Father Reid Shelton Fernando testifies before the commission
A Sinhalese Catholic priest is calling for justice for nine Tamil priests who were killed or have disappeared during the civil war which ended last year.
“Catholics and the priests’ relatives have the right to know the priests’ whereabouts or their final resting grounds…If they are dead, please do issue death certificates, if it is not done yet,” said Father Reid Shelton Fernando, coordinator of the Young Christian Workers movement in Colombo.
Father Fernando, a rights activist, submitted a list of the disappeared priests’ names when he appeared before the Commission for Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation on Nov. 19. “So far there are no inquiries or acceptable explanations. Are they to be considered disappeared or killed?” he asked.
The priest added that the Tamils who survived the war have been affected mentally and physically. However, they are denied proper psychological treatment and counseling.
The post-war situation saw people urging the government to investigate all enforced disappearances and killings of thousands of people including Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist priests. All these crimes were witnessed or reported by numerous Sri Lankans.
State president Mahinda Rajapakse had appointed an eight-member Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission to report on the aftermath of the civil war that ended in May 2009.
Father Fernando argued that more Tamils would have come forth before the commission if there was a promise of witness protection.
According to International Red Cross reports in 2003, it had received 20,000 complaints of disappearances, 9,000 of which had been resolved and the remaining still under investigation.
The priests who have either been killed or have disappeared include:
• Father George M. Jeyarajasingham, a Methodist priest, killed with his Muslim driver in 1984.
• Father Mary Bastian, allegedly shot dead in 1985.
• Father Eugene John Herbert SJ, disappeared in 1990.
• Father S.Selvaraja, abducted and killed in 1997.
• Father Thiruchelvam Nihal Jimbrown, disappeared in 2006
• Father Pakiaranjith, killed by a claymore mine in 2007.
• Father Xavier Karunaratnam, killed in 2008.
• Father Francis Joseph, missing since 2009.