JULY 2018

TJ INSIGHT

The Office for Reparations Bill was placed on the Order Paper of Parliament this month. Immediately thereafter, a petition was presented to the Supreme Court by an interested party challenging the constitutionality of the said Bill. Information available in the public domain indicates that the Bill is being challenged on the basis that certain clauses purport to transfer executive power from the President of Sri Lanka to the Prime Minister, Speaker and Leader of the Opposition and that the Bill impinges on the Sri Lankan Parliament’s control over public finance. The Supreme Court is expected to make its determination on the Bill during the first week of August. Various civil society organizations as well as the TNA have expressed disappointment in the Bill and concerns about decision-making powers regarding reparations policies being left to the Cabinet of Ministers and Parliament.
Meanwhile, the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) continued with its regional outreach meetings; with the latest being held in Jaffna and Kilinochchi during the 14th and 15th of July. The meeting in Jaffna reflected the polarisation of opinions about the OMP, with some families of missing persons electing to engage with the Office with others protesting vehemently outside the meeting places stating that they have no faith in the OMP. Also this month, newspapers reported about the discovery of skeletal remains of 55 persons in a mass grave that was being excavated in Mannar since March this year. With reports also emerging about a possible closure of the excavation site due to lack of government funding and support, the OMP’s intention to intervene in the Mannar mass grave excavation is to be welcomed. The OMP also received over 13 000 files on missing persons from the Ministry of National Integration and Reconciliation this month. It is therefore essential that the OMP sets up data management processes to collate, consolidate and organize this and other information efficiently and speedily.
Finally, the report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights while countering terrorism relating to his mission to Sri Lanka last year was released this month. One of the more startling revelations of this report was complaints of torture and ill-treatment of persons detained under the PTA even after late 2016.The Special Rapporteur also notes the slow pace of the implementation of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 and amplifies the call made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights last September for UN member states to exercise of universal jurisdiction in relation to international crimes allegedly committed in Sri Lanka.

WHAT’S NEW
ARTICLES
• ‘A Daunting Journey Home for Lankan Refugees’ by Mimi Alphonsus, Sunday Observer on 29/7/2018

• ‘Sri Lankan reform has 'ground to a halt' with torture used freely – UN’ by Patrick Wintour, the Guardian on 23/7/2018 

• ‘Demilitarise North as gesture of reconciliation: UN Rapporteur’ Daily Mirror on 25/7/2018

• ‘Concerns About Office for Reparations Bill’ by Dimuthu Attanayake, Sunday Observer on 22/7/2018

• ‘Reflections on July 1983: 35 Years On’ by Harim Peiris, Groundviews on 25/7/2018

• ‘Sri Lankan ‘war criminals’ deployed as UN peacekeepers’ by Mark Townsend, The Guardian on 21/7/2018

• ‘Sri Lanka remains a ‘Human Rights Priority Country’ for the UK’ The Sunday Leader, 16/7/2018

• ‘Sri Lanka: Deplorable threats against human rights defender’ Amnesty International on 26/7/2018

• ‘හානිපුර්ණය සඳහා වන කාර්යාලය ඵලදායී කරගැනීමට සිවිල් සමාජ යයෝජනා’ Samabima on 9/7/2018

• ‘rptpy; r%f mikg;Gf;fs; ,og;glP;Lf;fhd mYtyfk; njhlu;gpyhd rl;l%yj;jpy;; mf;fiw nfhz;Ls;sd’ Centre for Policy Alternatives on 9/7/2018

CIVIL SOCIETY RAISES CONCERNS WITH THE OFFICE FOR REPARATIONS BILL

The undersigned civil society activists and groups in Sri Lanka express our deep concern with aspects of the draft Bill titled ‘Office for Reparations’ (the Bill) gazetted on 25th June 2018. While the undersigned have several concerns with the process and content of the draft Bill, two issues regarding the powers and functions of the proposed Office stand out as the most pressing concerns. If these are not addressed forthwith, further engagement with the process will be moot. Therefore, we request amendments to the draft Bill to address these issues. We also urge any future action to be preceded by meaningful consultations on the content of the draft Bill allowing civil society and other stakeholders to make further submissions regarding other outstanding concerns.
Paramount concerns regarding the draft Bill are as follows:
1) The proposed Office has no decisional power with respect to policies and guidelines on reparations. In fact, policies and guidelines formulated by the proposed Office will only be adopted upon approval by the Cabinet of Ministers (clause 11(1)(g)). This unnecessary requirement of designating the Cabinet of Ministers as the key decision-maker on the adoption of reparations policies and guidelines is hugely problematic as the latter may delay or even refuse approving the recommended policies on reparations. It can also lead to cabinet approving policies and guidelines in an ad hoc manner, as done in the past, potentially undermining the coherence of the scheme proposed by the Office.
2) Furthermore, according to the draft Bill, policies and guidelines approved by the Cabinet of Ministers and authorizing the disbursement of funds must be placed before Parliament for its approval (clause 22(4)). This procedural requirement is unnecessary and redundant given that the proposed Office has its own Fund for the carrying out of its mandate. Therefore, this adds another unnecessary layer of Parliamentary oversight and thereby further dilutes the Office’s input on reparations policies and guidelines.

These two clauses are cause for grave concern as they take away any decision-making power from the proposed Office regarding the adoption of reparations policies and guidelines. In essence, the inclusion of such problematic clauses reduces the proposed Office to a another bureaucratic layer in the adoption of policies, a far cry from what the proposed Office was meant to be in terms of defining and implementing reparations policies and programmes.

Reparations are a critical component to rebuild the lives of those whose rights have been violated. As such, if properly implemented, reparations will have a significant impact across Sri Lanka. However, for reparations to be transformative, they must be prompt, effective, and inclusive and the process must be transparent. Thus, an independent Office, free from political interference and vested with powers to define and implement reparations is essential. It is in this context that we call on the government to use this opportunity to fulfil their commitments made in 2015, taking note of the findings of the Consultations Task Force (CTF) and enact legislation establishing a mechanism that can fully address the needs of victims across Sri Lanka.

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