War-affected Tamils searching for their near and dear handed over or surrendered to the Sri Lankan army whose fate is still unknown even after 14 years since the war ended observed International Human Rights Day (IHD) as a ‘Black Day’.
Thousands of Tamils were handed over to the state security forces at the end of the brutal civil war which ended in a bloodbath in May 2019.
While the Association of the Relatives of Enforced Disappearances (ARED) continued to search for their relatives for over 2500 days, they have demanded to know what happened to those surrendered and said the IHD is a ‘Black Day’ for them as their basic human rights have been violated by the state.
Freedom of information is an integral part of the fundamental right of freedom and expression as recognized by the UN. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, "the fundamental right of freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to ‘seek, receive and impart information".
Meanwhile, Tamil protestors in the East called for an end to all human rights violations and submitted a petition to the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in this regard even as they observed the IHD.
On the 10 December, the members of the ARED from Mullaitivu, Vavuniya, and Killinochi staged a demonstration seeking justice for their relatives who went missing more than 14 years ago.
The protesting Tamils sought to know when the truth about their children handed over to the Sri Lankan security forces would be revealed and this has been their prime question ever since they started their protests.
“Until we get back our relatives or justice is rendered to us, the International Human Rights Day will be a Black Day for us” MariaSuresh Easwary, President of the Mullaitivu district ARED told local journalists after the protests.
She further accused the UN of failing to render justice to the Sri Lankan Tamils. “While the international community shed tears for the war in Ukraine, they are unable to render justice to the Tamil people. Even the UN is concentrating on that but turned a blind eye when Tamils were killed and thrown into the morgue. A question arises in our minds as to why are they shying even now when they were silent earlier on ensuring justice for us”?
Protestors seeking answers for their missing relatives carried banners in Tamil, English, and Sinhala with slogans such as “what happened to our relatives handed over to the army?".
In the East, a protest was staged in front of the Human Rights Commission office seeking to remove the Sinhala farmers forcibly occupying the grazing lands at Mylathamadu-Madhavanai in Batticaloa district where Tamils were traditionally taking their cattle for grazing.
Civil society activists who also joined the protest by the ARED demanded an end to all Human Rights violations by the state and its supporters.
Tamil cattle farmers have continued their protests since 15 September while more than 150 of their cattle have been killed allegedly by the Sinhala people who are forcefully occupying the grazing land-Seenitambi Nimalan, President of the Mylathamadu-Madhavanai cattle farmers’ association told local journalists after the protests.
“Their only activity seems to be shooting, slaughtering, and stealing the cattle. A namesake police post is there. When we informed them a cow had been shot, they asked us to go to the Karadiyanaru Police station. Even if we return after making the police complaint they remain silent. This is how justice is rendered to us. We won’t get justice. Imagine the cost of 153 cattle that we have lost. No end seems to be in sight for this. President said he would find a solution but nothing happened. Everybody is cheating us, where do we go and appeal?".
A list of demands including seeking justice for the gross human rights violations in the Eastern Province, release of political prisoners, stopping the intimidation against the Tamil journalists in the East, international justice for those who were victims of enforced disappearances, and stopping threatening people using the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act were placed at the protest in front of the regional representative’s office of the HRCSL in Batticaloa.
Similar protests were organized in Killinochi and Jaffna where many demands including the empowerment of women were placed.
No events were held in the south of Sri Lanka, voicing support for the Tamils and their protests. However, events marking the 75th anniversary of the IHD were held in the capital Colombo.