In the baking sun. Through the cold of night. Amid the dust and pollution of the roadside. And against the trials of old age, trauma, and sorrow. For approximately half a year, family members of those who disappeared during and after Sri Lanka’s civil war have been protesting continuously at various locations across the North and East of the country. Today we are launching this campaign in support of their struggle.
The protestors are seeking answers as to the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, many of whom were ‘disappeared’ during the war, including after being taken into custody of the Sri Lankan authorities in its final stages and immediate aftermath (2008-2009).
In order to obtain those answers, they are calling for the release of information that could provide vital clues. In particular, they want the government of Sri Lanka to release a list, known to have been kept by the authorities, of all those who surrendered or were detained by the security forces during and after the war.
This demand, along with four others, was issued by the protestors at a meeting with President Sirisena in June of this year. It was met by a pledge from the President that he would take immediate action to secure the release of the records. But as of today, they have not been disclosed.
Meanwhile, the protestors – mostly Tamil mothers – continue their fight in makeshift shelters dotted across Sri Lanka’s North and East. The interactive graphics on this page indicate the locations of the protests and the number of days occupied at each. The longest running of them will shortly surpass the half-year mark. These figures speak to the extraordinary resilience of the families. But they also tell a story of utter desperation in the face of government indifference.
The simple fact is that these protests are continuing because families of the disappeared feel that they have no other options left. They have told their stories countless times to various government Commissions, UN officials and journalists, all to no avail. They often done so at great risk to their own safety, in the face of disbelief, harassment and intimidation, and at an immense emotional and psychological toll. Many have passed away in the process.
The time has come to say: enough is enough. Promises and pledges from the government of Sri Lanka must now give way to concrete action. The release of the list of war end detainees, un-doctored and in full, would be a crucial first step in the right direction, demonstrating a genuine commitment by the government to the families’ right to the truth and justice. So too would be the swift establishment of a credible and effective Office of Missing Persons to investigate cases and the enactment of legislation criminalizing enforced disappearances.
Please help us ensure that this action is taken – and let the protestors know that they are not alone – by adding your voice to our petition asking President Sirisena to #ReleaseTheList. Even better, send this appeal to a friend today and ask them to do the same. You can also spread the word on social media by sharing a photo of yourself with this printable campaign banner and using the hashtag above.
Want to know more about this issue? Have a question? Check out our Campaign Explainer below.