21 September, 2020

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Delays, Dilution And Deal-Making Mar Establishment Of OMP: Friday Forum

The Friday Forum charged those responsible for the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) of deliberately delaying, diluting and indulging in deal-making.

Pointing out that the OMP was one of the four mechanism the Government had promised to put in place in what it claimed was a ‘comprehensive approach to dealing with the past, Friday Forum in a media release expressed regret and concern that little has been done to operationalize the same, although 28 months have passed since the plan was announced.  

Friday Forum also argue that the process has been marked by sloth, lack of transparency, weak engagement with victims and political actions designed to undermine the institution’s independence.  

The full text of the media release is given below: 

Establishing the Office of Missing Persons: Delays, Dilution and Deal-making

The Office on Missing Persons is one of the four mechanisms that the government promised in its ‘comprehensive approach to dealing with the past’. Whilst OMP is the only mechanism on which any formal progress has been made in the 28 months that have passed since the government announced its plan, even this has not yet been formally constituted and operationalised. Each step of the process thus far to establish the OMP has been marked by slow progress, a regrettable lack of transparency, poor engagement with victims and troubling political actions to undermine the independence of the institution.  

A Deficit of Consultation

In mid-2016, a Bill to establish the OMP was drafted by a small government-appointed committee that was not publicly announced, working in parallel and disconnected from the ongoing ‘victim-centric’ process to consult the Sri Lankan public on the proposed reconciliation mechanisms that had been initiated by the government in January 2016. When civil society actors challenged the government on why it was preempting the Consultation Task Force (CTF) process and report, the government’s Secretariat for Coordinating the Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) responded that the government’s rush to establish the OMP was to expedite support to families of the missing and disappeared. Over one and half years later, in the absence of minimally constituting the OMP, these claims ring very hollow.

Responding to criticisms about the lack of consultation of victims, prior to finalizing the OMP Bill to be presented in Parliament, the SCRM arranged a brief consultation in Colombo for the drafting committee with a few family members of disappeared persons. The CTF was also requested to provide early submissions on the OMP to the drafting committee. In response, the CTF provided an oral submission, and also produced an Interim Report in August 2016 which compiled OMP-related submissions that it had received from the public. 

Since most of the CTF’s public consultation work had not taken place at the time of writing, the CTF’s Interim Report was based solely on written submissions that it had received as of 17th July 2016 and a few consultation meetings conducted before 8th August 2016. 

Questionable Passage of the OMP Act

A Bill to legally establish the OMP was submitted to Parliament and was passed on 11th August 2016 following unorthodox procedures after a disruptive debate. The brief, truncated debate, and passage of the Bill without a vote, seriously undermined the sense of the OMP as an institution established following a considered due democratic process.  

Lack of Consideration of Victims Voices and Concerns

It was unclear whether the 8th August 2016 Interim Report of the CTF was reviewed by the government prior to the hurried passage of the Bill on the 11th August, or even if its content was considered later when subsequent amendments were made to the Act, before it was formally signed into law on 23rd August 2016. When the CTF’s Final Report was released on 3rd January 2017, it was apparent from Annex 15 of that document that the government had not incorporated a single one of the CTFs Interim Report recommendations reflecting the content of public submissions and victims views into either the draft Bill or the final OMP Act.

Given the government’s declared haste in enacting legislation to institute the OMP, it is ironic that it was only at the 3rd January 2017 launch of the CTF Final Report that the Foreign Minister announced that the Gazette on the OMP Act had finally been signed by President Sirisena – giving effect to the law after several months of inaction.

The OMP Act was further amended on 22nd June 2017 by a unanimous vote in Parliament which removed a key paragraph that explicitly had allowed the OMP to enter into independent financing arrangements with external sources. Many victims groups and analysts saw this as seriously compromising the independence of the OMP because it would now be entirely dependent on the government for finances.

Laying the Foundation for the OMP on Uncertain Ground

The next step taken towards establishing and operationalising the OMP was on 19 July 2017, when President Sirisena signed a Gazette that assigned the OMP to the Ministry of National Integration & Reconciliation, of which he is also the relevant Minister. There remain questions about whether it is constitutional or not for him to hold this portfolio, in light of the provisions of the 19th Amendment which specifies which portfolios may be held concurrently by a sitting President.  The fact that financial and institutional support for OMP would be channeled through a Ministry headed by President Sirisena was also viewed by many as establishing a means by which political influence may be exercised over the functioning of the OMP.

