NJC alleges move to shield those living under false names

Prez, MPs urged to torpedo Missing Persons Bill


by Shamindra Ferdinando

The National Joint Committee (NJC) yesterday alleged that the Missing Persons (OMP) Bill would prevent revealing the identities of those who had been categorised as missing but found alive, and investigating them. Therefore, a major amendment to the controversial Bill was necessary, the NJC said.

Addressing the media at the National Library and Documentation Services Board, Gevindu Cumaratunga of behalf of the NJC pointed out that under Clause 13 the proposed Act, information pertaining to those who had been found alive after being reported missing couldn’t be revealed without their consent.

Sri Lanka had been blamed for thousands of disappearances during the conflict and therefore information pertaining to those living under various assumed identities in other countries must not be withheld, Cumaratunga said. The public activist said that even the relatives of those who had been found alive couldn’t be told the truth under the proposed Act.

"Could there be anything as unfair as various members of security arms being accused of disappearances while the very persons categorized as missing were living in other countries under assumed names?" Cumaratunga said.

President’s Counsel Manohara de Silva and former Digamadulla MP Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera (retd), President of NJC Dr Anula Wijewardene and Dimuth Gunawardena joined Cumaratunga in requesting President Maithripala Sirisena to prevent the passage of the Bill.

President’s Counsel De Silva alleged  that the proposed OMP would certainly cause Sri Lankans to be subjected to universal jurisdiction. The OMP was meant to target those who had served the country risking their lives and convict them either here or abroad, De Silva alleged, adding that the proposed mechanism would only deal with disappearances that had taken place within the Northern and Eastern Provinces.

According to De Silva, the foreign funded OMP wouldn’t be bound by the Constitution and, therefore, it could enter into agreements with foreign bodies. The President’s Counsel explained the operations which could be undertaken by the OMP much to the detriment of serving and retired military and police officers.

Responding to a query by The Island whether the OMP Bill required a two-thirds majority for passage, President’s Counsel De Silva said only a simple majority was needed.

The senior attorney-at-law De Silva said that due to the failure on their part the Bill had not been challenged in the Supreme Court within the stipulated period of seven days. The President’s Counsel said that members of the Joint Opposition, too, had failed to act thereby causing a grievous situation. The President’s Counsel asserted had the Supreme Court been moved within the stipulated time, the apex court would have intervened.

The NJC appealed to members of major political parties to discuss the proposed Bill within their parties and explore the possibility of doing away with clauses inimical to Sri Lanka. It urged members not to be deceived by those who had been promoting the interests of Western powers at the expense of national interests.

Cumaratunga emphasised that they wouldn’t oppose in anyway efforts to establish the whereabouts of those who had been reported missing during the war as well as post-conflict period.

The Foreign Ministry recently declared that Sri Lanka had one of the largest case-loads of missing persons in the world. The FM said that since 1994 various government Commissions had received over 65,000 complaints of missing persons.

Former MP Weerasekera said the agenda pursued by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration couldn’t be allowed to proceed. Praising Missing Persons Commission Chairman retired High Court judge Maxwell Paranagama for disputing a recent Geneva call for a special inquiry into allegations in respect of the alleged use of cluster munitions by the Sri Lanka Air Force, the naval veteran said that the war winning military was being humiliated.

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