Searching for five years, Mayuri launches roadside protest | Sunday Observer

Searching for five years, Mayuri launches roadside protest

A week after the world commemorated International Day of the Disappeared, on August 30 a woman sat in a make-shift tent with her five-year-old twins in front of Galle Face Green holding up posters imploring the authorities to bring back her husband.

This is not the first time Mayuri Jayasena, 37, sat by a main road as people passed by, looking optimistic whenever someone stopped to inquire about her plight, hoping they were government officials finally noticing her and looking into her case.

Mayuri was six months pregnant, on September 2, 2013, when her husband Madushka Herath de Silva left home to never return. He left her in the afternoon to go to his fruit stall at the Anuradhapura bus stand, promising to bring her fish curry and bread- a craving she had.

All Mayuri knows about the last moments he was seen by people who knew them was that he was handcuffed by a group, allegedly the police, and taken in a white van with two other men.

When de Silva failed to return home by 7pm that day, which was highly unusual, Mayuri made phone calls to everyone she knew but to no avail. The next morning, she lodged a police complaint at the Anuradhapura Police regarding his disappearance, and the case is still pending with no leads as to what really happened to the father of the twins.

That Tuesday (4) Mayuri came to Colombo early in the morning, determined not to give up until she sees President Maithripala Sirsena himself.

“I do not want to see anyone else but the President. I met other officials who worked for the President, but they gave me false promises. That will not happen to me this time,” she said.

However, around 12.30pm she was already approached by Police Children and Women’s Bureau Officers who asked her to remove her children from the place and not use them for her campaign. Mayuri replied saying that the children were there asking that their father be brought back home, safely.

“There are other children brought to Galle Face during this time of the day. They are directly under the sun, mine are in this tent. Then why should I remove them from here?” she asked.

Mayuri was not alone in her fight to gain justice, she was backed by several human rights groups. Among them was the Human Rights Documentation Center (HRDC) that has supported Mayuri for the past five years.

Ruki Fernando of HRDC said, they are supporting women like Mayuri because of their intense commitment to seek answers.

He said, despite all difficulties of looking after children, and continuously staging silent vigils hoping the Government will provide answers, with little support from her family, Mayuri keeps urging for answers.

“It has been three and a half years since this government came into power but there was little done on behalf of the families of the disappeared,” Fernando said.

He said, family members of the disappeared are threatened when they speak out.

“Instead of agonizing, threatening and intimidating these families of the disappeared, the Government has to look into these cases,” he added.

Human Rights watchdog Amnesty International, estimates a ‘backlog of 60,000 to 100,000 alleged disappearances’ in the country since the late 1980s.

An Amnesty report stated, Sinhalese young people suspected of affiliation with the leftist JanathaVimukthi Peramuna (JVP) were killed or forcibly disappeared by government- operated death squads in 1989 and 1990. Tamils suspected of links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were forcibly disappeared by police, military and paramilitary operatives in the course of the armed conflict between 1983 and 2009, a pattern that continued for several years after the conflict ended. The LTTE took prisoners and abducted adults and children to serve as fighters.

According to the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, which has only a fraction of the true number of disappearances that occurred in Sri Lanka, we are second only to Iraq.

The Government established the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) and its interim report consisting recommendations for the Government regarding the safety of families with missing family members and also shedding light on the truth of what happened to these persons, was presented to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe last week.

Speaking to the Sunday Observer regarding such disappearances Dharsha Jegatheeswaran from the Adayaalam Centre for Policy Research said, “since the protests began in February 2017at least eight family members searching for their loved ones have died, and countless more likely to have passed away over the decade without seeing truth and justice. So this isn’t just part of a long-term transitional justice process, but also about people’s lives.”

The longer-term repercussions of delaying investigations and answers will undoubtedly be a recurrence of the same kinds of violations we are now searching answers for, she said, according to the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP), disappearances in Sri Lanka continue to happen albeit at a smaller scale than in the past.

“If a culture of impunity is allowed to continue for these horrific violations, it will only enable those perpetrators and the systems they operate in, to continue, regardless of who is in power, though exacerbated at times by a particularly terrible leader,” she said.

However, no matter how vocal family members of the disappeared are the authorities seem to turn a deaf ear to their cries.

Mayuri had to dismantle her tent and go back home with her two children the next morning, with no answers.

“I was not able to meet the President. I am very disappointed about the way they treat a helpless woman like me,” Mayuri said pledging that she will not stop the fight until the President speaks to her.