Kin of Sri Lanka’s missing persons demand “detailed information”

038According to the ICRC study, of all the 395 families interviewed, 36 per cent believed their loved ones to be dead. As many as 31 per cent said the missing persons were still alive while the remaining 33 per cent expressed uncertainty.

An overwhelming number of families of those who reportedly went missing during the 26-year-long civil war in Sri Lanka, demands “more detailed information” from the authorities on the fate and whereabouts of missing persons.

This is the highlight of a study undertaken by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) during October 2014-November 2015 all over the country, by interviewing 395 families of the missing persons including those of members of security forces and the police.

The Red Cross has a case load of over 16,000 missing persons including 5,100 security forces and the police. A presidential commission on missing persons, whose tenure came to an end about 10 days ago, has received approximately 19,000 complaints in respect of disappeared civilians and 5,000 regarding the military and police personnel. The commission’s ambit was to cover the period from 1983 to 2009. In early June, the government stated that since 1994, various official commissions had received over 65,000 complaints of missing persons. It has decided to issue certificates of absence to families of missing persons and set up Office on Missing Persons (OMP).

According to the ICRC study, of all the 395 families interviewed, 36 per cent believed their loved ones to be dead. As many as 31 per cent said the missing persons were still alive while the remaining 33 per cent expressed uncertainty.

“Believing their missing relatives might be dead or being unsure of their fate, did not prevent the families from expressing a need to receive more detailed information from the authorities as to the fate and whereabouts of their missing relatives. Over two thirds of the interviewed families expressed such a need. Seventy nine percent of the interviewed families also mentioned at least once the need for information on the location of buried human remains and/or to receive the identified remains of their relatives. Understandably, all those who believed their missing relatives to be alive wanted to know where they are,” the ICRC said.

Sri Lanka’s Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, responding to a question six months ago about those who were said to have surrendered to the authorities immediately after the civil war and had not yet returned home, told the interviewer that “they are probably dead.” S. Thavarajah, Leader of Opposition in the Northern Provincial Council (NPC) and who presented the NPC’s case on constitutional reforms before the Constitutional Assembly’s Steering Committee a few weeks ago, told THE HINDU recently that the government should, at least, come out in detail as to what happened to each and every person who surrendered himself or herself to the security forces in the presence of religious or social leaders.

The study wanted the government to consolidate a list of missing persons; ensure the development of appropriate technical forensic capacities in the search for, recovery and identification of the remains of missing persons, and involve families of the missing persons in the framing of transitional justice mechanisms.