Former Army Chief Gen Daya Ratnayake says OMP Bill ‘Suspicious’

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By 2017-07-09

BY Kavindya Chris Thomas

Breaking a rather long silence following the regime change back in 2015, former Army Chief General Daya Ratnayake officially adopted a stance against the current administration, after he voiced his opposition against the proposed Bill for the Office of Missing Persons (OMP).

Back in 2016, the proposal to establish the controversial OMP was given the green light by the Cabinet of Ministers, as announced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The office was tasked to trace thousands of people still missing seven years after the defeat of separatist Tamil Tiger rebels, with the power to investigate the disappearance of more than 20,000 people in decades of fighting that ended in 2009. The Office was empowered to recommend compensation to bereaved families while empowering those families to take legal action against those responsible. The OMP is considered one of the main pillars of Sri Lanka's transitional justice agenda, by the current administration.

"I was only recently introduced to this proposed Bill for the Office of Missing Persons. When I was going through it, I realized it was more serious than we assumed previously. I spoke to several individuals, including politicians, parliamentarians, attorneys and legal experts, who were not aware of the contents of the proposed Bill. That is also one of the prominent reasons why this Bill alarmed me in the first place. When you read through it you find that there are some serious ideas that would alarm the common man. I attempted to meet the President as well regarding the matter, but I was not able to do so. This is what pushed me to meet the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters," he said.

During his meeting with the Chief Prelates of the Asgiriya and Malwathu Chapters, former Army Commander Daya Ratnayake had requested them to intervene in the proposed Bill for the OMP being tabled in Parliament without it first being fully explained to the public- including those within Parliament as well. His biggest concern, he said, is the very nature in which the OMP Bill was drafted and brought to the discussion tables without proper consultation.

He added; "What I asked the Chief Prelates was that they intervene in the matter and get its tabling in Parliaement postponed so that the general public would receive the space to go through this proposed Bill, to understand what it says, and thereafter to be tabled in Parliament."

Accordingly, the Bill was not taken up for discussion in Parliament last week and was postponed to a later date. Ratnayake claims this as a personal victory and achievement.

"What I gathered from the draft of the Bill communicated to me, was that once the OMP is officially established in the country, anyone can report against any military officer – regardless of where he/ she might be or regardless of rank – while the complainant's identity will not be questioned or be provided to the authorities for over 20 years or so. Anyone making an allegation creates an inquiry process concerning the individual alleged to have committed a crime which results in a conviction, the individual can be called to be tried at an international Court of Justice as well. This is what I understood and this is why it alarmed me."

"There's no clarity in this document whatsoever. If there is a clear law, yes, we can't arbitrarily do anything about anything. But if the law confuses the public, it's something completely different. This has happened before in the country, of course with people making unnecessary legal cases against soldiers. A soldier is an identity which is always driven by a public image. But when you're questioned, after specifically winning a three decade war, it's a considerable impact on his/ her image. But of course, if he/ she has done something wrong and it's proved in a court of law, it has to be resolved accordingly. But most people need to be treated with dignity and self respect. With soldiers, more often than not, respect and dignity is much more important to them than their lives. And such individuals when they are being questioned, that is when it becomes alarming.

"My question is why this entire process is so secretive? Why the unprecedented amount of 'discretion' behind this Bill being brought before Parliament? Literally nobody knew about this matter until the day prior to the day when it was to be presented in Parliament.

The other thing is that major countries like the US and UK, from what I gathered, have ratified this law that would allow the prosecution of soldiers. India and Pakistan – none of the countries in the South Asian region – have assented to pass this law that would endanger the military forces of their respective countries. Why are we doing it then? ," he inquired.

The Parliament's Opposition has frequently found fault with the Government for agreeing to the recommendation to establish the Office for Missing Persons, which they argued would be part of the 'witch-hunt of war heroes' in the country. Ratnayake however, refuses to believe these sentiments.

"Politicians after all, say things for their own twisted reasons. They, from what I see, have a different agenda in comparison to mine. As a professional soldier, I'm mostly concerned with the suspicious nature of the backdrop against which this Bill is being pushed for Parliament approval."

The Government's response to those who make comments regarding the OMP Bill and other transitional mechanisms followed by the Government was that these individuals have something to hide. This created the opposition to these proposals. Ratnayake was quick to deny these claims saying, "The actions of the military during the war were clear and on record. The military and the soldiers have nothing to hide."

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