The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances (ICPAPED) is an international human rights instrument of the United Nations. This Convention aims to prevent forced disappearances defined in international law and crimes against humanity. According to the Convention an ‘Enforced Disappearance’ is defined as ‘the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.’
A monument build in Raddolugama in memory of those gone missing during the insurgency in the 1980s
Sri Lanka signed the Convention on December 10, 2015 and the Government ratified it on May 25, 2016. Hence a Bill was proposed to criminalise Enforced Disappearances in the Sri Lanka Penal Code. While Sri Lanka has a significant record of missing persons the establishment of this Bill as well as the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has given some hope to the families as well as to all citizens if there are such occurrences in the future. But the Premier himself said that this Bill would have no retrospective effect and would only relate to incidents that happen in the future. But taking a new turn, the debate which was scheduled for last Thursday (September 21) was postponed in the face of objections from the Joint Opposition (JO) and several other factions. In an attempt to weigh the pros and cons of passing the Bill, the spoke to a few concerned factions:
“We need to know the truth”
Speaking to the , Sandya Eknaligoda, wife of disappeared journalist and cartoonist Prageeth Eknaligoda, said that when the President assumed power he promised to serve justice to the families of the missing persons. “He gave hopes to all mothers whose children, spouses and relatives went missing. But today he has forgotten about the promise. Although the OMP has been discussed upon, to date there has been no progress. I remember him telling that he will introduce a special investigation to probe in to the cases of Prageeth and Lasantha Wickrematunga. What would these investigations entail? He has to have discussions with the families, but that hasn’t happened. A missing certificate was issued on certain instances, but a piece of paper isn’t what these families need. They need to know the truth. If their family members were killed, please tell them who their killers were or what happened to them. Some of these people were forcibly recruited by the LTTE while others had to hand them over to the Army because they were suspects. I would like to know what’s happening with the investigations referring to Prageeth and Lasantha? When will we be able to find out the truth? As a result of delaying the legal process the children of these families will face challenges with regard to their education and the future. Who will take care of them when their caretakers are no more? We need answers to these questions,”she said.
A missing certificate was issued on certain instances, but a piece of paper isn’t what these families need
“If soldiers have committed crimes they too should be punished”
- Brito Fernando
Brito Fernando, President of the Families of the Disappeared, said that there was a promise to ensure justice to those who went missing during the 1989 JVP insurrection. “This task should have been done by Mahinda Rajapakse, but the setting up of the OMP was delayed due to various influences. No mercy should be shown to the people who were responsible for those who were handed over. They said the Office would be setup on October 21, but there are no signs as yet. But the OMP will not be the sole solution to the issue. It is the first step. During the ’89 Insurrection, when JVP supporters went missing, MR appeared for the case, but I would like to know whom he supported? If any of the soldiers have committed any crime they have to be punished. But today, some of the Army personnel are even sent overseas. The discussions were postponed and now the debate on Enforced Disappearances too was postponed. In order to play safe, sometime back they issued a death certificate to the families, but after staging protests we were able to convince them to issue a missing certificate. If they are dead, the families need proof, but if they aren’t how can they prove that these people are dead?” inquired Fernando.
Speaking further Fernando said that some time back, people were forcefully issued with the death certificate. And because they had no other option, they had to take it. “Not everybody is willing to receive money in place of a missing person, but the families of persons that had disappeared during the ’89 insurrection were offered some money. My request is to establish the Office and implement its procedures. Appoint commissioners and probe in to the incidents. I remember the Government allocating a budget for the Office as well. Branches of these offices should be setup in the North, East and the South. They should be made independent and all transactions should be transparent,” Fernando said.
During the ’89 Insurrection, when JVP supporters went missing, MR appeared for the case, but I would like to know whom he supported?
“Anybody in the right frame of mind would support this Bill”
- Sunil Handunnetti
Airing his views with regard to this decision, JVP MP Sunil Handunnetti said that he supports the Bill on Enforced Disappearances. “It would serve justice in case a person goes missing in future. But the sad part is that they aren’t keen on ensuring justice to these people at least in the future. So there’s no point in talking about the abductions and the cases of missing persons which happened during the JVP Insurrection. That truly is a lost cause. We also like to know what happened to our leaders and JVP supporters during that time, but many of them may not even be alive. Personally I would be happy if such a Bill exists because if I go missing in the future, my wife and children will be ensured justice. Hence anybody in the right frame of mind would support this Bill. Those who oppose this maybe having plans to send more people into the missing list in future,”opined Handunnetti.
‘Certain clauses in the Bill go against the sovereignty of the State’
- Dinesh Gunawardena
Joint Opposition Leader and MP Dinesh Gunawardena said that the JO opposed the debate because certain clauses in the Convention go against the sovereignty of the State. “Hence we have objected to many clauses in the OMP Act as well. We have also stood up against certain clauses in the Geneva Resolution which contradicts and go against matters of sovereignty and supremacy of the Constitution. Many countries including the US and Canada too have opposed to the setting up of the ICPAPED Bill. Certain other countries have amended it to support their constitutional legislations as well. Hence our position is clear on this matter. If not, our heroic forces and the victory against terrorism may also be held back. The statement made by the Prime Minister that this Bill is for the future too is not the truth. They are painting a rosy picture when the situation is much more serious than what is shown by the PM or the NGOs,”said Gunawardena.