Families of people who disappeared during Sri Lanka’s ethnic war yesterday demonstrated in the former rebel stronghold of Jaffna as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay visited the area on a fact-finding mission.
Demonstrators led by women held photographs of their missing relatives outside the Jaffna library and urged Pillay to intervene.
“There were women whose sons, brothers and husbands had disappeared in recent years,” a resident said by telephone, asking not to be named. “Some of them were weeping. They could not meet with the UN visitor.”
A government census report released in February last year showed 6,350 people were reported missing in the north after fighting ended in 2009, while rights groups say “disappearances” are still a problem.
The protest in Jaffna, 400km north of Colombo, was in contrast a protest in the capital on Monday.
Pro-government Buddhist monks in Colombo had denounced Pillay, who had called for a war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.
Pillay, who has previously been accused by Colombo of overstepping her mandate, arrived on Sunday for her first official visit after the government dropped its public hostility to her and promised access to former war zones.
She has told reporters she was only holding Colombo to human rights standards agreed by all nations.
Sri Lanka has resisted world pressure for an international investigation into what the UN says are “credible allegations” that up to 40,000 civilians were killed in the final months of the war in 2009.
A no-holds-barred military offensive crushed the Tamil Tiger rebels and ended their decades-long fight for an ethnic Tamil homeland. The rebels at the height of their power controlled a third of the country. Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapakse has since been dogged by claims troops killed Tamils indiscriminately in the war zone, which was closed to aid workers and journalists.
Tamil groups are banking on Pillay’s visit to revive calls for a war crimes probe, but the government insists that its troops did not kill civilians.