Over 15,000 Still Reported Missing

Over 15,000 are still reported missing in the ethnic conflict, according to statistics by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in its annual report for 2011 which was released last week.

The report said that as of December 31 last year the ICRC is still handling the cases of 15,780 people reported missing.

Of this figure there are 1495 minors and 751 women, the ICRC report said.
Thousands of people had lost touch with relatives during the former conflict and in its immediate aftermath, and many such cases reported to the ICRC remained unresolved.

The ICRC discussed the plight of separated family members with the Defence Ministry during bilateral meetings in 2011 and continued to monitor the implementation of laws and creation of entities that could have an impact for missing persons and their families.

The ICRC said that despite very restricted space for independent humanitarian action, it continued to contribute to addressing the consequences of the former armed conflict, operating whenever possible in partnership with the Sri Lanka Red Cross Society.

ICRC delegates visited detainees, including those arrested and held in relation to the armed conflict, with a focus on those held under the Emergency Regulations or suspected of affiliation with the LTTE.

They checked on inmates’ treatment and living conditions and reported their findings and recommendations confidentially to the detaining authorities. With the National Society, the ICRC facilitated a number of family visits to detained relatives.

To assist the authorities in improving detention conditions, particularly in relation to overcrowding, the ICRC organized environmental engineering assessments of four prisons, identifying areas for improvement and providing realistic proposals for remedial action.

Subsequently, rehabilitation work began and the ICRC discussed with the authorities administrative factors contributing to overcrowding, as well as possible solutions, such as respect for judicial guarantees, the report said.

Following a government order issued in late 2010 to close the ICRC’s remaining sub-delegations in the north and curtail planned assistance activities, several proposed programmes to assist resettling or returning populations did not take place.

Cancelled programmes included the provision of seed and tools to farmers to boost crop production; the provision of tackle to fishermen to help them resume livelihood activities; cash grants or vocational training to vulnerable families to invest in improving their future; and the rehabilitation and/or extension of municipal water systems, the ICRC report said.

While people, including migrants, continued to request the ICRC’s help in searching for family members unaccounted for, restrictions on ICRC access to people in the affected areas limited its ability to play a direct role in restoring family links.