including Amnesty International, have noted that authorities in Sri Lanka have used the repressive practice of enforced disappearances “as a tool to silence dissent.” 

At least 132 relatives of persons subjected to enforced disappearances have died while struggling to establish the fate of those who have disappeared. Family members of victims have undergone severe mental trauma in their struggle for justice.