Missing Persons: Institutionalization of Fact Finding via OMP

ONE. Mangala Samaraweera: “OMP, a mechanism to help truth finding,” http://www.dailynews.lk/?q=2016/08/12/local/90327

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) is not a judicial process and it cannot punish anybody, Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera said. He was addressing a press conference at the Parliamentary Complex yesterday following the passage of the OMP Bill. He reiterated the OMP is just a mechanism to help the truth finding and that would in no way betray war heroes.

MANGALA Samaraweera said in reality, the OMP would be helpful to find information on the missing persons in the tri-forces too. “We will in fact protect the war heroes and will reinforce their reputation internationally,” he said. The minister said as the next step, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission would be appointed, adding that its legal framework would be finished by September. He said the public opinion for the TRC are now being taken.

He said the OMP Bill was passed incorporating the Amendments proposed by the SLFP, JVP and the TNA.

While observing that many mothers were still waiting for their disappeared daughters and sons in the North as well as in the South to return, Samaraweera asked whether it was wrong to initiate some action to do some justice to them.

“We still cannot determine the exact number of disappearances as various reports have come up with various figures. The ICRC came up with a figure of 16,008 missing persons in the recent times, while the UN Working Group of Enforced Disappearances handed over a list of information on 12,000 missing persons to the Government. Out of them 5,100 were tri-forces personnel. The Paranagama report indicated the number of missing persons to be about 24,000. Some LTTE top rank members fled the country at the final stage of the war by paying money to the Army. Their names could still be in the lists of missing persons. The OMP will help to reveal the truth,” he said.

“This is a historical Bill and it is the first step to fulfil our commitment towards the UNHRC resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka last year. This bill was not presented in haste. It was prepared with the consultation of specialists and the Attorney General Department. It was presented to the Cabinet on May 24 and gazetted on May 27. The Bill was considered at the Sectoral Oversight Committee for two days. If there was any objection, there was ample time to challenge it before the Supreme Court. The only intention of the Joint Opposition was to sabotage the historic moment of passing the Bill. Even though we wished to debate it for one and half days, the debate had to be cut short due to the JO’s attempts to sabotage it,” he said.

The minister said an Amendment was included into the Bill that all the foreign funds received to the OMP must go through the External Resources Department. The minister also said the belief that the OMP is contrary to the Right to Information Act was completely wrong. He said the impression that the OMP has unlimited powers to enter into any premises for investigations was misleading adding that the OMP only has the powers similar to the Human Rights Commission.

Samaraweera said it has the power to check any detaining centre or any similar premises without prior notice. “However, we included an Amendment today that after such a visit a report should be submitted to the IGP within 48 hours,” he said. He said the foreign expert assistance would be sought when and where necessary, adding that former President Mahinda Rajapaksa obtained similar foreign assistance to the Paranagama Commission. He said some of them had served in international war tribunals too.

TWO. Saman Indrajith: “Amidst Joint Opposition protests Crucial OMP Bill rushed through Parliament,” in Island, 12 August 2016

The Joint Opposition’s protest enabled the government to rush the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill through parliament yesterday. The Bill was passed with amendments amidst shouting and chanting of slogans by Joint Opposition against the government.

When the time came for Notice of Motions and Orders of the Day, Leader of the House Highways and Higher Education Minister Lakshman Kiriella moved the Office on Missing Persons (Establishment, Administration and Discharge of Functions) Bill for the second reading.

MEP Leader Dinesh Gunawardena said that the Joint Opposition would not agree with the government’s to change the session plan to hold the debate on the OMP for two days – Thursday and Friday) and to have the vote in Friday evening to advance the voting at 11 am on Friday.  He said that shortening the time of debate would deprive the Opposition MPs of their time to speak in Parliament leading to the deprivation of their privileges.

Following this, the members Joint Opposition invaded the Well of Parliament wearing black armbands as a sign of protest against the Bill. Some MPs were wearing black sataka and shouting against the government accusing the latter of betraying the nation. As the protest was continuing not permitting the proceedings to continue, Speaker Karu Jayasuriya suspended sittings around 12.19 pm and called for a meeting of party leaders.
When the House resumed sittings, Leader of the House Minister Kiriella said that party leaders had agreed to extend Thursday’s debate time by three more hours till 9.30 pm and to have the vote at 11 am on Friday. The MPs of Joint Opposition protested, saying that they could not debate the issue till 9.30 pm and demanded the government to reverse its decision and to adhere to the original plan.

MEP Leader Gunawardena said that the change of plan amounted to a breach of privileges of MPs. JVP MP Vijitha Herath explaining his party’s position said that the JVP had agreed to hold the debate for full two days and to have the vote taken at 6.00 pm on Friday. He, too, said that there was no point continuing the debate till 9.30 pm on Thursday but to finish sittings at usual time at 6.30 pm on Thursday, resume it at 9.30 am on Friday and to continue till 6 pm to put the Bill to the vote. The JVP had been permitted to present an adjournment motion for Friday, but the party was willing to postpone it if the government took the vote at 6 pm Friday, he said. “The original plan was to debate the VAT bill for two days, but following the Supreme Court decision that need did not arise. Had there been different pronouncement from the Supreme Court, we would have been debating the VAT Bill. Then, none of these problems of adjusting or changing the session plan would not have arisen,” he said, adding that the OMP Bill was originally scheduled for the next sitting week so that a two-day debate could be held and the vote be taken during the next sitting week.

