War-displaced landowners can claim property

New law to help disadvantaged people in north and east

Absentee land and property owners in the once war-ravaged north and east will be able to reclaim ownership under a new law, Justice Minister Rauff Hakeem said yesterday.

There will be an independent mechanism to settle disputes connected with land and property, he told the Sunday Times. In terms of existing laws, he said, a person holding uninterrupted “adverse” possession for ten years is entitled to ownership.

The 30-year-long separatist war led to persons occupying land or holding immovable property like houses after the owners were displaced or disadvantaged, he said. Mr. Hakeem was in Kuwait yesterday.

On Friday, the Cabinet approved a Prescription (Special Provisions) Act recommended by him. It will replace provisions in the existing Prescription Ordinance to facilitate the new move. The proposed law will be a dedicated enactment which will deal with the period of the armed conflict only.

Originally the new law was intended to be an amendment to the Prescription Ordinance. However, the Law Commission urged the Ministry of Justice that it should be a dedicated piece of legislation covering the armed conflict as well as “other situations which may arise in the future”.

Any person who has become displaced or disadvantaged at any time during the period starting May 1, 1983 and ending December 31, 2012 shall be deemed, for the purpose of the new law, to be a displaced or disadvantaged person. The proposed law defines a “displaced person” 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.

A “disadvantaged” person has been described 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.

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