Disappearance of Sri Lankan human rights defender

May 15, 2009

It’s not only the war zone in northern Sri Lanka where people are at risk.  On May 7, Stephen Sunthararaj was abducted in Colombo, the capital, by five men dressed in military uniform and carrying pistols.  At the time, he was traveling in his lawyer’s car with his wife and two children, when two men on motorcycles pulled up in front of the car to stop it.  As the car stopped, a white van pulled up next to it and the five men emerged and forced Sunthararaj into the van which then drove off.  There’s been no word from Sunthararaj since then.  The police haven’t started any investigation and the Sri Lankan authorities haven’t provided any information as to his status or whereabouts.

Sunthararaj’s enforced disappearance may be due to his work as a Project Manager at the Centre for Human Rights and Development, a Sri Lankan human rights organization.  At the time of his abduction, he had just been released hours earlier from police custody.  He had been arrested by the army on February 12 in Colombo and later transferred to the police.  He was never charged with any offense.

Sri Lanka’s security forces have been responsible for tens of thousands of enforced disappearances over the past thirty years.  Last year, the U.N. Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances expressed concern about the high number of recent cases of enforced disappearances reported from Sri Lanka.

Please write to President Rajapaksa (Presidential Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka, email:  [email protected] or [email protected]) on behalf of Sunthararaj.  Ask that the government carry out an independent investigation into his enforced disappearance and prosecute those responsible.  If he is found to be in custody, he should either be promptly charged with a recognizable criminal offense or else immediately released; while he is detained, he should be treated humanely and given access to his family, lawyer and medical care.  Ask that the government ensure that human rights defenders are able to carry out their work without fear of harassment or intimidation.  Thanks.