Speaker Karu Jayasuriya: “Except the Joint Opposition all other parties at the party leaders’ meeting agreed to have the vote at 11 am on Friday.” Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe: “The VAT Bill was presented to Parliament but following the Supreme Court opinion we did not take it for debate. The next most important Bill in the Order Book was the OMP. That was why we needed to bring it forward. There are no legal impediments to advancing the OMP Bill as it has not been challenged before courts. Then we with the consent of all allocated Thursday and Friday for the debate and agreed to have the vote at 11.00 am. There is Law Asia international conference on Friday evening. The President, the Minister of Justice and I have been invited to be present there. That was why we needed to have the vote at 11.00 am so that the MPs who go to the mosque on Friday noon prayers could do so. Otherwise, we could debate this till midnight tonight if the Opposition needs more time.”

Opposition Leader R Sampanthan said that his party had agreed to continue the debate till 9.30 pm on Thursday because the OMP Bill was very important. Joint Opposition MPs Vasudeva Nanayakkara and Wimal Weerawansa opposed Opposition Leader Sampanthan’s suggestion; they pointed out that the Opposition MPs needed more time. MP Nanayakkara said the government had proposed 17 amendments to the bill and those amendments should be presented to the oversight committee before being taken up in the House.

Leader of the House Minister Kiriella said the government was willing to give time by stretching the session till 9.30 pm yesterday and till 2.00 pm today and invited Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to commence the debate.

Joint Opposition MPs invaded the Well again for the second time and Sergeant-at-Arms Anil Parakrama Samarasekera aided by his deputies protected the Mace from the invaders.

Minister Samaraweera’s introduction to the bill was seconded by TNA MP MA Sumanthiran. JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake, too, spoke while Joint Opposition MPs remained in the Well shouting slogans.

At the end of MP Ratnayake’s speech, Speaker Jayasuriya asked whether the Joint Opposition MPs would participate in the debate or not and if they intended to do so to take their seats. However, since none of the JO MPs taking the opportunity to participate in the debate, Speaker Jayasuriya called on the Leader of the House to move the for the next item. So Minister Kiriella said that second reading of the bill was over and moved the House for committee stage for the third reading of the bill. As the government read out its amendments, the JO MPs shouted slogans. The bill was passed with amendments and the entire process took place within less than two hours.

THREE. National Peace Council: OMO is part of a Process of Transitional Justice, 12 August 2016

The passage of the Office of Missing Persons bill (OMP), albeit in controversial circumstances in Parliament, augers well for the forward movement of the reconciliation process.  The National Peace Council welcomes the new law, and the legal foundation of the first of the four transitional justice mechanisms that the government has pledged to establish.  We are disappointed that the Joint Opposition members failed to cooperate with the parliamentary process, and refused to debate the new law according to the agreed schedule in parliament. It was unfortunate that those who were human rights champions in the 1980 and 1990s, and widely admired for this, displayed their opposition to OMP by word and deed.

The underlying rationale of the OMP is that people need to know what happened to their loved ones so that they can stop the endless search for them.  It is to help them to end the search, and to bring closure to that open wound that exists in the body politic. The purpose of the OMP is to find out what happened to those missing that stretch back decades and the insurrections that took place in the South of the country and were bloodily suppressed.  The OMP law constitutes the maximum effort that the Sri Lankan state can take to find out where they are if they are living and if not living what happened to them.  This is why evidence that is not admissible in courts of law is admissible in the OMP investigation.  This is also why evidence that is confidential is permissible, which even the Right to Information Act cannot access.

We note that the OMP is a very important element of the country’s transitional justice process and the set of institutions and measures outlined the government.   But it is only one part of the process of transitional justice. After the successful passage of the OMP bill in parliament, government spokespersons have said that the government would set up a Truth Commission, a judicial mechanism to deal with accountability (and punishment) issues and an office of reparations.  We believe that these additional mechanisms that the government has still to set up will offer more avenues for truth and accountability seeking.   Truth, justice and reconciliation will be delivered via the totality of these bodies, and not just the OMP.  We call on the government, opposition and society at large to cooperate in the implementation of the OMP and the setting up of the other transitional justice mechanisms so that the past does not stand in the way of Sri Lanka’s future as a just, peaceful and developed society.

Governing Council, National Peace Council

 

 

 

The National Peace Council is an independent and non partisan organization that works towards a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. It has a vision of a peaceful and prosperous Sri Lanka in which the freedom, human rights and democratic rights of all the communities are respected. The policy of the National Peace Council is determined by its Governing Council of 20 members who are drawn from diverse walks of life and belong to all the main ethnic and religious communities in the country.

 

 

 

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Filed under accountability, historical interpretation, legal issues, life stories, LTTE, politIcal discourse, security, self-reflexivity, Sinhala-Tamil Relations, social justice, sri lankan society, Tamil civilians, the imaginary and the real, TNA, truth as casualty of war, vengeance, war crimes, war reportage, welfare & philanthophy, world events & processes

3 responses to “Missing Persons: Institutionalization of Fact Finding via OMP

  1. Pingback: Groundviews on Disappearances and the OMP | Thuppahi's Blog

  2. Pingback: The Missing in Lanka: An Old Bibliography … Further Supplemented | Thuppahi's Blog

  3. Pingback: Disappearances and Torture in Lanka, 2009-16: A Bibliography | Thuppahi's Blog

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