Hundreds of family members of those who had disappeared gathered in Colombo to commemorate International Day of the Disappeared on August 30.
The issue of the disappeared has once again become a hot topic in the recent times thanks to the moves to establish an Office on Missing Persons (OMP).
This move as usual has evoked mixed responses from the government and the opposition. The issue of enforced disappearances was a matter of great concern during the final stages of the war. When the war was at its final stages in the North, several persons in the south were abducted by armed men.
There were several explanations given for the abduction. It was widely reported that those abducted had links with the LTTE and some were funding the organization.
The issue however is that the families of those abducted have no clue of the reasons behind the abduction, and of their fate.
The visit of United Nations (UN) Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon becomes important in the backdrop of the passing of the OMP Bill. This is the second visit of the UN Secretary General after 2009.
The UN had welcomed several moves taken by the current government pertaining to the issues raised by the organization with regard to addressing accountability issues and the establishment of a mechanism to probe war crimes allegations said to have occurred during the final phase of the war.
However, the government has been facing quite a few criticism due to the lethargic manner in which it has dealt with issues such as the release of the Tamil detainees who were arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), and the release of privately owned land back to their rightful owners.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) had mentioned the two issues in several platforms in the past and was likely to discuss the issue with the UN Secretary General during his stay.
One crucial question is how this proposed Office on Missing Persons (OMP) is going to be structured, and how it is going to operate. There was already a Presidential Commission which looked into this issue and had probed into approximately 3,000 complaints. The commission later forwarded the 16,000 remaining complaints to be probed by the OMP, after its mandate ended on July 15.
The question is, how different would the Office on Missing Persons be from the commission. What would be the composition of the office? Would the families of the victims be properly represented?
These are some of the aspects that need to be looked into. It is important that the relevant stakeholders, including the affected families, be enlightened on the process of establishing this office.
Welfare of people
On the other hand, the affected families need the continuous help from the government in terms of livelihood assistance. This help is not limited for the families of the disappeared, but for all who were affected by the war.
Recently, TNA Parliamentarian, Sivasakthi Anandan claimed that there were at least 1,000 persons who were with shrapnel embedded within their bodies.
There have been calls for the government to look into the basic needs such as livelihood assistance, transportation and health.
This particular issue raised by Anandan has to be taken quite seriously. It is important that the authorities check on these people especially if the situation is life- threatening and has long-term health issues.
These victims are literally living with the shrapnel, scars that would probably be with them forever and remind of them of the gruesome and cruel war which they had survived while losing all what they had.