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Govt must ensure ‘White van’ abductions and all forms of involuntary disappearances are stopped

 Mothers and Daughters of Lanka
We are deeply disturbed by the events leading to the disappearance and subesequent ‘reappearance’ of Dimutu Attygalle and Premakumar Gunaratnam two senior leaders of the newly constituted Frontline Socialist Party (FSP).

At the press conference called by the FSP this morning (10th April 2012), Ms. Attygalle, Women and International Affiairs Secretary and Central Committee membber of the Party, recounted being picked up by six people in a ‘white van’, gagged, blindfolded and taken to an unknown destination where she was subject to lengthy interrogation together with Premakumar Gunarathnam. She said she was taken to a different venue overnight and released subsequently after being told not to identify her captors.

The disappearance of Ms. Attygalle on her way home and the abduction of Mr. Gunaratnam from his residence, just two days before the innaugaral Convention of the Frontline Socilaist Party caused immeditate and widespread protests with many civil society organisations and political party leaders demanding to know of their whereabouts and calling for their safe return. This concerted outcry we believe led to the release of both political activists by their captors.

We note that these abductions are part of a continuing phenomenon involving the enforced disappearance of a range of people including businessmen, youth (especially, though not only, Tamil), alleged members of ‘underworld’ gangs and political activists, among others. It is noteworthy to recall that Lalith and Kugan, the two activists associated with the FSP, have been missing since their abduction late last year.

The sequence of events recounted by Ms. Attygalla raises a number of very distrubing questions. Who was responsible for the abductions? On whose orders were the abductions and subsequent interrogaton carried out? What knowledge did the State have of these events?

‘White van abductions’ have been phenomenon of disappearances throught the years of war and continue todate in many parts of the country. Twenty nine disappearances (including an attempted abduction) have been reported in the Sri Lankan media between February and March 2012 —fifteen in March and fourteen in February—bringing the total number of disappearances reported in the last six months to an alarming fifty six.

The government has consistently failed to investigate and prevent their recurrance. None of the disappeared have been found nor perpetrators brought to justice leading to a further entrenchment of impunity and a resultant climate of fear and insecurity.

The capture, interrogation and release of Ms. Artygalle calls for an immediate, impartial and independent investigation by the government. The government is both responsible for bringing to justice Ms. Artygalle’s captors as well as ensure that the phenomenon of white van abductions and all forms of involuntary disappearances are stopped.

We also stress that Ms. Attygalle’s safety and security be ensured and that she is not further victimised by her captors and other agencies responsible for her abduction.

It is equally of concern that these abductions happened on the eve of the inaugural convention of the FSP, threatening the right to freedom of association; the right to form and join political parties and the right to freedom of speech and expression.

We wish to reiterate that due process and the rule of law must be ensured and that the State must exercise due diligence at all times to safeguard all people in Sri Lanka from arbitrary arrest, involuntary disappearance and extra judicial execution.

Text of a Press Release issued on 10 April 2012 by Mothers and Daughters of Lanka – a coalition of 24 womens groups

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