A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission
SRI LANKA: UN Human Rights Mechanisms Ought to Explore New Approaches to Protect Rights
For several decades now, the widespread practice of enforced disappearances has been experienced in Sri Lanka in a very large scale
Despite many attempts by the UN human rights agencies including the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances, there are hardly any cases where credible investigations or prosecutions have taken place concerning the cases which sometimes go into thousands which are being reported.
It is time for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the UN Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, and the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to take steps to gain an understanding of this horrible practice. The approach to understand this widespread practice, should go beyond the legalistic approach of demanding investigations and prosecutions. One of the reasons for that approach is that the practice has shown that this approach has not produced any success.
If this extremely brutal form of punishment is to be brought under the scrutiny of the UN human rights mechanisms, it is necessary to understand the complex factors that have led to the adoption of this mode of punishment in Sri Lanka.
It will be surprising to find that in in Sri Lanka the death sentence on convicted criminals is usually not put into actual practice. This is quite a positive aspect.
However, the same country has no hesitation to cause enforced disappearances through its security agencies such as the Police, the military or paramilitary agencies. In most such cases, enforced disappearances mean abduction in place of arrest, torture and the extraction of information, the killing of persons in detention and also the disposal of bodies in secret. All these activities are carried out with direct or indirect approvals granted for the use of this form of punishment on some categories of persons.
In most cases, these persons who are thus subjected to enforced disappearances are pesons who for one reason or the other have come into conflict with the political establishment of the country. Sometimes, they are called terrorists. However, in enforced disappearances, the accuser, the investigator, the judge and the executioner are more or less the same persons. As the act of enforced disappearance is denied, there is no way to officially find out the reasons for these acts.
It has also been established that the actual persons who become the targets of such enforced disappearances are themselves not the real targets that are being pursued. The real target is the society in general. The need to create an ethos and an environment of fear in order to prevent any form of legitimate peaceful resistance against violations of rights and injustices is, the ultimate aim of these actions. Thus, the ultimate aims are of a political nature.
Before any real achievements could be made in order to stop these practices from the point of view of legal actions, it is much more important to gain insight into what has happened through studies into the political, social, psychological and other aspects that have provided the justification for such actions to be made possible. It requires much change in the political and moral ethos of a country before some officers working for the State could be motivated to undertake actions such as causing enforced disappearances.
If a serious attempt is made in corroboration with the experts in the fields of political science, sociology, psychology and other related branches of knowledge for in depth studies into these events, it would probably generate much more insight into these actions. Besides, it will also lead to the possibility of creating much more enlightened discussions and debates both in the relevant societies and also in the international arena. Such studies into these factors are very much missing.
Living at a time of great communication change as that is taking place at the present time, gaining greater knowledge about an issue could lead to the taking of many forms of action for the eradication of such an evil than merely relying on the legal mechanisms only.
Much more creative and innovative approaches are needed if the world is to gain a greater knowledge about what has made such large scale disappearances quite a part of the political tools of suppression in Sri Lanka, as well as elsewhere.
Many decades of the attempts to deal with such problems only by legal means only. have failed. It is necessary not to rely on the same means that have produced such negative results. By greater collaboration, the various branches of research may be able to create a discourse which could lead to positive steps being taken for the greater involvement of many stakeholders to resolve this terrible problem.
Relying only on legal means by demanding investigations and prosecutions had allowed Sri Lankan governments to adopt highly deceptive dealing with UN agencies. One of the latest attempts was the promise of investigations by the Missing Persons Office. Now, for all practical purposes, this office is itself missing. The room available for such deceptive reporting up and down has removed all seriousness out of government responses to UN demands.
A different approach is needed if justice relating to Enforced Disappearance is to become a reality.
The impact of disappearances on the body , Mind, Soul, and Society
EXTRAORDINARY ACTS OF CRUELTY can kill in physical terms, but they can also have a deadening effect on the cognitive faculties and emotional capacities in others. I have seen all that happening to individuals, groups, and entire societies.
I have known many innocent individuals who became victims of enforced disappearances, one of whom was illegally arrested by accident, and thereafter disappeared. This led to the gradual eating away of his brother’s body and mind, and eventual death. Medical doctors and psychologists could not explain his illness or cause of death. Similarly, another individual who had seen the pieces of his brother’s body, after he had been killed by rebels, also died after a slow decay, for which there was no rational explanation.
Anyone familiar with families of disappeared persons knows how often such tragedies happen, demonstrating a mind, body, and soul connection. At the same time, many others suffer various cognitive disorders from the awareness of such violence and cruelties. Deeper and deeper levels of confusion and demoralisation slowly erode cognitive functions.
The change that occurs is at the level of being itself; the layers of meanings embedded in each person’s consciousness when challenged in a fundamental way leaves a negative impact not only on individuals, but also on societies. When similar occurrences happen in societies, the negative impact enters into the human consciousness everywhere.
As a result, many types of deaths occur. Moral norms and associated beliefs that sustain life like a living stream, deaden, so that the living stream dries up. It finally reaches a point when such deaths themselves are celebrated as a triumph.