On 10th October 2017, the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka (CC), which is assigned responsibility in the OMP Act for selecting its members, advertised publicly for candidates to submit their details for consideration for the 7 available posts. The deadline for submission of details was 6th November 2017, and shortlisted candidates were asked to provide further details by 17th November. Recent concerns relate to possible irregularities in the ongoing selection process of the members of the OMP, which involves the Constitutional Council and President Sirisena.  The integrity, experience and competence of OMP members will provide the foundation for the effectiveness and credibility of the institution. A flawed selection process will deeply damage the integrity and legitimacy of the OMP.  

Allegations of Political Deal-Making and Subversion of Due Process

It was reported that on 8th December 2017 the Constitutional Council submitted to President Sirisena the names of its 7 nominees to constitute the OMP. Following this submission, there were media reports of dissenting views of a couple of CC members about the selection of the OMP Chairperson. There were also media accounts of a concurrent public comment by the President about his difference of opinion with the Constitutional Council.  There has been no evidence of the President appointing the OMP members since the 8th of December. The OMP Act provides that in the absence of the President’s appointment of members within 14 days of the Constitutional Council’s nominations, the nominees will be automatically appointed by operation of law. 

However, in January 2018, there were some reports that the CC convened again to revisit their list of nominees and has resubmitted a list to President Sirisena. It has been alleged that this revised list includes at least two new nominees who were not on the original list, including a proposed Chairperson. It is also alleged that these two new nominees had not submitted applications following instructions in the Constitutional Council’s public advertisement before the 6th of December 2017 deadline, but were only included in the process in January 2018. The lack of transparency about the Constitutional Council’s selection process leaves it wide open to the allegation that due process has been subverted as a result of political bargaining, which may have profound consequences for the future of the OMP.

The Friday Forum calls on the members of the CC to be transparent about the manner in which members of OMP have been selected and nominated for appointment by the President, to prevent further erosion of the confidence in the OMP amongst the families of the disappeared and missing – a significant number of whom have in recent months expressed grave reservations about the government’s commitment to ensuring that the mechanism when eventually operationalised will genuinely address their needs.

CC is a Poor Check on Power of Executive President

The OMP process to date also highlights tensions between the stated policies of the coalition government and the will of Parliament (as evidenced by passage of laws and the nominations of the CC) that are symptomatic of the fundamental weaknesses in current constitutional arrangements for governance in Sri Lanka.  The latest controversy about the selection of the OMP members in particular raises serious concerns about the independence of the Constitutional Council and its ability, even within its limited mandate, to act as a check on arbitrary decisions made by an Executive President.

                        

Citizens Rights and State Responsibility

We welcome the allocation of 1.4 billion rupees for OMP in the Budget passed on 9th December 2017 as a concrete step towards its functioning. The delays and lack of transparency, undermining of due process and allegations of back-room deal-making in every step taken towards establishing the OMP and making this office operational, is very disturbing. It certainly does little for confidence that the OMP will be able to work effectively and independently without political interference.  We call on President Sirisena and the government to allow the OMP to be constituted and function without constraint or influence so that the fates of the tens of thousands of cases of disappeared and missing persons may be determined, and that appropriate relief may be finally granted to their families who have suffered too much and for too long.

We remind the government of its duty to citizens from all communities who have suffered profoundly due to war and political violence, as well as to future generations of Sri Lankans, to constructively and honestly address the need for truth, justice and reparations – including as an integral part of ensuring non-recurrence of conflict.  This is the state’s obligation to the people of Sri Lanka, and must not be viewed as a response to external pressures. The failure to fulfill this responsibility may have grave consequences for citizens.

Mr. Ananda Galappatti  Prof. Savitri Goonesekere

On behalf of the Friday Forum:

Mr. Pulasthi Hewamanna, Prof. Arjuna Aluwihare, Mr. S.C.C. Elankovan, Prof. Camena Guneratne, Ms. Shanthi Dias, Dr. A.C.Visvalingam, Mr. Chandra Jayaratne, Mr. Prashan de Visser, Mr. Faiz Ur-Rahman, 

Prof. Gameela Samarasinghe, Mr. Dhammapala Wijayanandana, Mr. Priyantha Gamage and Bishop Duleep de Chickera

 

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Latest comments

  • 10
    4

    Sri lankan government has an unofficial policy that legal action should not take against any Buddhist Sinhala military personal or Buddhist monks or Buddhist politicians or Buddhist officials if the missing person is Tamil. Unfortunately, most of the missing persons are Tamils and most of those responsible for that is Sinhalese soldiers (may be from the instruction from former Secretary of Defence Gotapaya Rajapakse). So, delaying is a necessity.

