Mar 04, Colombo: Sri Lanka's Minister of Finance and Mass Media Mangala Samaraweera clarified that the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) that became operational recently is a truth seeking mechanism and not a judicial body although it plays an investigative role.
He said the myths that have been spread about the OMP claiming that it is a witch hunt to prosecute the war heroes is a lie. The OMP cannot prosecute perpetrators of violence, he asserted.
The Office on Missing Persons Act was passed in August 2016 and the office became operational in September 2017. On 27 February, a seven-member commission was announced to lead its activities and investigations starting immediately.
The OMP is the first pillar of Sri Lanka's four transitional justice mechanisms under design and implementation. The others are Office to handle reparations, a truth and reconciliation commission and a judicial mechanism to address allegations of wartime abuses.
In a statement Minister Mangala Samaraweera clarifying the role of OMP said the OMP does not aim to benefit only one community and does not threaten another. "It is merely a truth-seeking mechanism," he said.
He said the OMP aims to investigate and find out the truth about those identified as "missing" or who have disappeared during conflict.
The Minister noted that the according to the international Committee of the Red Cross, over 16,000 individuals have gone missing during the civil war. Of them, 5100 belonged to the armed forces.
"These are the very same individuals who fought against the terror that the LTTE created. We as a nation, have a responsibility to find the truth about where they are, and to bring an end to the agony faced by their families and loved ones," he said.
Explaining the role of the OMP in a Facebook post, the Minister underlined that the OMP mandate cuts across all ethnic and religious boundaries.
The OMP seeks to investigate persons missing in connection with the conflict of the North and East and its aftermath. This includes those of all ethnicities; including the armed forces and police who have been identified as "missing in action". It will investigate into those gone missing during political unrest or civil disturbances in the south as well as victims of enforced disappearances island wide. The mandate of the OMP ensures that it will carry out searching and tracing of missing persons, clarifying the circumstances in which such persons went missing and their fate, making recommendations to relevant authorities in order to reduce incidents of missing and disappeared persons, and identifying proper avenues of redress available to the families of the missing persons and informing them of the same.
Despite its role as an investigative body, the OMP is not a law-enforcement or judicial body such as a court of law, and the Act clearly states that "the findings of the OMP shall not give rise to any criminal or civil liability."
Minister Samaraweera said the myths that have been spread about the OMP claiming that it is a witch hunt to prosecute our war heroes is a lie.
"The OMP cannot prosecute perpetrators of violence. These rumors are political manipulations to deter the fair and just actions taken by the government towards peace and reconciliation. It is merely an office set up to address grievances of the families and friends of those gone missing during conflicts and to ensure fair treatment for them in the future. The OMP gives the chance for renewed faith and hope for those who have lost their families and friends. It is not limited to an area or ethnicity but promises dignity and prosperity for all. These steps will prevent isolating and radicalizing aggrieved communities and avoid new forms of terrorism that can shake the peace and stability of our nation."
Noting that in 2015 the coalition government vowed to develop a culture of consensual politics, the Minister said the OMP took into strong consideration the recommendations made by the general public and civil society groups.
"Families of the affected voiced their concerns and ideas on the best ways to improve the OMP bill. Today their voices have been heard. Accordingly, the OMP is ready to engage with all groups, irrespective of their ethnicity, religion, or geographic location in order to get their valued input and information. The decision to do so was demanded by the people," he said.
"At the UNHRC in 2015 I stated that our political change was bringing an end to short-sighted policies and a triumphalist approach to the end of the war. The OMP is the primary example for this promise. This independent body is set to continue its investigations despite changing government interests. It is an autonomous, transparent commission acting independently to any political biases or affiliations," he said.
"This multi ethnic island is one step away from lasting peace and prosperity. We as citizens of this great country must take this step together. We have made it through the difficult times. We have endured adversity in all its forms and we are here today looking forward to a better future."