The Vavuniya High Court, in response to a Habeas Corpus petition, has ordered Sri Lanka Army (SLA) to produce a person who was handed over to armed forces in Mullaithivu by his family members during the final stage of the country’s separatist war thirteen years ago.
In his December 16 order, Judge Ramanathan Kannan noted that the court had reasons to believe that the disappeared person was in the custody and control of Sri Lankan armed forces after a witness testifying on behalf of the Sri Lanka Army admitted to a register that documented those who surrendered on that day but failed to submit such register before the Courts.
If the respondents failed to produce the person in court, the court said the respondents should explain the circumstances surrounding his disappearance.
The then General Officer, who commanded 58th Division, and the Army Commander have been named as respondents in the eleven Habeas Corpus writs.
Acknowledging the trauma the affected family went through during the war, the court stressed that the burden of disproving otherwise was on SLA.
The court also observed that even though the petitions did not provide details of the registered numbers of the buses used in transporting those who surrendered or the names of the soldiers involved, it took into consideration the cogent evidence and the extraordinary circumstance faced by the petitioner on the day of the incident.
The order was issued with regard to the writ petition filed by Vishwanathan Balananthini, a Kilinochchi resident.
In her affidavit, Ms. Balananthini said she and others witnessed her husband and others surrender to armed forces on May 18 in Mullaithivu, following a public announcement by the Army, calling for surrender. She said her husband and several others were loaded onto a bus belonging to Sri Lanka Transport Bus Board (SLTB).
Thereafter, Ms. Balananthini said she tried all avenues to track her missing husband. She said she lodged police complaints and visited detention centres but she could not know his whereabouts.
The petitioner also said the surrender was facilitated by Rev Fr Francis Joseph but he himself had gone missing and she feared he was among those who had involuntarily disappeared.
The order, seen as a notable development towards the pursuit of wartime accountability in recent times, came nine years after the writ applications were filed in 2013.
After the initial hearing of the writ applications, the High Court referred the matter to the Mullaithivu magistrate court, directing the lower court to record evidence and submit a report to the High Court.
Earlier General Officer Commanding of 58th Division Maj Gen Kavinda Chanakya Gunwardena testified before the Magistrate Court stating that his division had maintained a Register of persons surrendered to the Army but failed to submit before the Court.
Senior lawyer K. S. Ratnavale, with Ranitha Gnanarajah, appeared for the petitioners. Deputy Solicitor General Yohan Abelwickrema represented the Army Commander and General Commanding Officer of 58th Division.
The case is to be taken up for hearing on March 22 next year
The Sunday times.