September 2023

Empathy Building Advances the OMP Process

Connecting emotions, experiences and expectations have been central in the project aimed at improving the capacity of staff of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP). Funded by the Canada Fund for Local Initiatives (CLFI), NPC concluded the OMP project with nine sessions of outreach on empathy building. Held in Colombo, Matara, Mannar, Jaffna and Batticaloa, the sessions were delivered to the members of victim families as well as government officers with the objective of reconciling the issues and conflicts identified in the service delivery process. 

At its core, the project set out to build bridges. In this regard, implementors said the project covered wider areas than expected. It addressed many stakeholders of OMP service cycle through various activities. The wants and needs of victim families were identified, ground level government officers directly connected to the OMP delivery cycle were educated about the issues and senior government officials at regional decision making levels were informed about what needed to be done.

During the informal empathy building engagement exercises in Batticaloa, Jaffna and Mannar, the facilitator introduced the theme and plot of the film Paangshu (The Soil) set in a rural courthouse. The film tells the story about a mother seeking justice for her son who was abducted by paramilitary men during the 1988-89 insurgency. Baba Nona goes to countless places in search for her missing son: army camps, hospitals, the missing person's commission and the village temple. She cannot find him. Later, she goes to trial and identifies an officer responsible for kidnapping her son and directs her anger to him and his family.

Remarkably, in the end, she forgives the criminal and arranges for her case to be dismissed. Paangshu’s director has been widely criticised by audiences for the end of the scene, which does not give justice to the victim’s mother.

During the sessions the facilitator asked whether criticism against the film director was right or wrong. Victims’ family members said “wrong”, meaning that the mother’s decision of forgiveness was the correct one. When asking a similar question to government officers, half said the criticism was justified. The final sessions showed the essential need of connecting people and building bridges in order to improve a formal process.