Sri Lankan rights groups seek debate on “Unity Bill”


One Church human rights Organization and several Rights groups seek debate on ‘Unity Bill’ , informing the President “more time and discussion needed before Parliamentary passage of ‘ONUR Law’ “ said in the statement issued as the Joint CSO Statement on ONUR Bill.

‘National reconciliation cannot be enforced from the top down.  It needs to be a voluntary process involving all ethnic and religious communities.  There is a need to draw civil society and elected political representatives into the discussion about the new institution.”

The responsibility of the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) will be to make crucial recommendations to the government and relevant authorities on achieving national unity, reconciliation, and durable peace in the island nation.

The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) Bill is expected to be debated in the Sri Lankan parliament in the coming days. The bill proposes to establish an Office for National Unity and Reconciliation in order to ensure every citizen equal opportunities in the economic, social, cultural, and political spheres, 14 years after the civil war ended.

“At the same time, the new institution will have the purpose of safeguarding identity and building an inclusive society in which diversity will be respected and all communities will coexist in harmony and unity.” Said in the statement.

“Unfortunately, the potential importance of this new institution appears to be under-estimated by the government, its policymakers, and the law’s drafters as there has been little or no effort to engage in public discussion on it or to educate the general public about the need for it.” said the joint statement signed by 24 Civil Society Organizations.

We, the undersigned, have three major concerns which we outline.

They believe that the composition of the decision-making board of ONUR will be crucial to the success of the institution and its work.  “We note that, the minister is empowered to recommend the appointment of 11 members who will have terms of 3 years, while the chairperson has no time limit, which is inadvisable.   We urge a more multi-partisan method of appointments to ensure that those appointed represent the diversity of ethnic and religious groups and socio-cultural interests.”

Second, as ONUR is expected to play a central role in the national reconciliation process that brings together all the independent reconciliation mechanisms they propose that appointments to the ONUR board should include ex-officio representatives from the Office of Missing Persons, Office of Reparations, NGO Secretariat and the Truth, Unity and Reconciliation Commission which is soon to be established. “This will ensure that all the reconciliation institutions share a common vision and are informed of the work that is being done by each of them. There is also a need to ensure representation from civil society to ensure that the perspectives of affected communities and victims are considered and acted upon.” they said.

“This authority to monitor and review the work of civil society raises concerns about the prospect of government heavy-handedness in the context of the possible politicization for narrow and partisan purposes of national reconciliation policy and actions.  The new law needs to be clear that the government will not direct civil society to follow its guidelines, but can “assist and facilitate” them to do so.

“Prior to the passage of the new law, we urge the government to engage with opposition political parties, particularly those representing minority ethnic and religious communities, as well as civil society, to establish a multi-partisan consensus, encompassing pluralistic values on the path to make this a true reconciliation process for national unity.” said the bellow signed CSOs.

Signatories –

Ihsaan A. Hameed, National President, All Ceylon YMMA Conference

D M Nimal Dissanayake, Coordinator, Anuradhapura District Citizen Committee

Sachitha N Hewage, Chairman, ASIA LANKA Social Development Co-operation (ALSDC)

Visaka Dharmadasa, Chairperson, Association of War Affected Women (AWAW)

Dr Joe William, Director, Centre for Communication Training (CCT)

Mohamed Buhary, Executive Director, Eastern Social Development Foundation (ESDF)

Chaminda Piyasekara, Executive Director, Environment and Community Development Information Centre (ECDIC)

Amar Gunatilleke, Executive Vice Chairman, Marga Institute

G V D Tilakasiri, President, Free Trade Union Development Center (FTUDC)

Anthony Vinoth, Executive Director, Human Rights Hub

Fr Nandana Manatunga, Director, Human Rights Office (HRO)

Dr Rajni Gamage, Postdoctoral Fellow, Institute of South Asian Studies, National University of Singapore

Sakunthala Kadirgamar, Executive Director, Law & Society Trust (LST)

B.W.Gunasekara, National Ethnic Unity Foundation  (NEUF)

Dr Jehan Perera, Executive Director, National Peace Council (NPC)

Harindra B Dassanayake, Head of Research, One-Text Initiative.

Michael Joachim, Executive Director, Plantation Rural Education Development Organisation (PREDO)

Philip Dissanayake, Executive Director, Right to Life (R2L)

Niroshan Ekanayaka, Executive Director, SAMADANA

Nawaz Mohammed, Country Director, Search for Common Ground (SFCG)

Aashiq Alabdeen, Chief Executive Officer, Serving Humanity Foundation

Nadishani Perera, Executive Director, Transparency International Sri Lanka (TISL)

Dr. A.M. Navaratna Bandara, Former Professor, University of Peradeniya

Nadesan Suresh, Executive Director, Uva Shakthi Foundation (USF)


Share This :

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *