The South Asian Centre for Legal Studies was founded with the objective of advancing Transitional Justice and the global rule of law in Sri Lanka.

In the media

In the Media - April 2018

10 May 2018
In the Media - April 2018

Intially featured as part of the April 2018 TJ Bulletin, available here. ‘Right of reply: Why the GoSL Sponsored Resolution 30/1’ Daily Mirror on...

In the Media - March 2018

02 April 2018
In the Media - March 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - March 2018, available here.   UPDATE: Flip-Flopping on Accountability – A Timeline’ Raisa Wi...

In the Media - February 2018

01 March 2018
In the Media - February 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - February 2018, available here.   ‘Government Fast tracks OMP Operation Ahead of UNHRC Sessions’&n...

நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

08 April 2017
நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

2009 ஆம் ஆண்டு யுத்தம் முடிவடைந்ததையடுத்து, யுத்தகாலத்தில் இடம்பெற்ற விடயங்கள் சம்பந்தமாக வகைப்பொறுப்பு கூறுவதற்கும் அத்துடன் நல்லிணக்கத்தை தோற்றுவிப்...

FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

23 March 2017
FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

On March 24th, human rights activists and victims’ groups worldwide will commemorate International Day for the Dignity of Victims, in honour of victim...

AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTE...

17 March 2017
AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTECTION ACTIVITIES: PART III

Organisational structures for witness protection Structurally, witness protection programmes could exist in a number of different forms. Countries oft...

OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTI...

16 March 2017
OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION WITHIN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: PART II

The previous article in this serial titled Contextualising Victim and Witness Protection for Transitional Justice discussed three key considerations w...

CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR...

14 March 2017
CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE - PART I

Introduction Since the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been pushed to address issues relating to wartime accountability and reconciliation withi...

The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

22 February 2017
The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

Unless we evolve substantive way to talk about justice for atrocity crimes, the emotive aspects of the debate will continue to take precedence with ve...

உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்ப...

18 February 2017
உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்படுத்துவது நீதியை மறுப்பதற்காகவா?

ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மனித உரிமைகள் பேரவையின் அமர்விற்கு இன்னமும் ஒரு மாதகாலத்திற்கு சற்றே அதிகமான காலப்பகுதியே இருக்கின்றது. இந்த அமர்வில் ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மன...

நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

18 January 2017
நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

இலங்கை, நல்லாட்சி ​அரசாங்கத்தின் இரண்டாவது வருடத்தை கடந்துள்ள இத்தருணத்தில் மனிதர்களுக்கெதிரான அட்டூழியங்கள் நிறைந்த குற்றச்செயல்கள் சார்ந்ததாக வகைபொற...

Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan...

22 September 2016
Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan Law: The Need for Legislative Reform

 In a paper published recently, Eleanor Vermunt and I argued that international crimes must be incorporated into Sri Lankan law with retroactive...

« »

In the media

In the Media - April 2018

10 May 2018
In the Media - April 2018

Intially featured as part of the April 2018 TJ Bulletin, available here. ‘Right of reply: Why the GoSL Sponsored Resolution 30/1’ Daily Mirror on...

In the Media - March 2018

02 April 2018
In the Media - March 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - March 2018, available here.   UPDATE: Flip-Flopping on Accountability – A Timeline’ Raisa Wi...

In the Media - February 2018

01 March 2018
In the Media - February 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - February 2018, available here.   ‘Government Fast tracks OMP Operation Ahead of UNHRC Sessions’&n...

நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

08 April 2017
நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

2009 ஆம் ஆண்டு யுத்தம் முடிவடைந்ததையடுத்து, யுத்தகாலத்தில் இடம்பெற்ற விடயங்கள் சம்பந்தமாக வகைப்பொறுப்பு கூறுவதற்கும் அத்துடன் நல்லிணக்கத்தை தோற்றுவிப்...

FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

23 March 2017
FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

On March 24th, human rights activists and victims’ groups worldwide will commemorate International Day for the Dignity of Victims, in honour of victim...

AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTE...

17 March 2017
AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTECTION ACTIVITIES: PART III

Organisational structures for witness protection Structurally, witness protection programmes could exist in a number of different forms. Countries oft...

OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTI...

16 March 2017
OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION WITHIN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: PART II

The previous article in this serial titled Contextualising Victim and Witness Protection for Transitional Justice discussed three key considerations w...

CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR...

14 March 2017
CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE - PART I

Introduction Since the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been pushed to address issues relating to wartime accountability and reconciliation withi...

The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

22 February 2017
The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

Unless we evolve substantive way to talk about justice for atrocity crimes, the emotive aspects of the debate will continue to take precedence with ve...

உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்ப...

