Task force to provide counselling to missing persons' families

Psychosocial support task force to help such families overcome post-conflict trauma..

August 05, 2016 11:04 pm | Updated December 04, 2021 10:46 pm IST - COLOMBO:

Formed by the Office for National Unity & Reconciliation and headed by former Chandrika Kumaratunga, the task force will take care of the psychosocial needs of the families of missing persons.

Formed by the Office for National Unity & Reconciliation and headed by former Chandrika Kumaratunga, the task force will take care of the psychosocial needs of the families of missing persons.

A psychosocial support task force, which will introduce a range of services to families of missing persons and others in Sri Lanka who suffer from the post-conflict trauma, has been set up.

Formed by the Office for National Unity & Reconciliation (ONUR), the task force will take care of psychosocial needs of the families which will be part of the healing process.

24,000 such cases

As per one estimate, there are at least 24,000 cases of missing persons, of which civilians account for four-fifth of the complaints and the families of the military and police personnel, the rest.

Headed by former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga, the ONUR had come up with an action plan “to systematically look in to” the cases of the missing persons in addition to welcoming the families of the missing persons and civil society organisations to positively engage with the government, an official release said, adding that the implementation of the action plan had commenced.

“Certificate of Absence”

To facilitate access to services and benefits offered by the state to the families in the absence of a Death Certificate, the Cabinet had approved a mechanism to issue a “Certificate of Absence.”  

“The relevant legislation is due to be approved by the Parliament later this month,” the release said, adding that the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), an investigative body, would be in place by August end.

Forensics Unit

Reacting to the government’s move to establish the OMP, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA), a Colombo-based NGO, has demanded the formation of a forensics unit within the OMP.

“In the absence of an in-house unit, the OMP will not be able to investigate mass graves, oversee exhumations, or identify the missing,” the CPA said, pointing out that Kosovo’s Office of Missing Persons and Forensics (OMPF) and civil-society initiatives in Argentina, Peru, and Guatemala provided a useful roadmap for a victim-centered and low-cost approach.

Uncovering more mass graves

Given that two mass graves — Mannar and Matale — had been uncovered in recent years and more might follow, it was imperative that a single office be responsible for securing and examining the gravesites.

As the OMP would not have prosecutorial powers, a special counsel’s office, another mechanism on transitional justice, should be established immediately to ensure that the OMP and the special counsel’s office would be able to arrive at a working arrangement when they encountered evidence, indicating potential criminal liability, the CPA added. 

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