Sri Lanka withdraws bill to adopt international convention on enforced disappearances

Sri Lanka has withdrawn a bill to incorporate into domestic law an international convention that allows foreign countries to arrest, extradite and even prosecute its nationals for involvement in enforced disappearances.

PK Balachandran from
Published : 6 July 2017, 11:17 AM
Updated : 6 July 2017, 01:28 PM

The government decided to postpone the bill for International Convention on Enforced Disappearances after several members asked for a thorough study of the law, Lakshman Kiriella, the leader of the House, told parliament on Wednesday.

The bill was strongly opposed by three Buddhist high priests and former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, who heads the Joint Opposition Group or JOG.

The high priests, known as the Mahanayakes of the Malwatte, Asgiriya and Ramannya Orders, recently issued a strongly-worded joint statement calling for the bill's withdrawal because of the threat is poses to Sri Lankan military personnel who defeated the Tamil Tiger separatists after a bitter 30 year struggle.

The Mahanayakes hold sway over the majority of Sri Lankans who are Buddhists of Sinhalese ethnicity. The Sri Lankan government, which will hold elections to two provincial councils and hundreds of local bodies early next year, is careful against making laws that may alienate the majority community.

Rajapaksa’s warning

The former president has recently warned against the bill, saying it will empower Western countries to arrest Sri Lankan nationals for alleged crimes committed back home. 

Sri Lanka signed and ratified the 'International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances' as part of a deal with Western nations, so it can evade charges of war crimes at the UN Human Rights Council.

The convention enables foreign countries to seek extradition of Sri Lankans who are suspected, accused or convicted of causing enforced disappearances in Sri Lanka, said Rajapaksha.  

Such a request will oblige the Sri Lankan government to inform the foreign country of the measures it intends to take to prosecute or extradite that person.

The convention also allows member states the authority to arrest anybody, even a foreigner present within its jurisdiction, on suspicion of having been involved in enforced disappearances in any other country.

The country that carries out such an arrest can prosecute the suspect without extraditing the person to his or her own country.

Most significantly, a suspect arrested in that manner, can be handed over to an international criminal tribunal even if the suspect’s own country is beyond the jurisdiction of that international tribunal, Rajapaksa pointed out.

“The proposed law is an attempt to subject our armed forces to international war crimes prosecutions without using the term ‘war crimes’ and rephrasing it as ‘disappearances’," he said. 

"The use of the word ‘disappearances’ makes this look like an innocuous attempt to trace missing persons. However the purpose of this proposed legislation is not to trace missing persons but to hunt down and prosecute those who won the war against terrorism.”

World powers never signed 

The United States, Britain, Australia and Canada ever even signed this convention, Rajapaksa said.

Denmark, Finland, Norway, Sweden, Ireland and India signed it ten years ago in 2007, but never ratified it.

“Many countries have kept away from this convention altogether for the obvious reason that its provisions have the potential to violate the individual rights of citizens of the States that join it.”