Sri Lanka: operationalize the Office on Missing Persons and establish transitional justice mechanisms without further delay

On the one-year anniversary of the enactment of a law establishing the Office on Missing Persons (OMP), the ICJ called on the Sri Lankan Government to swiftly operationalize the Office.

The ICJ also urged the Government to set up other transitional justice mechanisms it committed to in the context of a key 2015 UN Human Rights Council resolution, without further delay.

On 23 August 2016, the OMP Act received the Speaker’s assent and became law. Even after one year, however, the Office has not been operationalized.

Organizations have reportedly made the claim that the President has unconstitutionally allocated the subject of the OMP to himself.

The Government’s failure to follow Constitutional provisions when setting up an important office such as the OMP, which has a permanent mandate to search and trace the whereabouts of “missing persons”, leaves the office exposed to future uncertainty- a move that affected communities can ill afford after a long and unjustifiable delay in setting up the OMP, the ICJ notes.

“The delay has already resulted in affected communities losing hope and faith in the Government’s transitional justice agenda, as is evident by continuous protests in the North,” said Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia and Pacific Director.

The ICJ noted that in September 2015, the Government of Sri Lanka made a promise to the people of Sri Lanka and the international community, to initiate a process of reconciliation which “involves addressing the broad areas of truth seeking, justice, reparations and non-recurrence and for non-recurrence to become truly meaningful, the necessity of reaching a political settlement that addresses the grievances of the Tamil people”.

In the context of UN Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, adopted 1 October 2015, the Government of Sri Lanka made a commitment to establish four main transitional justice mechanisms, a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, an Office on Missing Persons, an Office for Reparations and a Judicial Mechanism with a Special Counsel, amongst numerous other reforms.

Almost two years since these promises were made, only one mechanism, the OMP, has been established by law.

In March 2017, the need for implementation of these commitments related to reconciliation, accountability and human rights were reaffirmed, and a comprehensive report, followed by a discussion on the implementation of Council resolution 30/1, is due at the Human Rights Council’s 40th session in March 2019.

The Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF), a panel of 11 independent eminent persons appointed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, publicly released its final report on 3 January 2017.

The report already outlines structures and recommendations for the promised mechanisms based on country-wide consultations.

The ICJ called on the government of Sri Lanka to implement Task Force recommendations to deliver justice for victims of human rights abuse.

“The Government of Sri Lanka should make public its plans and drafts for the proposed mechanisms based on consultations, as well as a timeline for when it hopes to establish them, in order to stop further erosion of faith by the affected communities,” Rawski added.

In February, President Sirisena affirmed that he will prioritize Constitutional Reform over Transitional Justice-related reforms adding that there is a need to foster support for Transitional Justice amongst all communities.

The linkages between the two reform processes are many and one process cannot be seen independent of the other.

There is, however, very little progress on either front or a broad-based campaign to garner support for transitional justice, the ICJ said.

Two years into its tenure, the Government of Sri Lanka must take stock of its commitments and forge ahead with its reform agenda before the increasingly negative perception of the Government compromises the change it pledged and incumbency fatigue sets in, the ICJ added.

“The Government must act, and act now, to stop the disconnect between the hopes of affected communities and the lack of substantive progress of the transitional justice agenda from growing further, and deliver on its commitments before the opportunity for progressive reform is lost for good,” Rawski added.


Frederick Rawski, ICJ’s Asia Pacific Regional Director (Bangkok), e: frederick.rawski(a)

Thyagi Ruwanpathirana, ICJ’s National Legal Advisor (Sri Lanka), e: thyagi.ruwanpathirana(a)

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