The Sunday Leader

Hitler Still Alive, Family Lives In Hope

by Arun Arokianathan
reporting from Pallimunai, Mannar

  • The family lived in the war zone of Sri Lanka where brutal fighting raged
  • Her hope comes from reports where a missing person was reunited with his family after 23 years
  • Relatives hope the OMP may finally provide answers and end the silence

Abisha (13), her mother Jeyakavitha (center) and her elder brother Lilian Jude (15) – Photo by Arun Arokianathan

Hitler is a name many want to erase from history for the atrocities of Nazi Germany. But for teenagers Jude, Abisha and their mother Jeyakavitha, the name brings light to their anxious eyes.

Both Jude and Abisha cannot remember the face of their father, Premil Rosary Hitler. He was reported missing on December 27, 2006 in the town of Mannar, 254 km north of capital Colombo.

The family lived in the war zone of Sri Lanka where brutal fighting raged between the Sinhala majority, Sri Lankan government forces and the Tamil Tiger Rebels (LTTE). Premil Rosary Hitler was one of the thousands caught in the LTTE’s fight against the government for a separate country for the Tamil ethnic community.

Quiet, reserved Jude was a curious 5-year-old and his talkative sister Abisha was a 3-year-old toddler when their 30-year-old fisherman-father went to the Mannar town, less than a kilometer from their family village of Pallimunai. He was going to buy new clothes for the children for the New Year. He never returned.

Like most of the victims he belonged to the minority Sri Lankan Tamil community. The abductions during the 26-year-long Sri Lankan Civil War (1983-2009) and the 1980s Marxist’s insurrection are widely blamed on Sri Lanka Armed forces and pro-government militia.

Since that December day Jeyakavitha has carried the load alone. Worry and anguish brings headaches and Jeyakavitha (35) is seen often with a strip of a coconut palm leaf tied around her head, a home-made remedy.

Jeyakavitha says her life changed completely after her husband disappeared. Every day is a struggle.

“If he is here, he will do a job and earn for us. My only duty would have been looking after my kids in addition to cooking.”

Now this little, broken, Catholic family, lives in a half built house and fend off poverty with what little money they make from their tiny grocery store adjoining their house.

Jeyakavitha is mother, father, and the sole source of income. She runs the shop, cooks and takes the children to school and classes. She is protective of the children and will not let Abisha go out alone. “I often hear and read about rape and murder incidents of young girls. It is very difficult for me.”

“Father is a tall man, wears dark glasses and rides a red motor bike,” says Abisha while looking at their family album. “This is what mother often tells us about our father.”

“If he is with us now, he will drop me and pick me up from school,” Abisha says with a giggle.

“Mother tells me my father is a good man,” says Jude. “He will come back.”

The couple started building the house before he went missing. “Cracks have appeared all over the house now as it is not completed,” says Jeyakavitha. “After obtaining a small loan, I tried at least to fix the roof before this year’s rainy season to prevent the house from deteriorating but I couldn’t complete it as I ran out of money.”

Jeyakavitha says if something had happened to her husband, she believes the family would have known. “In that period, they shot and hacked people on the spot. But we never had seen anything like it. Thus I fully believe he will come from somewhere.”

Her hope comes from reports like the one from Jaffna in northern Sri Lanka where a missing person was reunited with his family after 23 years. Britto Fernando, the President of Families of Disappeared, has been working with missing persons since 1989. “In my life time I haven’t seen anyone returning alive after reported missing.”


Staggering numbers of missing persons 

The number of missing persons from the war is contested. A Presidential Commission on the Missing recorded nearly 25,000 complaints, including 5,000 missing government forces between 2013 – 2015. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has so far recorded over 16,000 complaints on missing persons since 1989. The 2011 Report of the UN Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka put the figure of missing at more than 40,000 people. A 2015 study by the University Teachers for Human Rights from the University of Jaffna in the North compared available population figures and said the number of missing could exceed 90,000. In January 2016, the present Sri Lanka government acknowledged, government commissions received more than 65,000 complaints of missing persons. To deal with one of the largest caseloads of missing persons in the world, incumbent government agreed to issue a certificate of absence to relatives. But relatives of the missing question the motives.

“If we accept the certificate it will be easy for them (government) to do nothing,” says Jeyakavitha.

Already she feels her case has been ignored. She has received no responses to formal complaints she lodged at the local police station, Human Rights Commission, and Presidential Commission on Missing Persons.

According to International Committee of Red Cross, families have to know what happened to their missing relatives. Until they find out, the families continue to face emotional, economic, legal and administrative difficulties in their daily lives.

In many cases, family members of the missing persons go from one investigation to another, clinging to the hope of finding their loved ones or at the very least getting answers.


Will OMP deliver? 

In August 2016, Sri Lanka’s Parliament enacted legislation to establish the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the first permanent entity to investigate enforced and involuntary disappearances and missing persons with a start date of January 2017. Relatives hope the OMP may finally provide answers and end the silence. But many who have experienced numerous investigations with no follow-up, worry that OMP is an attempt by the Sri Lanka government to hoodwink the international community as it faces the UN Human Rights Session in March 2017.

“We or the people in the North East do not have faith in the OMP or in the government,” says Father Emmanual Sebamalai, President of Mannar Citizen Committee. According to his experience, this government does not intend to honestly solve the problem. He said this domestic mechanism will not yield justice to the families of the disappeared.

“People in the North and East unanimously call for an international investigative mechanism or at least hybrid mechanism,” Sembamali said. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, the champion of the government to establish the OMP, rejects this. He says the international community has praised the draft of the OMP as one of the best examples of missing persons’ offices anywhere in the world.

“I think it is far too early to criticize what we are proposing based on their past experiences because this is nothing we presented in the past, so give the OMP a chance to function and deliver.”

Fernando of Families of the Displaced says he is prepared to wait and see if OMP helps find the truth. “Political will is the key to trace the missing, I think this government shows commitment towards missing.”

He has support from Paris-born human rights lawyer Dr. Isabelle Lassee. She works with her husband on transitional justice issues through the South Asian Center for Legal Studies in Colombo and says a good legal investigation is the first step.

“Providing relief is something extremely challenging, but in the case of missing persons, you have no answer. You have no definite knowledge of what happened.”

Lassee, the co-author of a manual of best practices on Operationalizing the Office on Missing Persons, understands the anguish of people like Jeyakavitha. “As long as you don’t know, intensity of suffering remains extremely high. You can’t move on, you can’t take steps to look toward future and that’s something that has been recognized internationally.”

She says given the numbers of missing, investigators face an extreme challenge to trace people but the rewards will be great. “I think for each answer a family member gets it’s an enormous reward for whoever slightly contributed to that achievement and for me that’s what makes me thrive.”

Jeyakavitha wants only one thing. “My ultimate wish is to see him again. He should have to come back somehow. With every passing day, children are growing fast.”

2 Comments for “Hitler Still Alive, Family Lives In Hope”

  1. gamarala

    How can 5,000 ‘government forces’ be missing. Any army records battle casualties carefully.
    If the government was unable to do this, how could this new OMP do anything.

  2. Carlion

    It was the LTTE that forcibly abducted Tamil people and took them away from their homes. How many children were abducted by them no Tamil leader would divulge.
    All they do with the support of the media is to flay the Sri Lankan forces of various crimes pretending that the LTTE fighters were saints.

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