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These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

18/05/2012

The disappearance epidemic

A while back we blogged about two politicians who disappeared. After a number of confusing rumours and counter rumours they were eventually released. Good news, which shows how abductions can be stopped by swift action and a significant media response. Gunaratnam, who has Australian citizenship, was deported. The Sri Lankan Government first of all laughably tried to claim Gunaratnam was never in Sri Lanka, and then claimed that he was merely deported over visa issues.

However these abductions were just the 32nd and 33rd of the month.

The Sri Lankan journalist with the pseudonym “Watchdog” has recently released an article and a list of recent disappearances in Sri Lanka which contains some shocking numbers.

According to the list released by Watchdog, between February and March there have been 31 disappearances reported in Sri Lankan media, which bring the total over the last six months to 58. They report that 19 cases were reported during the time when “the sessions (sic) of the UN Human Rights Council were in progress in Geneva”. That is nineteen people who disappeared even as Government representatives were trying to persuade the UN that all was well in Sri Lanka.

A facebook page has now been set up to draw attention to this disappearance epidemic.

After taking a look at the list we have reason to believe that at least 26, or a little under half, of these abductions had a direct and cleat political link. In this group we find five ex-tamil tiger cadres who were abducted between the end of February and the beginning of March (numbers 17 to 21 in this list), an Urban Council Chairman and his brother (numbers 10 and 28), two human rights defenders and political activists (numbers 40 and 41), an organizer of the ITAK political party (number 31), a government member (number 36), the uncle of a government member (number 45), a close associate of a Minister (number 39), the suspected murderer of a former Prime Minister (number 55), and the son of a former provincial councillor who was released after being warned not to criticize the government (number 16).

In at least nine of these 26 cases the abductors are suspected to belong to the government in some way (numbers 6, 7, 8, 32, 49, 50, 51 and the most recent two). These include a man believed to have been abducted by Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa’s “white van clan”, and three Veddah (indigenous Sri Lankan) youths. As the recently freed Gunaratnam said “the way they operated strongly suggested that abductors were a part of government security services and operate with the blessings of a political authority”.

It is also worth highlighting the abduction of Mr. Sagara Senaratne, brother-in-law of Minister Jeevan Kumaratunga. As the article puts it he “was released within hours of being abducted after the abductors had got “a call” while he was still in the van that he had been abducted in. Mr. Sagara had claimed that he would not be alive if not for the intervention of Minister Kumaratunga, the President and the Defense Secretary. It is not clear how the Rajapakse brothers and the Minister were able to ensure the release of Mr. Sagara even as he was being taken away by the abductors, without even the involvement of the Police”.

It looks like there are two other main reasons for abductions. The first is the extrajudicial removal of criminals. At least 10 of the 58 abductions were of lawbreakers, with four gang members (numbers 22, 35, 47 and 54), three drug traffickers (numbers 9, 23 and 46) and an “underworld leader” with two of his associates (numbers 42, 43 and 44) amongst the abductees.

The second most common non-political reason for abductions is financial. At least three of these abductions fall under this category, as the abductors actually asked for a ransom (numbers 13, 14, and 24). There are also a further seven possible abductions that may fall under this category; those of three school kids, one university student and three business men (numbers 3, 4, 5, 15, 26, 27 and 38).

The remaining 12 abductions have no known reasons. These include a bookshop owner that was released after the abductors realized that he was the wrong person (number 48) and seven murders (numbers 29, 30, 33, 34, 53 and 56).

The fact that almost half of the abductions are probably political is very significant. But it would be wrong to suggest that the Government is blameless for the other half of abductions that take place. Repeated incidents have made it clear that the Government’s culture of impunity is having far reaching consequences. Even ignoring the many probable links between members of the administration and the underworld it is clear that the government’s approach is creating a -significant cadre of people who consider them above the law or who think nothing of taking the law into their own hands. The rule of law is in retreat, and clearly nobody is safe.
Video: TNA MP MA Sumanthiran asks why not a single "white van" abductor has been brought to justice.