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Group of Women in Batticaloa Utilise New Right To Information (RTI) Act to Renew Search for “Missing” Loved Ones .

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By

Meera Srinivasan

Last week, when Sri Lanka’s Right To Information Act came into effect, a group of women in Batticaloa had a plan.

Last week, when Sri Lanka’s Right To Information Act came into effect, a group of women in Batticaloa had a plan.

After years of petitioning government offices and testifying to innumerable commissions, they decided to use the brand new Act, to seek information about their missing relatives.

“We set out at eight in the morning, and went from one office to the other until 5.45 p.m.,” P. Deepa told The Hindu over telephone.

Adopted in 2016

In June 2016, Sri Lanka’s Parliament unanimously adopted the Right to Information (RTI) law, inspiring hope among sections pushing for greater transparency and accountability in Sri Lanka. The Act came into effect on February 3.

The very same day, nearly 15 women went by foot to the District Secretariat, the provincial and district police headquarters, the Human Rights Commission and the prisons department to submit applications asking for details on their disappeared family members.

They walked around the town in the blazing sun, skipping lunch and fighting pessimism.

Sri Lanka’s Eastern Province witnessed some of the most brutal aspects of the island’s protracted civil war — tens of thousands lost their lives, and thousands were abducted reportedly by the Sri Lankan armed forces and, in some cases, the LTTE. Enforced disappearances remains a key concern for many families in Sri Lanka’s Tamil-majority North and East.

For the women, who have been running from pillar to post hoping for some clue about their relatives, Friday’s effort was yet another attempt. But it did not make them optimistic.

‘No convincing response’

“It was like all our previous efforts — yielding no convincing response,” said Ms. Deepa, who has been searching for her husband since 2009.

Ironically, the small group of women ended up educating officials on the Act passed by the government, said A. Amalanayaki, who has also been looking for her husband.

Most of the government officials were not aware of the Act, let alone be prepared to receive applications, the women said.

Insensitivity of officials

Sri Lanka’s Media Minister Gayantha Karunathilake has said that since the Act was new to the country, they can’t be 100 per cent right just as yet.

The women understand that teething troubles are likely in any such intervention. However, it is the now-familiar insensitivity in government offices that makes women like Ms. Amalanayaki feel dejected. A few officials were courteous, but many others were insensitive, the women said.

“One officer asked us ‘you have waited for eight years; can’t you wait another few days?’ Clearly, they do not realise what we go through without any information on our loved ones,” she said.

“We are not asking them to find our relatives immediately. But just give us some information.”

Courtesy:The Hindu

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