This death of moral norms occurs unconsciously, or subconsciously. Moral norms are the soil from which good intentions can rise; when the soil itself is not fertile, then the plants are affected. All kinds of deformed intentions begin to rise and spread. Nuclear bombs, projects that destroy natural resources and the climate are seen as right. Massive industries are created to do evil. This includes massive misinformation and fake news industries.
A world in which distinguishing good intentions from bad intentions is regarded as irrelevant stifles creativity and produces negativity. This negativity also gives rise to deep rebellions inside every person. The mind rebels against its destroyers; the psyche rebels against its tormentors; the soul rebels against its murderers.
Discoveries about human consciousness demonstrate not only interconnections between people, but also that our connection to the whole is the fundamental condition of our being. Parts of the body and society are being called upon to discover the unity between the parts and the whole. Suffering everywhere hastens our understanding of the unity of body, mind, soul, and society held together by an invisible thread.
The healing power of the all-embracing unity alone can cure the sick society we are living in at the moment.
It is possible to dissolve the deep conditions that have generated indifference and, at times, active and enthusiastic support for not just the murder of individuals but also large-scale massacres that amount to crimes against humanity. This indifference is so overwhelming that destruction of life from the earth itself is also considered as a matter of little importance.
Now, everything hangs on the awakening of the collective aspirations and will of humanity itself, which can only come forth from the depth of their beings. The intention to live and save can wipe out the forces of demoralisation, hopelessness, and negativity. It can bring back the vitality that will give rise to thousands of faces of creativity. The severance of body, mind, soul, and society can be replaced by the fundamental force of consciousness.
Looking for Raju
Amnesty International Poetry Competition, “Silenced Shadows,” 10 September 2015
What kind of a father are you, Asked his wife.
Where is he, our son,
Do you care at all…
How can I tell her what I know. Already so upset and depressed, How can she take any more,
What will become of her, he worried.
Events of the last few months, Like a film, rolled inside his brain; First it was, “Where is Raju,” Then, “Raju is missing.”
Then, more troubling news.
Raju was arrested;
Raju is in a detention centre; Which centre and how to find out.…
Then the journeys – one detention centre After another; strange places, Strange people, strange things.
Now, at sixty, he was entering into the unknown.
Head of a family, one that owed the obligation To explain, to console and to sustain hope,
To prevent a wife, a mother Going mad; fears of failure.
Where is Raju? No-one cares to answer. At every detention centre, the same reply, We know nothing about Raju,
Have not seen him or heard of him.
Where is the complaint,
The arrest warrant,
The interrogation record, the case file.
No answer to such questions.
Then, the powerful ministers Appear on television,
Denying any knowledge of Raju. Their hands are clean, they swear.
He is told many things by many people, Claiming that they saw the arrest
And the way he was dragged into a van.
Others speculated that Raju has been tortured.
But no-one explains why.
Perhaps, mistaken for a terrorist.
After all, he was a student, and many students are missing
He wonders, how to create a story To convince his wife that Raju is ok….
Raju has gone for a long journey, Raju will return soon.
At night, he dreamt his son was coming back, His son, embracing his mother.
And then, he sees his dead son,
Body found under a tree, with many injuries.
Days pass into months and then into years.
He is standing at the deathbed of an old woman, His wife, refusing to be reconciled,
Losing any speck of trust, muttering, Raju, Raju
They who stole his son, Have now killed his wife.
But, who are they,
Why do they do such things.…
“For truly great tragedies There are no explanations,” He wrote in his diary.
“But I must seek one.”
“This is about myself, who am I?”
A father who could not protect his child, A husband who could not console his wife,
An old man who cannot make sense of anything.…
I believed in civilisation, Human superiority over everything,
Of my link to the stars; What am I to believe now.…
I believed in rules and the law.
What is the rule, the law that allows stealing of the young,
And then making them disappear.…
I believed in the government’s accountability.
But, the president, the prime minister, Other ministers, refuse to see me And fail to answer my questions.…
Who is my neighbour after all.
Everyone avoids me Knowing I cannot be consoled.
They could say nothing of any value to me.
I will not cease to search,
I will not stop my questioning,
I will not die, but live to the end of time Seeking my son and asking questions from everyone.
When the State makes citizens disappear, A nation becomes another –
As a polluted river
Is no longer the same river.
To the task of washing the water clean,
To the painful process of a state admitting guilt, To the torturous path of people telling the truth To each other, my life is now committed.
Tens of thousands of such men, Such women, walk this country.
In the South, the North and the East, Everywhere, every day, asking the same questions.
On the same roads walk their tormentors Those who stole their children.
They may often meet and even exchange polite greetings,
not knowing who they are and how they are connected.
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The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) works towards the radical rethinking and fundamental redesigning of justice institutions in order to protect and promote human rights in Asia. Established in 1984, the Hong Kong based organisation is a Laureate of the Right Livelihood Award, 2014.