Midweek Review
A reply to C. A. Chandraprema’s "The ‘Christian Worker’ and the ‘Disappeared’"
The casual approach to killings

Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong
This is a reply to an article published in The Island on Dec. 10, 2001, entitled "The ‘Christian Worker’ and the ‘Disappeared’" by C. A. Chandraprema. It was purported to be a comment on the reproduction of a short report about the Wehara detention camp in Kurunegala published by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) on June 28, 2001, and reproduced in a past issue of The Christian Worker. AHRC is glad that the report is still being passionately discussed.

It should be noted that Mr. Chandraprema attended a meeting organised by AHRC on disappearances on Feb. 21, 1998, in Sri Lanka and heartily participated in it, opposing at the time any discussion on disappearances, and that afterwards he wrote several articles attacking this meeting (a summary of the proceedings of this AHRC meeting is available on the Internet at www.disapperarances.org). Yet Mr. Chandraprema wrote in his comment on Dec. 10, 2001, in The Island that "this is the first time in my life that I have heard of an organisation called the Asian Human Rights Commission." If one descends to the type of journalism that this gentleman has engaged in and uses his own words, we should call him a joker or a moron or an ass or a fraud or a hoax. However, to do so would be abuse the right of publication. It suffices for us to say that what he has written, even about himself, is not true. To quote from his article itself is sufficient to reveal Mr. Chandraprema’s own style: "The highly respected Buddhist scholar Hajme Nakamura in analysing the South Asian mind pointed out that South Asians have a tendency to be profuse and fluid with facts and numbers. This is one reason why India has no accurate historical records problem."

Mr. Chandraprema’s attempt in his article is to reduce massive disappearances which occurred and are internationally known to be mere myths. This is the same tendency one finds in those who seek to deny the reality of the Holocaust. It is all a myth-it never happened-is the argument of this type of denial. As for his reference to South Asia, the lack of a historical record is due to the levels of repression that have prevailed in the region. For example, where are the records of the genocide of Buddhists in India? The repression was so complete that Buddhism was completely wiped out of the land of its birth. It has been revived only recently, in comparatively small numbers, by the movement of Untouchables.

This tradition of repression and the denial of it in South Asia was a creation of the Brahmins, and it has left its mark deeply in Sri Lanka too. This is why we are not surprised by Mr. Chandraprema’s article. A denial of grave violations of human rights, including massacres, is the basic trait of South Asian culture. Just recall what happened in the inquiries of the Bindunuwewa massacre more than a year ago. One can only guess what might happen as well to the massacre of 10 Muslims on Dec. 5, 2001, Sri Lanka’s recent violent election day. The pattern of denial is as follows: there is a murder; no proper inquiries are held; no prosecution takes place; and later the incident itself is denied because it was not proved in a court of law. The main difference in the approach of Mr. Chandraprema and AHRC is that he wants to deny the existence of disappearances on the basis that there were no prosecutions or convictions while we maintain that investigations and prosecutions have deliberately been denied.

Another aspect of the same South Asian tradition is the casualness towards killings. This is what permeates Mr. Chandraprema’s thinking as expressed in the meeting mentioned above, in this particular article and in what he says in other writings about the people he most admires, who in normal parlance are called mass murders. He writes: "This is not some tribal society. Every birth is registered. The Grama Sevaka system covers all villages. Every family and individual is registered for purposes of giving food stamps, janasaviya or samurdhi. If somebody was abducted from a village, such facts are easily verified. The Grama Sevaka of the village will know all about it. Why is it that well over a decade after these incidents took place none of these so-called human rights organisations have been able to come up with any accurate figures of the actual number who disappeared?"

