Gotabaya Rajapaksa (File photo) Photograph:( AFP )
Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently claimed that 20,000 people who had gone missing during the country's civil war are presumably dead. Rajapaksa made the remark in a meeting with a United Nations envoy in Colombo.
His office said that death certificates would be issued for the missing.
This came after more than hundreds of families of the missing have been attending rallies demanding the whereabouts of their lost loved ones.
Some posited the idea that their relatives were still alive but captured by the security forces, a claim the government has repeatedly denied. The family members of the deceased hold daily vigils to protest.
The Sri Lankan army and the Tamil Tiger rebels had been warring for 26 years until the inferno was extinguished in May 2009.
The war had made ethnic faultlines in the country visible, for the majority Buddhist Sinhalese wanted to fight the Tamil rebels demanding a separate state. According to the BBC, the war had taken the lives of 100,000 people and left more than 20,000 missing.
Majority of the missing people are Tamil.
At the time of the war, Rajapaksa was Sri Lanka's Defence Secretary and helped crush the rebel movement.
In the final stages of the war, the United Nations had thrown accusations of atrocities towards both sides.
The BBC reported that multiple accounts of Tamil forces being killed even after surrendering were spurring out. Even with mounting video evidence, the government denied partaking in any such activities.
Watch: Why are critics of the Rajapaksas living in fear
If seen as an opponent to Rajapaksa and his brother Mahinda, businessmen, journalists and activists were taken into custody during the war and never seen again.
However, the government continues to deny any role in the disappearance, with Rajapaksa telling the BBC that all war crime allegations against him were ''baseless''.
According to the government statement given to UN resident co-ordinator Hanaa Singer, all the missing were members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
"President Rajapaksa outlined his plans to address the issue of missing persons. He explained that these missing persons are actually dead," the statement said.
"The families of the missing attest to it. However, they do not know what has become of them and so claim them to be missing," he said.
Death certificates are utterly important in Sri Lanka, where families cannot access property deeds, inheritances, and bank accounts without it.
Even though the UN and other organisations have demanded the Lanka government to initiate a crimes tribunal to shed light on human rights abuses in the country, no such action has borne fruits. Sri Lanka has constantly referred to the issue as a ''internal matter'' that should be handled domestically.