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COLOMBO: Sri Lankan Minister of Finance and Media Mangala Samar­aweera disappointed the minority Tamil community by declaring that the proposed Disappearances Act to punish those responsible for enforced disappearances will be applicable only to future cases and not those pertaining to the past.

Following former president Mahinda Rajapaksa’s scathing criticism of the act as one which will harm the armed forces who won the war against the LTTE, Samaraweera said in a statement released by him that the introduction of the bill ensures the closure of the ‘white van culture’ referring to abductions that took place in the country in the recent past.

“Some sections divided over politics have opposed the Bill on Prevention of Disappearances, which is aimed at preventing forcible abduction, disappearance or imprisonment of citizens in future. Sri Lanka signed the International Covenant on Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disapp­earance on Dec 10, 2015, and the government ratified it on May 25, 2016. In order to give legal validity to this, the relevant draft bill was gazetted on May 9, 2017 and submitted to parliament for approval. It was due to be debated on July 5, 2017 together with the Bribery and Corruption Act. Since there were number of speakers to debate both bills, considering its importance a timely decision was taken to debate the bill on enforced disappearances on a later date,” the statement said.

Rajapaksa appealed to the Sri Lankan parliament to quash the bill when it is introduced, claiming that the proposed law is an attempt to subject the Sri Lankan military to international war crimes prosecutions without using the term ‘war crimes’ and rephrasing it as ‘disappearances’.

Samaraweera, however, in his statement said that the draft bill only affects the future, drawing ire from the Tamil community while attempting to appease the Sinhala majority populace.

“The draft bill only affects the future and has no impact on the past events and the bill will ensure that the future generations will not fall victim to enforced disappearances as in the past,” Samaraweera stated.

The setting up of a credible mechanism to trace the disappeared during the years of war and bring the perpetrators to justice is of paramount importance to Sri Lanka’s post war reconciliation promised by the current regime.

Published in Dawn, July 12th, 2017