Families Of Missing Want Independent Mechanism

National Delegates’ Conference of Affected Families

Over 200 family members of persons gone missing due to enforced disappearance from different parts of the country, who assembled as the ‘National Delegates’ Conference of Affected Families’ on the International Day of the Disappeared last week, resolved to lobby the government and international community for a better efficient and independent mechanism than the OMP to investigate the missing. They were critical and voiced disappointment in how the OMP Bill was pushed through parliament without any opportunity given to them during the drafting process to present their needs in establishing it.

The conference had representation from North, East, Kandy, Passara, and Colombo. Many delegates said, this is the first time in post war Sri Lanka, they attend a conference that is representative of both Sinhala and Tamil affected families to discuss and decide on their problems and their demands on their own. All these years, they said, it was outsiders and proxies who took their issues in Colombo and in Geneva. The conference was presided by Ananthy Sasitharan from North, Anu Asha from Trincomalee, and Sandhya Eknaligoda from Colombo, who later in the afternoon together spoke at a media briefing held at the SLFI, Colombo.

Participants at the conference rejected them being termed as ‘widows’ saying they are in search of their ‘missing’ husbands and are not widows. They want the government to investigate those missing, independently and properly. They rejected any part compensation saying they have somehow or other existed all these years and said they first want the investigations done properly to their satisfaction. The OMP, they said, don’t meet their satisfaction and the government has not acted to prove it is sincere.

Addressing the media conference in the afternoon, Ananthy Sasitharan said it was the Tamil people who were very badly affected who agitated for independent investigations into missing persons and the UNHRC Resolution is due to their demands. But the Tamil people have no reason to believe the OMP that the government established will deliver justice to the victims and their affected families. They have gone before many such commissions before without any answers to their issues. She stressed that the State mechanism including the investigating and prosecuting is biased and the governments don’t have the political will to change that. Anu Asha said PM Ranil Wickremesinghe once said in Jaffna that the missing are dead. She asked if that is so, why is his government establishing the OMP to investigate the ‘missing’. It is because of this confusion even in government they need a proper and independent investigating mechanism where the government will not be able to interfere.

Speaking at this media conference, Sandhya Eknaligoda said that her experience so far in her husband Prageeth’s abduction and disappearance investigations, does not allow her to accept the investigations are carried out without interference. She said she has a slight advantage as she is in Colombo and because her husband is a journalist. But still it has been extremely difficult to gain necessary records and information required for investigations because the military is withholding them. She therefore said, it is the responsibility of this government to win the trust of the Tamil people if the government is honest and sincere in holding independent investigations. To have such trust, she said, from her own experience, she would say it is important to have international assistance and advice. She also said that if the government wants to win their confidence, the OMP members and investigators should be made public before appointing, so that they can be satisfied the team is credible.

They said they resolved to continue as the National Forum of Affected Families to directly intervene without being left on picket lines, and they would push for international assistance in investigations, guarantee of witnesses beyond what is now assured that has no sure guarantee. They said that many more resolutions would be released to the media in a few days.