Sri Lanka: OMP calls for 20 documents to search for the disappeared

Sri Lanka’s office of missing persons (OMP) has called for a trove of 20 documents from the families of the disappeared to search for their disappeared loved ones. This comes as Colombo is making concerted moves to persuade the families to accept death certificates, which would acknowledge the disappeared person is dead, and could be used by the OMP or the government to stop searching for the person on the pretext he or she is already deceased. It could also help avoid bringing perpetrators of the disappearance to justice.

The OMP’s request is in a letter, written in Tamil, and sent to families of the disappeared in Northern and Eastern Sri Lanka over the past month. The letter requests these documents from families, many of whom losing all their possessions when they were displaced from their homes at the end of the country’s civil war in May 2009. Even those with the presence of mind to carry important documents endured indiscriminate artillery fire and aerial bombardment, and waded waist-deep water as they crossed the Nandikadal lagoon, before facing months of privation in IDP camps.

The letter from the OMP titled “Confirming that your complaint of the missing person was received and requesting more information on the incident,” states the request for additional information is because the material already submitted by applicants is insufficient.
The document’s subject line maintains that it is about a “missing person,” whereas the families of the disappeared have insisted their loved ones are subjects of an “enforced disappearance” either by the Sri Lanka government or Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) rebels.

The letter continues, “We request that you submit only the documents against which there is no tick mark on the page attached to this letter. (We have copies of the documents against which (/) mark appears in the column. We request that you send only the documents that are not marked in the list.”

Death certificates

The list of required documents are: 1) OMP application, 2) copy of the national identity card or driver’s licence of the missing person, 3) birth certificate of the missing person, 4) photograph of the missing person, 5) national identity card number of the applicant, 6) birth certificate of the applicant, 7) affidavit, 8) letter from the applicant, 9) the missing person’s marriage certificate / birth certificates of the children, 10) affidavit to prove kinship, 11) letter confirming place of residence issued by the village office, 12) letter by the divisional secretary reconfirming place of residence, 13) police complaint, 14) copy of a letter to the ICRC / UN Working Group, 15) letters / reports of other commissions, 16) death certificate of the missing person, if already obtained, 17) any letters registering death, 18) news reports published about the missing person, 19) other application letters concerning profession and 20) other documents.  

The Sri Lanka government recently renewed efforts to issue a death certificate for the disappeared person to their families. In the past, many families refused to accept death certificates or certificates of absence for disappearances stating it would be travesty because they had surrendered their loved one to the military at the end of the conflict before the person disappeared. They demand the Sri Lanka government either produce the disappeared person or state where he or she is.

At his meeting in September with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Sri Lanka’s President Gotabaya Rajapaksa reiterated his government’s commitment to issue death certificates for the disappeared. Families of the disappeared and the Association of the Relatives of the Disappeared (ARED) stated this indicated that Rajapaksa – accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity – had knowledge that the disappeared were in fact dead.

Relatives condemn

There is also concern that the Sri Lanka government could say death certificates obtained by the families of the disappeared confirmed they were willing to accept the disappeared person was deceased, which relieved Colombo of the responsibility of bringing perpetrators to justice. Other than Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Kamal Gunaratne and army commander Lt. Gen. Shavendra Silva are among many senior politicians and military officers accused of atrocity crimes.

ARED and the Tamil families of the disappeared have consistently condemned the OMP as an instrument set up by the Sri Lanka government to thwart international pressure to implement transitional justice mechanisms adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in 2015, and not to advance truth or justice for the disappeared.

The documents requested by the OMP, other than the slim likelihood of being in the possession of the families, also does not make sense if the OMP’s objective is to find out the truth behind the disappearance as it is mandated to do. 

There are documents in the OMP list that is unlikely to be with the families of the disappeared. Some families refused to make complaints to the police about the disappearance fearing repercussions; others failed to register with the ICRC or send information to the UN Working Group on Enforced Disappearance because they were unfamiliar with the procedures. Meanwhile, obtaining affidavits – on what subject the OMP letter fails to state – will compel family members of the disappeared, many who are old and ill, to tussle with government officials or public notaries, which involve time and money.

The OMP letter is silent on which of the 20 documents are mandatory, or if some need not be sent if they are not in the possession of the applicant to the OMP.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.