Colombo, Aug 12: Sri Lanka's Parliament on Thursday (Aug 11) unanimously approved a bill to set up an office to help find some 65,000 people reported missing during the country's armed conflicts, including a brutal civil war with the LTTE, and clarify the circumstances under which they disappeared.
The draft bill to establish an Office on Missing Persons (OMP) was passed with amendments in Parliament without a vote.
The bill was adopted despite objections raised by the joint opposition which alleged that the bill will betray the military.
Mangala Samaraweera, the foreign minister, was continuously disturbed by the opposition members who had forced the suspension of sittings when the bill was taken up for debate.
They claimed that the government was betraying the security forces through the legislation on the Office of Missing Persons.
"This legislation will be very important for all communities to look to the future as citizens of Sri Lanka," Samaraweera said.
The Marxist JVP parliamentarian Bimal Ratnayake who spoke in support of the bill said the new office would be important for his party.
"We know that mere action of setting up this office would redress the affected. But we want to know the truth before delivering justice," Ratnayake said.
The government said the bill was needed to facilitate access to services and benefits offered by the State to the families of the missing persons in the absence of a Death Certificate, a mechanism to issue a 'Certificate of Absence' has been approved by cabinet and the relevant legislation is due to be approved by the Parliament later this month.
The government had earlier said there have been strong requests for providing true information on disappeared or missing persons to their relatives to know their actual fate.
"It will enable such families to reunited, closure with regard to such disappearance, or granted with reparations and other relief and support," officials said.
A proposal made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, in his capacity as the Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs, to establish a independent institution as office on missing persons by a Parliament act, was approved recently by the cabinet.
The Office on Missing Persons will help search for and trace missing persons and submit recommendations to authorities to take measures on missing persons, protect the rights of missing persons and their relatives, identify channels that missing persons and their relatives can obtain reliefs and inform them the same.
Sri Lanka has one of the largest case-loads of missing persons in the world.
In fact, since 1994 alone, the government commissions have received over 65,000 complaints of missing persons. These include people who went missing during the government's nearly three-decade-long war with Tamil separatists and a Marxist uprising.