War affected Tamils have told the head of a leading international human rights watchdog that justice for their loved ones who have been victims of enforced disappearances after surrendering to Sri Lankan military in the final stages of the war can only be realised through an international inquiry.

Tamil mothers have conveyed these concerns to Dr Agnès Callamard, during her first ever visit to war torn Mullaitivu as Amnesty International’s Secretary General. The discussion had been held a day before the Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day commemoration in Mullivaikkal, which marks the 15th anniversary of denial of justice to Tamil people since the end of the war on 18 May 2009.

Speaking to local journalists following the discussion held on the evening of 17 May, Mullaitivu District Association of Relatives of Enforced Disappearances’ (ARED) Chairperson, Mariyasuresh Easwari, said that she informed the AI head of threats posed by state intelligence agencies throughout their ongoing struggle during the past seven years to discover the truth about their loved ones.


“Sri Lanka would not deliver justice regarding the fate of our relatives. Justice should be served to us through referring the matter to an international mechanism. We explained how we oppose the establishment of local commissions of inquiry again and again in Sri Lanka, how we handed over our relatives to them, how they conduct surveillance about us, how intelligence services intimidate us, and how our protests are suppressed.”


The talks were attended by chairpersons and secretaries of the ARED representing all eight districts of the northern and eastern provinces. Following the discussions, Ampara District ARED head Thambirasa Selvarani said that she told Callamard that in their quest to get justice for their loved ones, hybrid courts with Sri Lankan participation cannot be accepted.

A UN Human Rights Council resolution has recommended a hybrid court with commonwealth judges to investigate allegations of war crimes and human rights violations in the final stage of the war.

“We have no faith in hybrid courts. We do not accept hybrid courts. We urged that an international court is necessary. She said that foreign judges would be appointed to that. We said that even then, lawyers would be locals, and we cannot tell them our problems. We further said that what is more acceptable for us is an international mechanism, and that we are ready to give evidence in such a mechanism.”

Tamil mothers said they informed the Amnesty International chief of Tamil people’s land forcibly occupied by the army for years and is yet to be released. Moreover, they have explained to her about intimidation over the public offering of ‘Mullivaikkal Kanji’ (rice gruel). This Kanji was the only sustenance to those confined to a narrow strip of coastal land during the final stages of the war, and survived amidst shell, air and artillery attacks and denial of access to medicines and food.

According to Tamil mothers, Callamard had told her delegation that she was able to get a far better understanding of the issues faced by the war-affected Tamil people by visiting the Vanni region than the information she could obtain from abroad.

Attending the Tamil Genocide Remembrance Day in Mullivaikkal a day after the meeting, Callamard described the anniversary as a grim reminder of the collective failure of the international community to deliver justice, as well.

“Today’s anniversary is a grim reminder of the collective failure of the Sri Lankan authorities and the international community to deliver justice to the many victims of Sri Lanka’s three-decade-long internal armed conflict. It is sobering to stand in the same place where, 15 years ago, countless civilian lives were lost during the last days of the war.”

She has further warned about the risk of weakening international focus on delivering justice over crimes that occurred 15 years ago in Sri Lanka due to the global attention on the ongoing conflicts elsewhere.

“Victims still await justice at Mullivaikkal, Sri Lanka. We cannot allow for the mothers’ tears and cries to be swept away from international attention. What happened to the 60000, if not 100000 disappeared persons? Their families have a right to know,” Callamard said on X, earlier known as twitter.

She had emphasised that although UN investigations have found credible evidence of crimes under international law and other violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by those on both sides of the conflict, there has been little in the way of an independent or impartial national inquiry into such serious crimes.

“The families of those who were forcibly disappeared during the conflict have been left to search desperately for their loved ones. It is truly heartbreaking to hear from victims how long they have been demanding justice in vain.”

Two days after the Mullivaikkal remembrance and a day after the government’s war victory celebration, Callamard had met Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister in Colombo.

The Minister said that during the discussion, he recalled that more than 26,000 members of the Sri Lankan armed forces laid their lives and thousands more sacrificed their limbs ‘to reclaim the nation’s freedom and peace’.

“I further expressed our displeasure on outside influence being brought into the internal affairs of Sri Lanka by those engaged in vote bank politics to appease a small domestic audience,” Minister Ali Sabry, PC, said on social media.

Once in Colombo, the AI chief expressed doubts about the government’s willingness to deliver justice.
“A seemingly lack of political will, along with complacency in delivering justice, prevents reconciliation, feeds grievances, and promotes instability. There should be no room for complacency.”

Nevertheless, she called upon the international community ‘to work with the national authorities’ despite the victims emphasising the futility of such an engagement.

“We urge the international community to work with the national authorities to secure truth and justice for all victims of the war and of on-going human rights violations and lay the foundations for a freer and fairer Sri Lanka,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard at the conclusion of her five day visit to Sri Lanka.


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