Mahinda in Geneva – 1989
Article from Ceylon Today
Entire Hambanthota district was converted to a ground of sky burial. Youth bodies burnt on tyre pyres was an ordinary scene day and night. Carlton House in Tangalle was the only place to listen to the woes of the parents who had lost children. The house was always full of people who came to seek help to find the disappeared relatives.
Many parents hid their kids in jungles and fed them there for safety. Mahinda was also helpless before the unending flow of disappearances. The abduction and murder of Attorney-at-Law Wijedasa Liyanaarachchi took place during this time. Police abducted the human rights lawyer in Colombo and severely tortured him. He died in police custody in Tangalle hospital.
The killing of lawyer Wijedasa Liyanaarachchi terrified even the upper societies. Mahinda wanted to use this opportunity to advocate for human rights in Sri Lanka.
“Wijedasa was killed, and no one knows who would be the next target. We must face this without hiding. Let us establish a human rights organization to struggle,” Mahinda proposed several MPs whom he met at the parliament.
Some skipped this because they thought it would be a threat to their lives. They were afraid to speak up against the government. Vasudeva Nanayakkara extended the fullest cooperation to Mahinda. A group of young MPs organized.
Mahinda proposed to focus the issue of Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council Session held in Geneva. However, only a representative of Sri Lanka had the chance to attend it. The government representative usually lied at Geneva without letting the real situation expose.
“Let us show a placard to the representatives of the Geneva conference when they enter. Let us tell to the world how the youth in Sri Lanka are assassinated,” Mahinda proposed. Vasu agreed outright. Opposition Leader Sirima Bandaranaike endorsed Mahinda’s decision. She bought air tickets for Mahinda via Sunethra Bandaranaike’s husband Udaya Nanayakkara.
Some people accused that Mahinda was going to carry tales against the government led by R. Premadasa. Many people were afraid and backed from helping. Mahinda had air tickets, but money was not sufficient for the journey. Long time was spent to prepare documents to take to Geneva. They collected about 600 authentic photos of young persons who had been brutally massacred around the country. Pictures of famous persons like Wijedasa Liyanaarachchi and Sathyapala Wannigama were also there.
State Minister of Defense Ranjan Wijerathna panicked with the news spread among the MPs in the parliament that Mahinda would witness before the UN Human Rights Council. He met Mahinda at the parliament.
“Are you going to Geneva?”
“Is the church funding?” Ranjan asked sarcastically.
Mahinda was aware that Ranjan would have some nasty manoeuvres. He understood that taking the documents through the airport was risky. Mahinda fixed a false bottom to his bag and hid the photos under it. He kept the clothes on it and the foodstuff Seeni Sambol taken there. Some unimportant files were at the top of the bag.
Mahinda’s bag was checked before boarding and passed. He was happy but only for a few minutes. A police officer who was waiting until Mahinda arrived at the aeroplane stopped him.
“I want to check your bag,” the officer said. He was Assistant Superintendent of Police Kudahetti.
Mahinda suspected of failure. No one was nearby.
“Help! Help! They try to kill me,” Mahinda yelled.
People gathered around them. Mahinda imagined that he would be able to argue with Kudahetti and take the bag back when people were there. But Kudahetti kept the bag. It was midnight.
Mahinda telephoned the Opposition Leader Sirima Bandaranaike via a telephone in the airport. She requested her to speak to the Inspector General of Police and free his bag. She thought for a moment.
“I will talk to the IGP. But you will have to show your bag to them. When they see the documents, they will arrest them. Show it before the public. Otherwise, they will put something in and arrest you,” she said.
Mahinda allowed the bag checked before witnesses. The ASP tore the false bottom of the bag and took the photos out smiling.
“We shall arrest these photos. You can go with clothes, pickle and Seeni Sambol,” Kudahetti said.
“I want an inventory of items you have arrested,” Mahinda insisted.
ASP Kudahetti signed the document as 70 photos of skulls, 60 photos of torsos, 55 pictures of bodies burning on tyre and 47 bodies floating on rivers. He kept his rubber stamp verifying the images had been arrested.
Mahinda and Vasu stayed in a house of a Sri Lankan family in Geneva. The family belonged to Thamara Kunanayakam, a daughter of a trade union leader of Lanka Samasamaja Party who served in UN there. She ushered Mahinda and Vasu to the entry corridor of the UN conference hall.
Mahinda waited at the corridor and called the state representatives passing him. He explained to them about the situation in Sri Lanka.
“There is a dictatorial rule in Sri Lanka. The government kills thousands of young men and burn their bodies on roadsides. Bodies of slain young men float in rivers. Mothers are looking for their disappeared children. Young women lament before Army camps appealing for their husbands. Please don’t believe the lies of the Sri Lanka government. Infor the situation to the UN,” Mahinda continued to say.
Representatives of many countries listened to Mahinda and Vasu attentively. On the third day, Mahinda got an opportunity to speak about the situation in Sri Lanka before a gathering of some representatives in a committee room. International media started to report about the situation in Sri Lanka after this. World media had focused on Sri Lanka by the time they returned to the island.
News spread that Mahinda would be arrested at the airport. Therefore, a large number of his supporters gathered there. Mahinda received a warm welcome at the airport. UN Human Rights Council requested the government of Sri Lanka to hand over all the arrested photos back to Mahinda.
Mahinda’s attempt was the reason for reducing the wave of killings to a great extent.