“People cant just go missing. They are made to disappear.During the long armed conflict that raged in the North and the East and particularly during the last phase,tens of thousands have gone missing” -MA Sumanthiran MP

(Text of speech made in Parliament on 30 August 2023 by Jaffna District MP, Mathiaparanan Abraham Sumanthiran )

This particular convention deals with enforced disappearances. The scourge that has affected our country, much more than it has affected many other countries of the world. There are other countries also that have suffered from this kind of crime, but Sri Lanka has had a long history of disappearances.

One must understand the serious nature of disappearance. It is worse than even the crime of murder, for in murder the next of kin know the fate of the person who’s been murdered, or, who is missing; they know what has happened to that person.

But in the case of disappearances, they live in constant hope that the person is living somewhere and will return one day. And the numbers of these disappeared persons, or who have been made to disappear is enormous in Sri Lanka.

During the second JVP uprising in 88, 89, it has reported that more than 60 odd thousand people went missing, officially, I think around 30,000 was acknowledged but it is believed that more than sixty thousand youth went missing.

Now, people can’t just go missing. They are not objects that fall between cracks and can’t be found later. They are made to disappear and subsequently during the long armed conflict that raged in the North and the East and particularly during the last phase, tens of thousands have gone missing.

And the complaints are that they didn’t just go missing that they surrendered to the security forces but are not to be found now. The government itself appointed commissions.

I refer particularly to the Paranagama commission appointed by the previous government and the report that was submitted to this Parliament, which clearly says thatthere were reported case of over 20,000, where, persons who had been handed over, who had surrendered to the security forces who have gone missing and another 5,000 of disappeared persons, not enforced, but disappeared persons.

Now this is a very, very serious issue. I heard the Honorable Minister say that if he make this into law, we’ll be telling the whole world that we are a country that abides by the rule of law and by all these ideals and so on, I beg to differ honourable Minister that is not when we will become an ideal country in the world, we will become an ideal country in the world, when there is no more disappearances in this country.

And when we effectively punish those responsible for the disappearances, that is when the rule of law wins in this company. Not when the government even when enacting legislation to comply with International obligations is betting backwards to protect those who are responsible.

It’s obvious, it’s so, plainly clear today in this house when this bill is to be enacted into law that the concerns are all about offenders, concerns are about offenders not coming within the purview of the law, not getting caught.

We are concerned that what if they get caught elsewhere? What if Sri Lankans are found to have committed these offense in another country perhaps ? It is all about protecting the offenders of this most heinous crime and that I think exposes the government, exposes the intention of the government that this is not a noble thing that the government is doing but is doing it as an eyewash to satisfy various persons to tell the world that we are complying with these International obligations but a government that does not have the will to actually go after persons, who are responsible for these crimes. It may be that the, that towards whom the finger is pointed are from the security forces,

but that makes no excuse. Whoever it be, If they are responsible for disappearance, for enforced disappearance, they must answer. They must be made to acknowledge and answer and be punished for that offense, the whole convention that we have ratified is for that purpose. Not to find loopholes for members of the security forces to slide through and escape.

So the intention of the government is most important, And again, may I say with respect to the HonorableMinister, even the attempt to say that this is only for the future, not for the past, is, I say is pathetic because all what you are trying to do, what you are saying, is that persons who are responsible, who have been who are responsible for enforced disappearances in the past, you are giving an assurance in this house that they won’t be pursued.

You are telling them. Don’t worry, you have committed this offense but we won’t come after you. Your slant is entirely to reassure offenders, that they would not be punished. I didn’t see the tone from you which said, we will go after the offenders. We will punish them. We will ensure that this will not happen again because we punished.

Whole of yesterday we debated the present situation in the country. We are very concerned about that because that situation still continues. And from both sides of the house we said it is because of impunity. Because offenses are not punished, because offenders are not prised out and made a spectacle that this continues This will apply with great force to the issue of enforced, disappearances also. It is because you are intent is to protect offenders of this heinous crime, that it continues.

So it may be that according to what you say this is for the future, I don’t agree. It can’t be for the future if there is an offense of disappearances that must be inquired into, offenders found out and prosecuted, but by saying that it is only for the future, what you are communicating is that those who have done it in the past in the near past all safe, you don’t have to worry. That is safe, you’re safe from sure. So I am saying that the whole entire tone of your presentation of this bill is, is to give the assurance to the offenders, don’t worry you won’t be pursued and that we find severely problematic when in the next breath, you say, you know, we will be a country that abides by all these obligations a country where the rule of law will rain.

So, while welcoming this effort to enact into law, into Municipal law and international obligation. I would I want to place on record our disappointment with the attitude with which this government is bringing this bill bending backwards to assure offenders, then they will not be pursued.

Thank you.