According to reports compiled by Sri Lankan and international groups 60,000 – 100,000 persons have been subjected to enforced disappearance due to three decades long conflict between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). SAHR notes with concern that eight years after the end of the conflict and two years and four months under the present government which promised ‘Good Governance,’ these families are yet to receive information about the disappeared persons or any meaningful accountability for the crimes committed during the conflict. SAHR strongly believes that the victim families and survivors need to be at the heart of Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process. For families of the disappeared this would mean knowing the truth about their family members through independent investigations, bringing perpetrators to justice and reparation entailing the immediate and pressing needs due to the disappearance of the breadwinner.
Sri Lanka became the first country in the South Asian region to sign and ratify the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearances. SAHR commends the present government for the actions taken thus far such as the agreement to set up a Commission for Truth and Justice, Reconciliation and Non Recurrence, an Office of the Missing Persons for Truth Seeking and an Office for Reparations, and to award certificates of absence to the victim families.
SAHR is concerned that the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Act, No. 14 of 2016 with amendments was gazetted without proper consultations with civil society. Further, a Bill to give effect to the UN Convention on Enforced Disappearance, which too was gazetted, is yet to come into force. These unnecessary delays and inability to take proactive measures raises doubts regarding the government’s commitment towards reconciliation and the families of the disappeared persons.
Therefore, SAHR calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to act urgently on the following:
- To release a list of those who surrendered or were detained by the Sri Lankan Armed Forces during the last stages of the war (2008 – 2009)
- To suspend intimidation and excessive surveillance measures on those conducting peaceful protests and respect their freedom of assembly and association
- To stop harassing human rights defenders and activists, especially in the North and East, who support victim families
- To immediately enact legislation making enforced disappearances a crime under national law in line with the UN Convention
- To enact the law on Office of the Missing Persons and establish the Office so that families of missing persons could seek its assistance.
- To officially acknowledge the recommendations of the Report of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms to further supplement the transitional justice process with regard to the families of the disappeared 6) To implement transparent and inclusive mechanisms of public consultations with the victim families and the civil society when drafting laws and policies, especially on enforced disappearances and transitional justice
- To repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ensure that any future legislation that replaces the PTA should conform to international standards in order to protect the rights of the citizens of Sri Lanka.
On behalf of the members of South Asians for Human Rights
Dr. Nimalka Fernando