Disappearances in the spotlight  

Monday, 9 November 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearances will finally make an official visit to Sri Lanka today at the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said ahead of the visit 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. It will gather information on cases of enforced disappearances, including those pending before the Working Group.

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 group will spend time in different parts of the country including the north and east before heading back to Colombo.

Sri Lanka has the second biggest caseload of missing persons before the UN Working Group and the issue has been a central point of discord between the international community and the Sri Lankan State. During his speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in September, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera assured that Sri Lanka would set up a permanent office to probe disappearances.

Now the Government embarks on the colossal task of creating a solid legal framework to undertake accountability measures that will bridge the trust deficit between the Government and the affected community. 

Samaraweera was optimistic about the Government’s planned course of action in terms of empowering the domestic legal system to competently handle the challenges that lie before it. But it will have to still deal with sensitive domestic concerns as it moves forward to investigate disappearances and work with international partners.  

President Maithripala Sirisena has called upon all the political parties to express their opinions on the formation of a domestic mechanism to investigate the alleged human rights violations while assuring the people that the proposed mechanism will be within the provisions of the Constitution. He also reiterated Sri Lanka’s commitment to facing the Geneva proposals despite some parties suggesting that they be completely rejected.

While the President invited the parties to submit their proposals to the Presidential Secretariat within a fortnight, the clock ticks on as the January deadline for the domestic framework, as stated by the Foreign Minister, nears.

The Government has shown its interest in moving forward with a process that would bring solace to millions and true reconciliation to this country. The importance of including the parties in this process could also be commended. 

However, the Government must be cautious in its approach, especially with the more disgruntled sections of the political sphere, so as to not delay the process any further.

The Government promised tangible results from the domestic process within 18 months while Minister Samaraweera called for “patient understanding” from the international community with regards to Sri Lanka’s fight for accountability and justice.

As Sri Lanka embarks on arguably it’s most significant journey yet, the Government must ensure that even though our fate has now finally been placed in our own hands, our ambitions and objectives don’t veer away from the truth and reconciliation the country desperately needs.