In its first interim report, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) recommended the government to suspend state officials including members of the armed forces and police who were named as suspects or accused in criminal actions relating to abductions and enforced disappearances, pending the final determination of such cases.
The OMP report said the government should ensure that suspected officials are not transferred, promoted or offered any other office in the armed forces, police or the public service while cases against them are pending.
“Some individuals suspected of having committed enforced disappearances and related offences are being permitted to remain in positions of power, especially within the armed forces and the police, where they can influence the progress of investigations. There have been instances where members of the armed forces, who were willing to provide information on disappearances, were subjected to harassment,” it said.
The OMP said that in at least one case, an officer of the armed forces who is a suspect in an on-going court case relating to abductions and enforced disappearances has neither been suspended nor removed from exercising the duties and functions of his office.
“There are reports that in at least one case, an officer has been granted a promotion within the armed forces, while the case against him is still pending. The OMP notes that under relevant regulations as well as the rules and established practices, it is reasonably expected for such suspected officers to be suspended from exercising the duties and functions of their office,” it said.
OMP Recommendations under ‘Investigation and Prosecution’ also included expediting and giving highest priority to prosecutions and other ongoing cases involving enforced disappearances.
It said all incidents of arbitrary arrest, torture and deaths in custody should be investigated.
While urging the government to recognize the continuing nature of enforced disappearances, the OMP recommended the government to immediately formulate policies to provide interim relief to the family members of the missing persons.
These interim relief included financial aid programmes, debt relief programmes, housing development programmes, educational support programmes and also an employment quota of 1% within the state sector for the family members of the victims.
“It is duly noted that interim relief in the form of welfare or other measures does not amount to reparations. Victims retain their right to reparations even if they accept interim relief from the State,” the report said.
A National Day for the Disappeared, preserving mass grave sites as memorial spaces and restoring ‘Ahinsakaramaya’ – Memorial for the Innocents – in Battaramulla in a manner that reflects the views of the public as well as the families of the missing and the disappeared were also recommended.
In terms of the Office for Reparations, the OMP said the proposed Office will play a pivotal role in providing redress to victims of the missing and the disappeared as well as others affected by the conflict.
“An independent Office for Reparations with a robust mandate and strong implementation powers is urgently required. The OMP urges the Parliament to strengthen the Office for Reparations Bill and ensure its prompt enactment and formulate operations,” the report said. (By Lahiru Pothmulla) DM
Sri Lanka OMP recommends urgent and immediate relief to families of involuntarily disappeared
The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) in Sri Lanka, established to address the many cases of missing and disappeared, has recommended the Government provide urgent and immediate relief to the families of the involuntarily disappeared as their current socio-economic situation is dire.
The OMP, which prepared an interim report on their work during the past six months, handed over the report to President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe on Wednesday and released it to the public online yesterday.
The interim report, which also recommends interim measures to provide relief and reparation to the families affected by the disappearances of their loved ones, said the current socio-economic situation of many families of the missing and the disappeared is dire and cannot wait until a final reparations scheme is devised and a key set of measures is required in the interim to provide urgent and immediate relief to the families.
The report also noted that in addition, there is an overwhelming demand and need for investigation and prosecution of enforced disappearances.
“These are not merely crimes of the past but are of a continuing nature until the fate of the missing or their whereabouts are clarified,” it said.
Therefore, it is urgent for the State to ensure an adequate legal framework and empower relevant State actors to discharge their functions to ensure prompt and effective investigations and prosecutions.
The OMP has recommended the Government to implement a financial aid program to provide a monthly living allowance of Rs. 6,000 to the immediate family of the missing or disappeared person who have no permanent income.
The OMP has also recommended implementing separate programs for families of the missing or disappeared on debt relief, housing development, educational support, vocational training and livelihood development.
It has also recommended introduction of an employment quota of 1% within the State sector in order to facilitate family members of the missing and disappeared who have requisite skills when vacancies in the public and semi-governmental sectors are being filled.
In recognition of the urgent need for justice and accountability, the OMP recommended enforcing and amending the Disappearances Act to recognise the continuing nature of enforced disappearances and allowing the OMP, along with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and law enforcement authorities, to have access to places where persons are being detained among several other measures.
The OMP recommended the Government to expedite and give highest priority to prosecutions and other ongoing cases involving enforced disappearances and investigate all incidents of arbitrary arrest, torture and deaths in custody.
In recognition of the long-term pain and suffering of families of the missing and the disappeared, as well as the need for the people of Sri Lanka to recognise that many thousands of people belonging to all communities disappeared over several decades, the OMP recommends the Government to designate a ‘National Day for the Disappeared’.
The Government Information Department yesterday released an image of President Maithripala Sirisena reading newspapers in the Parliament library. The Information Department said that while the Joint Opposition struggled to bring in supporters to Colombo for yesterday’s protest, President Sirisena, who visited Parliament to attend an event, took time off to go to the library. (ColomboPage)