Year of Unity government in Sri Lanka

SriLankaFlagPicture2.pngThe unity government of Sri Lanka was formed following the 2015 General Election held on the 17th of August 2015, when the two main political parties decided to form a national government for the first time in the history of Sri Lankan politics. Though there are lots of promised issues still to be addressed by the government, passing of the Bill on the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) gives something for the people to celebrate the first anniversary.

Sri Lanka with one of the worst records in human rights violations has now passed `the Bill on the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) with some amendments; it a mechanism to help find the truth of what happened to all the missing persons in the country and it will address some of the concerns raised in the aftermath of the bloody civil war which ended in 2009. The missing person bill will try to search and identify about 65000 missing people who have been missed during and the period extended before and after the long civil war in the country. The tracing of people who have gone missing will now be done by the OMP, a specialized agency not only with full authority but also equipped with sophisticated procedures that will ensure confidentiality of sources and will benefit all Sri Lankans. The OMP is to cover the 30-year conflict that resulted in a large number of missing persons including the personnel from the tri-forces and Police listed as missing in action. Also to find out what happened to civilians abducted in the whole country by various rebel groups including the two southern insurgencies which happened prior to the war, giving some relief to their families still yearning for them to come home?

The present President has fulfilled one pledge in his election manifesto, he then promissed to probe not only corruption and fraud, but also to conduct independent investigations into disappearances and killing. It is also the first step to fulfill the commitments made by the country in the UNHRC resolution which it co-sponsored last year.  Accordingly, investigations were launched after the new government assumed power a year back. The report submitted this week produced by the Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Complaints of Abductions and Disappearances led by former Judge Maxwell Paranagama that commenced its operations way back in 2013 and family members or guardians of people who were killed or went missing submitted complaints to it and is expected to be taken into consideration into its work by the OMP. There are varying estimates of the number of missing people in the country, the ICRC came up with a figure of 16,008, the UN Working Group of Enforced Disappearances handed over a list of information on 12,000 missing persons including 5,100 Tri-Forces personnel and the Paranagama report indicated the number to be about 24,000. Earlier when there was no solution for this issue from the autocratic government, people went to the international arena and to the UNHRC and under international pressure the president had promised to the UN Secretary General that Sri Lanka would undertake a full accountability mechanism and appointed the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), but he failed to implement its recommendations.

The Bill for the establishment of an Office of Missing Persons was passed by Parliament not by means of a simple majority of the Government parliamentary group but by a historic two-thirds majority, with only the ‘Joint Opposition’ voting against claiming the Act had opened the doors for international intervention and influence. On the other hand the official Opposition, including the JVP in a constructive spirit, moved some amendments to the Bill and with genuine attempt to move towards inter-ethnic harmony and peace the TNA clearly aware of the historic importance of this legislation joined with the Government to vote in its favour. The much more dis-jointed ‘Joint Opposition’ have been left behind both by the Government and the Opposition in a forward move by the legislature to usher in genuine trust and harmony between communities via a new instrument of justice.

To the people, who voted out a decade of autocratic rule, gives some hope that democracy is thriving in the country? A move in the right direction and yet it’s a long journey towards a new political culture in this country.