Centre for Policy Alternatives on 13 November, 2015

Bring them home: The long search for Sri Lanka’s ‘disappeared’

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The Presidential Commission to Investigate into Complaints Regarding Missing Persons (the Commission) was established on 15th August 2013 under Gazette No. 1823/42. Over a year into its mandate, the Commission continues to operate under circumstances that raise serious concerns in respect of the search for truth, justice and accountability in Sri Lanka. The Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) depicts the Commission not only as its primary instrument to address the grievances of the families of the disappeared, but also since the expansion of its mandate, as the sole mechanism for addressing war time violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, amongst others.

Since it began its work of hearing complaints brought forward by family members of the disappeared, the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) has monitored the work of the Commission and put forward several recommendations on improvements that can be made to the process. In addition to scrutinising these methods, CPA observers have recorded cases brought before all the commissioners across a majority of the hearings. This content is both a compilation of CPA’s work on the Commission and a look into some of the cases witnessed at hearings that help place in context the enduring trauma of enforced disappearances through personal narratives.

Stories of entire families lost, children separated from their parents, spouses taken into Army camps and loved ones lost in the last stages of the war coupled with a family’s desperate economic situation are some of the issues flagged in testimonies brought before the Commission.

The past few months have seen significant events that might signal positive change in addressing this issue that has plagued the country since the beginning of the war, with the cabinet agreeing to provide families of the missing with ‘Certificates of Absence’ and the Office of Missing Persons due to be set up. There is also hope that, at the time this is released, the on-going visit of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances will yield information and recommendations for action to compensate the families that have been waiting for years on end for their loved ones.

Whether it is closure through a confirmation of death or joy on their return to their homes, CPA is committed to upholding the pillars of transitional justice in efforts to provide these families with answers.

The immersive story is accessible here.