Politics & Current Affairs

Families of the Disappeared lament TNA’s indifference on OMP

Although the Permanent Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has been made law in Sri Lanka, families of the disappeared feel they have been ignored and let down. A culprit for this problem is their representatives in parliament – the TNA. The latest in this series of disappointments for the families is the fate of amendments to the OMP bill the TNA promised to introduce during the debate in parliament. At the time of writing, three weeks after the debate, the families are yet to know if the party they helped to elect to the legislature moved amendments, let alone if at least one of their demands was included in the amendments.

The matter became the focus of attention when the Government agreed to allow an extraordinary request to accommodate amendments which could not be incorporated due to disturbances created by a section of the opposition during the committee stage of the debate. However, although amendments moved by JVP’s Bimal Ratnayake are on record to be incorporated, the amendments proposed by the TNA (if any) are not known to the public.

But more important is whether the TNA amendments include suggestions by the families of the disappeared who say their views on the OMP had been ignored during public consultations.

UN Resolution

The Government agreed at the 2015 UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) meeting in Geneva to consult victims before establishing mechanisms of transitional justice, including the OMP. This is included in the text of UNHRC Resolution 30/1.

But as in many other promises made by the Government it was not always honoured. The Government appointed the National Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation (CTF) only in January. Worse, when the OMP bill was tabled in parliament on 27 May, the Zonal Task Forces in the different districts in northern and eastern Sri Lanka – where most families of the disappeared live – had not even begun.

More hilarious is that the CTF’s interim report is dated 8 August, which is just three days before legislation for the OMP was passed making a mockery of the actual value of the CTF to the process. This was not lost on the CTF, which said in a press statement “the consultation process …is ‘... viewed as the most recent in a series of processes and structures that they have engaged in and found nothing but false hope.’

Tamil petition

It appears that the families of the disappeared were anticipating the CTF and the Government would attempt to pull the wool over their eyes.

However, they pull no punches about what they see is the TNA’s complicity in the act of deception. This is evident in a petition a group of protestors in Mullaitivu presented Thurairasa Ravikaran, an elected TNA member of the Northern Provincial Council, on 18 August.

Addressed to the President Maithripala Sirisena through Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan and Chief Minister C. V. Wigneswaran, it says, “We … condemn the way Sri Lanka’s Parliament passed the Act to establish the Permanent Office on Missing Persons and what the Office is designed to do. We will never accept the role of the [TNA] … for aiding and abetting in the passage of the Bill with scant regard to the sentiments of the families of the disappeared.”

There are two reasons for the families of the disappeared to place a large share of the blame on the TNA. The first because the party said categorically it had been consulted on the draft OMP bill in a statement published on 1July, which meant it was aware of and approved the shortcomings in the document that families of the disappeared found outrageous.

Second, on the very day the above statement was released, the families of the disappeared held a meeting with TNA’s members of the NPC and MPs representing the Wanni District. There, family members charged that TNA was complicit in preparing the OMP bill without consulting the victims and outlined their requirements for a satisfactory OMP. They demanded that the OMP have international staff at decision-making levels, have prosecutorial powers and refused to accept certificates of absence. 

Families of the disappeared made these demands at other forums as well, such as the Zonal Task Force meetings in Kilinochchi and Mullaithivu. These concerns have also been reflected in the CTF’s interim report.

TNA amendments?

On 5 August the TNA put out a statement in Tamil which said that it intended to move amendments to the bill when it was debated in parliament before becoming law.

There is no public record yet of what amendments the TNA proposed during the committee stage debate on the OMP bill in parliament, still less if they reflected the demands of the victims. No one denies that 50 Sinhala nationalist MPs, the Joint Opposition (JO), were unruly when their attempts to detail the proceedings by raising points of order misfired. But they could not prevent the OMP from becoming law and or from parliament incorporating amendments proposed by the opposition JVP.

The petition submitted to Mr. Ravikaran referred to the TNA fudging its role in parliament. It says, “We are not willing to accept the argument that the Joint Opposition is so powerful that it cannot be countered in Parliament. The Joint Opposition is less than 50 MPs. They only make a big noise...”

The JVP’s amendments were incorporated both during the committee stage debate and in an extraordinary procedure later. The TNA despite promises to its constituents only congratulated the government and pointed fingers at former President Mahinda Rajapakse’s flaws.

This charade in parliament shows what the families of the disappeared demanded was brushed aside an equivocating Government and a bunch of timid self-servers who are interested in playing safe and keeping their parliamentary seats warm, but not serving their constituents.

© JDS

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Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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