Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera opening the Foreign Ministry’s Regional Office in Jaffna and the Indian Consulate celebrating the 67th Republic Day of India took place on Thursday (26) in the backdrop of the family members of the disappeared persons and the political prisoners staging their hunger strike in Vavuniya.
The fast unto death hunger strike by the family members of the disappeared persons and political prisoners in the North which commenced on Tuesday (22) in Vavuniya is the first to be staged with the dawn of this year.
The family members of disappeared persons and political prisoners in the North and the East have been agitating in search of their disappeared as well as their detained family members for the past several years and their agitations have gathered momentum with the end of the civil war in 2009.
Hunger strikes are not new on the Tamil political scene in the country. The Tamil political leaders have been using hunger strike as a non-violent way to fulfil their political aspirations from the very inception of the Tamil political crisis in the country.
There were instances where hunger strikes and other forms of non-violent protests staged by the Tamil political leaders and their supporters were dispersed in a violent manner with arrests made.
The fast-unto-death which was staged by the LTTE’s political wing leader Thileepan against the Indo-Lanka Accord and the arrival of the Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) in 1987 was the foremost among all hunger strikes which had ended with the death of Thileepan.
The hunger strikes have also been staged by the Tamil political prisoners frequently and they were called off following the assurances given on expediting the process to release them.
Thinking of the manner nearly fifty Tamil political prisoners were massacred during the ‘black July’ pogrom at the Welikada Prison in Colombo in 1983, the families of the Tamil political prisoners are still extremely concerned over the safety of their kith and kin who have been detained in the prisons.
The Presidential Commissions to trace disappeared persons were introduced when Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga first became President in 1994.
A large number of civilians who had lost their family members gave evidences before the Presidential Commission to look into the remedial measures for the aggrieved families of disappeared persons.
However, there was hardly any action taken to address the grievances of the families of the disappeared persons on the recommendations made by the Presidential Commissions appointed during former President Chandrika Bandaranaike’s period.
There were even initiatives taken in the form of special hearings and commissions to record the evidence of the families of the missing persons. However, those attempts were fizzled out to the anger of the disappeared persons’ families.
The last phase of the civil war in the North and the East had led to the disappearance of scores of people in the North. Two weeks ago the Mullaitivu District Judge ordered the Army to submit the list of names of nearly 400 persons, who had surrendered to the Army when they were asked to do so with the assurance given as to their lives, on 31 January at the Mullaitivu District Court.
The fast unto death launched by family members of the disappeared persons and the political prisoners in Vavuniya echoed in Parliament on Wednesday (25).
Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) Leader and Chief Opposition Whip Anura Kumara Dissanayake questioned the Prime Minister on the issue of disappeared persons and on the government’s announcement of setting up of an Office of Missing Persons (OMP).
Responding to Chief Opposition Whip, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said that the government was in the process of establishing the OMP.
Elaborating further on disappeared persons Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe said, those who have been claimed to have disappeared would have even left the island through various channels.
The Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran expressing his dismay over the OMP has written to the government to come out with the right answer to the people who are on the fast unto death hunger strike before they reach a very critical condition endangering their lives. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera pledged to create the OMP when Sri Lanka co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution in 2015 for the appreciation of the officials in Geneva.
However, as there are no signs of the setting up of the OMP, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera in the presence of Leader of the Opposition and Tamil National Alliance Leader R. Sampanthan and Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran has declared open the Foreign Ministry’s Regional Consular Office in Jaffna on Thursday (26).
As every house in Jaffna has a person abroad, the Foreign Ministry opening its office is an appreciative move as far as the external affairs of the Tamil expatriates are concerned.
So with the attempts delayed in setting up of the OMP, despite the assurance given by Sri Lanka in the UNHRC resolution in 2015 and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe stating that disappeared persons would have even left the country, the new Foreign Ministry’s Regional Office in Jaffna creates an impression whether it would kick off its functions with the search of disappeared persons abroad.