By Dharisha Bastians in Geneva
The permanent Office of Missing Persons should be ready to go in two or three months, the Sri Lankan Government announced in Geneva yesterday, urging victims and activists to be patient as frustration mounts about the pace of its progress on reconciliation and justice.
The Government had already allocated Rs. 1.4 billion for the Office of Missing Persons in its 2017 budget and the Office will be operationalised once the subject is assigned to a Ministry, Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) Mano Tittawella told an event organised by the Government on the sidelines of the UN Human Rights Council’s 34th Session.
He added that the OMP would be fully independent from Government, with the OMP law mandating that the Office will report directly to Parliament. “The Office will function at district level and is vested with powers by the Act to go to any province or region. The OMP may even use mobile units to gather information,” the SCRM Chief explained.
“We started working on transitional justice processes less than two years ago. We know this waiting is painful for the victims. But we urge patience, so that we can get this right,” Tittawella told participants at the side event.
Secretary General Tittawella said the Government was also hopeful that the suggested design of the truth-seeking commission and the office of reparations and draft legislation for these two mechanisms could be put before Cabinet in the next few months.
“On the accountability mechanisms, we are currently studying best practices around the world and the recommendations of the Consultations Task Force report,” he explained, adding that the judicial mechanism would be presented once the truth commission and the reparations office were ready.
Tittawella said the SCRM had already initiated meetings with the military in Jaffna and Galle, for dialogues on transitional justice. “The lack of knowledge about these processes is creating a misplaced fear psychosis,” the SCRM Secretary General explained.
On questions on land and resettlement, the Government delegation announced that the Prime Minister and the President had decided to complete the release of private lands held by the military by the end of 2018.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who is leading the Sri Lankan delegation to Geneva, said the President and the Prime Minister had requested the military to provide a timeline for the release of all private lands under its control. “Where land cannot be given back for security reasons, people will be resettled elsewhere and compensation will be paid,” the Foreign Minister pledged.
Explaining to participants at the side event that 42 acres of land in Mullaitivu had been released by the Sri Lanka Air Force last morning, ending the Keppapulavu land protest that had lasted one month. “But is it not good enough to return land only when people protest,” Minister Samaraweera acknowledged. “I agree, this has not happened fast enough.”
Denying the Government’s repudiation of the CTF report in response to a question, the Foreign Minister said that the report had provided a good guideline on transitional justice. “In fact we are using the CTF recommendations as we finalise the design of the truth-seeking commission,” the Foreign Minister explained. The architecture of the Reparations Office will also be informed by the CTF report, he added.
The UNHRC side event organised by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the UN in Geneva, was held at Room XXI of the Palais des nations and well attended by Tamil diaspora groups, Tamil media representatives, human rights activists and representatives of state delegations including the US, UK, and Venezuela. The event drew much interest, lasting well over the stipulated hour with a vibrant Q&A session.
Senior Constitutional lawyer and Member of Parliament Dr. Jayampathy Wickremaratne provided an overview of the process to draft a new constitution that was ongoing in Sri Lanka. “Discussions had stalled for a while, but they have restarted now. The President has also launched tripartite talks,” Dr. Wickremaratne explained.
Opening the meeting, Minister Samaraweera said the Government was committed to “open and transparent engagement with all stakeholders”, and urged participants to engage in a vibrant exchange of views on democracy, human rights and rule of law in Sri Lanka.
“Outreach and dialogue are pivotal to our national mission of reconciliation and peace-building – all stakeholders matter,” the Foreign Minister asserted.