The Sunday Leader

Broader Consultations Sought As Cabinet Approves OMP

by Easwaran Rutnam

Families of missing protest

A section of local civil society had written to the Minister of Foreign Affairs urging broader consultations as the government looked to establish an Office on Missing Persons (OMP).

Cabinet last week approved establishing an Office on Missing Persons, in line with the expectations of the international community.

The government said there have been strong requests for providing true information on disappeared or missing persons to their relatives to know their actual fate.

“It will enable such families to reunite, closure with regard to such disappearances, or granted with reparations and other relief and support,” the cabinet paper said.

Therefore, a proposal made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs to establish an independent institution as an office on missing persons by a Parliament act, was approved by the cabinet.

The Office on Missing Persons will help search for and trace missing persons and identify appropriate mechanisms for the same, submit recommendations to authorities to take measures on missing persons, protect the rights of missing persons and their relatives, identify channels that missing persons and their relatives can obtain relief and inform them the same, and collate data related to missing persons obtained by government institutions and other institutions and centralize all available data within its database.

The cabinet paper was submitted after the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms submitted a draft proposal on the office on missing persons.

The proposal, based on submissions obtained from civil society, the public and politicians, said the office on missing persons should not require the relatives of those missing to make statements from scratch.

Most relatives of those reported missing have already made statements to the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons set up by the former government.

The Office on Missing Persons is expected to collect the data from the Presidential commission and eventually replace the Presidential commission.

The Office on Missing Persons is also expected to have the right to use evidence it has to bring to an end the culture of impunity.

To do so however, the government will now need to bring the necessary laws to give the Office on Missing Persons the teeth it requires to take independent decisions.

In a letter to Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera dated May 16, a group of local civil society urged the government to make public, in all three languages and in writing, through mainstream media and other structures of the government, a more detailed and comprehensive version of the government’s proposal for the Office on Missing Persons (OMP).

They proposed that this should also be the case for the three other transitional justice mechanisms that the government has committed to establish and the confidence building measures the government has committed to take.

“Make public, in all three languages and in writing, ALL submissions that have been received by the Consultation Task Force (subject to submissions received on the basis of confidentiality), and ANY summary or other document (created based on the submissions received) that was (or will be) sent to the Working Group. In the interest of the broader ownership of the OMP, reconciliation, and transparency, make public the working of the Government’s Working Group that has been entrusted with drafting the concept note and outline for the OMP. This should include the names of the individuals and their expertise, mandate, and time frames for the outcomes of work. Further, to state publicly if the Working Group is currently working on other drafts, and if so, how the Working Group will benefit from the public consultations conducted by the Task Force. We urge that there be a structured process of engagement between the Task Force and the Working Group,” the letter states.

The letter also calls on the government to make public the timeline for setting up the OMP. For example, the dates for placing the OMP proposal before Cabinet (which was done last week), tabling draft legislation in Parliament, the time that will be given for public comment after tabling in Parliament, the estimated time for the OMP law entering into force, and the estimated time for the OMP to become functional (to start working).

The civil society members are of the view that it is imperative that sufficient time is given in the legislative process for stakeholders to assess and comment on the proposed law and once the Bill to create the OMP is tabled in Parliament, there must be at least a two-month period where families of the missing and disappeared, civil society, politicians, and other stakeholders have the opportunity to digest, analyse, and comment on the proposed OMP. “This should also be the case for the three other transitional justice mechanisms that the government has committed to set up. Ensure the Consultation Task Force has adequate time, human and financial resources, and the independence to carry out island-wide consultations on the OMP and the other proposed transitional justice mechanisms. Also, clarity is needed about the scope for review that exists if the Consultation Task Force comes with new recommendations with respect to the OMP after the public consultations have been completed (for example, whether the OMP will be able to establish by-laws and guidelines and if the government will be bringing in amendments). The OMP should become operational within three months from the time the OMP Bill is passed into law,” the letter states.

The government has also been urged to criminalise disappearances (both as an ordinary crime and an international crime) and ratify the Enforced Disappearance Convention and give explicit recognition to the Committee on Enforced Disappearances under Article 31, before a draft Bill of the OMP is put before Parliament.

“Ensure the repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act happens before the OMP is operationalised. Any new laws in relation to national security/counter terrorism must be in line with international human rights standards and are enacted only after adequate consultations with all interested and concerned parties. Ensure that there are no ‘white vanning’ (abductions) in the lead up to the OMP, investigate recent reports of abductions, and ensure those responsible are held accountable,” the letter adds.

The move comes as the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances met in Geneva and discussed disappearances in Sri Lanka.

The UN Human Rights Council is also meeting next month in Geneva and Sri Lanka will be on the agenda.

Meanwhile, the Consultations Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms extended the deadline for submissions till June 24. The earlier deadline was May 1.

The Task Force was appointed by the Prime Minister on January 26, 2016 to consult members of the public on the processes and mechanisms for reconciliation in Sri Lanka to seek truth and justice, ensure accountability for human rights violations and provide measures for redress.

The Task Force invited submissions from the public on the design of structures, processes and measures to seek truth and justice, ensure accountability and offer redress.

Submissions can be made by individuals, groups and organizations, in Sinhala, Tamil or English. These submissions will be used in the compilation of a report, which will be submitted to the government and made public.

The Task Force said that while the deadline for submissions has been extended to June 24, 2016, early submission, however, is encouraged.


5 Comments for “Broader Consultations Sought As Cabinet Approves OMP”

  1. raj

    If you are Tamil and do not live in Sri Lanka, please visit and stand up Tamils’ right and condemned the white van abductions, you will be abducted by so called white van abductees who are a part of the unit of military of Sri Lanka. After the abductions, your relatives or anyone can make complain but please don’t expect you will see the justice or any acknowledgement by the military. Then government will nominate a commission or enact a law that will not be implemented against those who committed crimes against Tamils and linked to the military. This is the reality of Sri Lanka.

    Foreign ministry’s proposal to impress international community and to fill news in the media in order to make good impression of the government but not to deliver justice. How can anyone expect that people who committed crimes will deliver the justice by their own inquiry? For the government it is a good strategy since there is a meeting at UNHR in June this year.

  2. raj

    History of the past of Sri Lankan government will be repeated in the future. If the government of Sri Lanka has backtracked from its promises under different government, it will repeat again.

  3. raj

    In U.S first black African has become the president, and in other countries many minorities have become the head of the government. By looking at the history of Sri Lanka, none of the minorities have ever become the head of Sri Lanka. It shows that that there is a kind of Singhalese superiority exists in Sri Lanka though they wanted to have united Sri Lanka while denying the equal opportunity to various ethnic people.

    • Mohana Prabath

      It is ABSOLUTELY unfair for a pserson to be killed and or raped just because he or she is a Tamil in Sri Lanka.

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