Tamil families of the disappeared at a rally in Jaffna earlier this year
US Congressmen Brad Sherman and Jamie Raskin introduced a House Resolution calling for an end to enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, across Asia and around the world and also calls upon the United States to ratify the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
The resolution highlights that “Tamil families of the disappeared have demonstrated tremendous courage in conducting continuing protests, lasting over 1,300 days to demand answers from the Sri Lankan state, despite being met with threats, intimidation, and harrassment by state security forces.”
It also noted that Sri Lanka has “promoted high-ranking military officials suspected of forcibly disappearing persons and bearing responsibility for war crimes, incuding Lieutenant General Shavendra Silva, and has failed to hold accountable other current military officials accused of war crimes.”
The resolution calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to:
Carry out effective and independent investigations with a view of swiftly bringing to justice those repsonsible for enforced disappearances;
Recommit the Government to complying with the transitional justice goals and framework as articulated in the United Nations Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1, and implement measures to establish the transitional justice mechanisms outlined in the resolution;
End the threats and intimidation against families of the disappeared, journalists, human rights defenders, and lawyers enagged in cases of enforced disappearances;
Consult with victims and families of the disappeared, release lists of those detained since 1978 under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and investigate and release a list of all secret detention centres;
Resume the practice of issuing interim relief to families of the disappeared, as recommended by the Office on Missing Persons;
Repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and stop the misuse of laws, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to threaten, harass and prosecute dissenters, journalists and activists; and
Work with the United States Government to pursue those responsible for atrocity crimes and ensuring that the fate of all of those disappeared is determined.
Read the full resolution here.
In a statement, Congressman Raskin said he is proud to join Congressman Sherman in introducing this resolution “to end this heinous crime, and support justice and accountability for victims and survivors of enforced disappearance, including those carried out against Sindh communities in Pakistan; Tamils and human rights activists in Sri Lanka; victims of the Suharto regime in Indonesia, and Uighur Muslims in China suffering mass atrocities.”
Speaking to Tamil Guardian, Ernest Rajakone, US Advocacy Officer for People for Equality and Relief in Lanka (PEARL), said “it is critical that the international community take concrete measures in demanding accountability from the Sri Lankan state for the perpetration of serious human rights violations. PEARL strongly supports the resolution’s call to support transitional justice measures to assist victims and survivors of enforced disappearances around the world – including by supporting international mechanisms where necessary to clarify the fate and whereabouts of the disappeared.”
“In particular, we were heartened to see H.Res1231 not only acknowledge, but commend, the tremendous courage of the Tamil families of the disappeared. These families have protested, demanding answers on the fate of their loved ones, in the face of government intimidation, for over 1,300 days. PEARL stands in solidarity with the Tamil families of the disappeared and their continued demand for justice,” he added.
Earlier this year, a report by the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed concern over the deteriorating civil society space in Sri Lanka and emphasised that “relatives of forcibly disappeared individuals as well as others such as witnesses and defence counsels should be protected against any form of intimidation, harassment or ill-treatment.”
The report also noted that “the recurrence of disappearances following the change in Government has raised serious questions about the ability and willingness to end the practice all together.”