Sri Lanka: Arrest and abduction of human rights activist - No progress in investigations
It's been nearly three years since Mr. Sinnvan Stephen Sunthararaj, Programme Manager of the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD) was abducted by unknown gunmen in army uniforms in Colombo. Mr. Sunthararaj, who worked as Project Manager of the CHRD, was taken into custody by the Army near his office in Colombo on February 12, 2009, and handed over to the Kollupitiya Police where he had been detained on Detention Order Under Emergency for nearly three months. A fundamental Rights application No. SCFR 265/2009 was filed for his release and is still pending in the Supreme Court.
After several representations made to the Authorities by his wife and CHRD Stephen was produced in Fort Magistrate Court in Case No B330 on May 7, 2009 and was released from custody by the court in the evening. The same day he was abducted by unknown gunmen in army uniform.
While in employment, Mr. Sunthararaj carried out several activities and programmes in his capacity as Programme Manager, some of them sensitive and relating to current human rights issues in the country. He pursued his duties relentlessly in what he believed was correct and appropriate in relation to his work.
Prior to his appointment in the post Mr. Sunthararaj had also been a staff member of several organizations in the protection of children’s welfare in the Jaffna district. In the process he had been handling high profile investigations and cases in the Jaffna province and had earned the displeasure and wrath of interested individuals and groups.
It is apt to mention that soon after his abduction, then Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Palitha Kohana, at a meeting with US Embassy and European Union officials confirmed that it was an arrest and not abduction. Clarifying the matter further, Mr. Kohona stated that Mr. Sunthararaj was in state custody. Having the custody of Mr. Sunthararaj, as revealed by a person no less than the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Government of Sri Lanka is directly and solely responsible for his safety and wellbeing.
However, 950 days have passed since Stephen was abducted and so many representations and interventions have been made at various levels but no information has been disclosed regarding his whereabouts or place of detention.