First of all, Mr. Chandraprema has a poor understanding of tribal society. Tribal people are very civilised people; they do not kill casually. They have their unwritten laws and very humane traditions. No tribal people would have done what has been done in Sri Lanka: killing, torture, exhibiting bodies on roads, raping girls and killing them. Tribal people did not produce informers who carried lists of people to be killed. For a full list of such atrocities, there are the reports of four state commissions (i.e., Commissions of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or the Disappearance of Persons, which inquired into all of these matters); and for any worthwhile journalist who wants to recall the details of this grisly period, all that is needed is to look into his or her own notes of this time. (It is quite possible that some may have destroyed their diaries regarding this period.) It is, indeed, a blind, deaf and dumb person who would deny that these things happened, which are known even to little children. If one is to go by Mr. Chandraprema’s own publicly known record, he cannot pretend to be so ignorant about these matters. We do not want at this time to go into well-published materials about Mr. Chandraprema own involvements at the relevant time. All that we wish to do is to point out is that he is not the impartial observer that he pretends to be. As for records, the following quotes from the state commissions tell the whole story:

"A feature that struck us most forcefully in our inquiries was the utmost care that had been taken, not only by individual perpetrators, but also by the system itself to present these occurrences from being reflected in the official records of the country. Starting with the refusal of the local police to record complaints, which was a general feature in all three provinces, through the blatant use of vehicles without number plates, right up to the refusal to allow the bereaved to take possessions of corpses identified by them, let alone obtaining death certificates in respect of them, there is clear evidence of a systematic attempt to keep these deaths/disappearances from being recorded in the official annals. A nation which takes pride in the fact of having a recorded history of thousands of years should not leave a dark patch of unrecorded events in the recent past (Introduction to the Final Report of the Commission of Inquiry into Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons in the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa Provinces published in September 1997). (The head of this commission, Ms. Manouri Muttettuwegama, was one of the participants at the Feb. 21, 1998, meeting that Mr. Chandraprema attended. Had he taken the trouble to read the report of a fellow participant, he would have found hundreds of times more damning information than what is in the AHRC report. This full report is also available on the Internet at www.disappearances.org/reports/srilanka/lkrpt.html.)."

Furthermore, the following is a comment of one of the participants, Mr. Javid Yusuf, at the Feb. 21, 1998, meeting: "I remember some years back I interviewed many of these cases to present it before a United Nations organisation. When I interviewed the parents, wives, brothers and sisters, most of them were a desperate and helpless type of villagers. Even if they have a legal establishment, they will not be able to have access to the police or armed forces." Yusuf further stated: "I remember soon after the government came into power [that] ministers were going about digging graves without any expertise, which is necessary for this job, as otherwise all evidence will be lost. Suddenly it stopped as the army and the police might have brought pressure."

Mr. Chandraprema seems to think JVP killings justify killings by state agencies. AHRC’s position is that all killings, be they by the JVP, state agencies, Black Cats, PRA and all other groups, were crimes. We do not agree with the view that one crime cancels the other. Instead, our position is that, unless all of these killings are investigated and brought to justice in some manner, it is not possible to re-establish the rule of law in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s juridical framework collapsed, and the continuing effect is well reflected in everything, including the violence in the last election on Dec. 5. In South Africa, leaders did not say white people’s violence justifies black people’s violence. The way that was found to deal with decades of violence was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. If the issue was swept under the carpet, the law would have lost all credibility. Many argue that what was done in South Africa was not enough. For the purpose of this discussion, however, suffice it to say that there was some attempt to deal with historic accountability. If there is no accountability, how can anyone talk of historical records?

Mr. Chandraprema tries to distort AHRC’s statement that these killings were not part of a war against a foreign enemy or civil war. Under international law, the people who are arrested are entitled to protection. Mr. Chandraprema himself was arrested recently, but he is still alive because he was treated in a different manner than those who were arrested during the time that these disappearances took place. All that AHRC argues is that there was no reason to deny the protection available to people after their arrest. At no time has the Sri Lankan government taken the position that the disappearances are, in fact, combat killings. According to the findings of reports of the four state-appointed commissions, most killings happened after the arrests. We quote: "Killings on the spot, termed extrajudicial killings, constitute the ultimate in ‘involuntary removal.’ Disappearance following an abduction is in our finding only a euphemism for a killing, a reality that the absence of recovery of the body should not be allowed to obscure (p. 33 of the Western, Southern and Sabaragamuwa report mentioned above). What AHRC has stated is that there was no basis at all for such killings and that the legal provisions existing in the country were sufficient to deal with them. If that was done, much of the confusion that Mr. Chandraprema has tried to create about numbers would have been answered through examining the official records.

