The search for the ‘missing’ answers

Families of the disappeared have gathered in at least two locations along the A9 Highway and have been protesting for over a month demanding to know the whereabouts of their loved ones. Most of those who are at these protests are mothers and wives of those who have gone missing during, and soon after the final stages of the war.

Their demands are simple. ‘Tell us what happened to our loved ones. If they are alive, then allow us to go see them, or release them.’

The Northern Province was a scene of chaos during the terminal stages of fighting. Many were arrested, many surrendered. Many of the LTTE cadres who had handed themselves over to the military were rehabilitated and reintegrated into society.

According to these families, some of them were abducted, some were arrested after they had surrendered, and some had disappeared while travelling on the road. According to them, many of the incidents took place between 2007 and 2009.

The issue here is that the families have never heard about their loved ones. It has been at least eight years and the families are still looking for answers to their questions.

But in the process, the families who are protesting claim that several had simply vanished with no trace whatsoever.

These protests were organized in line with the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva which concluded on March 24. One argument could be that many of these who were forcibly abducted or arrested were involved with the LTTE or connected to the organization in some way.

Yes that is a valid reason for them to be arrested and detained. One should also not forget those who had gone missing after being forcibly recruited by the LTTE. It is a difficult task since the LTTE has been wiped out. But it should be probed nevertheless. But, the parents have the right to know as to what happened to them after they were arrested.

A Presidential Commission was appointed by the previous government, which was headed by Justice Maxwell Paranagama. The commission conducted several sittings islandwide before handing over its final report in August last year.

However, the important factor here is that Paranagama himself admitted that the report was incomplete as the commission could not complete its investigations within the stipulated time frame. The evidences collected by the commission were to be handed over to the yet-to-be established Office of the Missing Persons (OMP).

However, the delay in establishing the OMP and the government obtaining a further two years to fulfill its undertaking to the UN is likely to have a negative vibe among the families who have waited all these years.

Of course, one should not focus on the North alone. There are hundreds who have gone missing in the South during the 30 years of civil war. These families too have several unanswered questions.

But the demands of the North take the centre stage simply because it received the brunt of the war.

These families right now do not worry about a political solution. For them, their lives have revolved around their loved ones who have been missing.

The new government came into power with several pledges, including one to probe into the disappearances.

In fact, this government came into power mainly because of the minorities and therefore should not ignore their grievances. Nearly two years have passed since the new regime took over. But it has only resulted in more protests on a daily basis.

First, the government needs to establish faith among the people, especially the Northern, war affected communities.

Secondly, it should not be going back on its own words and promises to the people.

It is understood that the government cannot make everyone happy. It cannot fulfill all its promises in one go. It takes time. But, the questions of these families are simple. Why cannot the government give a firm response? These mothers have the right to know what happened to their sons, even if they are no more among the living, so that they could conduct their rites according to their customs.

Published in the Nation on April 1,2017


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