Image: Relatives of the disappeared march in Colombo in Aug 2016 in support of OMP.
Issuing a statement the National Peace Council has urged the government to establish the Office of Missing Persons without any further delay.
It further says that “the government has said that the commissioners will be nominated by the Constitutional Council which we have confidence will name persons of impeccable character who have earned themselves reputations for being unbiased and independent and are acceptable to the government and to the polity as a whole. ”
The full text of the statement follows:
The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has finally been signed into law by President Maithripala Sirisena. The National Peace Council welcomes this action which has the potential to restore civil society faith in the government. We see a sign of a new beginning that will bring relief to victims and be the start of the healing process that Sri Lanka needs to engage in. The gazetting of the OMP law and its allocation to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation comes ten months after the law was first past in Parliament in August 2016. The long delay in moving towards operationalizing the law has been extremely painful to all who have been victims and have lost their loved ones during the war, and even after the war. It has also led to pessimism and cynicism amongst those who wish to see justice being done and the wounds of war being healed.
The National Peace Council urges the government to establish the Office of Missing Persons without any further delay. The government has said that the commissioners will be nominated by the Constitutional Council which we have confidence will name persons of impeccable character who have earned themselves reputations for being unbiased and independent and are acceptable to the government and to the polity as a whole. The manner in which the Office of Missing Persons is constituted and the speed of its actions and findings will go a long way to restore faith in the victims and larger society about the sincerity of the government to deal with human rights violations of the past and ensure their non-recurrence.
Visiting UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Ben Emmerson made strong statements about the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka which are a cause for concern. He said he was given personal assurances by the most senior Sri Lankan ministers that they were on a path of reform, but pointed out that these commitments have previously been given, and simply not met. He warned that if government inertia over reform does not end, the government will have created “precisely the conditions likely to produce festering grievances, to foster unrest and even to reignite conflict”.
The visiting UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights also reported that draft anti-terror laws prepared by the government to replace the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act will leave unchecked the routine police use of torture to extract confessions. We take seriously his observations that 80% of those most recently arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act in late 2016 complained of torture and physical ill-treatment following their arrest. Instead of being angered by a foreigner passing strictures on us, the National Peace Council calls on the government to ensure that the ills pointed out by the UN Special Rapporteur are dealt with and no longer continue. We also welcome statements by government leaders that other transitional justice mechanisms will be passed into law soon.