In the north, many individuals disappeared after security forces conducted large-scale cordon-and-search operations in a particular village or several villages. During such operations, the military either detained people or seized their documents and requested that they report to the army camp or another location to collect their IDs. In both scenarios, some people never came back after they went to collect their documents.
For example, on December 6, 2006, soldiers conducting a cordon-and-search operation in the Navindil area in Jaffna seized the ID card of 23-year-old Rasiharan Somalinghan. The soldiers told him to report to Uduppiddy military camp to retrieve his ID. When he went to the camp with his relatives the same day, the military officials ordered him inside, telling his relatives they would release Somalinghan shortly. He never returned home.
The relatives returned to the camp and saw Somalinghans bicycle parked inside, yet the military denied ever arresting him. Another man, detained together with Somalinghan, was dumped at a junction, blindfolded, with his legs and hands tied, three days after being detained. According to relatives, the man was so scared that he refused to talk to them. The family reported the case to the Human Rights Commission, the SLMM, and the ICRC. To date they have received no information about Somalinghans whereabouts.180
Human Rights Watch documented a case in which the military may have had legitimate grounds to detain a suspect during a search operation, yet instead of handing the man over to the police as required by law, he disappeared without a trace. The family told Human Rights Watch that on January 23, 2007, 21-year-old Rajkumar Nadesalingam was staying with his friends in the village of Kerudavil, in Chavakachcheri. The villagers later informed the family that military personnel from Kanagampelli camp conducted a cordon-and-search operation in the village and detained a number of young men, including Nadesalingam. During the arrest, he reportedly showed them ammunition depots in the village. The military also reportedly found cyanide on him and Wanni numbers in his cell phone.181
Nadesalingams relatives were too scared to inquire directly with the military fearing that they too would be arrested. They went to the Chavakachcheri police who said that they had no knowledge of the arrest and the military had not handed any detainees over to them. The family said that when, at the familys request, the ICRC inquired with Kanakampuliyady camp, the military said they had released everybody they had arrested in Kerudavil.182
A number of witnesses from the Jaffna peninsula told Human Rights Watch that their relatives disappeared after they had been stopped by the army at checkpoints or on the road. For example, on May 11, 2006, 24-year-old Tharmakulasingam Kuruparan went from his home town of Chavakachcheri to Jaffna on a motorbike. He never returned home. His relatives heard from eyewitnesses that the army arrested Kuruparan at Kaladdy junction.
That day, an army motorized unit known as a field group, consisting of five or six motorcycles accompanied by a Powell military vehicle, closed the road and soldiers were checking the documents of those traveling on the road. According to eyewitnesses, after checking Kuruparans documents, the soldiers handcuffed him, pulled his T-shirt up around his head, and forced him into their vehicle. The eyewitnesses said three or four other people were similarly arrested at the junction. Kuruparans family suspected that he could have been detained in the Urelu army camp as they believed only this camp had field groups. Yet efforts to find him in this and other army camps proved futile.183
Two other men disappeared in a similar incident on February 17, 2007.
