The fact that a crime might have been committed with impunity in the past may make it seem more familiar and less barbaric, but it remains barbaric and only represents a violent mindset of tolerance and does not give it any greater legitimacy. Such crimes remain unjustified and only represent a culture of brutality. ~ (Adopted from a quote by Jonathan Kozol)
The recent TV visuals of a mother wailing to know the fate of her missing son for last nine years resonates the clarion call made by the then firebrand MP Mahinda Rajapaksa, quote “I took the wailings of this country’s mothers. Do I not have the freedom to speak about them? It was the wailing of those mothers which were heard by those 12 countries” (Hansard: 25th October, 1990 in page 366).
Unlike in 1990, the current debate on the proposed Enforced Disappearances Bill is marred by the orchestrated campaign by vested interest groups under the cover of pseudo patriotism in the name of the “war hero”. This has confused the populace to a great extent. Hence, this article is primarily targeted to create awareness to the rank and file of our beloved citizenry. For this purpose, it is prudent to categorize the types of death during a conflict or war.
a) Good Kill – This is the removal, by whatever means deemed appropriate, of an individual (or a group) from the battle space who has knowingly engaged or prepared to engage in hostilities against friendly targets – LEGAL AND NOT RELEVANT TO OUR TOPIC.
b) Collateral Damage – This is the consequence of unforeseeable or unavoidable circumstances that had led to the death of a civilian. At a higher level these deaths may be foreseeable but considered acceptable given the strategic objective (though unfortunate) – LEGAL AND NOT RELEVANT TO OUR TOPIC.
c) Killing in Rage – Described as the killing of innocent civilians due to the reckless behavior of soldiers who are acting in a manner that has no regard for the value of human life – ILLEGAL BUT AGAIN NOT RELAVANT TO OUR TOPIC.
d) Enforced Disappearances – Arrest with malicious intent to torture, restrain illegally outside prescribed practices, trade for ransom for a reward (extortion) and/or kill human being in a circumstance that is not self-defense or defense of another and acting with the patronage of the State – ILLEGAL AND THE CORE AREA OF OUR TOPIC.
Hence, the relevant bill only targets the last; ‘enforced disappearances’ and excludes all other deaths including those that occurred during the ‘Humanitarian Operations’ in the North and East of Sri Lanka during the period 2007 – 2009. The troops and leadership who bravely fought a brutal enemy in the legitimate conduct of operations to eradicate terrorism in Sri Lanka, on the orders issued by their respective chiefs under their supreme commander’s directions will not fall victim under the said bill.
Enforced Disappearances in Sri Lanka:
The history of enforced disappearances dates back to 1971; when an ill prepared security apparatus was thrust to defeat a Marxist rebellion. The records are vague but it suggests around 1000 to 2000 who were rounded up never lived to tell their tales. In the 1988/89 insurgency; to keep it short the ‘instrument of enforced disappearances’ was used as the frontline method in the conduct of counter operations against the subversion.