15 October, 2018

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The Undeterred Journey For The Missing

By Mangala Samaraweera

Mangala Samaraweera – Minister of Finance & Mass Media

We are fortunate to witness this moment when the Government led by President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has given life to an important promise made to the people of this nation. The Office of Missing Persons Act was passed in August 2016 and on 27 February, a seven-member commission was announced to lead its activities and investigations starting immediately.

My commitment to the struggle of the missing, goes back as long as my journey in politics. I recall a time in the 80s when cases of large scale disappearances were at alarming rates. The decision to devote myself to politics was driven by my concern with these atrocities that occurred around my hometown, and a strong desire to bring justice to those families suffering as a result of this. It may be the greatest irony that during those times I was inspired by the words of many individuals who championed the cause, including our former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa. He spoke fervently about our responsibility to find these missing people and to prevent such outrages from occurring in the future. I was struck by his moving words and his dedication to the cause and so began our journey for justice. In 1990 it was Mr. Rajapaksa and I who were co-conveners of the Mother’s Front movement. This was a movement against missing children of the South and had a significant impact in setting the discourse surrounding this sensitive topic. Today, I am dismayed by the sentiments that he vociferously articulates, to tear apart initiatives that seek to alleviate the pain of innocent mothers of this country.

The journey thus far has been long and by no means easy. A history of 30 years of violence is witness to the absolute necessity for the OMP today, perhaps even more crucial than it has been ever before. We have suffered through many conflicts from the time of the JVP insurrections in the 70s and 80s to the post-war violence just a few years ago. In these trying times, when the numbers of the missing have been steadily rising, few walked with us to see this journey to completion. The voices that spoke so passionately against these crimes suddenly started changing their tone. These same voices began switching camps so unexpectedly that lately many of the attacks on the OMP have been directed from Mr. Rajapaksa himself. If the question of the missing still remains high on the agenda with the reported numbers of the missing rising each day, the question remains why it is no longer a cause worth fighting for. The answer is sad and simple. Self-serving policies and party politics have taken precedence over the suffering families of those gone missing over the past 30 years. For Mr. Rajapaksa in 1989, this cause was worth getting arrested for at the airport while he carried documents with information regarding the missing to the UNHRC in Geneva, and today the same movement has been portrayed by this camp as an attack on our war heroes. The discourse has been distorted and manipulated for political gain, becoming a tool in the hands of power hungry individuals. Misconceptions have been drawn out to confuse the public and the victims of this have been none other than the affected families who have had no means to redress their loss. But make no mistake, this journey will not be ended by the selfish actions of these self-serving individuals.

The OMP does not aim to benefit only one community and does not threaten another. It is merely a truth-seeking mechanism. It aims to investigate and find out the truth about those identified as “missing” or who have disappeared during conflict. 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.

The OMP mandate cuts across all ethnic and religious boundaries. It 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.” 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.         

In 2015 the coalition government vowed to develop a culture of consensual politics. 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.

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.

This multiethnic 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.

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Latest comments

  • 4
    1

    Why it so long to set up OMP?
    What is the purpose ? Is to get another 10 years extension ?
    After finding the TRUTH (if you find) what this BUDDHIST govt going to do?

    • 4
      0

      Mangala Samaraweera

      We understand your good intentions as well as your agenda.
      Will this Office of Missing Persons prevent the UNHRC from breathing down your neck as often as UNHRC has appeared to have done? As former foreign minister you had some innovative ideas to dodge UNHRC’s conditions.

      However you must teach your president how to deal with foreign institutions and countries with a touch of sophistication. Teach him why he does not need a sledge hammer to crack a nut.

      Well your OMP has earned you one more reprieve from serious condemnation and warnings. It is well designed western process or delaying tactics which will help the Sri Lankan state to absolve all war crimes committed by its armed forces.

      You understood how to deal with the west unlike your unsophisticated former human rights guru and his former sidekick Dayan.
      Congratulations.

      In the meantime will you now open the 30,000 cases of crimes (1987 -1990) which were already investigated and charges were pending, in those 30000 cases the perpetrators had already been identified by three commissions which were appointed by President Chandrika. Those commissions were abruptly brought to close because of her uncle the then defense minister Anurudha Ratwatte. There were more cases to be investigated and brought to close.

