After years of trying, UN Working Group gains access to victims and officials in Sri Lanka at the invitation of the new Government
By Dharisha Bastians
The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances will finally make an official visit to Sri Lanka this month, at the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government, the United Nations said yesterday.
The Government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa rejected years of badgering by the international community and senior UN officials to allow the Working Group access to the island for consultations with victims and officials on the plight of missing persons.
The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said in a media release that the Working Group would be in Sri Lanka from 9-18 November, led by the Group’s Vice Chair Bernard Duhaime, and experts Tae-Ung Baik and Ariel Dulitzky. “The independent experts will be accompanied by staff of the Secretariat of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights,” the media release said.
The Group will study the measures adopted by the state to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances, including issues related to truth, justice and reparation for the victims of enforced disappearances, the UN said. “They will also gather information on cases of enforced disappearances, including those pending before the Working Group,” the UN release said.
The Working Group will start and end the visit in Colombo and will travel to Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mannar, Mullaitivu, Batticaloa, Matale, Trincomalee, Ampara and Galle. The expert body will meet with State officials, both at the central and provincial levels, as well as with relatives of disappeared people, representatives of civil society organizations and of relevant UN agencies, the UN said.
A final report on the visit by the Working Group will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in September 2016, the release by the UN said.
The UN Missing Persons Working Group is comprised of five independent experts from all regions of the world. The Working Group was established by the UN Commission on Human Rights in 1980 to assist families in determining the fate and whereabouts of disappeared relatives.
The Group seeks to establish a channel of communication between the families and the Governments concerned, to ensure that individual cases are investigated, to clarify the whereabouts of persons who, having disappeared are placed outside the protection of the law.
Sri Lanka is the second biggest caseload of missing persons before the UN Working Group, with thousands of relatives still searching for loved ones after two insurgencies and the end of the war with the LTTE. Human rights activists claim that enforced disappearances have been used as a tool by successive Sri Lankan Governments to silence dissidents and deal brutally with enemies of the state.