18 February 2017
உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்படுத்துவது நீதியை மறுப்பதற்காகவா?

ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மனித உரிமைகள் பேரவையின் அமர்விற்கு இன்னமும் ஒரு மாதகாலத்திற்கு சற்றே அதிகமான காலப்பகுதியே இருக்கின்றது. இந்த அமர்வில் ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மன...

நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

18 January 2017
நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

இலங்கை, நல்லாட்சி ​அரசாங்கத்தின் இரண்டாவது வருடத்தை கடந்துள்ள இத்தருணத்தில் மனிதர்களுக்கெதிரான அட்டூழியங்கள் நிறைந்த குற்றச்செயல்கள் சார்ந்ததாக வகைபொற...

Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan...

22 September 2016
Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan Law: The Need for Legislative Reform

 In a paper published recently, Eleanor Vermunt and I argued that international crimes must be incorporated into Sri Lankan law with retroactive...

« »

In the media

In the Media - April 2018

10 May 2018
In the Media - April 2018

Intially featured as part of the April 2018 TJ Bulletin, available here. ‘Right of reply: Why the GoSL Sponsored Resolution 30/1’ Daily Mirror on...

In the Media - March 2018

02 April 2018
In the Media - March 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - March 2018, available here.   UPDATE: Flip-Flopping on Accountability – A Timeline’ Raisa Wi...

In the Media - February 2018

01 March 2018
In the Media - February 2018

Initially featured as part of the TJ Bulletin - February 2018, available here.   ‘Government Fast tracks OMP Operation Ahead of UNHRC Sessions’&n...

நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

08 April 2017
நிலைமாறுகால நீதியை நிலைநாட்டுவதிலுள்ள சவால்கள்

2009 ஆம் ஆண்டு யுத்தம் முடிவடைந்ததையடுத்து, யுத்தகாலத்தில் இடம்பெற்ற விடயங்கள் சம்பந்தமாக வகைப்பொறுப்பு கூறுவதற்கும் அத்துடன் நல்லிணக்கத்தை தோற்றுவிப்...

FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

23 March 2017
FORGETTING THE PAST: A WARNING

On March 24th, human rights activists and victims’ groups worldwide will commemorate International Day for the Dignity of Victims, in honour of victim...

AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTE...

17 March 2017
AUTONOMY AND DECENTRALIZATION WITHIN WITNESS PROTECTION ACTIVITIES: PART III

Organisational structures for witness protection Structurally, witness protection programmes could exist in a number of different forms. Countries oft...

OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTI...

16 March 2017
OPERATIONAL MODELS FOR VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION WITHIN TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE: PART II

The previous article in this serial titled Contextualising Victim and Witness Protection for Transitional Justice discussed three key considerations w...

CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR...

14 March 2017
CONTEXTUALIZING VICTIM AND WITNESS PROTECTION FOR TRANSITIONAL JUSTICE - PART I

Introduction Since the end of the war in 2009, Sri Lanka has been pushed to address issues relating to wartime accountability and reconciliation withi...

The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

22 February 2017
The problem with ‘justice as reconciliation’

Unless we evolve substantive way to talk about justice for atrocity crimes, the emotive aspects of the debate will continue to take precedence with ve...

உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்ப...

18 February 2017
உண்மையை கண்டறியும் ஆணைக்குழு: அரசாங்கம் முதன்மைப்படுத்துவது நீதியை மறுப்பதற்காகவா?

ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மனித உரிமைகள் பேரவையின் அமர்விற்கு இன்னமும் ஒரு மாதகாலத்திற்கு சற்றே அதிகமான காலப்பகுதியே இருக்கின்றது. இந்த அமர்வில் ஐக்கிய நாடுகள் மன...

நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

18 January 2017
நீதி இல்லாமல் நிலைமாறுகால நீதியா?

இலங்கை, நல்லாட்சி ​அரசாங்கத்தின் இரண்டாவது வருடத்தை கடந்துள்ள இத்தருணத்தில் மனிதர்களுக்கெதிரான அட்டூழியங்கள் நிறைந்த குற்றச்செயல்கள் சார்ந்ததாக வகைபொற...

Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan...

22 September 2016
Incorporating International Crimes into Sri Lankan Law: The Need for Legislative Reform

 In a paper published recently, Eleanor Vermunt and I argued that international crimes must be incorporated into Sri Lankan law with retroactive...

« »
In the Media

This article was initially published in the Daily Mirror on 03/05/2018, and can be accessed here

A Response to Sunil Chandrakumara’s interview which was published on the April 6th issue of the Daily Mirror: Legal and Factual Clarifications M. Fernando, Z. Husain, N. Jayakody.

On the 6th of April, the Daily Mirror published an interview with Global Sri Lankan Forum’s (GSLF) President, Sunil Chandrakumara. The interview was about GSLFs involvement in the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) process and Sri Lanka’s transitional justice agenda more broadly. This interview had numerous contentious statements, but in this response, we will focus on legal and factual errors made by Chandrakumara concerning UNHRC Resolution 30/1 and the OISL report, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances Act (Enforced Disappearance Act), and the Office on Missing Persons (OMP).

