A big step to clear minds, end the agony of
Office of Missing Persons sails through
The controversial Office of Missing Persons (OMP) Bill was passed in
Parliament on Thursday amid a pandemonium created by the Joint
attempts to disrupt the proceedings calling for the withdrawal of the
Bill, which they termed an attempt to penalise war heroes and the former
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, had a counter effect.
The Bill was to be debated for two days but due to the JO hullabaloo
the Bill was hurriedly passed without a vote, on the first day that it
was taken up for debate. The JVP criticised the action of the JO saying
it worked in tandem with the government to get the Bill passed without a
vote or a meaningful debate.
When the Bill is signed by the Speaker, it will become law and
President Maithripala Sirisena will take action to appoint members to
the Office of Missing Persons.
Legal experts affirmed, once a law is passed in Parliament there is
no way to challenge its validity or get it reviewed by the Supreme
Court. It has to be done before the Bill is taken up for debate in the
The setting up of the OMP, an office for reparations as well as the
issue of Certificates of Absence to the families of missing persons is
among the commitments undertaken by the Government under the UN Human
Rights Council resolutions adopted in September last year.
The JVP and the government presented six amendments to the Bill, the
chief of which is to block any direct foreign funding for the Office of
Missing Persons. This was one of the concerns of the opposition parties,
that this clause could give licence to international players to
manipulate the office according to their whims and fancies. Any funding
to the OMP, therefore, is to be channeled though the External Resources
Department of the Finance Ministry, which is subject to government
The Bill provides for the appointment of seven members, representing
all ethnicities to the Office of the Missing Persons headquartered in
Colombo. There will be regional offices if necessary to achieve its
The President is empowered to appoint the seven members including a
Chairman to the OMP on the recommendation of the Constitutional Council.
Their term of office will be three years. The appointed members should
have experience in fact finding, investigations, human rights law,
international humanitarian law and humanitarian response, among other
things. Its mandate is to search and trace missing persons, protect the
rights and interests of missing persons and their relatives, to ensure
non recurrence of such incidents and identify proper avenues of redress.
When the Bill was taken up for debate Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe
on behalf of the Government moved three amendments to the Bill.
Amendment to Clause 11
“Provided that such technical support and training shall be provided
within Sri Lanka and such programs shall be provided in consultation
with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”
Amendment to Clause 12 (f)
“Subject to authorization from the Magistrate having territorial
jurisdiction being obtained and in consultation with the Ministry of
Defence, the Ministry of Law and Order or the Ministry of Rehabilitation
and Prisons Reforms, whichever is applicable.”
Amendment to clause 21
“Provided that any such grants, gifts or endowments from the
international community shall only be solicited or accepted with the
concurrence of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”
The JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake also moved three amendments to the Bill on
behalf of his party. But the Parliament Secretary General Niel Iddawela
said only two of those have been incorporated into the Bill.
The JVP proposed to remove the Clause 11 (a) where it provides for
entering into agreements with local and foreign bodies for training, to
get information, technical assistance, etc.
They also proposed amendments to Clause 12 (f) which gives power to
the OMP to enter into places without a warrant – to add that the IGP
should be notified of such visits within 24 hours, and clause 21 which
gives powers to the OMP to raise funds – to remove the provisions that
empowers the OMP to obtain any grants, gifts or endowments from national
or international community.
Justice Minister Wijedasa Rajapakse told the Sunday Observer that the
Government is doing the groundwork to set up the OMP within the coming
weeks. The President is required to appoint the members to the OMP
within a fortnight after the Constitutional Council makes its
This Bill was to be taken up in Parliament in the latter part of the
month. It is believed the government, in consultation with the parties
would have advanced the debate so as to show progress at the UN Human
Rights Council sessions in September.
Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera making a speech after the Bill
was presented in Parliament said, this law is the first step in healing
our own nation and its people so that we could face the challenges of
the future as a united nation.
He said “every day, there are people in this country who go to sleep
at night, praying that their loved ones will return. There are mothers
who are paralyzed with grief; they are lost in time; unable to continue
with their day-to-day lives, worrying whether their sons, wherever they
may be, have enough food to eat, or whether they are being treated
alright; wondering how much they may have grown, or how much they may
have changed since they last saw them.
These people are torn between hope and despair, and are unable to
live meaningful lives.”
“When one sees a dead body, no matter how unbearable the pain of loss
may be, there is closure, because there is knowledge that one’s loved
one is no more.”
Minister Samaraweera said this will be the first attempt of this
nature not bound by time, ethnicity or geographic restrictions and the
OMP will be answerable only to Parliament and the people of Sri Lanka.
The functioning of the OMP is similar to any other commission such as
the Bribery Commission which has no punitive powers.
Former Rehabilitation Minister and Communist Party Leader D.E.W.
Gunasekera said, the Office of the Missing Persons is a prerequisite for
the reconciliation process.
“I don’t believe it is an attempt to chase after the military
personnel. They are also in suspense, they too need to free their
The former minister said, the purpose of this Office should be to
find the truth and what is being whipped up is unfounded fear. “I was
the Minister of Rehabilitation just after the war ended. I have met the
relatives of the missing persons, also the relatives of the members of
the LTTE. Their feelings are quite known to me.”
He said, this is where the State should step in and introduce a
mechanism so that this chapter for the missing persons’ relatives can be
closed once and for all. “Even to know they are dead would be a relief
JVP MP Vijitha Herath said, the OMP Bill fulfilled a long standing
requirement and they moved three amendments to put in order some of the
Criticizing the JO protest in Parliament and their demands Herath
said, MPs Vasudeva Nanayakakara and Ranjith Soysa served in the Sectoral
Oversight Committee on Legal Affairs where they agreed to the Bill
“They had no moral right to protest during the debate and try to
mislead the public. The JO was trying to play the communal card. We
totally reject and condemn their behaviour,”he said.
“Their sole intention was to sabotage the process and control the
work of Parliament. Their act only served the Government. If not for
their rowdy behaviour we could have asked for a vote and there could
have been a decent debate where important things could have been
UPFA Colombo district MP and joint opposition member Bandula
Gunawardena said this was the first step towards setting up a war crimes
tribunal to send the war heroes to the guillotine.
“The Bill was passed without listening to the Opposition voice, we
will fight this and abrogate this piece of law when we come into power,”