The Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday (26) opened its consular office in Jaffna. Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera was present at the occasion and was accompanied by politicians including Opposition Leader R. Sampanthan and Northern Province Chief Minister, C.V. Wigneswaran.
While the opening ceremony was in full flow in one end of Jaffna, there were mothers, daughters and relatives of those who had gone missing staging a hunger strike a few kilometers away in Nallur and in Vavuniya.
The hunger strike was initially launched in Vavuniya. It then spread to Jaffna where people came to the streets to show solidarity in silence.
Many protests, campaigns, and pleas have been put forward by the family members to locate their loved ones who had gone missing during various time periods during the height of tension in the country.
However, the authorities are yet to make a substantial breakthrough in many of these cases. The pleas continue to fall on deaf ears.
“Many of the affected are women whose husbands and sons have gone missing. The government may provide them with the facilities to move on with their lives. But all these facilities are of no use as the families have no closure with regard to the fate of the loved ones,” pointed out Saroja Sivachandran, Head of Centre for Women and Development in Jaffna.
Sivachandran’s sentiment is shared by many other women who work with single women. Syla who works with several single women whose spouses who had either died or gone missing during the war said that while the fellowship helped women to focus on their livelihood, the void created by the person’s absence could not be filled for years.
“Some of these women had lost their sons and husbands years ago. To the outside world, they seem to have moved on. But in reality, they are only diverting their minds to something which would keep them occupied. But the grief remains the same,” she said.
The previous and the current governments, plus several non-governmental organisations had taken numerous steps to locate the missing persons. However, none of these measures have yielded a conclusive result.
“We do not know whether they are alive or not. But these mothers and women just want to know what happened to them. What if some are still alive?” queried Sivachandran.
Addressing the issue of missing persons is one of the key aspects of the reconciliation process. Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process will not be complete without a mechanism to address this problem.
It is a hard task. But it needs to be done. While it is the responsibility of the government to create a mechanism, it is also the responsibility of the Tamil politicians and other stakeholders to keep pushing the authorities to ensure this is implemented.
The Diaspora also has a substantial role to play in this process. Unfortunately, this has not happened despite a new government taking over.
The continuous campaign for separatism by sections of the Diaspora has limited its participation in Sri Lanka’s post-war progress as there continues to be an element of mistrust.
To some, it is still hard to digest that the LTTE was defeated. It is time for all of us to move forward to address the grievances of the people who suffered.
The war had left us with many unanswered questions. The fate of the missing is one of them. But, its impact on the families, and on the reconciliation process cannot be taken lightly.
There are many families in the South too who are still searching for their loved ones. Years have gone by, and their hopes are dwindling too. But, they will continue to come to the streets hoping that someday they would get the closure they need.