500 Tamils disappeared in Army custody --- New Study

New study estimates 500 Tamils disappeared in Army custody in Sri Lanka after surrendering at the end of the war in 2009.

The Sri Lankan army must explain to the families of the disappeared and missing what happened to an estimated

500 Tamils who disappeared in their custody at the war end on/around 18 May 2009, said two international NGOs who have been collating and analysing lists of names.

Sri Lanka has one of the largest numbers in the world of enforced disappearances but these 500 represent the largest number of disappearances all in one place and time in the country. For a detailed account of the process of estimating the 500 please see: “How many people disappeared on 17-19 May 2009 in Sri Lanka?” .

“The sheer scale of enforced disappearance after surrender in 2009 warrants immediate investigation,” said the International Truth and Justice Project’s Executive Director, Yasmin Sooka. “Instead, almost a decade has elapsed and nobody has yet questioned the commander of the 58 Division of the Sri Lankan Army whom we know, from UN reports and witness testimony, was present at these surrenders. It is a total affront to the families of the disappeared that Major General Shavendra Silva has been promoted to Adjutant General , which ironically put him in charge of the army’s humanrights directorate. The families must have answers – they deserve to know thetruth and have a right to the truth.”

For years the ITJP has been collecting names of those who disappeared at the war end from survivors and now has more than 300 names and photos displayed in a bilingual website. This and other lists collected by activists and family members inside Sri Lanka were analysed by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) to produce a statistical analysis of what the total number might look like – the names already collected and the ones not yet enumerated.

“Imagine two dark rooms we
can’t see inside,” explains statistician Dr. Patrick Ball from HRDAG, “We throw
balls that make a noise when they knock into one another into the first room,
and listen: click, click, click. We throw them into the second room with equal
force: click. Our intuition is that the second room is larger because the balls
are able to spread out and therefore strike each other less frequently. This is
an intuitive explanation about how we create an estimate indicating the likely
range of the total number of disappeared people starting from the overlap of
names in the various lists".

“In 2011 the first reportcited 20 disappearances, then we found 103 names in 2014 , earlier this year itrose to 2806 and now our colleagues at HRDAG believe it’s as manyas 500 people. This shows the importance of continuing to gather informationand the need to do this both inside Sri Lanka and outside where
many of the key witnesses from the war period have fled,” said Ms. Sooka.

The ITJP and HRDAG wish tothank the families of the disappeared, their former comrades around the world,and Tamil human rights activists inside Sri Lanka who helped collect and sharethe data that made this work possible. These individuals are not named fortheir own safety. The families have an inalienableright to know the whereabouts and the fate of their loved ones. The Sri Lankangovernment is under an obligation to provide them with the truth and, where evidence exists, to prosecute those responsible for their enforced disappearance.

International Truth and Justice Project and Human Rights Data Analysis Group (HRDAG) 

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