Parliament to debate on Enforced Disappearances bill this week | Sunday Observer

Parliament to debate on Enforced Disappearances bill this week

The proposed draft legislation to criminalise forcible disappearances will be taken up for debate in Parliament this week, even as the country grapples with the legacy of 65,000 people still missing after two insurgencies and a 26-year civil war.

The draft Bill for Protection against Enforced Disappearances which was postponed twice in Parliament previously, has been rescheduled for debate this Wednesday, March 7, after which the Bill will be put to the vote, concluding a full day’s debate, Parliamentary sources told the Sunday Observer yesterday.

The Government presented the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances Bill in Parliament on March 7, 2017. The Bill was scheduled to be taken up for debate on July 5 and September 19 last year, but the Government deferred it due to objections from various groups.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in a letter addressed to President Maithripala Sirisena, last October, urged him to give leadership to enact the proposed Bill. The HRC letter signed by its Chairperson Dr. Deepika Udagama observed that this legislation is a positive step towards addressing the long history of disappearances in Sri Lanka and stemming impunity for human rights violations.

However, the Joint Opposition raised objections to the Bill, stating that it posed a threat to the security forces.

The Government clarified that the Bill was not retrospective and its main objective was to ensure that every Sri Lankan citizen enjoys the right to freedom to live without fear of being a victim of enforced disappearances or abductions.

The debate is likely to take a tumultuous turn if the debate goes through, much like the uproar in the House when the Office of Missing Persons Act was pushed through by the National Unity Government in August 2016. To pass the OMP Act the Government outmaneuvered the pro-Rajapaksa JO after it launched a sustained effort to obstruct proceedings and prevent the Bill’s passage in Parliament.

The International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance Bill was gazetted by order of the Prime Minister on February 9 following cabinet approval.

The Bill, if enacted on Tuesday, will give effect to the UN International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance that the Government of Sri Lanka ratified in May 2016. Under the convention, the country has an obligation to enact local laws to criminalise enforced disappearance and offer protection to victims of the crime.

According to Section 3 of the Bill, any public officer or person acting with the authority or support of the State, who “arrests, details, wrongfully confines, abducts, kidnaps” and refuses to acknowledge the arrest, detection, confinement or abduction, conceals the fate of such a person or refuses to disclose the person’s whereabouts, will be guilty of the crime of enforced disappearance.

Under the provisions of the Enforced Disappearances Bill, the crime is punishable by a prison term not exceeding 20 years and a fine of Rs. 1 million. Persons convicted of the crime of enforced disappearance will also be liable to pay compensation of no less than Rs. 500,000 to a victim.

The Enforced Disappearances Bill must be supported by a simple majority of the House to be enacted into law.


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