Pathinather Prasanna, 24-years old, and Anton Prabananth, 21-years old, were cycling home from the fish market east of Jaffna town, when, near the village of Nayanmarkaddu, within municipal limits, a Powell military vehicle overtook them. Eyewitnesses later told the mens families that the vehicle suddenly stopped, reversed, and several soldiers jumped out and ordered the two men to stop. Prabananths father told Human Rights Watch:
Prabananths father said that the witnesses believed they recognized the Powell vehicle as it used to be parked at a nearby Thapal Kadai junction and was used to patrol the road on a regular basis. Yet when the family inquired at Thapal Kadai, the military denied carrying out the arrest.185
The army also has detained a number of individuals in the course of targeted raids that sometimes follow LTTE claymore landmine attacks or similar security incidents.186 In one of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, a woman said that on July 22, 2006, there was a claymore attack in her village in Meesali that killed three military personnel and injured several others. The same morning, a large group of military personnel came to the house where she was staying with her husband, 26-year-old Shanthakumar Palaniyappan. Palaniyappans wife said that the soldiers neither introduced themselves nor produced any documents, but immediately started questioning her husband about the attack. She said:
Palaniyappans wife looked for him in nearby army camps and launched a complaint with the Chavakachcheri police station. She said that several days after the disappearance, the Chavakachcheri magistrate who was investigating the claymore attack summoned her and informed her that her husband had not been arrested by the army. The court told her that she would be notified if any information came to light, yet to date her husbands fate and whereabouts remain unknown.188
Even where the identity of the men participating in raids resulting in abductions cannot be conclusively determined, circumstantial evidence often points to the participation or at least acquiescence of the security forces. Such raids usually happen at night during curfew hours, yet the groups of a dozen or so heavily armed men seem to have no problems moving through the numerous government checkpoints and sentry posts in Jaffna. Nor do they hesitate to invade houses located in government high security zones, or right next to army camps or other military positions.
In an illustrative case, on September 11, 2006, around midnight, a group of about 15 men arrived in a van and on motorcycles to the house of 32-year-old Irageevant Sathiyavagiswaran. The family started shouting for help as they watched the men jumping over the fence and breaking the door. A relative who was present said that most of the men spoke accented Tamil and one spoke Tamil as a native speaker. He explained what happened next:
The relatives tried to follow the men as they were dragging Irageevant out of the house but the perpetrators put him into a white van and drove away. The family said that there is a military checkpoint only 25 meters away from their house, and the military there could easily see what was happening. However, when they inquired at the checkpoint the next morning, a soldier there told them that he just thought they were shouting and crying because someone got sick in the family, and so the soldiers did not think they should intervene.190
The family also launched a complaint with the Kopay police station and inquired at the Urelu military camp, but the military there said they had no knowledge of the incident. When they inquired at the EPDP camp in the area some 20 days after the disappearance, one of the officials there said he believed Sathiyavagiswaran must still be alive and suggested that otherwise the family would have found the body.191 The family also reported the case to the ICRC and SLMM, and a number of organizations made inquiries on their behalf. As of this writing, the family has received no further information on Sathiyavagiswarans fate or whereabouts.
In at least two of the cases documented by Human Rights Watch, night raids by unknown perpetrators took place after the army had visited the families earlier the same day.
On January 22, 2007, an army unit from the Colomthurai army camp conducted a search in the house of 28-year-old Junith Rex Simsan. According to family members, the soldiers checked Simsans ID and asked him about his connections with the LTTE and what arms he possessed. Upon completing the questioning they left, telling him everything was in order.192
The same night, however, at about 12:30 a.m., another group of armed men came to the house. A relative said:
Relatives informed the Jaffna police of the abduction and visited various military camps in the area. The family said that in one of the camps the military looked through a big list of detainees in their presence, but told them that Simsans name was not on their list.194 The family also appealed to the Human Rights Commission, ICRC, and SLMM. To date they have received no further information.
In October 2006, soldiers from Urumpirai army camp started visiting the house of 28-year-old Sivasothy Sivaramanan. On November 4, 2006, three uniformed soldiers also visited the tea shop run by the family. The soldiers were looking for Sivaramanan, but when his father informed them that he had not arrived yet, they left, reassuring the father that it was nothing special.195
The same night, however, a group of armed men speaking a mixture of Tamil and Sinhala burst into the familys house, found Sivaramanan, and dragged him away handcuffed. They ignored his fathers effort to inquire where they were taking him. Subsequent efforts by the family to locate Sivaramanan so far have proven futile.196
Politically motivated disappearancessome followed by executionsand abductions for ransom have also occurred in the eastern districts of Batticaloa, Trincomalee, and Ampara. As mentioned above, the Karuna group appears to be the main perpetrator in such cases, often with the complicity of government security forces.
