Enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka

Thousands of people have disappeared in Sri Lanka since the 1980s. A 1999 study by the United Nations found that Sri Lanka had the second highest number of disappearances in the world and that 12,000 Sri Lankans had disappeared after being detained by the Sri Lankan security forces.[1] A few years earlier the Sri Lankan government had estimated that 17,000 people had disappeared.[1] In 2003 the Red Cross stated that it had received 20,000 complaints of disappearances during the Sri Lankan Civil War of which 9,000 had been resolved but the remaining 11,000 were still being investigated.[2]

Human rights groups such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Asian Human Rights Commission have documented many of the disappearances and attributed them to the Sri Lankan security forces, pro-government paramilitary groups and Sri Lankan Tamil militant groups.[3][4]

In 2016, the government under president Maithripala Sirisena agreed to issue a certificate of absence to relatives of over 65,000 that went missing during the civil war and the marxist uprising allowing them to temporarily manage the property and assets of missing people, to obtain provisional guardianship of their children and apply for government welfare schemes.[5] Further the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) a proposal by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe was created in the same year[6][7]

In 2019, president Gotabaya Rajapaksa confirmed that the missing people from the civil war are actually dead. [8]


Sri Lanka has a history of disappearances, both during the Sri Lankan Civil War and the 1980s JVP insurrection. Commissions have documented how thousands of people have been kidnapped by armed men and disappeared without a trace.[9] The victims largely belong to the minority Sri Lankan Tamil community and thousands of Sinhalese youths from the Sinhalese community during the JVP insurgency.[10]

White vansEdit

A van which looks similar to the vans used in the Enforced Disappearances.

Many Tamil nationalists claim there was a resurgence of abductions in 2005 after the failure of Norwegian mediated peace process.[11] The victims of the abductions were predominantly Sri Lankan Tamils living in Jaffna and Colombo.[12][13][14] A notable feature in the abductions is the use of white vans without number plates. White van abductions were a part of life in Jaffna and the abductions were carried with impunity even during curfew hours in this period.[14][15][16]

Several youth were also abducted in Colombo by white vans in 2008. The families of the victims accused the then navy commander and Gotabhaya Rajapaksa of the abductions.[17]

Then president Mahinda Rajapaksa's brother and then defence secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa is accused of being the "architect of white van abductions" and is accused of silencing critics and dissidents.[18] However Gotabhaya replied saying that White vans only abduct "criminals"[19]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b "Sri Lanka's disappeared thousands". BBC News. 28 March 1999.
  2. ^ "Hope for Sri Lanka's disappeared". BBC News. 19 February 2003.
  3. ^ "ASA 37/024/1997 Government's response to widespread "disappearances" in Jaffna". Amnesty International. 27 November 1997. Archived from the original on 9 August 2009.
  4. ^ "Sri Lanka: 'Disappearances' by Security Forces a National Crisis". Human Rights Watch. 6 March 2008.
  5. ^ "Sri Lanka admits 65,000 missing from war, insurrection". Reuters India. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  6. ^ "Office on Missing Persons is to seek the truth: Prime Minister". www.ft.lk. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  7. ^ "Sri Lanka's Proposed Office of Missing Persons: Mandate and Powers | Sri Lanka Brief". srilankabrief.org. Retrieved 10 September 2016.
  8. ^ Srinivasan, Meera (20 January 2020). "Sri Lanka civil war: Missing persons are dead, says Gotabaya". The Hindu. ISSN 0971-751X. Retrieved 10 August 2021.
  9. ^ SRI LANKA: White vans without number plates; the symbol of disappearances reappear
  10. ^ Specter of abductions returns to Sri Lanka
  11. ^ MOOLAKKATTU, JOHN STEPHEN (2005). "Peace Facilitation by Small States: Norway in Sri Lanka". Cooperation and Conflict. 40 (4): 385–402. ISSN 0010-8367.
  12. ^ "Sri Lanka rapped over 'disappeared'". BBC. 6 March 2008. Retrieved 7 July 2008. Sri Lanka's government is one of the world's worst perpetrators of enforced disappearances, US-based pressure group Human Rights Watch (HRW) says. An HRW report accuses security forces and pro-government militias of abducting and "disappearing" hundreds of people - mostly Tamils - since 2006.
  13. ^ "Fears grow over Tamil abductions". BBC. 26 September 2006. Retrieved 7 July 2008. The image of the "white van" invokes memories of the "era of terror" in the late 1980s when death squads abducted and killed thousands of Sinhala youth in the south of the country. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) says the "white van culture" is now re-appearing in Colombo to threaten the Tamil community.
  14. ^ a b ""Disappearances" on rise in Sri Lanka's dirty war". The Boston Globe. 15 May 2006. Archived from the original on 2 February 2009. Retrieved 1 September 2011.
  15. ^ BBC White van 'terrorises' Jaffna
  16. ^ "Sri Lanka's sinister white van abductions". BBC News. 14 March 2012. Retrieved 2 October 2021.
  17. ^ "Have they been killed or hidden?". Retrieved 12 July 2017.
  18. ^ "Rajapaksa's brother probed over killings". www.aljazeera.com. Archived from the original on 24 October 2020. Retrieved 11 June 2016.
  19. ^ "Only criminals are abducted by white vans – Gota". Lankatruth.com. Retrieved 11 June 2016.

External linksEdit