No justice for Prageeth Eknaligoda

Thursday, 26 January 2023 00:59 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

This week marks the 13th anniversary of the enforced disappearance of journalist Prageeth Eknaligoda. He was subjected to enforced disappearance a few days before the 2010 presidential election and his wife Sandya, two sons, loved ones and fellow media colleagues have been seeking justice for him ever since.

Eknaligoda is among the tens of thousands of Sri Lankan citizens who have been either extra judicially killed or subjected to enforced disappearance by the State since 1971. Despite being one of many, the enforced disappearance of Eknaligoda is emblematic and unique in its own way since he has received the most international attention for this particular crime and the case concerning his disappearance has seen the most progress within the Sri Lankan judicial system. Yet, the case is also emblematic of the impunity that prevails for those who carry out such crimes and the failures of the judiciary to deliver justice for the victims.

Prageeth Eknaligoda was reported missing on 24 January 2010, just days prior to the presidential polls that year. Later investigations conducted by the CID had revealed that he had been abducted by a military intelligence unit of the Sri Lanka Army and held at the Giritale military camp. There has been interference in the investigation into the journalist’s disappearance at every level. For years, the military blocked the CID investigations into the crime, and after the election of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, many witnesses had recanted confessions made before magistrates. Military intelligence personnel and their commanding officers accused of the crime were exonerated by a presidential commission of inquiry mandated by Rajapaksa to investigate political victimisation. Police detectives including the head of the CID Shani Abeysekara have faced reprisals, including incarceration.

Three presidential commissions of inquiry established in the 1990s recorded over 46,000 enforced disappearances during the late 1980s. At least 10,000 youth are estimated to have been either extra-judicially killed or disappeared in 1971 during the first JVP insurrection. A Presidential Commission of Inquiry established by President Mahinda Rajapaksa recorded over 23,000 enforced disappearances in the Northern and Eastern provinces. The fact that Sri Lanka has a culture of impunity concerning such crimes is an understatement. This is a pathetic record for any country, let alone one claiming to be a functional democracy.

According to international law, as long as a person remains missing, the crime of enforced disappearance is ongoing. Therefore, the cases of these tens of thousands of individuals who have been subjected to enforced disappearance are ongoing cases and no number of years passed is going to end the ongoing crime. In 2016 the State acceded to the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (CED Act of 2016) and has now accepted enforced disappearance as an autonomous crime. Through this act the State also accepts that families of victims have a right to not only find their loved ones, even remains of them if they are dead, but also to know the circumstances of their deaths. Unfortunately, the Attorney General has not used the provisions of the CED act in a single case nor has it successfully prosecuted a single case of enforced disappearance.

It is incumbent upon every citizen to be invested in justice for Prageeth Eknaligoda; if there is no hope for justice in his case, there is no hope at all for tens of thousands of families just like his own who still seek answers.