Two years after its creation, the Office of Missing Persons continues to come under scrutiny as thousands of families wait for information about loved ones.
Although the present government legalized the Office of Missing Persons (OMP), under the 2016 Act 14, doubts have arisen about the office’s effectiveness.
Since the 1980s nearly 60,000 Sri Lankans have gone missing and 100,000 inquiries have been filed according to According to Amnesty International.
Among the missing are Sinhala youth suspected to have been linked to the leftist movement in 1989 and 1990, LTTE suspects from 1983 to 2009, human rights activists, people critical of the government and journalists.
“When my son was on his way to school, a group from the Army snatched him away,” recalled Kamalanayagie Thureisingham, Chairperson of the Parent Association of Missing Persons in Jaffna.
“The people who saw him thought he was going with them, as he knew them. At 6.00 pm he still had not come home. I asked the Army Camp about my so but they said they didn’t know about his whereabouts. Since then I have searched everywhere I could. I have given details to every place I was asked, including the Paranagama Commission (right to information). I have no trust in that.” She still has no information about her son Sendilnathan, who went missing on 15 August 1996. He had just turned 19.
Koneshwaran Pushpalatha, 42, had been running with her family to the military for protection in Iranapalei in 2009, when her husband died in a shell attack and she was left seriously injured. Her eldest daughter went missing.
“Some people said my daughter was at a camp in Vauniya. I went there ant to other places and searched. But there was no information. Since I was injured, my mental condition was not good.,” said Pushpalatha. “I trust OMP will be able to find my daughter. I gave all details to those who came here from that office. They can help us,” she said hopefully.
Yogaraja Kanakaranjanie, 57 is the Chairperson of the Families of Missing Persons in the North and East. When her son Yogarasa Amalan went missing in 2009 from Mullivaikkal Walagumadam, he was 21 years old.
“My son worked at a private company in Kilinochchi. He was taken, as one person from a family was forced to join the LTTE,” said Kanakaranjanie. “Children throughout the District were taken forcefully like that. I met my son for the last time in 2009 at Mullivaikkal. After that, he gave himself up to the Army. There is still no information about him.”
Kanakaranjanies demands that the government release the list of missing persons. Although her group made several requests in connection with the OMP, she said the government has not implemented any of their requests.
“In 2006 June Zonal Task Force came and took details about missing persons. They met the families affected by the war. We gave all the documents on missing persons. But nothing has happened so far. We have given details about our children to everywhere including the Paranagama Commission and the Human Rights Commission. We requested to include three people who speak Tamil to the OMP. We asked to make relatives of the missing persons, members. But the government has ignored all of our requests,” Kanakaranjanie said.
“Why we voted for this government.”
Velu Pakyam,64 sat in a hut close to the road as she recalled when her son went missing. He was taken by the military after being questioned in May 2009 while on his way to do an odd job.
He was 35 years old and had been abducted from his home, according to his neighbors.
“We have no trust in the OMP,” said Pakyam. “We are not against it we just want our children back. That is why we voted for this government,” Velu Pakyam said.
Northern Chief Minister C.V. Wigneswaran asked what is the guarantee that something different could be done by the OMP when the Paranagama Commission said that they would inform the relevant authorities to take action when information about 2000 who have committed wrongdoings and who have been arrested were given and those reports are gathering dust in drawers.
“OMP is a permanent (body). It is not acting the way people expected. It is operated by a person who knows about thinking of our people. But that alone cannot maintain the office properly,” said Wigneswaran. He said OMP could at least find out what happened to the missing persons.
“We can find what happened to the missing persons,” insisted Chairman of OMP President’s Counsel Saliya Peris. “But the OMP has no ability to punish those who made them disappear.
“OMP is not an investigative institution for crimes. If our investigations find a crime we can provide information to the police or the Attorney General. From there, criminal investigation should be carried out by another institution,” Saliya Peris said.