    • 8
      1

      You are right on the button Friday Forum.

      • 0
        0

        It is quite amazing how such a relatively accomplished set of persons (largely of the UNP) managed to get mired in such a maze of totally unnecessary scandals, largely through the subversion of natural justice and application instead of selective justice. No strong society can sustain itself that way.

        Therefore despite all the reading and the purported knowledge, the UNP hierarchy has displayed extremely poor leadership qualities by walking headlong into a totally unnecessary self-laid trap, by trying to portray themselves as some extra-smart financial wizards capable of making the financial world stand on its head. This they certainly were not as is being now, amply proven.

        Smart governments are steady and law abiding and quickly recognize their strengths and weaknesses. They will shy away from debt; minimizing foreign borrowing unless such borrowings will lead to guaranteed growth and profitability. They will also be wary of breaking the Law, wary of weakening the Institutions which sustain a vibrant society, and tend to leave a country after their term, in an infinitely better shape than when they took it.

        Importantly, they will also leave the last mentioned, to be told by others; and never themselves!

        We have had too much politics and too little government. It is now, far too late to reverse the trend.

    • 1
      1

      Dear Ajith,
      Is that true? How come some soldiers are now under death sentence for murder? Some were acquitted but yet they were charged. Therefore I fail to understand that there is an unofficial policy. The fact remains that the avowed policy is to be a part of the deal. Money talks. With that comes delays and dilutions etc. Those who get together to hoodwink the people are indeed better off. OH! Where is the sovereignty of the people? POOH! No such thing exists in practice.

  • 6
    0

    Why Friday Forum is not commenting on protection given to Gotabaya by politicians?

    • 2
      0

      One at a time. If the essay is too long lesser will be the readership.

  • 5
    2

    Several words come to mind to describe the intent, attitude, and actions of the Government of Sri Lanka in addressing the issue of the implementation of the UNHRC Resolution of 2014 and the establishment of the Office of Missing Persons. They are trickery, low cunning, misrepresentation, disingenuousness, dishonesty, insincerity, sliminess, hanky-panky, skulduggery, and many more words of similar meaning.

  • 1
    2

    Is this “Friday Forum” taking up the issues connected with the “Missing Persons” during the years of 1971; 1983; 1989. too? What are your concerns of those “Skeletal Remains” that were dug up in Matale? What were the investigations carried out and the findings? Can you please inform us the mandate of this “OMP” and for what period does it cover?

    • 1
      0

      Douglas

      “Is this “Friday Forum” taking up the issues connected with the “Missing Persons” during the years of 1971; 1983; 1989. too?”

      You are rest assured, whether “Friday Forum taking up the issues connected with the “Missing Persons” during the years of 1971; 1983; 1989”, or not I will be the lone voice demanding justice for the victims of war crimes being perpetrated between between 5th of April 1971 and 8th January 2015.

      Will you join me in that noble charitable act?

    • 1
      0

      Douglas ~ “………those ‘Skeletal Remains’ that were dug up in Matale…….” .
      When the first bone appeared ‘they’ said “Animal bones”. Then it was a prehistoric human. Few remains later ‘they’ said “Land slide victim”. Now this is forgotten.
      Of course the least we can do to the family of the victims is to get at the truth.

      • 1
        0

        K Pillai

        They also said the bones belonged to smallpox victims and the state promised to send the skeleton to China for DNA and forensic analysis. I am still awaiting for the results.

        By the way JVP is maintaining a deafening silence on that issue after making some squeaking noises immediately after the discovery in December 2012.

    • 0
      0

      Please do not exhibit your ignorance. Commissions of Inquiry appointed by President Chandrika to inquire into enforced disappearances and extra-judicial killings of 1989 – 92 (headed by Ms.Manori Muttetuwegama and Justice Suntharalingam) submitted their Reports but successive governments failed to prosecute the offenders succumbing to the pressure of the Army.The victims too did not mind it. In 1971 and 1989 the victims were entirely the Sinhalese and the perpetrators were the Srilankan military consisting entirely of Sinhalese ethnicity. It was a home and home affair and blood is thicker than water. So they were prepared to forgive and forget.