Mr. Chandraprema asks AHRC how we know who is innocent or guilty out of those who were killed. The answer is that everyone is innocent until proven guilty. It is the duty of the State to declare by proper process who is guilty. If Mr. Chandraprema’s test is applied, anyone can be killed, and it would be the duty of people to prove that innocent people were killed. If we apply this test to Mr. Chandraprema’s arrest, we would presume him to be guilty if he disappeared. We are glad he is alive and has a chance to say he is not guilty. Those who were made to disappear did not have that chance. It is also relevant that, according to the report of the commissions referred to above, 15 percent of those who disappeared were people below 19 years of age. AHRC’s call for inquiries and prosecutions is not original. Four commissions have made the same demand and U.N. agencies very many times. We quote from the recommendations to the Sri Lankan government on Dec. 21, 1999, by the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances:

(a) The government should establish an independent body with the task of investigating all cases of disappearance which occurred since 1995 and identifying the perpetrators;

(b) the government should speed up its efforts to bring the perpetrators of enforced disappearances, whether committed under the former or the present government, to justice. The attorney-general or another independent authority should be empowered to investigate and indict suspected perpetrators of enforced disappearances irrespective of the outcome of investigations by the police;

(c) the act of enforced disappearance should be made an independent offence under the criminal law of Sri Lanka punishable by appropriate penalties as stipulated in Article 4 of the United Nations Declaration on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance;

(d) the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the emergency regulations currently in force should be abolished or otherwise brought into line with internationally accepted standards of personal liberty, due process of law and humane treatment of prisoners; (e) any person deprived of liberty should be held only in an officially recognised place of detention as stipulated in Article 10(1) of the declaration. All unofficial places of detention, in particular those established by paramilitary organisations fighting alongside the security forces, such as PLOTE and TELO, should immediately be dissolved;

(f) the government should set up a central register of detainees as provided for in Article 10(3) of the declaration. Since the Human Rights Commission needs to be informed immediately of every arrest and detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the Emergency Regulations, such a central computerised register of detainees might be established at its headquarters. Such a solution would, however, require a substantial increase in the powers and resources of the commission;

(g) all families of disappeared persons should receive the same amount of compensation. The differentiation between public civil servants and others seems discriminatory and should, therefore, be abolished. Compensation should not be made dependent on the confirmation as ‘proven’ by a commission of inquiry. In addition to these compensations, the families of disappeared persons should be supported, according to their needs, by other means, such as low interest loan schemes or scholarships for the children; (h) the procedure for issuing death certificates in cases of disappearances should be applied in an equal and non-discriminatory manner to all families; (i) the prohibition of enforced disappearance should be included as a fundamental right in the Constitution of Sri Lanka to which the remedy of a direct human rights complaint to the Supreme Court under Article 13 of the Constitution is applied irrespective of the fact whether the disappeared person is presumed to be alive or dead; (j) the government should instruct the special unit in REPPIA to respond to the cases submitted by the Working Group on a case-by-case basis in order to enable the Working Group to solve the cases which were reportedly clarified (U.N. document reference E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1).

None of these demands were fulfilled by the state party, Sri Lanka. Thus, Sri Lanka has failed in its treaty obligations. Until these obligations are fulfilled, there is the need for everyone to ask for compliance with these obligations. AHRC has acted on the basis of this obligation and will continue to do so.
Asian Human Rights Commission Hong Kong December 11, 2001, 3