As families of the disappeared pass the two-month mark of their roadside protests demanding answers to the whereabouts of their disappeared loved ones, and over eights months after the Sri Lankan government passed the Office of Missing Persons Act which was met with many critiques but still remains just a piece of paper, the question now is how to find a path forward that provides families of the disappeared with relief.
In its policy brief, ACPR has considered this question in two parts.
In Part I, ACPR outlines steps the government should immediately undertake to demonstrate its political will towards addressing the issue of disappearances and to rebuild confidence in families of the disappeared. This part outlines the unedited demands of the families of the disappeared based on interviews ACPR has conducted with families of the disappeared protesting across the North and with civil society organizations who work with them.
In Part. II, ACPR explores three of the families’ key demands with regards to any process set up to investigate disappearances and how those demands should be incorporated into the establishment of the OMP under the OMP Act as it currently stands to help ensure its credibility: (1) appointments; (2) regional offices; and (3) linkage to criminal prosecutions. It is critical to understand that given the deep distrust held by families of the disappeared currently of the government, there will be very little success in trying to establish even a credible investigatory mechanism without first addressing the demands outlined in Part I.
This is the first in a series of briefs ACPR is publishing about addressing the issue of disappearances. Forthcoming briefs will consider the certificates of absence program, victim and witness protection and the voices of protesting families of the disappeared.
The report has four recommendations with regard to the immediate demands of the families of the disappeared:
The demand for releasing a list of detainees/ surrendees is an immediately actionable demand. The demand for the release of such a list also is not a new demand and has been voiced a number of times in the past eight years since the end of the war. The Government should consider the following on an immediate basis:
1. Release a list of all those who surrendered or were detained by the Sri Lankan Armed forces during the last stages of the war (latter part of 2008 – 2009). Such detention/ surrender took place at a number of exit points from LTTE controlled areas to Sri Lankan Army controlled areas throughout the last stages of the war but mostly over the last few days of the war in May 2009. These lists should be available with the different divisions of the armed forces in charge of the exit points. The Government should collate this information and make them available to the families to scruitnise.
2. Release a list of all secret detention centres run by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces/ Police throughout the war and after the war, their current status and an annual list of detainees held in such detention centres throughout the war and after the end of the war.
3. Release a list of all Tamil detainees being held under the PTA/ Emergency Regulation or unlawfully in any legal detention centre in Sri Lanka. Release a list of annual detainees held in these legal detention centres/ remand prisons/ prisons from 1983 onwards.
4. The Government should consult with the families as to the appropriateness of publicly releasing these lists. ACPR recommends that these lists be made available to families of the disappeared, their lawyers and any representatives that they authorize.