Sri Lanka's White Vans: Dual Criminality of the Sri Lankan State and the Rajapaksa Administration

By Tamils Against Genocide (US), Wednesday, July 18 2012
Tamils Against Genocide has obtained testimonies of surviving abductees and interviews of affected victims, that enable us to identify individuals involved in abduction and torture targeting Tamils and non-Tamil dissidents. TAG has identified a number of detention complexes and torture centers participating in “white van” operations, where “white van network” is a term widely used in Sri Lanka to refer to both the physical transport and general modus operandus of abduction and disappearance. The information gathered forms an evidentiary basis for a blueprint of the operational logistics of State-sanctioned white van networks.
White van networks are part of a cluster of cooperative partnerships with other State instrumentalities – such as the judiciary, the prisons, the defense establishment, hospitals. They have become an instrument of State machinery which beats at the heart of Sri Lanka’s culture of impunity. White van networks are an embedded element of Sri Lankan democratic politics. They are necessary agents for incumbent administrations to sustainably and strategically undermine the panoply of fundamental liberties associated with citizenship in modern constitutional democracies, such as free speech and due process.
Sri Lanka’s State-sponsored white van networks are operated as a joint criminal enterprise, characterized by a definable command hierarchy, conscription and/or use of paramilitaries, private criminal gangs and government military personnel, and general complicity of State institutions.
White Van abduction networks have active or dormant states. TAG’s interviews and testimonies indicated that, in the dormant state, the white van network(s) can be activated by directives from the command hierarchy, especially the top echelon of the defense establishment, the Rajapakses. For example, Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s confident threats targeted at Fonseka[1], Vithyadaran[2], and more recently Frederica Jansz[3], are predicated on the sustained operability of white van networks, dormant or active, to target enemies of the State as needed. There exists reasonable evidence of his clandestine power to abduct and eliminate people who are perceived as a threat to his command and reputation[4].
Therefore, unless the State takes affirmative action to dismantle the network in a credible transparent manner, the threat of abductions will persist.

[TAGs full report may be found here]
[1] Hard Talk (on Fonseka question), (Last accessed 15th July 2012)
[2] BBC (on Vithyatharan episode), (Last accessed 15th July 2012)
[3] Sri Lanka: Tip about a puppy and a plane has political edge for Sunday Leader journalist, (Last accessed: 10th July 2012)
[4] Intoxicating hubris, (Last accessed 15th July 2012)