- OMP writes to President , PM and Justice Minister
- Says amendments to Act should keep in mind needs of families, right to know fate of missing or disappeared ones
- OMP Chairman highlights OMP set up after long-standing demands of such families
The Office of Missing (OMP) has written to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa expressing the view that any amendments to the OMP Act should be proposed pursuant to wide consultations with families of the missing and disappeared, organisations that work with them and the OMP, and that in doing so it is necessary to keep in mind the needs of the families and their right to know the fate of their missing or disappeared loved ones.
The OMP also addressed the letter to Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa and Minister of Justice and Human Rights Nimal Siripala de Silva, following media reports that claimed the Government plans to review the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Act No. 14 of 2016 (the Act) with a view to amending the same.
OMP Chairperson Saliya Pieris PC, in his communications with the Government, had highlighted that the OMP was created in recognition of the long-standing demands of the families of the missing and disappeared, with a view to addressing the recommendations as well as the failings of past State mechanisms that had sought to address issues related to the same.
The OMP also noted that Sri Lanka has suffered widespread disappearances for over four decades in multiple contexts, including the civil war and the southern insurrections. Over the past three decades successive governments belonging to multiple political parties have sought to address the issue of the missing and disappeared by establishing temporary mechanisms with limited mandates, including a number of Presidential Commissions of Inquiry (COIs), the OMP said in a media release yesterday.
The OMP had also observed that previous mechanisms such as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission in 2011 recommended that the State establish a permanent institution with a broad mandate and robust investigative powers to address issues related to the missing and disappeared.
In 2018 the OMP was established as a permanent and independent State institution, akin to other independent commissions. The OMP’s mandate is not limited to any particular period, region or community and, as per Section 27 of the Act, its mandate extends to persons who went missing in relation to the conflict which took place in the north and east, due to political unrest or civil disturbances, as enforced disappearances, or as a member of the Armed Forces or Police reported missing in action.
The OMP was established following the appointment of seven commissioners in February 2018 by the former President on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.
In its first year, the OMP arranged public consultations in a number of districts with members of families of the missing and the disappeared. Families highlighted their suffering and past failures of the State, including focusing only on providing limited compensation. Regardless of region or ethnicity, families demanded that the OMP conduct investigations and provide answers as to the fate and whereabouts of their missing loved ones. In the past 22 months, the OMP has operationalised its head office in Colombo and opened four regional offices in Matara, Mannar, Jaffna, and Batticaloa.
The OMP has in the said communications acknowledged that proposing amendments to the Act is a prerogative of the Government, although any changes will need to be enacted by Parliament.