Ananthy Sasitharan the wife of “missing” Senior Tiger Leader Sinnathurai Sasitharan alias Ezhilan met visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanethan Pillay in person at Jaffna on Tuesday August 27th 2013 and spoke to her briefly for five minutes.
During the course of this short meeting the 42 year old mother of three children explained briefly the circumstances under which her husband and several other senior leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE)who had surrendered to the Sri Lankan Army at Vattuvaaikkal in Mullaitheevu were now deemed missing persons.
Ms. Ananthy Sasitharan who is contesting the Northern Provincial Council elections from Jaffna district as a Tamil National Alliance candidate also handed over a detailed document outlining problems concerning the families of disappeared and missing persons and war widows and families.
Although Ms. Sasitharan was expected to meet visiting UN Human Rights Commissioner Ms. Navanetham Pillay known as Navi Pillay as part of an NGO delegation involved in the issue of disappearances and missing persons on Aug 27th in Jaffna that opportunity was subsequently denied to her by the organizations concerned.
While utilising her services to mobilise families of disappeared persons for demonstrations and signing petitions the organizations concerned had refused to accommodate Ms. Sasitharan on the basis that she was now a politician and therefore ineligible to represent civil society in meetings with Ms. Navi Pillay.She was even asked to keep away from activities connected to Ms.Pillay’s Jaffna visit
While “Civil Society” and related NGO activists refused to accommodate Ananthy on the basis that she was a political candidate, The Tamil National alliance that is fielding her as a candidate also excluded her from its delegation scheduled to meet Ms. Navi Pillay on August 30th in Colombo.
It was in this context that this writer drew attention to Ms. Sasitharan;s predicament and pointed out that the outspoken woman campaigning to find out the fate that had befallen her husband and others in his position was being exploited and discarded like “Karuveppilai” (curry leaf).
Despite the shabby treatment meted out to Ms. Ananthy by some organizational networks , there were other organizations and activists who rallied around her.Activists involved in women’s issues intervened on her behalf and initiated action to see that her point of view is conveyed to Ms. Pillay.
A memorandum was compiled on her behalf by a woman’s organization granted a five minute appointment with Navi Pillay. It was arranged that the memorandum on behalf of Ms.Sasitharan would be handed over to Navi Pillay at this meeting.Though she would not have been able to meet Navi Pillay at least her memorandum would have been given directly to the UN Human rights chief under this arrangement.
Subsequently another opportunity arose where Ananthy got a chance to meet Ms. Pillay personally.This was made possible by the facilitation of Fr. Emmanuel Sebamalai, a Catholic Priest from Mannar. Fr. Sebamalai the Parish priest of Thaalvuppaadu in Mannar Island is also the President of the Citizens Committee of the Mannar Diocese.He is also actively involved with the Mannar based Association of Families searching for their Disappeared relatives.
Since Ms. Navi Pillay’s itinerary in the North did not include a visit to Mannar , Fr. Sebamalai and the Mannar citizens committee had sought and obtained an appointment to meet the UN HR commissioner in Jaffna on Aug 27th. A 15 minute time slot had been reserved for the Mannar delegation. Fr. Sebamalai had included representatives from the Association of families searching for their disappeared relatives also in the Mannar delegation.
Tentatively. Ms. Sasitharan’s name was also included in the 15 member delegation as she had been of immense help in activities relating to the sphere of disappeared relatives. Later her name had been excluded as she was supposedly included in the delegation of another NGO. When Fr. Sebamalai was informed by Ms.Sasitharan’s concerned friends that she had been jettisoned, the Mannar clergyman offered help.
With the concurrence of other Mannar based activists Fr. Sebamalai included Ananthy’s name in the delegation representing the Mannar citizens committee.Ms.Sasitharan would represent relatives of disappeared family members and present her first hand account about her husband Ezhilan and oter surrendees.It was arranged that Ananthy would get a chance to speak directly to Ms.Pillay for three minutes and present her memorandum.
On August 27th Ms. Ananthy Sasitharan participated in the demonstration staged by relatives of missing and disappeared persons opposite the Jaffna Pubic library. The people gathered at the Muniyappar temple premises near the Fort and marched down to the Library.While the demonstration went on outside Ms. Navi Pillay held a number of meetings with Jaffna officials and civil society members inside at the auditorium.Thereafter Ms.Pillay returned to the UN office in Nalloor.
Demonstration in Jaffna-pic courtesy of: BBC Tamil
Consequently the 15 member delegation inclusive of Ms. Sasitharan went to the UN office at Temple road in Nalloor to meet. Ms. Pillay in person. It was at that meeting which Ananthy met Navanetham directly and explained how her husband and others had surrendered through a Catholic priest and that all were now missing. She further said that the UN had failed to protect the people during the war and that now families of disappeared relatives were depending upon the UN as a last resort to get back their loved ones.The 3 minute time slot given to Ananthy was extended to 5 minutes. She also handed over a memorandum with precise details.
Ms. Pillay listened to representations made intently and assured the delegation that she would devote maximum attention to the disappearances and missing persons issues.Later Fr.Sebamalai and Ms. Sasitharan returned to the Jaffna Library venue and addressed the 500 plus demonstrators there.They told them of the assurances provided by Ms.Pillay.
In an Interview with Reuters Ms. Sasitharan expressed hope that her missing husband is alive, perhaps in a secret detention camp.Sasitharan said her husband had surrendered to the military on May 18, 2009, a day before the government declared victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebel group.”I am confident that he is alive. He is somewhere in a secret detention center,” she told Reuters.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at ~ firstname.lastname@example.org