Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Annual Commemoration For The Disappeared

October 27th Annual Commemoration For The Disappeared

Families of the Disappeared, Sri Lanka

The event organized annually by the Families of the Disappeared (FOD), was organized this year combined with Law and Society Trust ( LST ), Neelan Thiruchelvam Trust ( NTT ),Inform and Center for Peoples Diologue ( CPD )

The religious ceremony with a Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim and catholic priest , started the commemoration at 0930.

Two speeches were presented by the president (FOD) and the president of “The Injured Persons organization in Gwangju “ representing the May 18 Memorial Foundation- Gwangju- Korea Republic.

The May 18 Memorial Foundation donated two computers and a printer to the FOD.

The booklet” Clarifying the past &Commemorating SriLanka’s Disappeared” Published jointly by FOD, HumanRights Data Analysis Group, BeneTech (USA) and International Center for Transitional Justice was presented to the May 18 Memorial Foundation delegation, to the Clergy, Organizations representatives and to some family members of the disappeared. The full expenses for the book was beard by Ben Tech and ICTJ.

Then a picket was held in front of the monument, for about 15 minutes to show the responsible people and specially the government the anger against the disappearances and demanding the justice for the families of the disappeared.

“ Sadu Jaanarawa” the veteran singer Mr. Jayathilaka Bandara sang few songs in the memory of the disappeared.

The flower offering was the next event.

After that the alms giving to Buddhist monks was held at the nearby temple. Then the lunch was served to the participants.

About 340 attended and 22 representatives attended on behalf of the organizations.

The Conference

It was started at YMCA auditorium at 1330.

Participants -160

Organizations – 16

Political parties -03

It was started with a presentation about the disappearances and then followed on with sharing experiences of a mother, a child and a young wife from North and East.

Rev. Fr.Sathyawail shared his experiences about the North and East. The president Of the FOD, Mr. Brito Fernando raised some questions about the past and present activities against the disappearances saying finding the true answers to them will be helpful to organize our future activities.

Three speeches were given by the leaders of the three political parties, Dr. Wickramabahu Karunsarathna –New Left Front, Member of the Parlimant, Mr. Mano Ganeshan- Western People’s Front, Mr. Siritunga Jayasooriya – United Socialist Front, the presidential candidate at the last presidential elections.

They said the government should bear the responsibility for the disappearances taking place .The war is the main reason for the disappearances and we all should fight against the war if we want to stop the disappearances and it is a must. They all said though it is not that easy yet we should try to build a coalition to fight against this most cruel offence against the humanity.

Mr. Sudarshana Gunawardana spoke on behalf of the organization “ Rights Now “

A lively discussion took place with the family members, organization representatives and other individuals taking part.

After the discussion what were said was briefly put in writing with the demands for which we all agreed to campaign together in the future.

15 organizations signed the document and agreed to work together in the future. November 15th was agreed to meet again for further discussions and to invite the other organizations also to work together. The Document signed by 15 organizations is attached herewith.

The conference was over at 1830.

This event was supported by NTT, FLICT and The May 18 Memorial Foundation, Gwangju, Korea.

Families of the Disappeared

The speech for the Annual Commemoration for the Disappeared in 2007

First of all, I am very pleased to join in your significant event as a representative of Gwangju, Republic of Korea. My name is Kim Hu-sik, a president of the May 18 Resistance Association and also a board member of The May 18 Memorial Foundation.

I suffered and got wounded during the May 18, 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising because we were against the violence of dictatorial government. We also struggled hard for justice, rectify truth and regain the reputation of the patriots of May 18 for the last twenty-seven years. Today, standing here before you, it is very great honor for me as a Gwangju representative to deliver a speech at your annual commemoration for the Disappeared this year 2007.

In the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising, the citizens struggled against the violence committed by the government. But we have regained and win back the reputation of the people wanting freedom and democracy. So like you we are also commemorating the May 18 Gwangju Democratic Uprising so the people will not forget those who offered their for our present liberty. However, I am very sad and so sorry that Sri Lanka is still in the process of finding out the truth and regaining the reputation of those who sacrificed their life for democracy.
We in Gwangju at that time got support from the world in recovering back and rectifying the proper image and reputation of May 18. The May 18 Memorial Foundation have been supporting your annual commemoration for the Disappeared since 2001 and cooperating with the Families of the Disappeared. I believe that solidarity and education programs here in Asia is another way to for Korea to maintain its legacy as a truly democratic nation. Without developing human rights and democracy in its neighborhood, we won't prosper and continue to develop our own Democracy in Korea.

However, the most important thing is your effort. You should continue with your effort to investigate the truth of the disappeared and to regain the disappeared´s good reputation. Unity and cooperation or solidarity is very important in this struggle. We have to realize that it is very challenging to achieve victory in our struggles for human rights and democracy. But we all have to keep our hope burning to realize our dreams.

Once again, I am very happy to be here with you in your annual commemoration for the Disappeared for 2007. Lastly, I give my thanks to the hosts of this event. Thank you.

