SRI Lanka will set up an office to independently investigate the cases of thousands of missing people, the government said last Wednesday (25), in a move to address alleged human rights violations during its long conflict with Tamil Tiger rebels.
The UN Human Rights Commission last year urged the government to probe disappearances, including of people who were alleged to have been secretly abducted by state backed
groups and paramilitary forces, during the 26- year conflict which ended seven years ago.
Sri Lanka agreed last year to establish a credible judicial process involving foreign judges and prosecutors to investigate alleged war crimes during the conflict with Tamil rebels, in line with UN recommendations.
The move is a first step to dealing with conflict related grievances, the foreign ministry said.
Tamil groups did not respond to calls for comment on the move.
The Office of Missing Persons (OMP) will help thousands of families of missing persons across Sri Lanka to discover the fate of their loved ones, and the circumstances under which they went missing, the foreign ministry said.
The OMP will have investigative powers and will probe people who went missing in the conflict and political unrest including “enforced” disappearances.
“This is extremely positive. But the challenge in the future is to ensure the law is implement- ed and educate the public and bureaucracy to cooperate in the process,” said Jehan Perera of the National Peace Council, an independent advocacy group.
“No commissions have given the answer to what happened to the disappeared people. This office should tell the relatives of the missing people what exactly happened to them.”
Juan E Mendez, a UN human right expert said last month that estimates of the numbers missing ranged from 16,000 to 22,000, from the time of the conflict and its immediate aftermath.
A local investigating commission said in March that it had received over 24,000 submissions of missing persons, and was still assembling the details.