The family of Abdul Wahid Muhammad Fawzal Ameer, a beedi leaves supplier, told Human Rights Watch that on July 22, 2006, he left for Batticaloa in his van, and that was the last time they saw him. The beedi factory owner then received a call from Ameers abductors requesting 300,000 rupees (about US$ 2,700) for his release. He took the money to the place designated by the callers, but could not find them.
Ameers relative told Human Rights Watch:
He added that the people on the phone spoke Tamil with a northeastern accent, and Ameers van was spotted two months after the abduction in the Batticaloa area.198
Human Rights Watch received credible reports from witnesses and international aid groups about the disappearances of people suspected of being LTTE supporters in the east. As thousands of people tried to leave the areas of intensified fighting in late 2006 and early 2007, the army and the Karuna group were screening displaced persons fleeing into government-controlled territory.
In a number of cases, these screenings resulted in detentions and disappearances of young Tamil men. For example, on February 19, 2007, 20-year-old Danesh Amarthalingam from Kiliveddi, Trincomalee, was traveling with his aunt by bus south to Batticaloa, trying to leave the area before the fighting intensified. His aunt told Human Rights Watch that as the bus made a lunch stop near Welikanda town in Polonnaruwa district, two men who sat next to Amarthalingam on the bus started making frantic calls on their cell phones, pointing at the young man. As passengers boarded the bus, the two men were joined by a third one in a T-shirt and army trousers.199
Amarthalingams aunt told Human Rights Watch:
The woman said that the incident took place in a government-controlled area where the Karuna group operated freely.200 She reported the abduction to the ICRC. To date, she has not received any information about Amarthalingam.
Two other women told Human Rights Watch that their sons, aged 24 and 18, similarly went missing in late 2006 as they were traveling by bus from Vaharai to Batticaloa.201
Abductions for the purpose of forced recruitment constitute another large category of cases perpetrated in the east. In many such cases, while the families knew that the Karuna group was taking away boys and young men to be used as soldiers, they had no exact information of their whereabouts and were not able to meet or contact them. United Nations agencies and mechanisms have voiced strong concerns about this ongoing practice.202
As the Working Group of the UN Security Council was considering the report by the United Nations advisor on children and armed conflict, Allan Rock, Sri Lankas Permanent Representative to the UN said that as a responsible member of the international community, the Government has decided to adopt necessary measures to cause an independent and credible investigation into these allegations.203
Despite the governments pledges to carry out investigations and take action, abductions in the east continued throughout 2007. In February 2007, parents of one abducted child and two abducted young men told Human Rights Watch how Karuna cadres had taken away their sons. The mother of one of the young men said that Karuna cadres abducted the two on the A11 road between Welikanda and Valachchenai in February 2007. When the relatives complained at the nearby Karuna camp in Karapola, Karuna cadres told them not to report the caseor else to say the LTTE took their sons.204
The actual number is likely to be higher because many parents are afraid to report cases. These numbers also do not reflect the forced recruitment of young men age 18 or over. Young adults among the internally displaced in the east have been especially vulnerable to abductions and forced recruitment.206
Reports of the Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission also do not support the governments claim that it has taken action to restore stability and halt abductions in the east. Every weekly report by the SLMM in September and October 2007 contained descriptions of new abduction cases reported in the east. In one week alone, from October 1 to October 7, the SLMM registered 13 abductions; two of the victims were children allegedly abducted by the Karuna group. The SLMM report for the week of December 3December 9, 2007, mentioned 22 cases of abductions, in seven of which the victims were children. The SLMM noted that the police took little action to address the abductions, while the heavily armed Karuna cadre continued to move freely through government checkpoints.207
Abductions and disappearances in Colombo appear to fall into two general categories. First are those cases involving Tamils, often from outside of Colombo, who are picked up as part of government counter-LTTE efforts. Second are cases of abduction for ransom, in which the victims are usually Tamil businessmen, and in which there is evidence of involvement by non-state armed groups and local security forces.