Our commitment to struggle together against enforced disappearances

Enforced disappearances are one of the gravest crimes against humanity and should not be tolerated under any circumstances. One of the worst aspects of a disappearance, from the point of view of the family, is the unending grief, due to the lack of official acknowledgement of the fact that a loved one has actually disappeared, leaving no trace of what has happened to them.

October 27th 1989 was the day that Free Trade Zone worker Ranjith was shot and burnt at Raddoluwa junction. The killing of his legal advisor and the FTZ workers, and thousands of others who disappeared during that time, has been commemorated annually on 27th October since 1991.

Today, on 27th October 2007, 18 years after that tragic event, we have come together as family members of those subjected to enforced disappearances, in the late 1980s, 1990s and in 2006-2007, as Sinhalese, Tamils and Muslims, and other concerned individuals and groups, to share our grief, to stand together and to voice our opposition to this dreadful phenomenon that continues to grip our country.

Sri Lanka, home to great religious and spiritual traditions, first came to be known internationally as one of the countries in the where enforced disappearances happen on a mass scale in the late 1980s, particularly in the South of the country. This was in the context of the then regime’s brutal crackdown on the JVP insurgency, and young Sinhalese men were the main victims. In the 1990s, enforced disappearances became a regular occurrence in the North and East of the country, this time, in the context of successive regimes’ attempts to deal with Tamil militancy. This time, Tamil men and women were the main victims. The ceasefire of 2002 gave hope that these would finally come to a halt, but even as the international community said a firm NO to enforced disappearances by adopting the UN International Convention against Enforced Disappearances, this grave human rights violation reared its ugly head again in Sri Lanka, this time in the North, East and South of the country.

We know that a number of commissions and committees had been appointed to look into disappearances since the 1990s up to 2007. But some of their most important reports have not been published. Their recommendations have been ignored. Investigations and prosecutions have not been pursed based on their findings and, as a result, disappearances continue to happen on a large scale till today.

It is our wish that other families in Sri Lanka, and indeed all over the world, will never have to endure the immense pain inflicted on us by the enforced disappearances of loved ones, and not knowing what happened to them for years and years.

In addition to the enduring pain of losing loves ones, we note with sadness that family members of disappeared have to continue to struggle to live in dignity till today. We are pained to know that some family members, who wanted to attend this event today, could not do so due to poverty. Recommendations of government appointed commissions and our own work has not been able to ensure reasonable and equitable compensation, other assistance and justice for the family members of the disappeared.

It is with great regret that we realize that our past work against this phenomenon has not been enough to put a stop to this heinous crime against humanity.

Today, as family members of disappeared, human rights defenders, academics, political party representatives and Sri Lankans, we commit ourselves to join hands to continue this struggle. In particular, we commit ourselves to work together with family members of those disappeared, whether they are Sinhalese, Tamil or Muslim and from all parts of the country.

We also take this opportunity to call all those responsible for enforced disappearances to immediately halt this terrible practice.

In particular, we call on the government to:

1. Acknowledge the large number of disappearances that have been reported since 2006, conduct credible investigations, prosecute alleged perpetrators and inform all concerned, particularly family members of disappeared, as to what had happened;

2. Not to heap further suffering on the family members by dismissing complaints on disappearances;

3. Immediately make public unpublished reports submitted to the President by various commissions of inquiry – in particular, the report presented by the Mahanama Tillekeratne Commission in 2007 and the unpublished sections of the report by the All Island Presidential Commission of Inquiry to inquire into enforced disappearances that was appointed in 1998 and presented to the then President in 2002;

4. Pay attention to the welfare of family members of the disappeared in late 1980s and 1990s, particularly by ensuring that they are given adequate compensation and other forms of assistance without any sort of discrimination

5. Take immediate steps to implement the recommendations made by the various Presidential Commission of Inquiries appointed to investigate enforced disappearances and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances;

6. Amend the Penal Code to include the crime of disappearance and the concept of command responsibility within it;

7. Accept offered international assistance to address the issue of enforced disappearances by responding positively to the pending request since 2006 by the Working Group on Enforced Disappearances to visit the country;

8. Ratify UN International Convention Against Enforced Disappearances.

9. Establish an office of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in Sri Lanka at least until the situation get better and to show the good will of the government under the leadership of the President Mahinda Rajapaksa who opposed the disappearances with us in 1989 to 1991 period

With the Solidarity of the Families Of the Disappeared

1. Human Rights Citizen’s Committee
2. SETIC – Kandy
3. Human Rights organization – Athugalpura
4. Young Christian Workers
5. Deevara Diriya Organization – Dickwella
6. United Socialist Party
7. Organization of the Members of the Disappeared Families
8. Law and Society Trust
9. Neelan Thiruchelvam Trust
10. Right to Life Human Rights Center
11. Rights Now
12. Center for Peoples Dialogue
13. Inform
14. Center for society and Religion
15. (Samagi Kirieme saha Sama Anshya)

Together in solidarity with families of the disappeared,

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