A Statement from The Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances
Today, as the United Nations commemorates the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victims, the Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) reiterates its strong condemnation against the arbitrary arrest and detention of Balendran Jeyakumari and her 13-year old daughter and the intensifying intimidation and harassment against Rukj Fernando and Father Praveen after their release from detention.
Balendran Jeyakumari’s husband disappeared during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). After the war, her son disappeared after surrendering to the Sri Lankan army.
Since then she has actively campaigned against disappearances as a woman human rights defender and worked with other families of the disappeared for truth and justice.
We believe that the recent incident remains part of a systematic attack to vilify the legitimate work of human rights defenders and to prevent the truth of Sri Lanka’s human rights atrocities from being discovered completely by the local and international community.
The arbitrary arrest and detention of Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan were committed on 16 March 2014 while they are documenting and assisting detained Balendran Jeyakumari. During their days in the custody of the Terrorist Investigation Department (TID), both were prevented from access to their lawyers and family members. While they were released on 19 March 2014, the intimidation and harassments continue with court orders restricting their travel, confiscating their laptops, hard drives, among others and prohibiting them from issuing statements to local and international groups.
Ruki Fernando is the human rights adviser of Inform — Human Rights Documentation Centre in Colombo, the Chairperson of Rights Now and former Coordinator of the Human Rights Defenders Program of the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA). He was awarded by the Bishop Tji Hak Soon Foundation with the Justice and Peace Award in 2009 in South Korea.
Rev. Fr. Praveen Mahesan OMI, a human rights defender and the former director of the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation (CPR) based in Jaffna.
We affirm the work of Ruki Fernando, Father Praveen Mahesan and Balendran Jeyakumari for human rights and humanitarian protection. We deplore such attacks on the two human rights defenders’ freedom of expression and opinion and the restrictions of their movement. An assault to their rights is an assault to the victims and the cause they have served for years. Prior to Ruki and Father Praveen’s arrest, human rights defenders and other critics of the authoritarian Rajapaksa-led government were intimidated, harassed, and disappeared.
Activities conducted by family members of the disappeared are consistently harassed by security forces and in worse situations, families and human rights defenders were held and detained. On 27 October 2012, a gathering of members of Families of the Disappeared and Right to Life was conducted in Negombo. Local police started detaining family members and leaders of Right to Life over a screening of a documentary which showed the struggles of the families of Sri Lanka’s disappeared.
600 families of the disappeared from North and Northeast part of the country were mobilized on 5 March 2013 by the Association of the Families Searching for the Disappeared Relatives. The group intended to join a symbolic gathering of family members in Colombo to submit a petition before the UN office. However, the families from the North and Northeast were blocked in Vavuniya by the Sri Lankan police and prevented from participating in the Colombo campaign action.
During the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights Navi Pillay’s visit in August 2013, she was severely branded as an LTTE supporter. Families of the disappeared and civil society groups were likewise harassed, In a campaign action to demand for justice during the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government’s meeting in Sri Lanka, AFAD Council Member and Chairperson of Families of the Disappeared (FOD) Brito Fernando was branded as supporter of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ideology and was threatened along with other civil society leaders.
The increasing harassments against the families of the disappeared and human rights defenders are occurring amidst the backdrop of the discoveries of mass graves in Mannar, Matale and Puthukkudiririppu-Mullaitivu which if investigated and studied properly can lead to identification of disappeared victims from the late SOs and conflict period with the LEfTS. As such graves are discovered, increasing international attention is being directed to support the proposed UK-US resolution before the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC) for an international probe of the war crimes committed during Sri Lanka’s conflict period.
To note, the UN Human Rights Council is conducting the last week of its session this week and is highly critical of the state of human rights in Sri Lanka. The human rights community is watching over the human rights performance of Sri Lanka, which was then voted out from the Human Rights Council in 2008 and whose continuing dismal state of human rights is frowned upon with eyes of condemnation by the international community.
The Sri Lankan government must uphold its citizens’ right to truth and justice. We demand the release of Balendran Jeyakumari and other victims of arbitrary arrest and detention, stop the persecution of human rights defenders, families of the disappeared and critics of the Rajapaksa government, and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and other draconian laws aimed at paralyzing the movement for truth, justice and peace in Sri Lanka.
The Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances (AFAD) is a regional federation campaigning against the practice of enforced disappearances. Based in the Philippines, the Federation has member organizations working in Bangladesh, Indian-administered Jammu and Kashmir, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, South Korea, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Timor Leste. AFAD also serves as the focal organization for the International Coalition Against Enforced Disappearances (ICAED), an international unit campaigning in different regions and sub-regions across the globe. ICAED is composed of 52 member organizations — and human rights groups and organizations of families of the disappeared, whose general membership is presently convened in Geneva this week.
Signed and authenticated by:
MARY AILEEN BACALSO