Resolution 30/1 and OISL report


Chandrakumara makes several misleading claims about Resolution 30/1 and the OISL report. He firstly claims that Government sponsorship of 30/1 was ‘anti-national’. However, by co-sponsoring 30/1 the Government of Sri Lanka took ownership of its own post-conflict processes, demonstrating domestic control over matters that would otherwise remain international. This includes control over processes that may have international participation. This is evidenced further as 30/1 reaffirms its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. Additionally, by sponsoring 30/1 the Government was able to affirm Sri Lanka’s place as a ‘responsible, confident and peaceful nation’ among the community of nations. This is necessary for the country to acquire tangible economic gains as well as socio-political benefits, such as Sri Lanka’s recent reentry into the GSP+ system. Therefore, the Sri Lankan Government’s co-sponsoring of 30/1 and the commitment to its goals cannot be viewed as anti-national. Though Chandrakumara did not define what he meant by ‘anti-national’, the definition for ‘pro-national’ we are using here are processes that allow for the domestic ownership of post-conflict measures, and that are in the best interest of all Sri Lankans.

Chandrakumara also goes on to claim that the Government acknowledged ‘false allegations’ in Resolution 30/1, as the OISL report included biased assumptions and followed ‘non-standard practices’. For example, he claims there was a lack of verification of the evidence and witness testimonies, and that the report’s conclusions were therefore ill-founded. In fact, the OISL report adhered to an internationally recognised legal framework for investigations. The report was mandated to include incidents where there were reasonable grounds to believe the incident occurred with sufficiently corroborated information. Secondly, the investigators organised comprehensive witness interviews from victims in 11 countries; and reviewed 3000 written statements and submissions, audio-visual and satellite materials and other relevant information from various sources including public reports, Government statements, military statements and authentic unpublished official documents. Should there be any shortcomings in the report, it may be because the report was constrained by non-cooperation from the Government of Sri Lanka, lack of access to
Sri Lanka and protection concerns for victims and witnesses.

Chandrakumara then moves to mischaracterize the work of the OMP. He states that ‘this special office has been established to investigate complaints received from the Northern and the Eastern provinces.’

Enforced Disappearance Act


Chandrakumara then goes on to make assertions about Sri Lanka’s recent Enforced Disappearances Act. He argues that the Act is against national interest. The Act criminalises all forms of deprivation of liberty where these acts of deprivation have not been disclosed or have been concealed. This legislation aims to tackle Sri Lanka’s legacy of enforced disappearances that have plagued all communities since the mid 1980s and its ‘white van culture’, as well as ensure that all Sri Lankans can live without fear of these acts. This cannot be against the national interest!

Chandrakumara also argues that the Act undermines state sovereignty. However, the Act authorises Sri Lankan institutions to investigate, prosecute and try cases of enforced disappearances. An Act that empowers Sri Lankan institutions cannot threaten state sovereignty. While the Act does leave room for Sri Lankan nationals to be extradited to third countries, legal commentators have argued that such a scenario is highly unlikely when the domestic courts themselves have jurisdiction to try these matters. To illustrate, despite Sri Lanka’s Convention Against Torture Act already providing for extradition of Sri Lankan nationals to third countries to be tried for the offence of torture, no Sri Lankan has been extradited by the authorities to date. This is because domestic courts have the capacity to try these offenders locally.

The interviewee further claims that the Act will be used to punish the ‘political leadership’ that oversaw the conclusion of the war. The Act stipulates that the law shall only come into force on the date of certification. It does not have retroactive applicability, meaning that only cases of enforced disappearance committed after the law entered into force in March 2018 are prosecutable. Finally, Chandrakumara makes reference to commissioners who have been appointed to oversee this specific Act. Here, Chandrakumara has confused the OMP with the Enforced Disappearances Act - two distinct legal instruments. The responsibility for prosecuting alleged perpetrators for crimes that occur in Sri Lanka under the Enforced Disappearance Act rests with local prosecutors and not with OMP commissioners, who can only pass on relevant information they have to prosecuting authorities, where it is in consultation with relatives of the victims and in their best interest.

Office on Missing Persons


Chandrakumara then moves to mischaracterize the work of the OMP. He states that ‘this special office has been established to investigate complaints received from the Northern and the Eastern provinces.’ This is a misconstruction of the OMP Act since it does not restrict the OMP to receiving or investigating complaints from only these two provinces. In fact, individuals or organisations from any province in Sri Lanka can submit a complaint to the OMP about a person who has gone missing during the ethnic conflict (including members of the armed forces and police), a period of political unrest, civil disturbance or due to an enforced disappearance.

