The issue of persons who were reported to have gone missing during the final stages of the war continues to be a small obstacle in the post-war scenario.
The presidential commission to investigate into Complaints of Missing Persons had requested the government to extend its mandate by another year, owing to the enormous workload that was associated with the whole process.
The mandate of the commission ends on July 15.
Its chairman, Justice Maxwell Paranagama on numerous occasions has expressed the importance of its tasks and therefore had frequently requested the government to extend its mandate.
Last month, the chairman said that the commission had already received over 19,000 complaints from family members, relatives of those who have gone missing. “The commission’s investigation team has completed work on over 350 files”, he said.
The number speaks of the enormous task presented before the commission.
However, the chairman pointed out that almost 4,000 complaints were found to be false, which would bring down the number to around 15,000, still a huge number. The number of false complaints could rise further.
In addition, there is another issue of duplication of complaints. The commission pointed out that there were duplications, where they had received five to six petitions regarding one allegedly missing person, lodged by various members of the missing person’s family, living in various parts of the island.
Paranagama said the number of such duplicates was 3,000 and rising. These issues would mean that the number of missing, or rather the complaints with regard to the the number of missing persons would reduce drastically.
In hindsight, the issue would not seem to be that critical, if it is to be judged by the number of complaints received by the commission.
But there is more than just numbers to this issue.
Fate of the missing
There was a time when the disappearance of persons was just a frequent news story on the local and international newspapers and electronic media. It was a time when the war was at its height.
For the outside world, it issue of missing persons was just a news, or a number. But for the families concerned, it was a loss of a huge part of their lives. Those who went missing could have had some shady dealings which could have led to their fate.
But the families need to know the fate of those who had disappeared. Even though fighting has ended, the struggle within their minds as to what would have happened to their loved ones has a much greater impact on their future. This would in fact become a stumbling block in Sri Lanka’s efforts of reconciliation.
It is important that the families get some closure so that they could move on with their lives despite the loss.
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) over the past few years have continuously requested for a list of names of those who have been detained in various camps. The families had even visited the camps to ascertain the whereabouts of the missing persons.
The discussions between the TNA and the previous regime, a few years ago also, focused on this issue. However, all moves to find a solution collapsed when talks ended after a few rounds.
Paranagama recently stated that the Commission had requested several institutions including the Defence Ministry and Department of Prisons for a list of names of those who had surrendered during the final stages of the war. In addition, the commission had also requested names of people who had sought refuge in the Europe.
He said that only the Department had provided with a list of names.
The failure of the local authorities to provide the names would only create a bottleneck in the probe towards finding the fate of the missing.
The government also plans to establish an Office of the Missing Persons in the near future. But, even that would prove futile if the authorities do not give out the names of the people who surrendered.