On February 20th, the protest by families of the disappeared in Kilinochchi passed the one year mark. Mothers, wives and fathers have sat by the side of the A9 road, inside the premises of the Kandasamy kovil, asking for answers about their loved ones. This is one of many protests by relatives of the disappeared; others are taking place in Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Maruthankerny and Trincomalee.

Over the course of this year, these families have had three meetings with the President, two United Nations Special Rapporteurs have visited Sri Lanka to assess its transitional justice process and there has been some incremental progress around the Office on Missing Persons and the Enforced Disappearances Bill. However, this progress has been marred by setbacks, particularly around the OMP. Overall, these steps have failed to answer these families' calls for truth and for the fulfilment of the promises made to them by the Government.

This piece lays out a timeline of events around the issue of disappearances that have taken place in the one year - February 19th 2017 to February 20th 2018 -since the protest in Kilinochchi began.

19th February 2017

Relatives of the disappeared begin their protest in Kilinochchi, outside the Kandasamy kovil. Photo from @uthayashalin

3rd March 2017

The Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights notes the Sri Lankan government's slow progress in fulfilling conditions of UNHRC Resolution 30/1. It identifies a 'lack of strategy to address accountability for past crimes' as derailing the momentum towards lasting peace, stability and reconciliation, and reiterated its calls for a hybrid court to address post-war human rights issues.

27th April 2017

Citizens of the Northern and Eastern provinces stage a hartal to protest that their grievances continue to go unaddressed by the Government. Business and administration ground to a halt. The protesters in Kilinochchi participated by staging a sit-in that blocked the A9 highway. Photo from Tamil Guardian.

20th May 2017

Addressing a gathering in Sampur, President Sirisena pledged to launch a full-scale special investigation into the allegations that disappeared persons are being held in certain detention camps.

30th May 2017

The protest in Kilinochchi reaches its 100th Day. The families reiterate their needs in a statement - release the list of the those forcibly disappeared and allow relatives to visit secret detention camps to search for their loved ones.

After an hour on the road, the protesters are informed that the President will meet with them in two weeks to address their concerns. Photo from @garikaalan.

12th June 2017

President Sirisena meets with a group representing relatives of the disappeared from all eight districts of the Northern and Eastern Provinces at the Northern Province Governor's office in Jaffna.

He promised these families that any persons who are being held in detention without charges will be released, and that he would instruct the National Security Council to release lists of detainees, political prisoners and persons who surrendered to the Armed forces in the final phase of the war. Sirisena claimed that there were no secret detention camps in Sri Lanka. When some relatives insisted that their loved ones were being held in such camps, the President immediately said "if they could identify any place, he would send police together with them to go into such camps and search".

5th July 2017

Parliamentary debate on the Enforced Disappearances Bill is postponed for the first time.

14th July 2017

Ben Emmerson, visiting UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism, expresses disappointment at the lack of progress in addressing war crimes and past human rights abuses.

14th July 2017

Nearly 400 conflict-affected women sign a statement that urges the Sri Lankan government to enact the Enforced Disappearance Bill, a measure that will provide confidence to them and others in their communities that 'genuine steps are finally being taken to stop future disappearances and ensure non-recurrence'.

20th July 2017

President signs the Act on the Office of Missing Persons.

21st July 2017

In an interview, member of the Opposition Prof. G.L Peiris makes several incorrect assertions about the Enforced Disappearances Bill, including that the Bill will be subjected to the jurisdiction of and prosecution by the International Criminal Court. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement that clarified these erroneous remarks and more clearly explained the contents of the Bill.

25th July 2017

R. Sampanthan, Opposition Leader and Leader of the Tamil National Alliance, requests the government to disclose the names of all the persons being held in detention when it took office. He also requests that families of missing persons would be allowed to visit secret detention camps.

15th August 2017

Mariyasuresh Easwary, a prominent activist who works on the issue of disappearances, is assaulted in Mullaitivu by two men who threaten her with death if she does not stop her protest.

17th August 2017

Mothers of the disappeared from the North and East hold a press conference in Colombo. When they present a letter with their demands to the President in June, they are promised a response in one month. That response has not been received, to date.

30th August 2017

Protests continue in the five locations (Vavuniya, Kilinochchi, Mullaitivu, Trincomalee and Maruthankerny) on the International Day of the Disappeared. Some families attend an event in Colombo, to share their stories and call for operationalisation of the OMP. The President was scheduled to attend too, but his appearance was cancelled at the eleventh hour.

