International Day for Victims of Enforced Disappearances: Government claims ‘zero tolerance’ policy

  • Committed to balancing national security, civil liberties: Ali Sabry
  • OMP formulates new plan of action to handle 15K complaints
  • Priority to 2000-2021 period, followed by 1981-1999, pre-1980

BY Pamodi Waravita

Marking the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, Minister of Justice Ali Sabry stated that the Government of Sri Lanka has a zero tolerance policy on enforced disappearances and that it is committed to finding the proper balance between national security and the people’s civil liberties and freedoms.

“We are working to identify the circumstances under which enforced disappearances occurred, and once they are established, we will provide compensation to the families of the victims. However, it must be noted that the provision of compensation does not constitute an admission of guilt but simply the fulfilment of our duty to our fellow members of the community,” he said, speaking at a webinar held on 30 August to mark the day.

Meanwhile, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) on 30 August said that it has formulated a new plan to handle the existing complaints on disappearances and to synchronise data available in different authorities to better analyse data on missing persons.

“The Office is in possession of 14,988 complaints. We have formulated a new plan to handle the existing complaints and have divided our pathway into three phases. Our first priority is to handle the most recent complaints from the years 2000 to 2021. The second phase is to look into complaints from 1981 to 1999 and the third phase is to consider those before 1980,” said OMP Chairman and retired Supreme Court Judge Justice Upali Abeyratne, addressing the same webinar.

Justice Abeyratne added that a synchronising mechanism has been established to collect data from a number of authorities in Sri Lanka about complaints with regard to missing persons, to identify duplicate complaints and to verify the complaints.

According to the Amnesty International organisation, although Sri Lanka has one of the world’s highest numbers of enforced disappearances, with a backlog of between 60,000 and 100,000 disappearances since 1980, the authorities have failed to both protect and provide justice to families of the disappeared.

Furthermore, criticisms were levelled by many parties against the current Government for appointing former Police Chief Jayantha Wickramaratne as a member of the OMP.

Marking the day on 30 August, both the Families of the Disappeared and the Association of the Relatives of the Disappeared – Northern and Eastern Provinces organisations continued their call for justice, and urged the authorities to find out what happened to their loved ones, whom most of them claim to have been victims of enforced disappearances.

United Nations (UN) Sri Lanka Resident Co-ordinator Hanaa Singer-Hamdy said on 30 August that although the establishment of the OMP in 2016 was an important step by the Government of Sri Lanka, building and maintaining the trust of victims and their relatives is essential for its success.