Sri Lanka: GOSL should held responsible for the disappearance of two human rights defenders in Jaffna

Press release/ 16th January 2012

NfR Sri Lanka, a network of Sri Lankan journalists and human rights defenders (HRDs) expresses its deep concern over the disappearance of Mr. Lalith Kumar Weeraraj and Mr. Kugan Muruganandan.  Even though more than five weeks have passed since disappearance there has been no information about them to date and all efforts to trace them have been of no avail.   They went missing from Jaffna on 9th December, 2011 while they were active in organizing a press conference to be held in Jaffna on 10th December, on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day.   
They were both human rights defenders and leading members of the ‘We Are Sri Lankans’ (WESL). That is an organization working towards national harmony and reconciliation in Sri Lanka.  Mr. Weeraraj was a tireless HRD and ironically his focus has been the involuntary disappearances that have taken place during the last phase of the war. He played a courageous and inspiring role in setting up committees of Families of the Disappeared in all the districts in the North. He organized protest campaigns with families of the disappeared on number of occasions.  At the time of his disappearance he was the Jaffna Coordinator of the Movement for People’s Struggle (MPS) (Jana Aragala Wiyapaaraya). He was unlawfully arrested on number of occasions and beaten up by pro government thugs in the presence of police. He was abducted twice before, once by the military in uniform in the Killinochchi town and released after questioning. In the face of all these intimidations and obstacles he did not give up his human rights work.  In short, he was an emerging civil and political leader in the war torn Northern districts campaigning for  human rights. 

Mr. Kugan Muruganandan had been his close associate in all these human rights work of Mr. Weeraraj

Related incidents reported since their disappearance points towards the government’s culpability in this heinous crime. 

Close to midnight on the day of their disappearance, 9th December Mr. Weeraraj’s father received a number of threatening phone calls on his mobile phone. The callers threatened to kill Mr. Weeraraja and warned that “either you remove your son from Jaffna or we will do it for you”.

On 14th December, Mr. Muruganandan’s wife found the motor cycle bearing no. NP GT7852, in which Mr. Muruganandan and Mr. Weeraraj were last seen, parked inside the Atchchuveli Police Station. Until she inquired about this motor cycle the police didn’t inform her about the custody of this motor cycle. 

Next day, on 15th December, Cabinet Spokesperson, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told the media at a Cabinet briefing that ‘Mr. Weeraraj and Mr. Muruganandan have not disappeared, but are there’.

Even though a number of local and international organizations have called for an immediate and impartial investigation into the disappearance of two HRDs, the law enforcement agencies have failed to take any serious action on this matter.  

According to the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on there are more than 5000 unresolved reported cases of involuntary disappearances in Sri Lanka. In addition local NGOs working on disappearances have reported that they have received around 5000 complaints of disappearances during the recent years.  The media has reported a dozen abductions by unidentified groups during the last few weeks. Politically motivated involuntary disappearances have been part of the Sri Lanka Government’s way of suppressing dissent for decades now.

The disappearance of the two human rights defenders, Weeraraj amd Kugan,    is not only a violation of their right to life but constitute a larger threat to the freedom of association and freedom of expression in Sri Lanka.  Moreover this incident shows that there are forces within Sri Lanka that will not allow any genuine investigation into crimes against humanity that have taken place during the last phase of the war. 

In this context that NfR holds the government of Sri Lanka responsible for the disappearance of both these HRDs and call for an independent investigation into this incident in particular and the other incidents of disappearances in general.  Failure to do so would inevitably lead to the conclusion that  such incidents have occurred at the hands of agents of the State against whom the government does not wish to take action.

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