CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 23 September 2017

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Sri Lanka called to act on forced disappearances

COLOMBO (UCAN): Journalists in Sri Lanka are demanding that the government act quickly to pass a law that would make forced disappearances a criminal offence.
 
The United Nations (UN) Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances ranks Sri Lanka as the second biggest offender in this area, as for decades people have simply been disappearing without a trace.
 
Addressing a May 16 forum organised by the Sri Lanka Working Journalists Association, the chairperson of the Human Rights Commission and a civil rights advocate in Colombo, Deepika Udugama, said many journalists and political advocates have simply disappeared and “their relatives want to know where their loved ones are.”
 
The Sri Lankan government ratified the UN Convention Against Enforced Disappearances in 2016 and has proposed a draft legislation, but Udagama insists that the bill must be enshrined in law.
 
“The country has failed to act and there is an urgent need for a legal framework to fight against enforced disappearances,” Udugama said.
 
Father Reid Shelton Fernando described enforced disappearance as a crime against humanity and called for the act to be passed so investigations can begin.
 
“It is the responsibility of the government to provide true information on missing persons to their relatives, since they are citizens,” he said. “Some victims were surrendered to the army during the last stage of war, but there has been no information about them since.”
 
The 1983 to 2009 armed conflict between government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam resulted in many people being forcibly disappeared by police, military and paramilitary groups.
 
The government appointed a presidential commission to investigate complaints of missing persons and they received 18,000 responses, but very few of them have been acknowledged.
 
A member of the parliament, Vijitha Herath, said the government put forward the draft legislation last February, but the progress of the bill has stalled.
 
“It is a crime and violation of human rights. Relatives of victims have the right to know the truth and culprits should be punished with minimum prison sentences of 20 years,” he said.
 
The draft legislation proposes a prison term of not exceeding 20 years and a fine of one million rupees (about $50,375).
 
Prageeth Ekneligoda, a political cartoonist and columnist employed by lankaenews.com, disappeared on 24 January 2010, two days before the national presidential election.
 
The journalist was never seen again and his family and international organisations have accused the government of being directly responsible for his disappearance.
 
Ekneligoda reported on alleged corruption by the family of Mahinda Rajapaksa, who was the president from November 2005 to January 2015.
 
According to the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, forced (or enforced) disappearance occurs when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned by a state or political organisation (or third party acting on their behalf), followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts.
 
Over 65,000 people in Sri Lanka remain missing after two insurgencies and a civil war.

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