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Sri Lanka: Proposed Law Seeks to Restore Property to Displaced Landowners

(June 18, 2012) On June 3, 2012, Sri Lanka's Justice Minister, Rauff Hakeem, announced that the Cabinet has approved a newly proposed law, the Prescription (Special Provisions) Act, that would allow persons displaced during the Sri Lankan civil war to reclaim their property. The conflict between the government and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tami Eelam (also known as the Tamil Tigers) resulted in, according to some estimates, more then a million internally displaced persons.(War-Displaced Landowners Can Claim Property, THE SUNDAY TIMES (June 3, 2012).)

Under the current law, the Prescription Ordinance, a person holding continuous “adverse possession” of real property for ten years without challenge is entitled to ownership of that property. (Prescription, Cap. 81, No. 22 of 1871, § 3, COMMONLII.)

According to Ministry spokesman A.R.A. Hafeez, the intention of the new draft law is “to help people reclaim property they may have lost during the years of fighting.” (Sri Lanka Looks to Restore War Zone Property, AFP (June 3, 2012).) The newly approved draft rules would “remove the time limit” provisioned under the current ordinance. (Id.)

The draft law is said to apply to any “displaced” or “disadvantaged” land owners who lost or will have lost their properties between May 1, 1983, and December 31, 2012. (War Displaced Landowners Can Claim Property, supra.) According to news reports, the draft law defines “displaced” as “one who has been forced or obliged to flee or leave his home or places of habitual residence as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of the armed conflict which prevailed in Sri Lanka.” (Sri Lanka Looks to Restore War Zone Property, supra.) A “disadvantaged” person has been defined “as one who is unable to pursue his rights or defend himself in the court, in which he is by law required to pursue or defend such rights as a result of the armed conflict which prevailed in Sri Lanka.” (Id.)

According to news reports, the proposed law will also have an “independent mechanism to settle disputes connected with land and property.” (Id.)

The government bill is due to go before Sri Lanka's Parliament, where it is expected to pass since the governing party has a two-thirds majority. (Id.)