09/04/2023, 19.37
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Tamil families call for the Office on Missing Persons to remain open

by Melani Manel Perera

Families of missing people marked International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances with two silent vigils outside Sri Lanka’s ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs. Over the years, families have received no news or compensation from the government. Despite several obstacles, the Office remains the only hope to uncover the truth about the missing.

Colombo (AsiaNews) – Last 30 August, International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, a group of families called on the Sri Lankan government to keep the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) open, even though it has failed to make any significant progress in finding missing persons and compensate families for those who went missing during the country’s civil war.

On 30 August, hundreds of people took part in two silent vigils in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice, while the official commemoration was held in the evening at the Bandaranaike Memorial International Conference Hall in the capital Colombo.

During the ceremonies, it was noted that Sri Lanka has the second-highest number of enforced disappearances in the world.

"The army came to my house and took my son, saying that they wanted to take a statement. It was in 1989, but we still don't know the reason why he was taken,” said a father in Seethawaka who did not want to reveal his identity.

“Even though we were informed that compensation would be given by the Office on Missing Persons, we still have not received that compensation. Is there any use for us in this office?" he said to AsiaNews.

Since 2017, ethnic Tamil families in the country’s northern and eastern regions have organised demonstrations to demand the truth about the fate of their loved ones, seized by the Sri Lankan government during the civil war that began in 1983 with the Tamil Tigers separatist group.

At the end of the fighting, in May 2009, several young men who had been detained were handed over to the security forces and vanished.

Due to the OMP’s failures, families in the North are calling for the creation of an international body to bring justice, after at least 180 parents passed away without knowing the fate of their children.

“Upul Nandana is my elder brother, 22 years old. On January 16, 1990, at 11.16 pm, four army officers came inside the house and took him away by force,” said the young man’s sister, from Heenkenda, a village in Ragama (Gampaha district).

“At that time, my brother was doing an engineering course at the German Technical Training College and was involved in his studies for the last two months. He was supposed to go to Germany,” she explained.

Eventually, she was told that her brother would be sent to the military camp in Panagoda. “But it's been 34 years and my brother still hasn't come home. Since my father was the village official at that time, he wrote to all the institutions, including the police and the Red Cross. He also went to search for my brother in all the detention camps in Sri Lanka, to no avail."

After losing her mother in 1997 and her father in 2000, she is all alone. “At least now, after 34 years, we all hope for justice from the Office on Missing Persons for these unjust abductions," she said.

Victims’ mothers petitioned the Ministry of Justice, making six main demands. Highlighting the failures of the Office on Missing Persons in fulfilling its responsibilities, they call, among other things, for faster investigations, a comprehensive compensation package, and immediate action against those identified as responsible in various reports by the Commissions of Inquiry and the Presidential Commissions regarding abductions and enforced disappearances of civilians.

"The Office on Missing Persons Act was introduced in 2016. An amendment was made in 2017. We were appointed to this commission in March 2018. But we didn't have an office. There was no board of directors,” said former OMP chairman, Saliya Peiris, a lawyer.

“But with the help of former presidential secretary Mr. Austin Fernando, we established a temporary office. But when we went to select the board of officers, we realised that we are bound by the rules and regulations of the government,” Peiris explained.

“We cannot hire officers as we like, we need to prepare procedures and get approval from the Ministry of Finance. We had to go to different people for approvals. Only former Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera and Minister Mano Ganesan gave us full support,” he added.

“Some families will not get any answers in their lifetime,” lamented the lawyer during the day of commemoration. Regrettably, “our country, our society must admit to such abductions. We should make sure it doesn't happen again. Leaders should properly understand what the families need.”

Likewise, world leaders and foreign ambassadors “should realise the wrongdoings by the country’s leaders who failed to give the OMP the consideration it needed. Because, whoever the leaders are, wrong is wrong.”

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See also
ICRC and Tamil families ask Wickremesinghe for the truth about Sri Lanka’s missing
01/09/2022 16:17
Tamil mothers protest over missing loved ones
30/08/2021 17:09
European Union calls on Sri Lanka to activate Office for Missing Persons
22/02/2018 10:39
Largest ever mass grave discovered in Mannar, Sri Lanka
22/11/2018 10:36
Government inquiry into civil war enforced disappearances "inconclusive"


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