Fear of abduction

Published : Mar 23, 2007 00:00 IST

Nearly 100 abductions have been reported to the SLHRC so far this year.

AS the undeclared war between the Sri Lanka forces and the Tamil Tigers has struck terror in the North and the East, the rest of the island nation, particularly Colombo, the national capital, is in the grip of fear of equal intensity. A dramatic surge in unexplained killings, abductions and disappearances in the past few months is a cause of alarm and panic.

Concerted campaigns by civil society groups to halt the trend have had no impact. The recovery of five bodies from a marshy bog at Muthurajawela in Kandana, north of Colombo, on March 4 prompted the United National Party (UNP), which is the main Opposition party, and the pro-LTTE Tamil National Alliance (TNA) to bemoan that the country was plunging towards an era of anarchy.

The next day the Civil Monitoring Committee, which is engaged in a campaign against the trend of abductions and disappearances, announced that it had received nearly 100 complaints from family members of those who were missing. Mani Ganeshan, convener of the committee, told reporters at his office that most of the complaints were from Colombo.

According to Tissa Attanayake, UNP general secretary, the government has failed miserably to provide security for the citizens and, as a result, lawlessness prevails in the country. "Today, living is a problem and life is uncertain for the people. Abductions and killings are on the increase. The government is giving way to a state of anarchy. The government should remember it is responsible for the safety of the people," he said.

Suresh Premachandran, TNA MP, said the recovery of the five bodies showed the gravity of the abductions and extrajudicial killings taking place in the country. A member of the Civil Monitoring Committee, he said hundreds of people were still reported missing, while their families were living in fear and uncertainty.

Sri Lanka's Human Rights Commission said nearly 100 abductions and disappearances had been reported to it so far this year in Colombo, Batticaloa and the Jaffna peninsula. In 2006, 1,000 cases of abductions were reported; 56 were blamed on the Tigers and 71 on the Karuna group of the LTTE, and 184 were listed as "unknown". Other groups said the numbers were far higher and did not include those abducted inside LTTE territory.

The culture of impunity that has taken root in the country is best illustrated in the case of S. Raveendranath, Vice-Chancellor of the Eastern University of Sri Lanka (EUSL). He went missing from Colombo in the second week of December. Despite the outcry that the case triggered within and outside Sri Lanka, the authorities have no clue to the abduction. The case is tragic and symptomatic of the malaise afflicting the strife-torn island.

Raveendranath was forced to submit his resignation from the post of Vice-Chancellor in return for the release of the Dean of the Arts Faculty, Bala Sugumar, who had been abducted by a paramilitary group.

Pending approval of his resignation, the University Grants Commission requested Raveendranath to continue functioning as Vice-Chancellor from Colombo. On December 15, 2006, when he was attending the annual session of the Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science, Raveendranath went missing, presumably abducted by the same group.

On the incident, the Association noted: "This reads more like something that could happen to a mafia boss, rather than to a respected professor, the head of an academic institution peacefully attending a research conference. Yet, what this shows is that scientists, scholars and educators are not free from harassment and even violent death (as in the cases of Neelan Tiruchelvam and Rajani Thiranagama), at the hands of terrorist and criminal elements that rule the roost in Sri Lanka today."

It goes on to say: "Many politicians appear to be in the pay of these underworld elements or at least owe their positions to them. What defence do we as scientists have against these criminals?

The answer is that we should speak out against these wanton acts of persecution and criminality. To repeat the famous quotation from Rev. Martin Niemller:

First they came for the Jews and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the Communists and I did not speak out because I was not a Communist. Then they came for the trade unionists and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak out for me."

B. Muralidhar Reddy
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