Missing persons: Sharp difference in numbers quoted by govt and Presidential Commission
Govt claim even higher than NGO’s
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Retired High Court Judge Maxwell Paranagama, Chairman, Presidential Commission to Investigate Complaints Regarding Missing Persons yesterday told The Island that the Commission had received approximately 19,000 complaints in respect of disappeared civilians during sittings held in various parts of the country.
The Commission dealt with missing persons cases since 1983.
Paranagama declined to comment on the sharp discrepancy in data available with his Commission and recent government declaration that various presidential commissions had received over 65,000 complaints regarding missing persons. According to the Foreign Ministry, over 65,000 missing persons cases had been received since 1994. The government acknowledged: “Sri Lanka has one of the largest case-loads of missing persons in the world.” The cabinet has been recently told of 65,000 cases of disappearances during 23 years commencing 1994.
Paranagama said that he couldn’t comment on complaints received by other presidential commissions under any circumstances. However, as the Chairman of the last Commission appointed by the previous government over two years after the conclusion of the war in May, 2009. In addition to the missing civilian, the Paranagama Commission has received approximately 5,000 complaints regarding missing military and police personnel.
Commenting on allegations that over 40,000 Tamils civilians had perished during the last phase of Eelam War IV (Aug 2006-May 2009), Paranagama emphasized that there was absolutely no basis for such accusations.
The cabinet on June 7 approved draft legislation to pave the way for the issuance of Certificates of Absence to the families of all those categorized as missing. Authoritative sources told The Island that the Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) Act No 19 of 2010 would have to be amended to enable the implementation of the project.
Paranagama said that he was in the process of finalizing an interim report to be handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena next month. The Commission will cease to function on July 15, 2016.
According to ICRC mission in Colombo, its offices, since 1990 had received over 16,000 tracing requests, including approximately 5,200 from families of missing military and police personnel. In addition to presidential commissions and the ICRC report, Norway led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission (SLMM), too, recorded many cases of abductions/disappearances during the implementation of the Ceasefire Agreement (CFA).
The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) will spearhead investigations into cases of disappearances.
Government sources told The Island that the proposed OMP needed international cooperation to meet challenging task.
Close on the heels of the government announcing plans to establish, the National Peace Council (NPC) stressed the need for a credible transitional justice mechanism to inquire into as many as 20,000 cases of disappearances.
Paranagama said that his Commission’s efforts to locate those who had been categorized as missing was seriously hampered due to foreign governments denying cooperation. Asked whether Canada would share information with OMP set up in accordance with a Geneva Resolution adopted in Oct. 2015 to establish the whereabouts of the missing, a spokesperson for the Canadian High Commission told The Island: “Canada welcomes the approval by Cabinet of the establishment of the OMP which is a key component of reconciliation and a commitment made by the Government of Sri Lanka We look forward to its full and effective implementation. All personal information created, held or collected by the Government of Canada, including requests for asylum and applications for immigration or citizenship, is protected under the federal Privacy Act. Any information or official requests for assistance and cooperation between governments should be transmitted officially via appropriate channels”
A Japanese embassy official told The Island that the government of Japan welcomed the establishment of an OMP. If the new Office would need cooperation from the Government of Japan in carrying out its mandate, we would sincerely consider it upon receiving such request.”
Authoritative sources said that those who had perished in international waters over the past several years while trying to reach Australia, too, could be among those listed as missing. The missing included those who been categorized as disappeared during the LTTE’s war against the Indian military (Oct 1987-March 1990) as well as those disappeared during the time Sri Lankan Tamils received military training in India in 80s.
The Island last week reported the readiness on the part of the US, Australia, UK and ICRC to assist the latest Sri Lankan initiative subject to their rules and regulations.
Indian High Commission didn’t respond to The Island query.