South Asia

Missing persons commission has received 20,000 complaints

Family members of nearly 20,000 people — who went missing during Sri Lanka’s 30 year-war — have so far petitioned a Presidential Commission looking into complaints of disappearances.

Set up in August 2013 by President Mahinda Rajapaksa, the commission was initially tasked with looking into complaints regarding missing persons.

Expanded mandate

In July, a government gazette notification expanded the mandate of Commission, directing it to probe allegations of war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law by the LTTE and the Sri Lankan armed forces setting February 2015 deadline.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s civil society has expressed concern over the integrity of the Commission of the Inquiry, pointing to the absence of victim and witness protection mechanisms in the country. Colombo-based think tank Centre for Policy Alternatives said it feared that the Commission’s primary task of investigating and inquiring into the thousands of missing persons in Sri Lanka will be severely curtailed by its new mandate of probing allegations of war crimes.

Asked if his three-member Commission was equipped to conduct an investigation into war crimes, Maxwell Parakrama Paranagama, who chairs the Presidential Commission, said the issues were “intermingled”.

“When you listen to complaints of missing persons, you hear of some war crime related issues too,” said the retired High Court judge.

Speaking to The Hindu at his modest Colombo office, where 25 staff members assist his team on the 20,000 complaints — including 5,000 from families of Sri Lankan army personnel — received so far, he said: “Language is a major issue, but we now have some youngsters who can speak Tamil.”

Many have gone abroad

Even as thousands of people in Sri Lanka’s north and east allege that their missing relatives were last seen in the custody of the Sri Lankan army, Mr. Paranagama said many of those reportedly missing may have fled the country during the war and gone abroad.

The Sri Lankan government is trying to source details of refugees in other countries to compare, but it was proving difficult as some of the countries were reluctant to share information for security reasons, he said.

However, activists seem to have lost hope. Mannar Bishop Rayappu Joseph, convenor of the Tamil Civil Society Forum, said despite repeated meetings, there was little action. According to him 1,47,000 persons, largely from the Vanni, remained unaccounted for after the final stages of the war that ended in 2009.


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Printable version | Oct 28, 2021 4:02:29 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/south-asia/sri-lanka-missing-persons-commission-has-received-20000-complaints/article6319149.ece

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