Civil society recalls President’s days as disappearances campaigner.
Activists reject monks’ version of events at Centre for Society and Religion.
Nimalka wants President to stop sending proxies, talk to civil society one-to-one.
Something missing in regime’s DNA to deliver reconciliation: Paikiasothy.
By Dharisha Bastians —
Leading civil society activists yesterday slammed the Government’s use of monk-led mobs to disrupt their lawful meetings and accused President Mahinda Rajapaksa of having forgotten his own civil society roots and heady days as a disappearances campaigner in 1989.
Addressing a press briefing at the Centre for Society and Religion, the activists charged that their constitutional right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly was being violated by unruly mobs that were storming civil society events.
The CSR, which is housed within the premises of the Fatima Church grounds in Maradana, was stormed by a monk-led group that later called itself the Dead and Missing Peoples’ Parents’ Front on 4 August, during a private meeting between families of the disappeared, civil society representatives and members of the diplomatic community based in Colombo.
The intruding group later claimed to be representing families of the disappeared from the island’s south on 4 August. They charged that the rights activists were being funded by the US Embassy to provide evidence to the UN inquiry against the Government, using Mahaveer or Great Hero families that had given fighting cadre to the LTTE during the war.
Disappearances campaigner and Activist Dr. Nimalka Fernando told the press briefing that unruly mobs were reigning with impunity because of the way the country was ruled. Rejecting the allegations of the DMPPF that civil society activists were traitors, Dr. Fernando said their struggle was not against Sri Lanka. “Our struggle is against an abusive, repressive regime,” she charged, adding that a Government did not equal the people.
“These were the life stories of Sinhala, Tamil and Muslim mothers searching for their children that were interrupted and disrupted by crazed mobs. This is not humane rule,” Dr. Fernando charged.
She said President Rajapaksa was hiding behind monk-led mobs to attack civil society.
“He came to this very hall and spoke on behalf of the disappeared,” Dr. Fernando said, referring to the CSR. In his days as a SLFP Parliamentarian in the early nineties, she said Rajapaksa had appeared on behalf of missing people’s families as a lawyer and a politician.
“So come to us, talk to us one-on-one, stop hiding behind proxies and mobs,” she added.
The incident at the CSR on 4 August was a full frontal assault on the freedom of expression and the freedom of peaceful assembly, observed Centre for Policy Alternatives Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu.
“In post-war Sri Lanka, five years after the war ended, fellow citizens are being made to fear because of their ethnicity and now because of their religion. This is no basis to build reconciliation, this is no basis to build prosperity,” Dr. Saravanamuttu asserted.
He said that although the intruding mobs were claiming that their concern was that information was being relayed to Geneva and other foreign capitals, what truly concerned them was the circulation of information within Sri Lanka.
“What they fear is the dissemination of information within the country so that the people will know the extent of the repression,” the CPA Executive Director noted. The Government was far more fearful of its own citizens than the international community, Dr. Saravanamuttu added.
“They fear their own citizens who will dare to defy, dare to keep telling the truth,” he said. “There is a missing gene, something missing in the very DNA of this regime that means it cannot deliver reconciliation,” Dr. Saravanamuttu charged.
The President of the grouping Families of the Disappeared, Brito Fernando, whose organisation convened the meeting with family members of the missing from five districts of the Northern Province on 4 August, said the meeting was merely a sharing of experiences about the past five years, including the complaints process.
The monks of the DMPPF are lying about the fact that the group paid families to give evidence via Skype to the UN, Fernando said.
“In 1989, we walked the streets campaigning to find those who had been disappeared during the crackdown on the insurgency. Today we continue that work. It is Mahinda Rajapaksa who has changed, he has forgotten his own history and how he used the power of NGOs,” said Fernando, a veteran disappearances campaigner.
Addressing President Rajapaksa directly, Fernando said the former SLFP Parliamentarian may have abandoned the cause, but civil society activists will not do so.
He urged the DMPFF that was concerned about disappearances in the south to pressurise the Government to inquire into the Matale mass grave, where 157 skeletons have been unearthed, presumed to be dating back to the 1989-’90 era.
“As activists we speak of those atrocities, we demand investigations and we speak for the missing there too. There is no north-south, Sinhala-Tamil divide,” Fernando said.
[Original caption} Civil society activists slam MR regime]