The Sri Lankan government is undermining its own Office of Missing Persons (OMP) with the appointment of Mahinda Samarasinghe, a politician who has denounced reports of enforced disappearances, to head a cabinet sub-committee said the International Truth and Justice Project (ITJP).
Sri Lankan announced that Samarasinghe, who was human rights minister during the Rajapaksa government and repeatedly rejected allegations of war crimes, has been appointed to a 10-member cabinet sub-committee, which is expected to implement the interim recommendations of the OMP.
“The Office of Missing Persons is viewed by many in the international community as the last hope for accountability in Sri Lanka,” said the ITJP’s Executive Director and transitional justice expert, Yasmin Sooka. “This sort of appointment makes a mockery of the body and worse still the victims, who desperately need to see progress after years of waiting for information about the fate of their loved ones”.
“This is an accountability issue that affects the whole international community who have the responsibility to ensure that the Government of Sri Lanka acts in good faith rather than ending up disowning its own initiative, as it did with the victim consultation process,” she continued. “Appointing individuals like Mahinda Samarasinghe appears to be a deliberate attempt to subvert the entire process, which is already struggling for legitimacy with many Families of the Disappeared. It is also extremely offensive for the families, many of whom handed their loved ones over to the security forces at the end of the war never to see them again.”
Samarasinghe has previously denounced reports of enforced disappearances as ‘terrorist propaganda’ and out rightly dismissed the idea that Tamils disappeared after surrendering at the end of the armed conflict, added ITJP in a release this morning.
As human rights minister during the previous Sri Lankan regime he refused to accept there were civilian casualties, denied government forces repeatedly targeted civilians, denied the military used heavy weapons and claimed there was no issue with media freedom on the island.
“This is the ideologue and apologist for the worst violations committed under the Rajapaksa regime – and there are no indications he has had a change of heart. What is a person like this doing involved in the OMP’s activities which are expected to receive substantial international support from donors?” asked Sooka. “His appointment does not show political commitment to establishing the truth about enforced disappearances,” she added, “and it also disregards Sri Lanka’s commitment in UN Resolution 30/1 to vet public officials”.
“His appointment does not show political commitment to establishing the truth about enforced disappearances,” she added, “and it also disregards Sri Lanka’s commitment in UN Resolution 30/1 to vet public officials”.
Read the full text of the ITJP press release here.