On the evening of 26th October 2011, Fr. Srilal Manoj Perera (appointed by Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith to be in charge of land issues for Archdiocese of Colombo), Fr. Prasad Perera, Parish Priest of St. Cecelia’s Church, Raddoluwa (in the Colombo Archdiocese), members of the Parish Council and a lawyer representing them, took the unprecedented step of requesting that the Police destroy a nationally and internationally recognized monument for disappeared persons situated in the Raddolugama-Seeduwa junction in the Gampaha district in Sri Lanka.
This was on the eve of the 21st annual commemoration for disappeared persons held annuallyon the 27th of October at the site of the monument, with the participation of families of disappeared persons, religious leaders, political leaders, human rights activists and concerned citizens.
This request to destroy the monument was preceded by several attempts by Fr. Prasad and the Parish Council to disrupt and discourage the use of the monument and the commemoration. These attempts included the construction of a wall that obstructed access between the monument and the church premises. Verbal and written appeals have been made by the leaders of the organization of Families of the Disappeared (FOD) to the Parish Priest and the Parish Council to facilitate the continuance of activities that take place surrounding the monument, including and the annual commemoration, but these have apparently fallen on deaf ears. Church leaders have made complaints regarding the monument to the Police and also threatened legal action against the Families of the Disappeared seeking a Court order to destroy the monument.
The main allegation by the Church is that the monument is situated on land belonging to the Catholic Church. This is the first time such allegations have been made in the past 11 years of the existence of the monument. The Church delegation had gone to the extent of accusing the Families of the Disappeared that they had “secretly built the monument in the night” despite it being built for over a period of two months and construction work taking placein broad daylight in full view of the Church premises and its access roads.
The fact that both the allegations made and the request to destroy the monument come from the Archdiocese’s official representative in charge of land issues together with a lawyer indicates that these allegations and the request to destroy the monument is most likely with the approval of leader of the Archdiocese, Cardinal Malcolm Ranjith.
What the monument is about:
The monument has photos of Sinhalese youth disappeared and killed in the late 1980s, during the regime of the United National Party. Families and loved ones still don’t know fate of many of them andprobably never will. These are persons who have no grave, no place to light a candle, no place to lay flowers and no place to say a prayer. It is in this context that the monument became a place for families of those killed and disappeared to gather collectively, together with concerned religious leaders, political leaders and citizens to light candles, lay flowers and conduct religious observances.
The monument has also become an important symbol and record of a tragic part of Sri Lankan history – – a part that the powerful and victors ignore. Even Presidential Commissions which heard tens of thousands of testimonies relating to disappearances refuse to publish their reports.
More importantly, the monument also provided a space to campaign against the heinous crime of disappearances and raise a voice demanding that it should never happen again, anywhere, to anyone.
The history of the October 27th commemoration, the monument and the Catholic Church