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Human Rights

Office for Reparations – commissioners appointed

By Himal Kotelawala

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

Six months after the Office for Reparations bill was passed in Parliament, five commissioners were appointed yesterday for the long-awaited independent body.

The Office for Reparations will be chaired by Dhara Wijethilake and will comprise A. A. Fathihu, Col (Rtd) W. W. Rathnapriya Bandu, Dr. J. M. Swaminathan and Sumithra Sellathamby as members. The office is an independent authority tasked with “formulating, designing and implementing reparations policies aiming to redress victims who suffered violations in the course of past conflicts in Sri Lanka.”

According to Secretary General of the Secretariat for Coordinating Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM) Mano Tittawella who announced the appointments yesterday, the Commissioners were selected in an “open and competitive process” conducted by the Constitutional Council of Sri Lanka who had nominated the names to President Maithripala Sirisena.

A budgetary allocation of Rs. 700 million has been made for the establishment and running of the Office.

The Office for Reparations bill, the second of the Yahapalana Government’s transnational justice commitments, was narrowly passed in Parliament on 10 October last year, just days before the surprise sacking of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe triggering a constitutional crisis.

The bill received 59 votes in favour, from both the United National Party (UNP) and Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) parliamentarians in Government at the time as well the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) MPs in the Opposition, while 43 members in the Joint Opposition voted against it. The JVP, notably, abstained from voting.

The passed Act was welcomed by civil society activists, though not without some reservations about certain sections that have come to be seen as problematic. Chief among these is Section 11 (1)(g) of the Act, which stipulates a dependency on the Cabinet for approval of policies and guidelines formulated by the Office of Reparations.

Section 22 (4) has also raised questions. This clause states that policies on reparations and guidelines authorising disbursements of funds should be placed before Parliament for approval.

Critics have argued that these clauses could compromise the independence of the body.