House unites on ‘Missing Persons’ Bill facilitating ‘Certificates of Absence’

By Chandani Kirinde- Lobby Correspondent
The Government this week moved a step further in its efforts to provide relief to loved ones of thousands of persons reported missing in the country, as a result of the conflict which took place in the Northern and Eastern Provinces, or its aftermath as well, due to subversive activities, political unrest, civil disturbances and enforced disappearances.

This relief will come in the way of “Certificates of Absence” issued in lieu of a death certificate, until the circumstances of the disappearances of the persons are investigated and concluded. The Bill that provides for the issue of the certificates titled Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Bill was approved by Parliament on Thursday.

The certificate to be issued to the next-of-kin of those reported missing for over a year, will go a long way to enable them to apply for benefits under any social welfare scheme such as ‘samurdhi’, temporarily manage property and assets of the missing person, as well as act as a provisional guardian for dependent children of the missing person.

The Bill received unanimous approval from the House, unlike the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) legislation which Parliament approved earlier this month, amidst strong protests from MPs of the Joint Opposition (JO) group. But the usual misgivings harboured by JO members, that such laws are aimed at appeasing the international community and betraying the armed forces, were once more echoed in the House, as its members have chosen to view all activities of the Government with suspicion, some with good reason, others completely unfounded.

Minister of Foreign Affairs Mangala Samaraweera who participated in the debate on the Bill, said the question of missing persons must be eradicated forever and confined to the pages of history. Such legislation would help bring closure to thousands of people who live in the hope of seeing their loved ones someday.

“There are mothers in my electorate (Matara), whose children disappeared 30 years ago, but they still believe their loved ones are alive somewhere, and will comeback. Giving them closure is important, and this will go some way to help them,” he said.
The Minister said the country’s future generations should never have to face such a tragedies which the country experienced from time to time since independence, resulting in thousands of disappearances,” he said.

Tamil National List (TNA) MP M.A.Sumanthiran said that it is necessary to enable the surviving members of the families of those reported missing, to get on with their lives and move forward.

“Thousands of complaints had been made to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) by the next-of-kin of those reported missing during the conflict. More than 90% of complaints received by the LLRC related to persons who had gone missing over a period of time, most notably during the last stages of the war,” he said.

UPFA Colombo District MP Udaya Gammanpila said that, among those reported missing are a large number of persons who were abducted by the LTTE and eliminated, as well as those who fled the country as refugees due to the war and are now living abroad. However, all the laws are intended to trap the members of the armed forces who fought against terrorism.

“The LTTE’s Deputy Leader, Mahattaya was murdered by the Group’s leader, and he too is a missing person. Who is going to find out what happened to him and punish those who were involved in his disappearance?” Mr. Gammanpila questioned.
The JVP gave its nod of approval to the Bill, citing the need to bring closure to the families of thousands who went missing during the two JVP-led insurrections.

Home Affairs Minister Vajira Abeywardane who introduced the Bill to the House said that, irrespective of the race, religion or creed one belongs to, this Bill will protect the fundamental rights of all Sri Lankans.