Colombo Gazette

Feature

Families of the missing lose hope despite OMP being established

By Easwaran Rutnam

 

The families of the disappeared from Kilinochchi who have been protesting for over a year demanding answers have now lost faith in the Government and are turning to the international community for intervention.

The protest is being staged to find out the truth about their loved ones and hold accountable those responsible for their disappearances.

President Maithripala Sirisena met with the families in June and November last year and promised to release a list of people who surrendered to the Army at the end of the war in 2009.

The families handed over a letter stating five key demands to the President, requesting the release of lists of all who surrendered to the armed forces, during and after the war, particularly during the last phase, a list of all secret detention centers, their status and list of detainees, and a list of all political prisoners held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). To date, none of their demands have been met with.

Almost a decade since the end of the war, pleas by these families have fallen on deaf ears and they are now fed up and desperate for answers.

One of the group leaders of those involved in the protest said that they have no faith in the Government or a Government-led mechanism anymore.

Leelathevi told the Colombo Gazette that when the President met them in November, he gave them a concrete assurance yet nothing has materialised and so they have no faith in him anymore.

She said that on a daily basis between 65-70 people take part in the protest while at night there are around 25 people.

Leelathevi said that the families of those missing have turned to the international community and are hoping for a speedy intervention.

Human rights activist Ruki Fernando said that he was told seven women had died during the protest.

“One woman leading the protest in Mullaitivu was assaulted, and received threats to stop. The protestors have been subjected to constant surveillance. While protesting, they had also struggled to take care of their other children at home, engage in livelihoods, find the bus fare to come to the protest site and a range of other practical problems. From the day I first met them one year ago, and through subsequent visits, I have seen them getting sick, hungry, cold, sweating, their spirit and physical strength deteriorating. But they have not given up,” he said in a post on the Groundviews website.

Fernando said that he had been told the protest is not levelled against the Government, military or anyone else.

“They just want to know whether their disappeared children, grandchildren, husbands, are alive or dead. Many believe their loved ones are alive and want to know where they are being held. They want to see them. If dead, they want to know what happened and to receive their remains. Many protesting families had seen their loved ones surrendering to the Army in front of their own eyes, after which they were never seen again,” he said.

The protests started with some families of the disappeared in Vavuniya staging a fast unto death in January 2017. One of the leaders, Jeyavanitha, a Tamil mother, has a 2015 election campaign leaflet of President Sirisena and asserts that one of the school girls in uniform next to the President is her daughter.

As health conditions of the elderly women fasting in Vavuniya deteriorated, the State Minister of Defense met the families at the protest site. He promised a meeting with several senior Ministers in Colombo, and families agreed to temporarily suspend the protest. That meeting happened, but was marred by controversy, as the Government had invited some Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs, who the families didn’t want to attend. The TNA MPs had eventually left, but based on what the State Minister for Defense had told him, the TNA Spokesperson reported to media that the families wanted priority for their own family member’s cases. Several of those actually present at the meeting till the end told me that they never asked for this, and insisted on answers to all families of disappeared. The meeting never yielded anything, and after waiting for two more weeks, the families in Vavuniya recommenced their protests, which reached one year on February 24, 2018.

Last week President Maithripala Sirisena confirmed the appointments of the seven members to the Office of the Missing Persons (OMP) which was established in September 2017.

At a meeting held at the Presidential Secretariat, the President appointed President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris as Chairman of the Office with six others also being appointed as members to work with him.

The members are: Jayatheepa Punniyamoorthy, Major General Mohanti Antonette Peiris, Dr. Sriyani Nimalka Fernando, Mirak Raheem, Sumanasiri Liyanage and Kanapathipillai Venthan.

The appointment seemed to coincide with the UN Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva with Sri Lanka on the agenda.

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