OMP ends people’s quest on missing kith | Sunday Observer

OMP ends people’s quest on missing kith

Local and international establishments have commended President Maithripala Sirisena signing the gazette operationalizing the Office of Missing Persons Act (OMP), finally bringing about a mechanism to bring closure to people in this country who have lost their family members and are not aware of their whereabouts.

The Office of the Missing Persons (establishment, administration and discharge of functions) Act No. 14 of 2016 and amended by Act No. 9 of 2017 comes into implementation and operation with effect from September 14 (Thursday).

The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has continuously been pushing the government on the passing of the Bill as well as the establishment of the office. Speaking to the Sunday Observer, Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan while commending the government’s action to sign the gazette, said, what’s next and important is to swiftly appoint members so that the office can immediately start looking into the complaints they receive.

“The law has now been operationalized by this Act. But the persons / positions in the office of missing persons have not yet been appointed. That has to be done by the Constitutional Council. It is important that early action is taken to operationalize the OMP and make it functional,” the Opposition leader said.

In its efforts to reconcile and ensure that ethnic issues such as those that were in the past do not resurface, amounting to political instability, the OMP has been a successful mechanism in several other countries. As per the statistics the numbers of missing persons are over 16,000.

The OMP is created not merely to cater to persons who went missing as a result of the 30 year long ethnic conflict. But, also includes previous occasions such as, the youth insurrections in 1971 and 1989. This includes the definition from the “International Convention on Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances”, and does not apply to missing persons of any ethnicity, region or religion.

What concerns many is whether it would be successful in bringing about closure to people who have been going from pillar to post seeking information about their loved ones.

In order to move forward with the OMP, lessons can be learnt from previous efforts of similar mechanisms that were introduced to look into missing persons.

During the previous regime, a presidential commission was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in 2013 Chaired by Maxwell Paranagama, which was initiated under a recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). However, it was reported that this commission was allegedly charged with mistranslation of testimony in great proportions, and witness intimidation. It was found to be an unsuccessful endeavour.

During 1994 to 1997, the then President appointed a three member Commission of Inquiry into the Involuntary Removal or Disappearance of Persons, which too couldn’t be regarded as conclusive and successful, in finding solutions to the people concerned.

A well reputed academic and former Secretary to the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation, Dr. Murugesu Ganeshamoorthy is very much optimistic about the establishment of the OMP and believes that this process will make a great impact in the reconciliation of the communities.

“I don’t think this is something that Sri Lanka can avoid. Without such mechanisms we can’t move forward. There are still sensitive issues but government needs to move forward without any hesitation. Our process has been quite slow, nevertheless we have managed to get something done down the road,” he said.

Speaking further he said, South Africa is a classic example where such mechanism was found to be successful despite it not reaching its full potential in gaining reconciliation.

“These are the avenues that a country, in a post conflict scenario must work on in order to achieve some reconciliation among the communities. This has materialized as a result of a commitment within the community. There have been similar mechanisms that were installed in countries affected by conflicts, Countries like South Africa, Australia and Canada and many others, where post conflict, such mechanisms were adopted to reconcile the two parties. In the world, therefore, these are widely used mechanisms,” Dr. Ganeshamoorthy explained.

International figures and establishments conveyed congratulatory messages:

The US Ambassador to Sri Lanka Atul Keshap tweeted saying “A well-funded and robust OMP with independent and well qualified commissioners will give hope to families from all communities who seek answers.”

Institutions such as the European Union stated that operationalizing of the OMP was commendable and a welcome development; while Canada stated that this was an “important and positive step for victims”.

What’s left of the procedure is to appoint the commission and specify its functions and duties. It is observed by many stakeholders, that although establishment takes place the procedure may take long. If this is the case justice may not be done by the people who are relatives, and families of missing persons. If the country is to find true reconciliation among its communities it is important that the government genuinely attempts in finding reconciliation. 

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