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Sri Lanka
Urgent Interventions

Ongoing enforced disappearance of Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj


New information

LKA 004 / 0509 / OBS 077.1

Ongoing enforced disappearance

Sri Lanka

March 15, 2012

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in Sri Lanka.

New information:

The Observatory has been informed by reliable sources about the ongoing enforced disappearance of Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj, Project Manager at the Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), well known for documenting cases of child abuse in Jaffna and District Child Coordinator from 2003 to 2005. Mr. Sunthararaj was last seen on the evening of May 7, 2009, when he was abducted by unknown gunmen in army uniforms whilst travelling in his lawyer's car, a few hours after his release (see background information).

February 1, 2012 marked the 1000th day of Mr. Stephen Sunthararaj's enforced disappearance.

In December 2009, the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Palitha Kohana, had revealed at a meeting with United States Embassy and European Union officials that Mr. Sunthararaj had not been abducted but arrested, probably by intelligence services.

Since then, Mr. Sunthararaj's wife has been writing to the Office of the President of Sri Lanka, urging him to reveal Mr. Sunthararaj's place of detention, and calling for his immediate release. She has still not received any response, in spite all her efforts.

Since May 2009 no information has been obtained concerning Mr. Sunthararaj’s whereabouts.

The Observatory strongly condemns Mr. Sunthararaj’s ongoing enforced disappearance, and fears for his physical and psychological integrity. The Observatory calls upon the Sri Lankan authorities to take prompt action in order to disclose the whereabouts of Mr. Sunthararaj and release him immediately as his abduction and detention seem to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities.

Background information:

On February 12, 2009, members of the Special Task Force (STF) tried to force Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj into a van as he was leaving his office. A nearby police officer and a colleague were able to prevent the STF members from taking Mr. Sunthararaj. The STF officers then requested that the police officer take him to the Kolpity police station where he was formally detained on the basis of a two-month detention order, without charge.

On May 7, 2009, early in the afternoon, Mr. Sunthararaj was released without being charged upon order of the Supreme Court of Halstrup as there was no evidence involving him in any offence. While returning from court in the vehicle of their lawyer, Mr. and Ms. Sunthararaj noticed that they were being followed by two persons travelling on a motorbike, supposedly two army intelligence officers in plain clothes. After leaving their children with one of Mr. Sunthararaj’s colleague, Mr. and Ms. Sunthararaj stopped at the Kolpity police station to get back his mobile phone, passport and other personal belongings. After they resumed their journey, while they were approaching the Town Hall Junction two persons on a motorbike blocked their way and simultaneously a white van approached. Five armed men in army uniform alighted of the van, opened the door of the vehicle in which Mr. Sunthararaj was travelling, bundled him into the van and sped off. According to the information received, those events occurred in a busy and crowded street. One of men removed the keys from the car that Mr. Sunthararaj and his family was travelling in and fled from the scene in the van.

Afterwards, the officers of the Cinnamon Garden police station arrived and took the vehicle together with the passengers to the station where their statements were collected. Mr. Sunthararaj’s wife has identified one of the perpetrators of the abduction as one of the Criminal Investigation Department officers who had previously visited her home for inquiries while her husband was held at Kolpity police station. However, no investigation was initiated.

Actions requested:

Please write to the authorities of Sri Lanka urging them to:

i. Guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj, as well as of all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;

ii. Take prompt action in order to disclose the fate and whereabouts of Mr. Sinnavan Stephen Sunthararaj and release him immediately and unconditionally as his arrest seems to merely aim at sanctioning his human rights activities;

iii. Order an immediate, thorough, effective and impartial investigation into the above-mentioned facts, the result of which must be made public, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before a civil competent and impartial tribunal and apply to them the penal sanctions provided by the law;

iv. Put an end to all acts harassment against all human rights defenders in Sri Lanka;

v. Conform with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on December 9, 1998, in particular :

- its Article 1, which provides that “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to promote and to strive for the protection and realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”,

- Article 12(1) that provides “everyone has the right, individually and in association with others, to participate in peaceful activities against violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms”,

- as well as Article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

vi. Ensure in all circumstances respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with international human rights standards and international instruments ratified by Sri Lanka.


· President Mahinda Rajapakse, Presidential Secretariat, C/- Office of the President, Temple Trees 150, Galle Road, Colombo 3, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 472100 / +94 11 2446657, Email: /

· Mr. Mohan Peiris, Attorney General, Attorney General’s Department, Colombo 12, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 2 436421

· Ms. Chandra Ellawala, Secretary, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, 118, Barnes Place, Colombo 07, Sri Lanka. Fax +94 2694924, Hotline +94 2689064.

· Inspector General Of Police (IGP), New Secretariat, Colombo 1, Sri Lanka. Fax no. +94 11 2 440440, Email:

· National Police Commission, 3rd Floor, Rotunda Towers, 109 Galle Road, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka, Fax: +94 11 2 395867 / +94 11-2395866. E-mail: /

· Mr. Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary, Ministry Of Defence and Urban Development, 15/5, Baladaksha Mawatha, Colombo 03, Sri Lanka. Fax: +94 11 254 1529. Email:

· Her Excellency Ms. Kshenuka Senewiratne, Ambassador, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva, 56 rue De Moillebeau, 5th Floor, 1211 Geneva 19, Switzerland, Fax: + 41-22 734 90 84, E-mail:

· Embassy of Sri Lanka in Brussels, 27 rue Jules Lejeune, 1050 Ixelles, Belgium. Tel: + 32 2 344 53 94/ + 32 2 344 55 85. Fax: + 32 2 344 67 37. Email:

Please also write to the diplomatic mission or embassy of Sri Lanka in your respective country.


Paris-Geneva, March 15, 2012

Kindly inform us of any action undertaken quoting the code of this appeal in your reply.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:

· Email:

· Tel and fax OMCT: + 41 22 809 49 39 / 41 22 809 49 29

· Tel and fax FIDH: +33 (0) 1 43 55 25 18 / 01 43 55 18 80

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