  • 4
    3

    If finding the missing persons is the requirement, why did you and your government closed the missing persons commission that already existed in Sri Lanka?
    Why did your government appoint LTTE stooges in the commission? It is not because you and your bosses in UN, American and your LTTE friends wanted to find mission person but because wanted to take revenge from the government for destroying LTTE.

    I remember that UNP idiot, Ben hurling used to scream about LTTE war criminals everytime, LTTE rump go bonkers in CT. But that UNP idiot does not realise his own UNP government and this traitor Samaraweera has in fact betrayed the country and working according to LTTE rump

    • 4
      0

      Mahinda Raja once toured Geneva with Wattakka Vasu. Idea was to lobby international support for the cause of missing Sri Lankans. So according to your theory, Mahinda Raja and Wattakka Vasu must be TRAITORS, noh? What shall we do with such
      Cheers!

      • 0
        5

        1. Mahinda and Vasu were NOT supporters of any terrorist movement or did not work for separatists
        2. Even if they were NOT, still what they did cannot be approved.

        So you are fine with MS co sponsoring an anti Lankan resolution?

        • 6
          0

          sach the very stupid:

          Dr Mahinda Rajapaksa (LLD + PhD X 3) had a close relationship JVP terrorists between 1987 and 1990.

          Dr Mahinda Rajapaksa (LLD + PhD X 3) also had close business dealings with VP buying votes in the presidential elections.

  • 2
    1

    OMP is the first step towards the end of the tunnel.
    We have to hope that the next steps do not falter.

  • 1
    0

    you make excellent speeches but what is the use when you have sira and marie antoinette ranil running the show
    forget your loyalty and take over the leadership of the unp
    even the young turks in the party prefer you to him
    it is time for another horatius to hold the bridge

  • 0
    3

    Mangala Samaraweera: Sri lanka’s Non-aligned policy is the reason to be blamed. Sri lanka says it is non-aligned but politicians go and bend to the west, TO India which we must be concerned abotu their needs. Other than that, we wanted to be remaiend non-aligned and got Foreign Aids from Every country because out leaders all; had so much EGO, and families to promote. You know you are a politician did nothung but talks a lot. YOu definitely got the help of Army commandoes to protect you. but, let them down evey moment you got. So, keep on writing CRap. This is Sri lanka. thieves running the country. So, we know next time it will be a Rajpakse as this time, it is Senanayakes, Jayawardanes and a Vanishing breed wickramsinghe came and pretty soon gone. Sri lanka stays bankrupt beczuse it is rights and minorities are important than anything else. YOu go to MAtara and preach the good behaviour to children, come here and preach manipulation and bending to the West. I know you wanted to be a part of that craapy resolution by which they tried to get bold of Sri lanka by neck. Keep on manoevering even though you are Finance minister.

  • 0
    2

    Will office of the missing persons be able to give life to the dead in the war/conflict?

    Only if it’s possible the setting up of OMP can be supported; otherwise it cultivates hatred only.

  • 0
    1

    OMP going to pump Oxygen or culminating with Easter and Resurrection ?
    lets move on……………………….

  • 0
    3

    Before expressing my opinion on the nomination of Commissioners to the OMP, I am forced to highlight the lies in Mangala’s article: “The Undeterred Journey for Hunting War Heroes.”
    .
    1. “President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe has given life to an important promise made to – the people of this nation-.”
    What do you mean by “people of this nation” ? LTTE diaspora, right? PM and you together made this promise to LTTE diaspora in exchange of their support to garner Tamils votes in 2015.
    .
    2. “My commitment to the struggle of the missing…… ….. including our former president Mr. Mahinda Rajapaksa…….. “
    Yours or MR’s history is totally irrelevant here as, on one hand this is against one ethnicity to the other and against a nation which was terrorized by a ruthless terrorist organization. On the other hand this is against the Tri Forces who sacrificed their lives, eyes, limbs and legs to eliminate LTTE. There is no comparison to this treachery in our entire history.
    .
    Further, Sinhalese never requested an OMP for themselves. The history you have mentioned here has long been buried by Sinhalese mothers. Your attempt to dig and stir their closed wounds for justifying OMP is disgraceful, disgusting and cheap.
    .
    3. “…..absolute necessity for the OMP today, perhaps even more crucial than it has been ever before. We have suffered through many conflicts from the time of JVP insurrections in 70s and 80s……”
    This is an absolute lie. Name one Sinhalese in any family who were victims of JVP insurrections who made a request to establish an OMP?
    .
    4. “Misconceptions have been drawn out to confuse the public……”
    I am telling you Mangala, the public is not confused at all. They can very well understand the motive behind this treachery without the help of any politicians.
    Contd..1/2

