In the wake of the Office of Missing Persons Bill being passed in Parliament, Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera said the Government would go ahead with the setting up of a judicial mechanism to hear accountability issues.
He said the new legislation would provide for the setting up of a Truth Commission next month to ascertain the circumstances under which people went missing.
Addressing a hurriedly summoned news conference, the minister said the new legislation fulfilled the commitment made to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and was in line with the mandate received by President Maithripala Sirisena.
He said there were conflicting figures with regard to the number of people gone missing under various circumstances and that it was important to confirm the actual number. The minister said the ICRC, in its latest report, had placed the number at 16,008, the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances at 12,000 and the Paranagama Commission at 24,000.
Of the number mentioned by the UN Working Group, he said 5,100 were from the security forces.
"This is not a judicial mechanism. It is a truth seeking mechanism. It will trace the fate of those who went missing and the circumstances in which it happened," the minister said adding that the Office of Missing Persons would recommend measures to avoid disappearances in the future.
He said funds would be raised from internal and external sources and the latter would be channeled through the External Resources Department of the Central Bank. He said foreign experts might be consulted by the OMP when carrying out its duties and pointed out that it would have accesses to any of the detention centres without prior notice.
The minister said an amendment by the JVP to notify the police within 48 hours after such a visit was incorporated in the Bill and added that one of the clauses provided for the protection of confidentiality of those giving information. (Kelum Bandara and Yohan Perera)