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    Sri Lanka to Resolve Missing Persons’ Issue by 2025: President Ranil Wickremesinghe

    Civil societyForced disappearancesSri Lanka to Resolve Missing Persons' Issue by 2025:...
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    Sri Lanka to Resolve Missing Persons’ Issue by 2025: President Ranil Wickremesinghe

    The Office of Missing Persons (OMP), established in 2017, remains central to the government’s purported intention to establish the fate of thousands of victims of enforced disappearance.

    Sri Lanka is in the process of resolving an issue of missing persons by 2025, President Ranil Wickremesinghe said during a visit to the North-Eastern district of Mullaitivu, according to his media office.

    Mullaitivu is the site of the discovery of a mass grave in July last year. Families believe these graves might contain the remains of their loved ones who were victims of enforced disappearance.

    “We are committed to resolving the land issue in the North and addressing the missing persons’ matter before the conclusion of 2025,” President Wickremesinghe was quoted as saying in a statement.

    Tens of thousands of people have disappeared in Sri Lanka since war with the LTTE began in the 1980s. A 1999 study by the United Nations found that Sri Lanka had the second highest number of disappearances in the world and that 12,000 Sri Lankans had disappeared after being detained by Sri Lankan security forces.

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    Sri Lanka’s ratifications of the human rights conventions are to be brought under scrutiny when the island nation participates in the 55th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in February this year.

    Last month, the country’s Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe had said that Sri Lanka was saddled with more than 14,000 cases related to persons who went “missing” during civil conflicts in the country, including the the internal conflict in the Northern and Eastern Provinces. He had then pledged for the quick resolution of the thorny issue.

    The Office of Missing Persons (OMP), established in 2017, remains central to the government’s purported intention to establish the fate of thousands of victims of enforced disappearance.

    Human rights

    Resolving the matter of the missing persons is a thorny issue in the island nation that has witnessed a bitter conflict with the LTTE. The Council of the European Union had, in a Joint Staff Working document on the progress of Sri Lanka, highlighted concerns regarding the independence and effectiveness of the Office on Missing Persons and the Office of Reparations, after the introduction of the 20th amendment of the Sri Lankan Constitution in October 2020.

    The European Union is an important trading partner for Sri Lanka and the matter of the missing persons is important for Sri Lanka as the island nation grapples with the economic crisis of last year. Sri Lanka is preparing for a renewal of its trade with the European Union trade bloc. The renewal will place Sri Lanka in a preferential position for concessional trade with the block.

    But the EU has a carrot and stick approach to the issue — it will enable tariff-free access for Sri Lankan exports if the country complies with international human rights conventions, and the matter of missing persons from the Tamil-dominated North is central to this.

    The Office of Missing Persons (OMP), a special office set up for determining the status of all missing persons, has so far finalised investigations on nearly 4,800 cases, Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe had said.

    “All outstanding complaints lodged with the Office of Missing Persons are expected to be resolved by the coming year,” he said, adding that to ensure the efficiency of the judicial process, a comprehensive set of eight new bills is set to be submitted to Parliament.

    In August 2023, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said in a press release that thousands of families of missing persons from all communities across Sri Lanka continue to suffer due to the uncertainty surrounding the fate of their missing loved ones. The ICRC urged for a quick resolution of the issue.

    Members of Tamil communities continue to face harassment, intimidation and at times arrest for conducting events to memorialize victims of the conflict, or for staging protests demanding accountability for abuses.

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