Since its independence in 1948, Sri Lanka has seen two armed insurrections that have been brutally suppressed by government forces. These forces have also confronted an additional armed Tamil separatist movement in the North and East of the island. This separatist movement, led since the late 1980s by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), has engaged in the widespread use of terror, including assassinations, mass killings, and suicide bombings. In late 2006 and throughout 2007, political violence and military operations increased as the peace process between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE has come under increasing strain. In 2008, the Sri Lankan government backed out of a ceasefire with the LTTE, and in 2009, the Sri Lanka Armed Forces defeated the LTTE and re-established control of the entire country by the Sri Lankan Government.
Since 2000, HRDAG has provided technical assistance to a broad range of non-governmental human rights organizations. HRDAG’s local partners include the Home for Human Rights (HHR), Families of the Disappeared (FoD), Law and Society Trust, and the Association for Family Members of the Disappeared (AFMD), which was formerly known as the Organization for Parents and Families of the Missing and Disappeared. This technical assistance, led by HRDAG statistician Romesh Silva, has focused on assistingSri Lankan groups in analyzing their existing data on human rights violations using scientifically-defensible methods. The HRDAG team has also helped these groups increase the quality and quantity of new data that they collect on ongoing human rightsviolations. While providing this support, HRDAG has worked closely with the International Center for Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka.
This data analysis initiative is establishing a massive, objective and undeniable statistical record of past and present human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The project aims to augment human rights monitoring and reporting by non-governmental groups in order to positively influence the Sri Lankan peace process. In particular, this project is focused on informing questions of truth and accountability concerning Sri Lanka’s protracted political and ethnic conflicts with defensible scientificmethods and high quality empirical data.
On 27 October 2007, HRDAG, Families of the Disappeared (FoD) and the International Center for Transitional Justice released their report Clarifying the Past and Commemorating Sri Lanka’s Disappeared: A Descriptive Analysis of Enforced Disappearances Documented by Families of the Disappeared.” The report was released during the annual commemoration event for Sri Lanka’s disappeared in Seeduwa, Katunayaka (Sri Lanka). The analysis synthesizes the voices of 633 families and relatives of disappearance victims throughout Sri Lanka using descriptive statistical analysis. The disappearances reported to Families of the Disappeared have been largely concentrated in Gampaha, Kandy, Kalutara and Puttalum districts of Sri Lanka. These reported disappearances occurred almost exclusively in the second half of 1989 and were largely attributed to be the responsibility of state forces including the Army, Police and the Special Task Force. The victims of these disappearances were largely young adult males, between the ages of 15 and 39, and are survived on average by 2-4 direct dependents.