Abduction of those who criticise the government is a long-standing tradition in Sri Lanka. Tens of thousands of people disappeared during and after the civil war. Most disappeared after surrendering to the Sri Lankan military at the war’s end. In spring, women began protesting on the streets in many places throughout North Eastern Sri Lanka. This has continued for over 200 days.
One of the numerous women protesting is Amalie Kandiyar from Vavuniya in the north of the island. Her daughter has been unaccounted for since the end of the civil war: the last time she saw her was on the 4th of March 2009. Amalie Kandiyar and her daughter, like thousands of others, had been travelling on foot from the war zone in Mullivaikkal, in Northern Sri Lanka, to Matale in the Central Province. Along this route, however, hundreds of children were loaded into lorries and taken away by unknown persons in uniform. “My daughter was also forced to get into a lorry,” recounts Amalie Kandiyar. “I gathered all my courage and, together with another woman, climbed into the lorry that was carrying my daughter. But we were ejected from the lorry shortly afterwards in a remote region. Since then, I have missed my daughter every day.”
“My daughter is still alive”
Later, Amalie Kandiyar was taken to an internally displaced persons camp, where she had to spend a year before she was able to return home. She filed complaints regarding her missing daughter with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, but received no reply. “I am convinced that my daughter is still alive,” says the 44-year-old Tamil. Shortly before the presidential election in January 2015, she spotted her daughter in a photo that had been printed in propaganda material for the candidate who is now president. In this picture, Amalie’s daughter stands directly beside President Maithripala Sirisena. Amalie Kandiyar made various people aware of this, including members of the government – to no avail. In August 2015, Amalie Kandiyar met President Sirisena in Jaffna, where she asked him about her daughter and he promised to attend to the matter. Nevertheless, nothing happened.
Hunger strike for the missing
Due to immense disappointment with the government’s inaction, Amalie Kandiyar and eight others began a hunger strike on the 23rd of January 2017, in order to finally get answers about the whereabouts of their forcibly disappeared relatives. After four days, the protesters were promised a meeting with high-ranking members of the government and they ended their hunger strike. However, the subsequent meeting with the government yielded no results. Thus, on the 20th of February 2017, a group of women in Kilinochchi started a long-running protest, with the intention of continuing until their demands are met.
The protests persist
In Kilinochchi, more than 1200 people are involved in the protest, 50 to 200 are on the protest site every day and 20 to 25 even sleep there. A few days after this began, protests also resumed in Vavuniya. Here too, women sleep on the protest site. The protests in Vavuniya and Kilinochchi have also emboldened women in other areas to fight injustice. This has led to other protests starting on the 8th of March in Mullaitivu, in the north of the country, as well as in Trincomalee, in the east. They all have one common goal: to get answers regarding the whereabouts of their family members.
On the 15th of March, inspired by the various protests, women in Maruthankerny on Jaffna Peninsula also began demonstrating on the streets, calling for justice.