A clear target of disappearances in Colombo is people who come to the capital to apply for visas to travel abroad. Human Rights Watch documented at least 13 such cases, while the media and local groups have reported on many more.208
In May 2007, President Rajapaksa told the media that extortionists use visa applications to choose their targets. He mentioned that the government is aware of cases in which personal financial data, provided to foreign embassies as part of visa applications, was leaked to criminal elements who then targeted the applicants for extortion.209
This may be a plausible explanation for some of the abductions. For example, in one case documented by Human Rights Watch, 26-year-old Sivathasan Kugathasan came to Colombo in June 2006 after making contact with an agent who was helping him apply for employment abroad. His family stayed regularly in touch with him for about 10 days, until on June 22 they missed a call from his mobile phone, and any efforts to contact him afterwards failed. His wife said:
While in this case and some others the families could not claim with certainty that the perpetrators were government agents, they were devastated by the lack of efforts by the police to find their missing relatives or to identify the perpetrators.
In many other cases, however, the witnesses were adamant that at least some of the perpetrators were the police. For example, in August 2007, 21-year-old Ramakrishnan Rajkumar was staying at the AKB Lodge in Colombo with his wife, waiting for his work visa for Saudi Arabia. According to Rajkumars wife, on the night of August 23, police conducted a raid in the lodge, arresting her husband and some others. She said:
The woman said that when she tried to ask where the police were taking her husband, a man in civilian clothes who was with them showed her a gun, threatening her.
The police station located across the street from the lodge refused to take the womans complaint, and after searching for her husband in many other police stations she managed to lodge a complaint with the Kotahena police station.
The woman told Human Rights Watch that a week after the abduction, two men in civilian clothes came to the lodge. They told her that the other two men arrested along with her husband were found guilty, but Rajkumar was not. They promised they would release him a week later, but at the time of this writing he still has not returned.212
In another case, five men from Batticaloa disappeared in January 2007 after they came to Colombo to apply for work in the Middle East. Two of them were seized on January 10, 2007, when they were traveling back to Batticaloa by bus after their visa interviews. Men traveling in a white van stopped the bus and said they were from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) of the police. They took the two men away, along with one other person who was later released, and informed their families.213
Three others stayed in Colombo at the South Asia lodge. The lodge owner informed their families that on the night on January 12, a group of men arrived at the lodge in a white van (license plate 253-0467) and, showing CID identity cards, took the three men away.
The efforts of the mens families to locate them so far have proven futile.214
In another group of cases in Colombo, police detained people allegedly for questioning in relation to criminal cases, yet did not provide the families with an arrest receipt as required by law, and did not notify them as to where they took the suspects. Following the arrests, the individuals disappeared without a trace.
In an illustrative case, around midnight on January 7, 2007, a group of uniformed policemen came to the house of 40-year-old Vairamuththu Varatharasan in Colombo. His wife told Human Rights Watch that one of the policemen came inside and requested their identity papers. She went to one of the rooms to get the documents, but by the time she came out the policemen and her husband were both gone. She ran out of the house and saw a van parked on the street, but by the time she got there the vehicle started and left.215
The next day, a group of army personnel conducted a search of the house, telling Varatharasans wife that because she was Sinhalese she had to help the law enforcement agents by handing over weapons they believed were hidden in the house. Their search, however, produced no weapons. Varatharasans wife said that prior to her husbands disappearance, the CID used to come to their house regularly to question her husband. After the assassination of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar by the LTTE in Colombo in August 2005, the CID arrested and held Varatharasan for two days.216
She registered a complaint with the Grandpass police station, as well as with the HRC, but so far has received no information on her husbands whereabouts.
A significant number of cases in which the victims have disappeared are abductions for ransom. These cases seem to be the least reported category as victims families usually try to pay the requested sums of money in the hope of getting their relatives released, rather than filing a complaint with the police or human rights organizations.
In a typical scenario, a group of perpetrators, often seen traveling in a white van, abduct Tamil or, more recently, Muslim businessmen and take them to undisclosed locations in Colombo or elsewhere. The families then receive phone calls with requests for large sums of money (usually millions of rupees) that they are supposed to deposit in a specified bank account or bring to a place designated by the perpetrators.
