With a backlog of between 60,000 and 100,000 alleged enforced disappearances since the late 1980s, of the countries that the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances deals with, Sri Lanka has the second highest number of enforced disappearances. Most of these disappeared people belong to the Tamil ethnic group, and they are believed to have been enforcedly disappeared by state actors at the time when Mahinda Rajapaksa was President (2005-2015) and his brother Gotabaya Rajapaksa was the Defence Secretary. The authorities have also failed to protect witnesses and families seeking justice, who receive threats of retaliation, and failed to hold those suspected of criminal responsibility accountable.
In addition to this, Sri Lanka stands out as the only country in the world where babies as young as eight months old have been enforcedly disappeared by the Government. All these babies are from the Tamil ethnic group. Despite numerous appeals to the President and Prime Minister, the Sri Lankan government is refusing to provide any details on these enforcedly disappeared babies. Families of the disappeared children have been peacefully protesting for years, but the government has always imposed a great deal of intimidation and pressure on them. Last August, a large number of graves was discovered in Sri Lanka’s Mannar area. It was reported that around 300 bodies were dumped in the grave and up to 23 of them could be children below the age of 12. The discovery of the mass graves has further reinforced the demands for justice on the island.
Over the past few years, Sri Lanka has made minimal progress on the issue of enforced disappearances with its criminalization in March 2018, thereby giving partial effect to its obligations under the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and operationalizing the Office on Missing Persons (OMP). While some cases of enforced disappearances are under investigation, the Sri Lankan government, on many occasions, has appointed individuals suspected of crimes under international law into positions of power, such as the current army chief, Gen. Shavendra Silva, and the Defense Secretary, Gen. Kamal Gunaratne. In this way, it has clearly demonstrated its indifference towards the calls of conflict victims.