The interviewee also makes this assertion on the unfounded basis that the OMP commissioners would be biased and only select complaints received from the North and East for further investigations. This is incorrect. The OMP Act makes it clear that the OMP commissioners are unlikely to exercise absolute discretion when selecting complaints for further investigations. The OMP Act has guidelines which suggest that priority would need to be given to missing persons cases that have occurred most recently, have substantial existing evidence or are of public importance. Furthermore, it is not in the interest of the commissioners to act in such a biased and irrational manner as their decisions can be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Finally, statements made by the OMP Chairman, and the OMP Act indicate that the OMP is likely to rely on the findings of previous Commissions of Inquiry that looked at enforced disappearances. Therefore, it is very likely that the findings of the three Zonal Commissions of Inquiry, which inquired into enforced disappearances during the 1988/1989 JVP-youth insurrection, would also be considered by the OMP when carrying out its investigations. As such, the interviewee’s assertion about the OMP commissioners being biased in favour of complaints received from the Northern and Eastern Provinces is legally and factually unfounded.

In sum, many of Chandrakumara’s statements have little foundation in fact and law. While Chandrakumara is correct in stating that not all discourses at the UNHRC are helpful to Sri Lanka, his own misrepresentations of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict processes also threaten to undermine the country’s collective goal towards justice and accountability for all communities.

Published in Blog

This article was originally featured in our April 2018 TJ Bulletin, available here.

The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) began its operational work this month by calling for applications to twelve staff positions. This is undoubtedly a positive development which should be part of a broader strategy to systematically operationalize the Office.


As a first step, the OMP Commissioners must deliberate and decide on the OMP’s overall structure. The OMP Act only provides for a basic structure and empowers the Commissioners to create additional divisions/units to supplement the entities provided for by the Act. Any new entities should help the OMP perform its functions under the Act. SACLS has − in its previous work − recommended that a policy unit, outreach unit and psychosocial unit be established since the OMP is required to make policy recommendations relevant to its mandate to authorities, liaise closely with families of missing persons/reach out to the public and provide psychosocial support to relatives of missing persons. In addition, the tracing unit – which is central to the OMP’s mandate – must have specific sub-units within it to handle (a) data gathering, (b) data analysis and management and (c) the archiving and storage of evidence. To a large extent, the OMP’s investigative strategy at a particular point of time will determine the staffing of a particular sub-unit and the finances that are channeled towards it. For example, depending on whether the OMP decides to opt for DNA led or traditional methods to identify human remains, the amount of funding, the type of staff training and the database used to centralize and process the data/evidence would differ.


Once the overall structure of the Office and an investigative strategy has been devised, staff recruitment could be tinkered to suit the OMP’s strategic needs. In particular, the Office will have to gradually streamline its recruitment by adopting internal rules which specify the broad principles (non-discrimination, gender parity, national languages competence etc) that would govern the hiring process and the general skills and competencies expected for each staff position. Moreover, establishing a process to thoroughly vet individuals recruited to the OMP will be essential to build and safeguard public confidence in the Office as it begins its work.


As soon as the OMP establishes these early parameters and begins its investigations, the manner in which it interacts with relatives of missing persons will determine its success. In terms of the Act, the OMP is required to provide relatives information about the progress of an investigation unless providing this information would hinder the on-going investigation or not be in the best interest of the missing person. Since these caveats are very broad and confer wide discretion on the OMP officers, the OMP’s internal rules must clarify the criteria that will be used to determine whether a case falls within these exceptions and also designate the type of officer who would be responsible for providing the relatives progress updates. Greater procedural certainty will be essential to sustain the trust of relatives who have had to endure decades of broken undertakings from different processes. In similar vein, the OMP is required to provide a report to the relatives of missing persons at the conclusion of an investigation. Where a missing person is deceased or his whereabouts are unascertainable, the Office must inform the missing person’s relatives of the circumstances in which he or she went missing and of his or her fate. If a missing person’s whereabouts have been ascertained, the Office is under a duty to inform the relatives about the circumstances under which such person went missing and his or her whereabouts, provided that the missing person consents.
Each of these duties is subject to the OMP’s confidentiality obligation. Therefore many relatives of missing persons may have concerns that the OMP could withhold such information on the grounds of confidentiality. Therefore the OMP’s internal rules must clarify that confidentiality would extend to witness information only if it has been fairly determined that such confidentiality is absolutely necessary to protect the witness’ safety. In every other situation, the full extent of witness information should be shared with relatives whilst only protecting the witness’ identity if necessary.


Many of the OMP’s crucial first steps such as planning, adopting schemes of recruitment and compiling internal rules will take a fair amount of time. The OMP must link with relatives of missing persons and the wider public in the interim and offer them a fair, honest and time bound plan of action that effectively manages expectations.

Published in Blog