    • 0
      3

      5. “… journey will not be ended by selfish actions of these self-serving individuals.”

      Really? What is the definition for “selfish action”? Is talking on behalf of our war heroes selfish? Is talking against the attempt to portray our Army as murderers selfish? Is exposing bogus allegations against our Army selfish?
      .
      6. “It is merely a truth-seeking mechanism.”
      The totally bias composition of the OMP is proof of what type of truth the government is seeking.
      .
      7. “According to international Committee of the Red Cross, over 16,000 individuals have gone missing during the civil war.”
      Really? Red Cross? How about Lord Naseby? Why is your government allergic to him? How about the Census Department’s statistics? Is it because LTTE diaspora and racist separatist TNA both want to avert the truth?
      .
      8. “The myths that have been spread about the OMP claiming that it is a witch hunt to prosecute our war heroes is a lie.”
      No… I dare say it is the truth. You/your slave government are getting ready for the next election. You cannot seek help from LTTE diaspora again without fulfilling their demands to prosecute war heroes. OMP is the vehicle to war crimes tribunal through the path – ICPPED which is to be enacted.
      .
      9. “In 2015 the coalition government vowed to develop a culture of consensual politics.”
      My reply to this is a big hoot… hooooooooooooooooooo.
      .
      10. “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.”
      Oh, yeah, you made LTTE diaspora and TNA triumphant. Where in the world a National Army was held responsible for eliminating savage bloodthirsty terrorists and establish offices and courts to prosecute them at the behest of the very terrorist remnants overseas?

  • 0
    3

    Since 2016, we were totally against the OMP which was proposed/formed to legalize unsubstantiated allegations against our Army.
    Unfortunately, our voice is not represented in the Parliament. The slave government managed to pass the OMP Act without a vote in the Parliament, as Mahinda/JO ran and hid in burrows without having a backbone to oppose it. They were more concerned about Tamil votes than war heroes or the country. A single word of opposition to OMP Act was not uttered in the Parliament on that day.
    .
    I raise my strong objections to the choice of Commissioners which is bias, prejudicial and discriminatory to our Army and Sinhalese.
    .
    I have no objection to the PC-Saliya Peiris.
    But Nimalka, Somasiri, Jayadeepa, Mirak and Venthan, all of them are NGO activists and Venthan is a former ICRC worker!!!!! Totally bias!!!!!!. How does the slave government justify them?
    And what justification to appoint Mohanti – a Director/Army/Legal who knows nothing about ground realities, pain and truth behind bogus allegations against our Army.
    .
    In all fairness, the composition of the OMP should have been as follows:
    1. Chairman
    2. A respectable, impartial Sinhalese.
    3. + 4. Two Tamil gentlemen who won the hearts of Tamils and Sinhalese, men and women equally.
    5. + 6. Two veteran Major Generals who are fully conversant with the battle against LTTE to safeguard the rights and interests of the Army
    7. A Musim gentleman.
    .
    Following is my suggestion of Commissioners on behalf of our Army, Sinhalese/Tamils/Muslims:-
    1. Mr. Saliaya Peiris, PC – Chairman/OMP.
    2. Honourable Karu Jayasuriya, Speaker of the Parliament.
    3. Mr. M. Elancheliyan, High Court Judge, Jaffna.
    4. Mr. Arunnethwaraththam Ravi Kumar, President, Jaffna Buddhist Association.
    5. Major General (Rtd.) Chagi Gallage, Sri Lanka Army.
    6. Major General (Rtd.) Jagath Dias, Sri Lanka Army.
    7. A Muslim Gentleman, I don’t mind who.

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