6th September 2017

The Kilinochchi protest reaches its 200th day. Families criticise inaction of the government, and claim that they are losing faith in its many promises to deliver justice for their loved ones. Five mothers have died since the protest started at this point.

11th September 2017

In his opening statement at the 36th session of the UNHRC, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said that the absence of credible action in Sri Lanka to ensure accountability for alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law makes the exercise of universal jurisdiction even more necessary. He acknowledged the protests being carried out by victims, and that the government should not see these commitments as a 'box-ticking exercise' but the need to address the rights of all its people.

12th September 2017

President Maithripala Sirisena has issued a gazette notification establishing the Office of Missing Persons with effect from September 15. However, civil society raised concerns with the unconstitutional manner in which functions were assigned.

17th September 2017

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe says that the Enforced Disappearances Bill will not be retrospective in nature, and also stated that the government has no desire to send the country’s soldiers to any court of law.

19th September 2017

Parliamentary debate on the Enforced Disappearances Bill is delayed for the second time.

23rd September 2017

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights commended Sri Lanka’s steps to establish the Office on Missing Persons, but said that he will be more satisfied if this journey of Sri Lankan government in this regard will be 'speeded up'.

6th October 2017

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka urges the President, in his capacity as Minister of National Integration and Reconciliation, to ensure that the Enforced Disappearances Bill is enacted.

10th October 2017

Constitutional Council opens applications for members of the Office on Missing Persons.

15th October 2017

President Sirisena briefly meets with families of the disappeared during a visit to declare open the Kilinochchi Economic Centre.

23rd October 2017

Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence visits Sri Lanka. His final report stressed the need to operationalise the Office on Missing Persons and to bring the Enforced Disappearances Bill into law.

15th November 2017

Jaffna High Court summoned Army Commander Lieutenant General Mahesh Senanayake to appear in Court over the disappearance of 24 Tamils since their arrest in 1996 by security forces during the conflict.

15th November 2017

Making the opening statement at the Third Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka in Geneva, (Dr) Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs lists the gazetting of the Enforced Disappearance Bill as one of the Government’s human rights achievements.

17th November 2017

President meets with families of the disappeared again, where he reiterates that no one is being held in secret detention camps.

8th December 2017

Constitutional Council submits names of seven nominees for commissioners for the Office on Missing Persons to the President.

11th December 2017

Families of the disappeared write a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, stating that they have 'lost all hope' and that 'there is no political will to trace the forcibly disappeared in Sri Lanka.'

19th December 2017

President Sirisena refers back the list of seven nominees for the Office on Missing Persons to the Constitutional Council for a review. The Council decides to stand by its decision.

6th February 2018

At an election rally in Jaffna, the President states that there are no secret detention camps being operated by the government.

14th February 2017

Families travel to Colombo for 'Missing Lovers Day', an event held at the Dutch Hospital, where they shared stories and read from personal letters from their missing loved ones, reflecting on the sadness of their loss and the slow progress of the process of truth.

20th February 2018

Protest by relatives of disappeared in Kilinochchi reaches the one-year mark

Many of the mothers present say that they gave their children over to members of the Armed forces at the end of the war, some children as young as ten years of age, and they ask incredulously how the government can deny knowing the whereabouts of individuals entrusted to the state's care. They view the Office on Missing Persons as yet another state body that is unwilling to hold accountable those who are responsible for their loved ones disappearances. Their mistrust is partly because, they say, they were not consulted in the process that went into establishing the OMP. Civil society groups have criticised the marginalisation of affected communities in developing transitional justice mechanisms and call for the voices of the affected to be heard in decision-making.

The sentiment at the one-year anniversary of the protest reflects the struggle of the year gone past. Repeated meetings with the President have yielded nothing. Promises made by the government to them and to various international bodies remain unfulfilled; they no longer have any faith in the government, and firmly state that international intervention is necessary to bring justice to their loved ones. For some, the year has evolved from a search for justice to simply a search for truth - accountability and prosecutions can wait, their first priority is knowing where their loved ones are or what has happened to them.

The other four protests - in Vavuniya, Mullaitivu, Maruthankerny and Trincomalee, will all reach one year soon, and the question for most of these people is how long they will have to wait before their pain is acknowledged, and their questions are answered.

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