In January this year, the ICRC shared with government authorities a comprehensive report with the findings of an assessment on the needs of families of missing people, together with recommendations on how to address these needs. The ICRC intends to make available soon, a public version of the report. The assessment was carried out between October 2014 and November 2015 in all districts of Sri Lanka, and involved individual interviews and focus group discussions with 395 families, including those of missing soldiers and policemen.
The findings in the ICRC’s report confirm that in addition to the primary need of families of missing persons to clarify the fate and whereabouts of their loved ones, they also face emotional, legal, administrative and economic difficulties, which need to be addressed by ensuring that adequate services including psychological support and benefits are made available to them.
The need for acknowledgment and commemoration is also present. A long-term political commitment is required to respond to the families’ need to know, as well as strong inter-institutional coordination to ensure that all available data on missing persons is centralized, processed and compared to find answers. For these purposes, the ICRC recommended to government authorities, amongst other issues, that a specific mechanism be established to address the multifaceted needs of families of missing people, including the need to know the fate of their missing relative.
Based on the findings of our assessment of the needs of families of the Missing, the ICRC designed and launched a specific programme to address some of these needs. The “accompaniment programme”, implemented in partnership with local organisations, was launched in Anuradhapura in November 2015, in Mannar in December, and in Trincomalee in March 2016. The ‘accompaniers’ – those who work directly with the families, facilitating access to the different services the programme offers – have missing loved ones. Identifying with the pain of a loss that is ambiguous, and often sharing the same needs, the accompaniers work to overcome their struggles together with those they are helping.
The programme addresses in particular families’ emotional needs through psychosocial support in the form of peer support groups. It also helps them to address the legal, administrative and economic challenges they encounter in their dayto-day lives by referring them to the local resources which meet those needs. In addition to this, the ICRC provides livelihood support to the most vulnerable families of the Missing.
The families of the Missing are not the only legacy of Sri Lanka’s three decades of armed conflict. The presence of landmines and explosive remnants of war in the former conflict areas have posed a humanitarian challenge, affecting the resettlement of civilians in these areas. The ICRC, together with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, organised a national workshop in January this year, on the “Humanitarian and Legal Consequences of Anti-personnel Landmines and Explosive Remnants of War”. The workshop facilitated a vibrant discussion among officials from key ministries, government departments, the military, civil society organisations, and international donors, with a view to encourage Sri Lanka to accede to the AntiPersonnel Mine Ban Convention (APMBC), better known as the Ottawa Treaty. This Treaty was created in 1977 to ban the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of antipersonnel landmines, and to assist people falling victim to these weapons. For the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, the work behind this Treaty was very much ‘grassroots’, as it involved playing a major role in combining its field experience with its legal analysis. In March 2016, the Cabinet of Sri Lanka approved the country’s accession to the APMBC. (See page 4 for more details.)
Recognizing the importance of ensuring humane conditions in prisons, the Department of Prisons in Sri Lanka with the support of the ICRC, hosted the 3rd Asia Pacific Regional Correctional Managers Conference in Colombo in May. It was an opportunity for senior prison managers to share experiences and best practices and brainstorm the way forward to improve conditions in prisons in their countries. Held under the theme “Balancing Security and Humanitarian Needs in Prisons”, delegates from the region discussed topics relevant to the challenges of achieving this much needed balance in prisons. (See page 5 for more details.)
The delegation of the ICRC in Sri Lanka