Questions have been raised on the efforts taken to address the issue of missing persons, particularly on the transparency of the process and the timeframe during which results will be seen.
While the Presidential commission on missing persons continues to record statements from the public on those reported missing, despite being accused by international organisations of lacking credibility, civil society and local and foreign non-profit organisations are also making a push for investigations to show results.
The International Commission on Missing Persons (ICMP), formed by former US President Bill Clinton, is one such organisation which is now involved in the Sri Lankan issue. Andreas Kleiser, Director for Policy and Cooperation at ICMP, told The Sunday Leader that ICMP has had meetings with local civil society on the missing persons issue and is now seeking meetings with the Sri Lankan government on the issue.
ICMP is an international organisation whose mandate is to secure the cooperation of governments and others in locating and identifying missing persons from conflict, migration, human rights abuses, disasters, crime and other causes.
In Sri Lanka, consortium members International Coalition of Sites of Conscience (ICSC), ICMP and the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation (Fundación de Antropología Forense de Guatemala: FAFG) are working together to address reconciliation and accountability needs, especially related to missing persons, through local and high-level consultations, participatory needs assessments and a technical fund to provide targeted transitional justice technical assistance to the government of Sri Lanka.
“The job of the ICMP is to talk to the government. We would like to actively assist the government of Sri Lanka but to do that we need to have an agreement with Sri Lanka,” he said.ICMP is already engaging with Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, A M J Sadiq, with the hope of establishing a link to the Sri Lankan government.
“Last year we met with families of those missing in Sri Lanka and with officials of the foreign ministry. We then had two round table meetings in March this year. What we saw in Sri Lanka is that civil society is becoming very impatient. The process is taking too long,” Kleiser said.
He however said that there is a keen interest on the proposed office of missing persons and local civil society feels it should be a rule of law or public law institution.Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera had said in March that laws to create a permanent office on missing persons is expected to be finalised by this month or June this year. He said that the government is working with the ICRC to create the office on missing persons.Kleiser said the office on missing persons should potentially fill the existing gaps and bring the necessary reforms to the missing persons commission.
“We all look forward to see what this missing persons office will do,” he said.
Samaraweera had also said that a Task Force has been appointed to consult the families of the victims of the war when addressing issues related to the war.
Kleiser however said that the consultation process is also not proceeding as expected.He said the consultation process is still based on material which is not public, adding that even the ICRC has made some recommendations to the Task Force which is confidential.
“And it also is becoming too late. One needs to hurry up. Also the longer this discussion is held in a secret manner the more suspicion there will be and the more difficult it will be to regain trust,” he added.He urged the authorities to move ahead with more concrete steps to address the issue on missing persons as soon as possible.
Meeting at The Hague
Meanwhile last weekend Sadiq hosted a meeting of ambassadors from Asia in The Hague to highlight the work of ICMP and to discuss the issue of missing and disappeared persons in the region.
ICMP first worked in Asia when its staff was deployed in Thailand to help identify victims of the December 2004 tsunami. Since then it has cooperated with the authorities in the Philippines and Vietnam. In October 2015 it launched a series of consultations in Sri Lanka with a view to contributing to a comprehensive, countrywide effort to account for the large numbers of missing from the 25-year conflict.
“The issue of missing persons is a global phenomenon, and Asian countries are unfortunately also affected by it, through a variety of causes,“ Ambassador Sadiq said, adding that since ICMP now has its headquarters in The Hague it was possible to invite ambassadors to meet with ICMP Director-General Kathryne Bomberger to learn more about ICMP’s mandate and activities.
“ICMP is an independent and impartial international organisation, and its work is complementary to that of the work of other international organisations in the field, especially with regard to post-conflict management and the enhancement of the rule of law,” Sadiq said.
“Asian Governments are facing profound challenges related to missing and disappeared persons,” Ms. Bomberger said during the meeting. “Mass migration, natural disasters, conflict and social unrest raise specific missing persons issues. The important thing to remember is that effective strategies have been developed and governments and other stakeholders can address the issue successfully by working with one another and with international organisations. Initiatives that have worked in one country may work in other countries.”
Bomberger said ICMP “can make a continuing contribution to creative and effective efforts to address missing persons issues whether in the context of migration, post-conflict recovery or disaster recovery.” She stressed the primacy of a rule-of-law approach in which authorities fulfill their legal obligations to account for the missing.
She also urged Asian countries to sign the Agreement on the Status and Functions of the International Commission on Missing Persons. The Agreement does not entail any financial obligations on the part of signatories but allows countries to participate more fully in a global dialogue on the issue of the missing.
It also facilitates ICMP engagement in signatory countries. So far, the ICMP Agreement has been signed by the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Belgium, Luxembourg, El Salvador, Chile and Serbia.
In addition to Sri Lanka, which hosted the event, the briefing was attended by ambassadors of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Indonesia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. (Courtesy The Sunday Leader)