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UN rights office urges Sri Lanka to reveal fate of the disappeared

The call accompanies the launch of a key report by OHCHR, highlighting also the need for the Government to acknowledge the involvement of State security forces and to issue a public apology.

From the 1970s to 2009, Sri Lanka witnessed widespread enforced disappearances, predominantly carried out by the national army and associated paramilitary groups.  

The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) also participated in abductions, which, according to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, tantamount to enforced disappearances.

OHCHR noted that despite some formal measures by successive governments, such as ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and establishing the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, “tangible progress on the ground towards comprehensively resolving individual cases has remained limited.”

Ongoing suffering

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk emphasized the ongoing suffering of families waiting for information about their loved ones.

“This report is yet another reminder that all Sri Lankans who have been subjected to enforced disappearance must never be forgotten … their families and those who care about them have been waiting for so long. They are entitled to know the truth.”x

Nearly 15 years after the end of the civil war, and decades since the first disappearances, Sri Lankan authorities continue to fail in ensuring accountability for these violations.

“Accountability must be addressed. We need to see institutional reform for reconciliation to have a chance to succeed,” said Mr. Türk.

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Harassed and intimidated

The report outlined the extensive psychological, social and economic impact on the families, particularly on women who often become the primary breadwinners in challenging labour environments, including risks of sexual harassment and exploitation.

Many women seeking information about their disappeared loved ones have faced harassment, intimidation and violence from security forces.

One woman recounted threats from the army and police, highlighting the dangers faced by those advocating for the disappeared.

Families still waiting

Under international law, the State has a clear obligation to resolve cases of enforced disappearances, which remain ongoing violations until clarified, according to OHCHR.

However, many families still lack answers. A man testified before a national commission about his disappeared son, saying:

“Two weeks passed, then two months, then two years. Now it has been 32 years, and I am still waiting.”

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