When the ransom demands are not met the abducted individuals remain missing, and in some cases are believed to be killed. But even meeting the request does not guarantee the release of the victim. In some such cases, the perpetrators release the victim, warning him and his family not to report the cases to any authority. In other cases, however, the families do not get their loved ones back even after delivering the requested ransom to the perpetrators.
In one case documented by Human Rights Watch, on July 7, 2006, four men in a white van abducted 27-year-old Ariyadas Pushpadas from a lodge that he owned in Colombo. The men said they were from the CID, but when the family made inquiries, the CID denied ever arresting him. On the night of the abduction, the perpetrators called Pushpadas brother on his cell phone, requesting ransom for his release. His mother told Human Rights Watch:
By July 19 Pushpadas mother collected the money and handed it over to a Tamil person in Dematagoda, Colombo. She said the man told her to go back home and wait for her son to return. However, he did not come back. At the time of the interview, more than six months after her sons abduction, the mother had heard nothing about his fate. She said that she had been talking to her son before she handed over the money, but after the ransom was paid her efforts to contact him were unsuccessful. Eventually the family reported the case to the local police which referred it to the CID. So far, however, there has been no progress in the investigation.218
In several statements made in 2007, Sri Lankan authorities addressed the ongoing spree of abductions, acknowledging that the groups perpetrating them included acting and ex-servicemen, as well as criminal elements.
In March 2007, police chief Victor Perera and top police detective Asoka Wijetilleke talked about police, soldiers, and deserters working together with "underworld gangs" to carry out abductions, extortion of money, and killings.219 In July, the government announced that the police had arrested a former air force officer, a serving airman, and four police officers for their alleged involvement in abductions and extortion cases.220 In none of these cases were charges filed against the alleged perpetrators, though they reportedly remain in custody.
The number of reported abductions for extortion in Colombo dropped in the latter half of 2007, though they are still occurring. Unless perpetrators are held responsible for such abductions, including any public officials involved, however, there is every reason to believe the incidence of such abductions will return to previous levels.
180 Human Rights Watch interview with a relative of Rasiharan Somalinghan, Jaffna, February 28, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Rasiharan Somalinghan (case No 17).
181 LTTE cadres frequently carry cyanide capsules to commit suicide in the event they are captured. The LTTE is based in the Wanni and the phone numbers could have been linked to known LTTE contacts.
182 Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Nadesalingam, Jaffna, February 28, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Nadesalingam (case No 9).
183 Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Tharmakulasingam Kuruparan, Jaffna, February 26, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Tharmakulasingam Kuruparan (case No 34).
184 Human Rights Watch interviews with the relatives of Pathinather Prasanna and Anton Prabananth, Jaffna, February 26, 2007. For more information, see Appendix Part 1, the disappearance of Pathinather Prasanna and Anton Prabananth (case Nos 2-3).
186 Claymore landmines are anti-personnel or anti-vehicular mines that can be detonated by remote control or tripwire. The LTTE has frequently made use of them to attack military targets and civilian vehicles.
187 Human Rights Watch interview with the wife of Shanthakumar Palaniyappan, Jaffna, February 28, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Shanthakumar Palaniyappan (case No 32).
189 Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Irageevant Sathiyavagiswaran, Jaffna, February 25, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Irageevant Sathiyavagiswaran (case No 25).
192 Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Junith Rex Simsan, Jaffna, February 25, 2007. For more information see Appendix I, the disappearance of Junith Rex Simsan (case No 10).
195 Human Rights Watch interview with relatives of Sivasothy Sivaramanan, Jaffna, February 25, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Sivasothy Sivaramanan (case No 21).
197 Human Rights Watch interview with the relatives of Abdul Wahid Muhammad Fawzal Ameer, Colombo, March 4, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Abdul Wahid Muhammad Fawzal Ameer (case No 96).
