Sri Lanka: new transitional justice mechanism bill on reparations passed

In October 2018, the Sri Lankan Parliament passed a bill establishing an Office for Reparations. This was one of the transitional justice mechanisms identified by the United Nations Human Rights Council in its landmark 2015 consensus resolution on Sri Lanka, in the wake of the nation’s decades-long civil war.

The Office for Reparations will be the second transitional justice mechanism to be implemented by the Sri Lankan government, following the establishment of an Office for Missing Persons.

Following a period of armed conflict, reparations are a crucial way to obtain redress for victims, as well as empowering them and helping to rebuild trust. The bill includes provisions for individual reparations, such as monetary compensation, microfinance loans and welfare services, and collective reparations, such as educational programs and infrastructure. Reparations will be provided to eligible persons who suffered a violation of human rights or humanitarian law during the Sri Lankan armed conflict.

Some civil society groups have expressed concern that under legislation, Cabinet must approve all policies and guidelines formulated by the Office for Reparations, and Parliament must approve all policies and guidelines authorising the distribution of funds by the Office for Reparations. Critics argue that these requirements will potentially undermine the independence of the Office for Reparations by subjecting policies to delays and politicisation, which may also decrease public trust in the Office for Reparations.

Like all transitional justice mechanisms, independence, transparency and credibility will be fundamental to the success of the Office for Reparations.

PIAC’s work with its partners in the Conflict Mapping and Archive Project will provide a valuable resource for all transitional justice mechanisms, including the Office for Reparations, by providing a comprehensive database of public information on alleged violations. For example, organised and systematised data could help the Office for Reparations to efficiently verify applications for reparations, saving time during the initial investigation and providing leads for further investigation.

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Towards Truth is a partnership between PIAC and UNSW Indigenous Law Centre.
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