      But not so for Tamils. How can a community condone the atrocities committed by an alien race from time to time eg. 1958, 1961, 1977, 1983 culminating in the genocide in 2009? The Tamil community agitated for it and took the fight to Geneva and are in the process of seeing the Srilankan Military and it’s political masters of the time hauled up before international tribunals and tried not only for war crimes but for Genocide as well.

      The Sinhala community did not press for war crimes or even for ordinary inquiry prescribed by local laws. The demand for investigations should have come from them. By remaining silent they have let it go by default. Only Sandhiya Ekneligoda puts up a lone and brave fight for which she and her family members are facing death threats, insults and intimidation from her own society. If you are interested in pursuing the struggle for justice, please give moral support to this brave lady who is waging a lone battle,at least to assuage your vicious and misplaced feelings, without blaming the Friday Forum.

  • 5
    1

    You are right on the button Friday Forum.

  • 4
    9

    OMP will be a waste of resources. Western countries will not cooperate and divulge information about Tamils who are hiding in those countries using new identities. In such a situation even though the guy is alive, the person will be categorized as a ‘Missing Person’ and the blame will inevitably put on Armed Forces.

  • 3
    0

    OMP should have been initiated by the immediate relations of the missing people, not by the government.

    That doesn’t mean that government have zero responsibility.

    Involving the government in it with pressure can be seen as an interference by external government & non-government forces with Sri Lankan internal matters.

    Its slow progress or static nature is due to the fact that majority people have lost interest in it as what’s happened cannot be undone; which is the reality.

    It’s sad that recognized international bodies function on hatred inspired intentions.

  • 4
    4

    FridayForum had nothing to say about the Bond Scam, has nothing to say about the hundreds of rackets discovered under YahApalanaya, can’t explain why it’s former members have obtained lucrative positions under YAHAPALANAYA,and are now talking about OMP probably because it affected one of them.Are they fishing for more appointments for this rAg tag bob tail lot . These jokers have lost all credibility and are just publicity seekers who should be ignored.

  • 1
    1

    Friday has shown it’s colours and who really they are.

  • 0
    2

    The Office of the Missing Person bill was not passed with sincerity of purpose. It was and Eye was bill with the support of Sampanthar and Sumanthiran to satisfy the UN and the Tamil Misplaced Persons’ kith and kin who are fighting the cause without the help of the Tamil Political Parties. OMP should comprise of at least 3 persons drawn from the relatives of the missing persons who are in the field. The more the government delays its action the out come will serve no useful purpose.

  • 0
    0

    Besides Prof Savithri who are the others? Where is Jayantha Dhanapala, Suriya Wickremesinghe, Manouri Muttetuwegama, have they left?

  • 1
    0

    Native Vedda: Glad to note your “lone support” without “Dollar” support. My support of “No Dollar” is not only for “war crimes”; but for all crimes (murders & disappearances) during the period you have mentioned. Wish you all the success.

  • 1
    0

    Douglas

    Thanks for your conditional support.
    Whether we will reach the destination is irrelevant, as long as the fight is innovative, interesting and by peaceful means.
    We will have to put a good fight against all crooks, murderers, rapists, drug smugglers, racists, bigots, fascists, religious nutters, chapter II, pedophiles, all forms of discrimination, ……..fraudsters, war criminals, land grabbing mafia, nepotism, .. ………… .. for democracy, equality of opportunity, progress, good governance, ….. rule of law, ….

  • 1
    0

    Deal-making cause delays and dilution. Often delays are used to make the issue go away. ‘Missing persons’ are missing and this will never go away. Prageeth is missing and we want to know how.

  • 0
    0

    I read somewhere that Savitri Gunesekere was the chair of the committee that drafted this bill. Why is she signing this ? Mea culpa?

  • 0
    0

    Sri Lankan government must not waste a single cent on OMP. So called missing persons are living in Canada, Britain, France, Switzerland, Denmark, Australia, India, Norway, Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Sweden, etc. Anyway, let India deal with Tamils because they are ethnic Indians. Sri Lankan government must wash hands of problematic Tamils. Every Tamil must forget what happened in the past, lean the native language Sinhala, integrate with native Sinhalese or get the hell out of here. REMEMBER, Tamils are given so many things by the government that they don’t deserve.

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