Gotabaya Rajapaksa has been ordered to give evidence before the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court on June 21 in a Habeas Corpus inquiry into the disappearance of two human rights activists who went missing during his tenure as the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence.
Speaking to the Sunday Observer ex-Defence Secretary’s legal team confirmed that provided there’s no security threat Rajapaksa will appear. He added that the legal team is still studying the file.
Rights and political activists Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Kugan Muruganandan went missing a day before World Human Rights Day, on December 9, 2011. They were last seen in the Kaitaddy area in Jaffna.
Ironically, Weeraraj and Muruganandan were laboriously documenting disappearances in the Northern Province during and after the end of the war in 2009, when they went missing without a trace.
Seven years ago, a writ of Habeas Corpus was filed in the Court of Appeal to demand the release of Weeraraj and Muruganandan if they were in the custody of the State. An inquiry into the writ commenced at the Jaffna Magistrate’s Court in September 2012.
Crucial evidence of their abductions was initially provided by three eye-witnesses.
All three witnesses retracted their statements and backed out of testifying.
According to their initial statements Weeraraj and Muruganandan, travelling from Point Pedro on a motorbike, were stopped at Kaitaddy
by a group, bundled into a white van and taken away. That was the last time the two activists were seen.
To support the case lawyer Nuwan Bopage has compiled a list of ‘white-van’ abductions. White-van abductions are those believed to be carried out by the military under the order of powerful heads of State during the previous regime. The list consists 56 such incidents reported from across the island.
Weeraraj was also threatened on several occasions before the incident. JVP dissident group member Dimuthu Attygala who was also abducted and later released following international pressure on the government testified regarding the threats.
Though the concerned parties requested relevant officials to investigate into the phone discussions the missing activists had had prior to the incident it has not been conducted to date. Reports from two telecommunication service providers are pending.
The case took a fresh turn when former Media Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told a press briefing that Weeraraj and Muruganandan were alive. ‘Mr. Weeraraj and Mr. Muruganandan have not been disappeared, they are there’.
Giving evidence before courts, the former Minister has said he made the declaration after the Security Council gave information regarding the incident.
Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, as head of the Security Council at the time of the abductions, has been called to make a statement next month.
When a protest was organized soon after the activists disappeared, the military had obstructed the demonstrators using wooden poles with nails attached at the end. Lawyer Bopage says there was no reason for the military to behave this way unless it was intent on covering up the crime.
The Sunday Observer learns the duo had gathered information about 4,000 disappearance cases and were involved in discussions on how to obtain justice for the victims.
Before they went missing Weeraraj who resided in the Avissawella area and Muruganandan from Jaffna had been organizing an event to mark World Human Rights Day in Jaffna. Enforced disappearances were to be a key focus at the event.
Weeraraj was formally a non-academic staffer at the University of Jayawardenapura. He later joined the People’s Liberation Front (JVP) to pursue full time politics. After the end of the war in 2009, when suppression was high, he went to Jaffna as he was fluent in the Tamil language. He joined the Jana Aragala Wiyapaaraya (Movement for People’s Struggle), a dissident faction of the JVP, in 2011, and then the Frontline Socialist Party. Weeraraj met Muruganandan in Jaffna during his Left political movements.
A report by the international rights group, Amnesty International, states that there is a ‘backlog of 60,000 to 100,000 alleged disappearances’ in the country since the late 1980s