199 Human Rights Watch interview with the aunt of Danesh Amarthalingam, Batticaloa, February 25, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Danesh Amarthalingam (case No 98).
200 According to information collected by Human Rights Watch during its research in Sri Lanka, the Karuna group used to have at least four bases and camps in the Welikanda area.
201 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of Karalasingham Kantharoopan, Batticaloa, February 25, 2007. For more information see Appendix I, the disappearance of Karalasingham Kantharoopan (case No 99); Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of Shanthakumar Thirukumaran, Batticaloa, February 25, 2007. For more information see Appendix I, the disappearance of Shanthakumar Thirukumaran (case No 94).
202 See UNICEF Condemns Abduction and Recruitment of Sri Lankan Children by the Karuna Group, UNICEF news note, June 22, 2006, http://www.unicef.org/infobycountry/media_34677.html (accessed September 17, 2007); and Statement from the Special Advisor on Children and Armed Conflict, http://www.un.org/children/conflict/pr/2006-11-13statementfromthe127.html (accessed September 17, 2007); Statement by the Chairman of the Security Council Working Group on Children and Armed Conflict, April 11, 2007, http://www.franceonu.org/article.php3?id_article=1460 (accessed September 17, 2007).
203 Lanka to UN Security Council: Child abduction allegations based on hearsay material, Sunday Times, 11 January 2007.
204 Human Rights Watch interview with mother of abducted young man, Batticaloa, February 27, 2007.
205 UNICEF, Analysis of Case Load for 2007, as of December 31, 2007: TMVP, on file with Human Rights Watch.
206 See, e.g., Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, Children and Adults Vulnerable to Forced Recruitment, Special Report 2007, http://www.internal-displacement.org/idmc/website/countries.nsf/(httpEnvelopes)/7209ABCFE147F70CC12573610045AC36?OpenDocument#top (accessed October 15, 2007); Armed Groups Infiltrating Refugee Camps, statement by Amnesty International, ASA 37/007/2007, March 14, 2007.
208 See, e.g., PK Balachandran, Lanka Extortionists Use Visa Applications to Choose Targets, Hindustan Times, May 17, 2007.
209 PK Balachandran, Lanka Extortionists Use Visa Applications to Choose Targets, Hindustan Times, May 17, 2007.
210 Human Rights Watch interview with Sivathasan Kugathasan, Colombo, March 4, 2007.
211 Human Rights Watch interview with the wife of Ramakrishnan Rajkumar, Colombo, March 4, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Ramakrishnan Rajkumar (case No 76).
213 Human Rights Watch interviews with the relatives of Subaramaniam Jeshuthasan, Alakaiya Logeshwaran, Raveendran Ranjith, Kanapathipillai Puvaneshwaran, Thavapalan Krishnakaran (conducted separately), Colombo, March 4, 2007. See Appendix I, case Nos 52-56.
215 Human Rights Watch interview with the wife of Vairamuththu Varatharasan, Colombo, March 4, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Vairamuththu Varatharasan (case No 62).
216 A Tamil politician, Kadirgamar had long been critical of the LTTE. He was foreign minister from 1994 to 2001, and again from 2004 until his death. His assassination is being investigated by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry.
217 Human Rights Watch interview with the mother of Ariyadas Pushpadas, Colombo, March 4, 2007. For more information, see Appendix I, the disappearance of Ariyadas Pushpadas (case No 87).
219 Sri Lankan Police Track Killer Groups and Kidnappers, Lanka Business Online, March 6, 2007, http://www.lankabusinessonline.com/fullstory.php?newsID=1423406050&no_view=1&SEARCH_TERM=33, (accessed May 17, 2007).
220 Ex-Air Force Officer among 6 Arrested over Sri Lanka Abductions, Daily Times, July 5, 2007, http://www.dailytimes.com.pk/default.asp?page=2007%5C07%5C05%5Cstory_5-7-2007_pg4_16 (accessed September 26, 2007).