Putting Sri Lanka’s Office of Missing Persons in Perspective
Sri Lanka’s Office of Missing Persons (OMP) became operational today. The OMP is one of Colombo’s four big transitional justice mechanisms — the others being an office to handle reparations, a truth commission and a judicial mechanism to address allegations of wartime abuses.
Colombo announced an impressive transitional justice agenda two years ago, yet far too little has happened since then. The other three mechanisms have yet to be established.
Ostensibly, an operational OMP is a step in the right direction. But, for now, the efficacy of the body remains an open question. For example, how will it be staffed and resourced? How independent will it be? Furthermore, others have raised important constitutional concerns about the OMP.
Time will tell if President Maithripala Sirisena’s recent decision augurs a sincere commitment to a credible, comprehensive transitional justice process. What’s quite likely is that the timing of the president’s move is tied to the UN General Assembly, which opened its 72nd session on September 12. In short, this is probably more about cosmetic maneuvering, attempting to placate international actors and optics than anything else.
The bottom line is that we don’t yet know how significant this latest piece of news is. What we do know is that — given all the false promises, empty rhetoric and contradictory statements from the coalition government — a heavy dose of skepticism is more than warranted.