Saturday, February 20, 2010

How many more people need to go missing in Sri Lanka?

Andrew Buncombe - Pattani Razeek is the head of an organisation called the Community Trust Fund, a non-profit organisastion in Sri Lanka that works to promote equality and protect human rights in a country where, to say the least, such niceties have been often overlooked as a result of a vicious civil war. Important work, you probably agree. But it appears that someone did not like what he was doing.

Two weeks ago, on February 11, Mr Razeek was travelling home from a project with some colleagues near the town of Polonnaruwa in the centre of Sri Lanka when their vehicle was intercepted by another - a white van. Mr Razeek reportedly got out, went to the van and spoke to the occupants in Arabic, a clear indication that the men were Muslim. After talking to them for a few minutes, Mr. Razeek went back to his colleagues and told them that he will be joining the group in the white van that, according to him, was heading to the eastern provincial town of Valaichchenai. He assured his colleagues that he will be meeting up with them later. The next day, 12 February, the CTF was informed by Mr Razeek's family that he had not arrived home. His relatives and colleagues have been looking for him ever since.

Anyone who has followed the history of the region and Sri Lanka in particular, will be all too aware of the phenomenon of "white vans". Indeed, the situation in regard to so-called disappearances of journalists and human rights campaigners is such that people crack dark jokes about these vehicles and their feared occupants. The government adamantly denies any involvement in such incidents. Yet dozens of journalists and activists have fled the country in fear for their lives.

Human rights campaigners have seized on Mr Razeek's case and called on the government to investigate this incident. The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, said it "strongly condemns Mr. Pattani Razeek’s enforced disappearance and fears for his physical and psychological integrity". It added: "These events illustrate once more the situation of extreme insecurity faced by human rights defenders in Sri Lanka."

The Independent's Asia Correspondent Andrew Buncombe is based in Delhi. His dominion ranges over India, Pakistan, Burma, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, occasionally parts of South East Asia and - or at least he is hoping - The Maldives.

© Independent Minds

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