PM presents Draft Bill against Enforced Disappearance to Cabinet

A draft Bill to give effect to the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) has been presented to Cabinet by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe.

However, the Defence Ministry and the Ministry of Law and Order have proposed amendments that have been sent back to the Prime Minister’s office for consideration. The Ministries of Finance and of Justice had also made observations.

Earlier, Cabinet had granted approval for Sri Lanka to ratify the ICPPED and for a law to be drafted that would incorporate the Convention into domestic legislation. The current Bill is part of that process.

“At the last Cabinet meeting on December 20, it was decided to request the Secretary to the Prime Minister to have the proposed amendments included in the Bill, and for the draft to be resubmitted for consideration,” said an authoritative source.

The Sunday Times is in possession of a copy of the Draft bill. It ensures “the right to justice and reparation to victims of enforced disappearances”, among other things. Sri Lanka became a signatory to the ICPPED on December 10, 2015, and ratified the instrument in May, this year.

In its present form, the Bill states that, any public officer or person acting in an official capacity or, a person acting with authorisation, support or acquiescence of the State, who “arrests, detains, wrongfully confines, abducts, kidnaps or, in any other form deprives any other person of such person’s liberty; and refuses to acknowledge such arrest, detention, wrongful confinement, abduction, kidnapping or deprivation of liberty; or conceals the fate of such other person; or fails or refuses to disclose or is unable without valid excuse to disclose the subsequent or present whereabouts of such other person, shall be guilty of the offence of enforced disappearance”.

This is also applicable to a person who is not a public officer. Superiors are held liable for enforced disappearances in certain cases, such as when they know, or consciously disregard information which clearly indicates that subordinates were committing or about to commit an enforced disappearance or, fail to take necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or repress the commission of such offence, etcetera. The offences defined by the law would be non-bailable.

The Bill has a section on the rights of victims and relatives. It states, for instance, that every victim and relative of a victim “shall have the right to know the truth regarding the circumstances of an enforced disappearance, the progress and results of the investigation as are carried out by the law enforcement authorities and the fate of the disappeared person”.

They are also guaranteed the right to form and freely participate in organisations and associations concerned with attempting to establish the circumstances of offences and the fate of disappeared persons and to assist victims of offences.

And where there are reasonable grounds for believing that a person has been subjected to an offence, law enforcement authorities “shall undertake an investigation, even if there has been no formal complaint.”

The Bill holds that “no person shall be held in secret detention”. Any person deprived of liberty “shall have the right to communicate with and be visited by his relatives, Attorney-at-Law or any other person of his choice, subject only to the conditions established by written law”.

The Bill allows law enforcement authorities and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, access to places where persons are deprived of liberty. It obligates law enforcement authorities to compile and maintain up-to-date official registers or records of persons deprived of liberty, “which shall be made promptly available, upon request, to any judicial or other competent authority or institution authorised for that purpose by the law”.