The Sri Lankan government is to issue “missing” certificates to the families of thousands of people who disappeared during its 26-year civil war.
The decision – a longstanding demand of campaigners and international human rights organisations in the island nation – comes as the United Nations is set to adopt a resolution seeking to improve accountability in Sri Lanka and create a mechanism for bringing alleged war criminals there to justice.
Rajitha Senaratne, the minister of health and a government spokesperson, said the measure to issue certificates was not the result of pressure from overseas powers. “[It] is what we pledged when we went in front of the people for their vote. We are doing this because we genuinely want to find out the truth; what happened to to these missing people. Their families also want the truth and we will seek the truth now.”
On a practical level, the certificate of missing would allow families to apply for compensation under various government schemes and establish a legal status for those who had disappeared. The certificates could then be used to gain pension funds and land deeds, for example, which have previously been denied to relatives.
The first certificates could be issued by the end of the year, officials said.
Earlier this week, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the UN high commissioner for human rights, called on the country to investigate reports of secret places of detention and set up a “credible and independent” body to clarify the fate of people missing since the war ended in 2009.
The exact number of those who went missing during the conflict has remained contentious, and is linked to the controversial issue of the number of civilian deaths and casualties during the war, especially its bloody last phases.
A presidential commission on missing persons, which has been conducting interviews since 2013, has so far received more than 20,000 complaints, including more than 5,000 of missing members of government forces. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which has been registering missing persons since 1990, has logged 16,064 cases, while a report by an advisory committee to the UN secretary general estimated that 40,000 people may be unaccounted for. (Reproduced from the News Story published by The Guardian)