A nearly 10-year wait for missing family
This past July marked 500 days of protests of Tamil families whose relatives went missing since 2009.
“I have spent every cent I have to get information on the whereabouts of my husband,” said a Tamil woman who has been searching for her husband since the end of the war. “When I didn’t have money I pawned my wedding ring, with a heavy heart, and even sold my children’s jewellery. But it was all in vain. I have not found any details about my husband up to now. Not even from the people who promised to help find him.”
This devastated wife said she had to pay a bribe to a civilian and two members of a military force who promised to help to find her husband. Other families from the North similarly gave away their possessions to pay bribes or ransom to officials in the armed forces or agents of civil organisations. But regardless of how much they paid, they remain without information about their loved ones.
They are among a collective who have been protesting the government’s slow action in finding their families, who went missing since 2009, in the late stages of the war. The collective protested for 500 days and had a set of demands that included:
“The investigation and release of a list of all secret detention centres, the publication of a list of all detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (yearly, since 1978), and the release of records of all those who surrendered to the Sri Lankan armed forces at the end of the civil war,“ according to The Sri Lanka Campaign for Peace and Justice.
Huwan Mendis, a UN human rights expert said during the last phase of the civil war about 16,000-22,000 disappearances of (mostly former Tamil Tigers) were reported. As a result, the Sri Lankan government established the Office of Missing persons (OMP) in 2017, after several commissions of inquiry were set up between 1994 and 2013. Many Tamil relatives of disappeared wonder if OMP is also just another office.
Families have been waiting for nearly a decade, which sent them to the streets for 500 days, bearing all kinds of weather and intimidation.
“Please give justice to the families of missing persons, it is the only way to heal the wounds in their hearts,” read a document with signatures of 242 people and 39 organizations to be given to the president, military, foreign missions, and opposition leaders.