Serious doubts over Sri Lanka’s political will to find its disappeared

By Indika Gamage

Sri Lanka’s president handing over the task of determining the fate of thousands of forcibly disappeared Tamils, to a group of ruling party politicians has cast doubt on the government’s political commitment to deliver justice to victims.

President Maithripala Sirisena has appointed a ten-member cabinet committee to implement  urgent recommendations of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP)  meant to address the issue of enforced disappearances.

“There are also concerns that the appointment of this sub-committee could be a delaying tactic to further undermine the process, especially as there is no timeline given for its activities,” says the Johannesburg based International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP) in a press release containing damning evidence of the the dismal human rights record of two of the committee members.

Put together by ITJP, the human rights credentials of the head of the cabinet committee, Wijayadasa Rajapakshe and another member Mahinda Samarasinghe raises questions about their suitability for the job.

“Is the Sri Lanka Government serious about its Office of Missing Persons?” asks ITJP.

'Terrorist propaganda'

Most recently, Minister Samarasinghe rejected any suggestion that rebel Tamils who surrendered to the military were killed despite a member of parliament from his own party saying otherwise.

ITJP recalls that the minister has previously denounced reports of enforced disappearance as terrorist propaganda and outrightly dismissed the idea that Tamils disappeared after surrendering at the end of the civil war.

“Appointing individuals like Mahinda Samarasinghe appears to be a deliberate attempt to subvert the entire process, which is already struggling for legitimacy with many Families of the Disappeared. It is also extremely offensive for the families, many of whom handed their loved ones over to the security forces at the end of the war never to see them again,” said the ITJP’s Executive Director and transitional justice expert, Yasmin Sooka.

As Human Rights Minister during the Rajapaksa Government, Mahinda Samarasinghe continuously defended their record and continues to deny state wrongdoing to this day.

“His appointment does not show political commitment to establishing the truth about enforced disappearances,” said Yasmin Sooka.

ITJP also questions the appointment of Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapaksa as head of the cabinet committee.

His record on “minority affairs, alleged support for religious extremists and intolerance of freedom of expression and homosexuality hardly make him the right person to oversee the implementation of a rights-based approach to disappearance,” says ITJP.

ITJP has already documented more than 300 cases  of those who did not return after their surrender to the Sri Lankan military in 2009 May.☐