By Dushiyanthini Kanagasabapathipillai
30th August is the International Day of the Disappeared
Thorough checking before the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay arrives
International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances is commemorated annually on the 30th of August. Visiting United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay attended a special event held to mark the International Day of the Disappeared, and addressed the families of the disappeared. Candle Light Vigil was held at the Independence Square, where hundreds of families of the disappeared lit candles, held photographs of their missing loved ones, and cried aloud.
Speech which was delivered by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay on 30th of August 2013:~
“Annaivarukkum Vanakkam”, “Ladies and Gentlemen”,
It is especially important for me to be here in
Colombo to mark together with you the International Day of the Victims of
Enforced Disappearances. I would like to
thank the organisers and all those who have travelled long and far to be here
Wherever I travel as High Commissioner, it is always
the disappeared and the missing who are at the forefront of my mind. Because the pain and despair experienced by
their families and loved ones is like no other.
A prisoner can usually see a patch of light from his or her cell and
hope one day for release. A torture
survivor can one day heal and rebuild his or her life. The families of those killed can mourn their
loved ones and put their soul to rest. The
true fate of a loved one means, the agony continues day after day after
day. There is no closure. The mother searching for her son or daughter. The child who grows up with a photograph and
faint memory of a parent. The loss of a
breadwinner and its impact on a family.
The education opportunities a child may miss. The circle of hope and
frustration as the search is met with official cover up and denial. The fear
brought to communities by the spectra of the white van.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay is being welcomed by Vibhushika Palendran (whose two elders brothers were killed in the war, and the third brother has gone missing after surrendering to the security forces towards the end of the war), along with two other girls, to an event to mark the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay addressing the Families of the Disappeared, at an event to mark the International Day of the Disappeared
For this reason, we think of enforced disappearances
as a “continuous crime”, for which there is no “statute of limitations”, and for
which our search for truth and justice does not end. Enforced disappearance is one of the gravest
international crimes, which the State is under an obligation to investigate and
bring to justice, and for which no amnesty can be applied. It is vital to ensure the right to the truth,
the right to justice and the right to reparations for the disappeared and their
families. Conflict that spans more than
30 years. You literally represent
“generations of the disappeared”: the
thousands of cases reported during the JVP insurgency and early years of the
ethnic conflict; the wave of disappearances that engulfed the north in the
mid-1990s after the army regained control of the Jaffna peninsula; the disappearances that continued during the
ceasefire period; and those who have disappeared
since the last days and months of the fighting.
We must also remember those who were abducted at the
hands of the LTTE and other armed groups, and the soldiers and police who remain
missing in action. Many others may have
been abducted by criminal groups, who have exploited the situation to their own
For people who have lost loved ones, there is
perhaps no remedy for this pain. But in
international law, at a minimum, families can expect to know the truth, through
proper investigation; to see justice, by perpetrators being brought to
account; to receive reparations, including
compensation and rehabilitation ; and to be guaranteed this will never happen
again, by changing laws and practices that have allowed this to occur.
Over the years, Sri Lanka has had five different
Presidential Commissions of Inquiry, tasked with looking into cases of disappearances.
Those in the mid-1990s in fact did important work, which should have brought
redress for victims. But not all of
their reports were made public, and many of their recommendations were never implemented. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
rightly observed that the failure to follow-up on previous commissions had
further undermined public confidence in the rule of law.
At the international level, the United Nations
Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, and a number of other human
rights mandate holders and treaty bodies, have engaged intensively with the
Government over many years on the many thousands of cases.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay addressing the Families of the Disappeared
Today, I had the chance to discuss with His
Excellency the President regarding the new Commission of Inquiry he has
appointed to examine cases of disappearances from the Northern and Eastern Provinces
during the war. I welcome this new
investigation, but I hope it will build on the lessons of past commissions to
produce a more credible, effective and timely result. I urged the President to seek the assistance
of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances by inviting
it to visit the country in the coming months.
I also encouraged him, as a signal of the Government’s commitment to end
the scourge of disappearances once and for all, to ratify the International
Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
A mother of a missing son holding a placard while United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay addresses the gathering
Women weeps as United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navaneetham Pillay speaks
Family members of Disappeared holding photographs of their missing loved ones
Women member of the disappeared cry uncontrollably at the event to mark the International Day of the Disappeared
Thank you again for attending this commemoration and
sharing your personal stories and views with me. I stand here with you in your search for
justice – and through that reconciliation and peace.
"We shall overcome; We will overcome one day. It is deep in our heart. We do believe we shall overcome one day", family members of the disappeared singing and walking towards the Independence Square
Ashadevi Shanmugalingam at the Candle Light Vigil