Former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi pillay told Ceylon Today,
that when she met former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa during her visit to Sri Lanka and urged him to maintain investigations to establish where about of missing persons, he had stated, These people do not want to accept that their families are dead
She added that Rajapaksa then called her to a meeting with a Sinhalese father, who had lost his son who was serving as a soldier. "The weeping father told us of his anguish in not knowing what happened to his only son and wanted the body produced.
Gotabaya told him in no uncertain words, 'your son is dead and you must accept that,'" Pillay said.
She added: "The authorities quite clearly know or presume death, of those missing. It would be absurd not to do so bearing in mind the context of war and the non-return of persons (allowing for a small number who may have fled to shelter or detention outside the country)." At the moment, Sri Lanka is embattled with allegations of human rights violations and facing a tough time at the 34th session of the UNHRC in Geneva. Pillay was contacted by Ceylon Today after 'years of attempts' to get her views on the progress seen in the island since the war came to an end in 2009.
She also said the goals of reconciliation and nation- building cannot be served without justice and accountability, and reparation for victims.
She further stated: "I would say that the primary purpose of documenting lists of the names of 'missing' persons is to begin and sustain investigations until justice is done." She added it should not be an exercise on its own to shelve, or dust one's hands off the imperative for proper investigation, prosecution and punishment of crimes.
"Where factual or witness accounts are available, and your list of individuals and groups indicate this, that should be grounds for immediate investigations, for purposes of prosecution," Pillay added. She also said this procedure was held in Rwanda after the genocide there. "The Government of Rwanda asked the UNSC to set up the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR).
"The Court relied on factual accounts by witnesses of the killings. Nobody was produced, no forensic evidence of deaths, no way of determining the numbers of persons killed or the numbers of mass graves. The Court respected the Rwandese cultural aversion to exhumations.
"The Court accepted testimony of witnesses that thousands of Tutsi were killed – because the people they knew were not around any longer.
"The Court looked at the context of conflict and war and evidence from eyewitnesses as well as observers and experts. The ICTR and the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY) are precedents that fair trials and impartial justice can be rendered even though a full documentation of all missing persons, presumed killed, in the war were not available," Pillay added.
Response from Gotabaya Rajapaksa
Former Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa admitted that when he met Pillay, he pointed out to her a Sinhalese who did not want to accept his son's death.
He, however, noted that Pillay had only stated one side of the entire story of the missing persons, which he revealed to her.
In his response, Rajapaksa said, "There are many events related to the missing persons and what I pointed out to her was 'one aspect' of it, how parents did not want to accept their families died in the war and they think they are 'alive'."
He said when people joined the LTTE to fight, their families were elsewhere. "They had no knowledge where these combatants were. That is the fact and when they died in the battlefield and their bodies were not recovered but buried, and parents think they are still living."
He noted that these parents then claimed their children were in the detention camps when there were no such secret camps anywhere. "When Pillay went to meet the people in the North, she was told that their children are kept in secret camps and she was also under the same impression.
"I told Pillay, 'no', there aren't anyone other than the persons taken into custody and their names are in our database and these detainees were in Galle at that time and no parents were willing to accept that other than this listed documented detainees. Others are not living. This happened during the JVP times too," Rajapaksa explained.
His view was that some of those who went missing are now living overseas and had pointed out to Pillay an example where a missing person was found to be living in Canada.
He also noted that 'missing persons' is not a simple matter to probe as it is quite complicated and he added that 'it does not mean it applies to 'everybody'.
"One aspect of the missing persons is what I am elaborating here," Rajapaksa said.
Talking about the people who surrendered to the military he said 'there is no evidence' where anyone surrendered or not. "People only came up with various stories based on rumours. They claimed that some saw surrendering or heard from others, but none saw for themselves physically surrendering. This is the reality of war. One cannot believe these claims," Rajapaksa said. He said when the war in the North began, nearly 5,000 troupes died and said, "If a powerful army lost so many, imagine how many from the LTTE side would have perished. They did not have the fire power or a powerful army like ours." When pointed out that there were victims who mentioned names of military officials to whom their loved ones had surrendered, Rajapaksa responded: "Can you believe they know these officers? I don't think even the Army Commander knows his officials on the battlefield. These claims were created later, way after the war ended.
"Tamil people in remote areas cannot even identify (any) President or Prime Minister of our country. How can they point at a military officer and mention their names?" he questioned.
"In such an atmosphere, the government is about to establish an Office of the Missing Persons, which I would say, is unrealistic," Rajapaksa said. (ceylontoday.lk)