By Shamindra Ferdinando
Welcoming the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), a civil society grouping, ‘Platform for Freedom’ which has campaigned for an internationally acceptable permanent mechanism to probe disappearances, yesterday urged the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government to establish three remaining mechanisms in accordance with Geneva Resolution without further delay.
Secretary to the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF) Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu emphasized the pivotal importance of swift implementation of the Geneva pledges.
Geneva sessions commenced on Feb 26 and will continue till March 26.
Saravanamuttu, who is the founder Executive Director of the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a member of the Foreign Policy Advisory Group and of the Board of the Lakshman Kadirgamar Institute for International and Strategic Studies said so addressing the media at the Center for Society and Religion (CSR), Maradana.
Emphasizing that the four mechanisms were part of the mutually accepted Geneva package, Saravanamuttu pointed out that the OMP had been finally established one and half years after the passage of the relevant law in August 2016.
Saravanamuttu asked whether they had to wait for another one and half years for the operationalization of second mechanism. The activist expressed concern that a dillydallying government was likely to fail to set up all four mechanisms during the stipulated period.
In addition to OMP, Sri Lanka agreed to establish a truth seeking commission, an office for reparations, and a hybrid judicial mechanism with a special counsel.
Sri Lanka last March received additional two years to carry out the project.
Saravanamuttu explained how the four mechanisms could help Sri Lanka achieve genuine post-war national reconciliation.
Sri Lanka brought the war to a successful conclusion in May 2009.
Senior representative of Families of the Disappeared Britto Fernando faulted President Maithripala Sirisena for the inordinate delay in the implementation of the Geneva pledges.
Fernando pointed out that the failure to establish OMP for so long after the passage of the relevant law couldn’t be justified under any circumstances.
The government should be ashamed of its failure, Fernando said, blaming the President for easily giving in to those Buddhist monks and the likes of Joint Opposition parliamentary group leader Dinesh Gunawardena opposed to the Geneva initiative.
Fernando flayed President Sirisena for twice putting off the debate and vote on the Enforced Disappearances Bill scheduled to be taken up on July 5 and Sept 9 last year due to political pressure.
Alleging that President Sirisena lacked strength to overcome the JO challenge, Fernando warned of dire consequences unless the government addressed accountability issues in accordance with the Geneva Resolution. Fernando recalled how former President Mahinda Rajapaksa had to pay a heavy price for not heeding the international community.
Both Dr. Saravanamuttu and Fernando said that full implementation of four mechanisms would ensure Sri Lankans wouldn’t undergo rights violations in the future.
Fernando strongly condemned Minister John Seneviratne (SLFP) and UNP MP Kavinda Jayawardana for being recently critical of the OMP. Alleging that National Freedom Front (NFF) leader Wimal Weerawansa had exploited the situation to his political advantage, Fernando said that the likes of Seneviratne and Jayawardana playing politics with such a sensitive issue couldn’t be justified under any circumstances.
Commenting on severe criticism of the appointment of Dr. Sriyani Nimalka Fernando as a member of the OMP headed by President’s Counsel Saliya Pieris, Fernando said that an attempt was being made to discredit the outfit on the basis of her inclusion. Strongly defending her appointment, Fernando said that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara couldn’t be unaware of Nimalka Fernando’s role in support of their efforts in the 80s to bring the situation to the attention to the then Geneva Human Rights Commission.
The media was told of the civil society group’s displeasure over the inclusion of retired Major general Mohanti Antoinette Peiris in the OMP. The grouping also blamed the LTTE for enforced disappearances during the conflict whereas the JVP was accused of politically motivated killings.
Fernando said the Geneva prescribed probe on disappearances between 2002 and 2009, the government decided to inquire into all cases beginning with 1971 insurgency.
He referred to three separate incidents in the Batticaloa district during Premadasa presidency. The civil activist alleged that there had been three separate incidents that resulted in the disappearance of 184, 156 and 18 men, women and children. Blaming the army for disappearances, Fernando urged the government to inquire into such brutalities.
The civil society grouping expressed the hope that the OMP would have the strength and the vision to fulfill its obligations.