Northern hartal: Renewed cry for justice | Sunday Observer

Northern hartal: Renewed cry for justice

A deserted road
A deserted road

Deserted and gloomy roads with locked shops were a common sight on Monday, February 25 in most parts of the Northern Province.

People in the North relived their sorrows and tears on this day, by organising a hartal demanding justice for them, their families and disappeared loved ones. Although it could easily be said that this protest on disappearances in the North and delayed justice, was nothing but a media show to grab the attention of the United Nations Human Right Commission (whose sessions started on the same day), it was not so.

In a country where the Right to Information (RIT) is granted by its Constitution, there is no doubt that people in the country irrespective of their region, also have a right to know about their missing kin.

Even though it’s been almost a decade since the war against terrorism ended, such grievances resulting from war as articulated in this harthal, are quite common in a post conflict era. The importance we allocate to these grievances , depends on a simple question. What are the measures we have taken and currently what is being done to sort out these problems?

“We don’t want an Office of Missing Persons, we need an international tribunal”stated placards at the mega rally organised in Kilinochchi parallel to the hartal.

This was organised under the leadership of the Former Chief Minister of Northern Province C.V. Wigneswaran and some other key political figures including the leader of the EPRLF, Suresh Premachandran, Parliamentarians Sridharan, Selvam Adaikalanathan, Sivasakthy Ananthan and many others .

The rally started from the Kandaswamy Hindu temple on the A9 road in Killinochchi and marched to the UN office at the 155th milepost on the A9 road where the organisers handed over a Memorandum to the UN officials. It was a well organised hartal as many organisations such as the Jaffna Business Association, Vavuniya Trade Union, Puthukkudiyiruppu Commerce Association, Vavuniya Local Product Vendors Association, Vavuniya Association of Small Merchants, Chavakachcheri Industrial Trading Board, Chavakachcheri Market Traders Association, Kodikamam Business Association, Northeast Railway Protection Union, Thenmaratchchi Private Employees Union, Sri Lanka Tamil Teachers Association, Vavuniya Citizens Committee, Mannar Citizens Committee, Kilinochchi Citizens Committee, took part. Nevertheless, the peace and order of the rally was disrupted by a bunch of gangsters who were wearing black T-shirts. These goons,allegedly supporters of a certain politician,even attacked the Media personnel who were there to cover the event.

Due to the hartal, almost all shops were closed throughout all five districts in the Northern province, Jaffna, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Mannar and Vavuniya.

The transport services were very sluggish and this almost crippled government services in the province. Public servants owning private vehicles and easy access to their offices had only reported to work. Banks were also closed in support of the protest. Schools were kept open though the attendance was very poor owing to lack of transport facilities.

The participation of politicians and supporters belonging to the Tamil National Alliance, Tamil People’s Alliance, Tamil National People’s Front, Sri Lanka Muslim Congress , All Sri Lanka People’s Congress and Democratic People’s Front at the rally was also very significant.

“ The Sri Lankan Government has already spent four years without taking measures to locate missing persons in North and East. This was the message we wanted to share by organising a harthal and it is the message we are sending to the international community, specially to the UNHRC” the leader of EPRLF, former MP Suresh Premachandran told the Sunday Observer.

“ The Government has not even established a local mechanism to address this issue. Continuous failure of the Government has made the Tamil People opt for other alternatives like demanding an international tribunal or UN Security Council intervention” he added.

As the hartal was based on the missing persons, the Sunday Observer contacted the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), Sri Lanka.

“The process of tracing the missing is complex. For that we have to operationalise the office. To operationalise the office we have certain government procedures to adhere to. For instance, in recruiting staff there is approval required from the Ministry of Finance. Therefore, operationalising is very time consuming” said the Chairman of OMP, President’s Counsel Saliya Peiris.

“The law has empowered the OMP to be independent. We also intend to do our job independently. Having said that, I think there is something common in all independent commissions. How independent commissions are allowed to operate and how they maintain their independence is something which must be developed over the time. For instance, even if we are independent, we have to go to the Government for certain needs” he added.

In their interim report the OMP has also highlighted that the Government machinery should come to terms with independent commissions and persons. Also the OMP is investigating more than 16,000 complaints made about disappearances in the past. They also accept the registration of fresh complaints.

“People have every right to protest. But that doesn’t mean, all families of the victims are of the same view. Those families have come to us and asked our assistance” said PC Peiris.

In the meantime, OMP has decided to open two regional offices in a bid to accelerate their activities. These two offices are to be opened in Mannar and Matara, this month.

pix: Bandula Seneviratne, Vavuniya Group Correspondent