An independent collective of Tamil-Canadian activists organized a rally in Toronto on Saturday, June 30th, 2018 in solidarity with Tamil Families of the Disappeared who were reaching 500 days of continuous roadside protests across the North-East of Sri Lanka. This rally kicked off a series of international rallies in London, Zurich, New York, Berlin, Vancouver, Belfast and Sydney the same week. Hundreds attended protests in their respective cities and supported the call for international pressure onto the Sri Lankan government to meet the Families’ demands.
The aims of this solidarity action included raising awareness about the plight of the Families of the Disappeared among both the Tamil diaspora communities and the broader international community, to stand in solidarity with the Families of the Disappeared in Kilinochchi and across the North-East, and to increase pressure on the Sri Lankan government to meet the Families’ demands.
The main demands from the Families of the Disappeared are:
Return our disappeared loved ones or give us truth and justice
Release a list of all those who surrendered to the Sri Lankan state in 2009
Release a list of all secret detention centres and list of detainees (past and present)
Release a list of all detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA)
A co-organizer of the Toronto protest, Dharsha Jegatheeswaran, highlighted the importance of understanding the realities of protesting for answers about a disappeared loved one.
“There is something particularly damaging about a disappearance because you actually do not know what happened to your disappeared loved one. On one hand, you cannot mourn for them, because you don’t know that they are dead and on the other hand you spend every day thinking about the most horrific things that could happen to them. For these families, for all of us, we’ve been hearing about the atrocity crimes committed in Sri Lanka for the past 9 years, and those crimes include torture, rape and sexual violence. So you have to imagine for these families sitting there thinking maybe my son, maybe my wife is being detained right now. That is what they are thinking about. That is what they are considering when they sit for 500 days to demand answers.”
Protests in Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee, Kilinochchi, and Marunthankerny have all been organized and led by Mothers and Grandmothers of the Disappeared. The solidarity rallies prioritized the centering of voices and narratives of the Tamil women at the forefront in the North-East. Darshika Selvasivam, co-organizer of the Toronto protest, told Tamil Guardian,
“Thamil women have been leading the charge against Sri Lankan State orchestrated genocide, in the diaspora and the homeland, for generations. These international protests exemplified what movements led by women and supported by male allies can look like. This type of organizing needs to continue to be supported, so it sets the standard for future generations of Eelam-Thamil organizers.”
The solidarity protests reiterated the significance of attaining international attention for enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, especially following President Sirisena’s broken promises. Hamsavani Rajeswaran, a co-organizer of the Belfast protest, explained,
“The demonstration in the North of Ireland was a very important tribute to recognize the longstanding solidarity of the Irish for Tamil liberation in Sri Lanka. We as members of the diaspora, were joined with Irish allies, in calling for the Sri Lankan government to hear and act on meeting the demands of the Families of the Disappeared. We have the onus as the international community to ensure that no one is left behind in the fight against state sanctioned violence and bureaucratic maneuvers to silence marginalized communities.”
The solidarity actions were paired with a petition calling on the international community to support and raise demands put forward by the Tamil Families of the Disappeared in bilateral and multilateral discussions with the Sri Lankan Government. The petition will be circulated until the September 2018 National Human Rights Council session.
Organizers of the solidarity protests echoed the mothers’ and grandmothers’ plea for a unified global movement to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable. During the Sydney rally, Avi Selva, an Australian-Tamil activist and lawyer, asked how talks of reconciliation could occur “when over 100,000 of our brothers and sisters remain still unaccounted for?” She further emphasized the impact of cohesively organizing among the diaspora to urge for international action.
Organizers of the solidarity protests echoed the mothers’ and grandmothers’ plea for a unified global movement to hold the Sri Lankan government accountable. Shibanee Siva, a co-organizer of the New York protest, told the Tamil Guardian,
“We live in a world where time can cause the international community to forget heinous atrocities. The lack of real acknowledgement by national and international actors of the families of the disappeared in North East Sri Lanka who have been protesting in gruelling conditions for 500 days is a prime example of this.
We can’t just leave it up to others to take care of our own and we, as members of the Tamil diaspora, have a duty to support and stand in solidarity with families in the homeland who suffer because of atrocious levels of neglect and oppression by the Sri Lankan government.
The fact that members of the Tamil diaspora were able to mobilise and organise protests all over the world in a few weeks is an important reminder of the strength and resilience that we were all born with in our blood. I know that all of us involved in NYC are hoping that the momentum that the families of the disappeared in the homeland have stirred up continues to grow.”
The Families of the Disappeared are continuing their roadside protests across the North East until their demands are met.