President Gotabaya Rajapaksa must be commended for his outspokenness in some cases compared to other leaders of the country including his brother and former President Mahinda Rajapaksas.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa during his recent visit to India told an Indian Tamil journalist representing the Chennai based The Hindu on November 30 that he did not believe in devolution of power as a solution to the same issue.
The President echoed this sentiment back home as well during a meeting with the newspaper editors and heads of media institutions a fortnight ago. He was so forthrightly putting this point at a time when the ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) is struggling to win over the minorities in order to get the two thirds majority in Parliament with a view to amend the Constitution.
In a similar approach to an extremely contentious issue which is highly sensitive to the Tamil people within and outside the country, the President again had displayed his candor on last Friday. During a discussion with United Nations Resident Coordinator Hanna Singer he had said those who have gone missing during the war between the armed forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) were actually dead and there are plans to support the family members of them.
His observation on the fate of the missing persons as the Defence Secretary when they disappeared might have thunderstruck those who are agitating to find their missing kith and kin for over ten years since the end of the war in May 2009, as they would like to believe their loved ones were still alive somewhere - even in the most horrific place on earth. They have been agitating - sometimes launching months-long sit-in protests in the north since the end of the war.
But, despite the possibility of the relatives of these missing people detesting the thought of their loved ones having gone for good, one has to pose the question as to how long they should wait for the return of their sons, daughters, husbands, wives, fathers and mothers, whereas no sign of them living had been traced for a whole decade. Shouldn’t these hapless relatives face the reality just because it is extremely painful?
If the claim by the President is to be believed, the people disappeared would not have committed suicide, except for a few rare possible cases during the horrendous war. They may have been killed either in crossfire or by the armed forces or by the LTTE. The number of people so gone missing is not so small. The Missing Persons Commission appointed by Mahinda Rajapaksa during his presidency had recorded statements from the relatives of more than 19,000 persons who were said to have disappeared during the war. This points as to how dreadful the war had been and how serious the issue now is.
It goes without saying that the relatives of the missing people – civilians, LTTE cadres and the armed forces personnel - have the right to know what happened to their loved ones. It does not prevent them from accepting the painful reality while demanding justice for them, as the President who was the then Defence Secretary himself bluntly says to none other than the representative of the UN that “they are actually dead.”
For the past several years it has been reported that the families of the missing people were undergoing untold hardships not only because they have lost their breadwinners in most cases, but also due to legal issues emanating from their failure to prove the fate of the people disappeared. Thus re-marriage, divorce and transfer of property etc. have been hindered. Several attempts to issue them with death certificates for the missing people were prevented from being implemented due to the political tug-o-war between the authorities and the Tamil politicians. It is high time now to face the reality, which would not prevent the relatives from demanding justice on behalf of those whose whereabouts are not known for more than a decade.