SRI LANKA: HUMAN RIGHTS, RULE OF LAW AND RECONCILIATION PROGRESS
January 2015 – February 2016
Prepared by the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Sri Lanka
1. The Cabinet of Ministers, on 2 March, approved Sri Lanka’s accession to the Mine Ban Treaty (Ottawa Convention)
2. Sang the National Anthem in both Sinhala and Tamil at the Independence Day celebrations for the first time in 67 years. TNA MP, M.A. Sumanthiran, referred to it as a “giant step”.
3. Agreed to dates proposed by the following Special Procedure Mandate Holders to visit Sri Lanka:
a. Joint visit proposed from 29 April to 7 May by
i. SR on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers
ii. SR on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment & punishment
b. SR on Minority Issues – September 2016
c. SR on Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression – first semester of 2017
4. Received the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (6-9 February) and facilitated wide-ranging meetings with victims, Opposition, key Ministers, the President and Prime Minister, key officials including the Defence Secretary and the Heads of Security Forces and Intelligence; facilitated his travel to Jaffna and Trincomalee.
5. The Minister of Foreign Affairs extended an invitation to Ms. Yasmin Sooka (International Truth and Justice Project Sri Lanka – ITJP) to visit Sri Lanka (letter dated 13 February 2016). This invitation was extended in response to a number of cases highlighted in the reports of the ITJP regarding ongoing torture and sexual violence.
Since Ms. Sooka maintains that she is not in a position to share witness details and details of cases with the Government due to lack of confidence and trust and there not being adequate witness protection provisions and alleged ongoing reprisals in Sri Lanka, the Government requested the the National Human Rights Commission (which is now an independent body subsequent to the implementation of the provisions of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution), to consider reaching out to Ms. Sooka with a view to securing the relevant information, examine details and share with the Minister of Foreign Affairs on a confidential basis, the recommendations of the Commission on action to be taken and how Government may proceed to initiate legal action in connection with the cases concerned.
6. Launched Public Consultation Process in the District Secretariat in Jaffna on 12 February, to seek the views of all stakeholders including victims that would inform the designing of transitional justice mechanisms in line with the Government’s commitment announced in Geneva on 14 September which is reflected in Operative Paragraph 3 of the Resolution 30/1 of 1 October 2015.
- Meetings were held between the Consultation Task Force, Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff, Security Forces Chiefs, Police Chief and Intelligence Heads to ensure that the public consultation process proceeds smoothly without inference and to establish a mechanism for immediately addressing of complaints.
-Meetings were also held in Jaffna at the District Secretariat on 12 February between the Consultation Task Force, the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence, the Chief of Defence Staff, Security Forces Chiefs in the North and East and Police Heads in the North and East to ensure that the consultation process proceeds without interference, to discuss and agree on ways to immediately address complaints and to build confidence in the public.
7. Ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities
8. Acceded to the Protocol to Eliminate Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products
9. The Cabinet of Ministers granted approval for the National Strategic Plan to monitor and combat human trafficking
10. Appointed an 11 member Consultation Task Force, and two advisory panels, consisting of leading public personalities (civil society members) to lead nation-wide public consultations (in line with the provisions of Resolution 30/1) that will inform the design of the mechanisms for truth-seeking, justice, and reparations. The Task Force and advisory panels have begun their work and are currently finalizing the questions for the consultations. The web-based consultations are expected to being later this month, February 2016.
11. Invited and received the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence to Sri Lanka in an advisory capacity to share views, knowledge and expertise with the Consultation Task Force and the Government.
12. Introduced a parliamentary resolution on 9 January to establish a new constitution in order to entrench democracy and ensure reconciliation. Public consultations for the new constitution are already underway via the Public Representations Committee.
13. Released 3,136 acres of land in the North and East since January 2015.The land belongs to 2200 families
14. Drafted a bill to replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) in line with contemporary international best practices in counterterrorism. The bill has just been submitted by the Law Commission to the Government which is now studying it. The draft bill has also been shared with the UN Counterterrorism Executive Directorate or their views.
15. Endorsed the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict.
16. Informed the UN Human Rights Committee that, in the future, Sri Lanka will respond to communications submitted as per the provision of the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR.
17. National Authority for the Protection of Crime and Witnesses set-up. One of its first tasks is to review the witness protection Act. The Police has also initiated action to set-up the Witness Protection Division.
18. Attorney-General’s Department commits to making decision on whether to prosecute those in remand custody pending trial by end March.
19. Ratified ILO Convention C122 on Employment Policy.
20. Cabinet approved amendment to the Code of Criminal Procedure in order to ensure access to legal counsel, notifying family members and criminalizing the use of unofficial places of detention.
21. Issued instructions to all police officers with regards to the rights of those arrested and the prevention of torture.
22. Destroyed illegal ivory; first CITES party to request a Wildlife Incident Support Team (WIST) led by INTERPOL to assist in identifying the origins of the ivory.
23. Started an annual dialogue with the European Union through the EU-Sri Lanka Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law and Human Rights
24. President pardoned and released the ex-LTTE combatant charged for attempting to assassinate him when he was a Cabinet Minister.
25. Signed the Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances.
26. Issued Standing Invitations to all UN Special Procedures to visit Sri Lanka.
27. Obtained cabinet approval for the Secretariat for the Coordination of Reconciliation Mechanisms.
28. Obtained Cabinet approval for the Right to Information Bill. The bill is currently being approved by the Provincial Councils.
29. Drafted and approved the Consultations Road Map, which included input from civil society organisations.
30. Released 39 individuals detained without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
31. Appointed Prime Ministerial Action Group consisting of relevant Cabinet Ministers and Steering Committee consisting of relevant senior public servants to oversee the implementation of the UNHRC resolution.
32. De-proscribed 8 organisations and 269 individuals from the Overseas Sri Lankan community including the Global Tamil Forum.
33. Hosted the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, who were given access to all facilities, including the Trincomalee Navy Base. This is the first visit of the Working Group to Sri Lanka in 16 years.
34. Cabinet approved the Ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. A draft bill has been prepared.
35. Tabled the Udalagama and Paranagama Commission Reports in Parliament.
36. Police, Human Rights and Public Services Commissions appointed by independent Constitutional Council. The Human Rights Commission is headed by Dr. Deepika Udugama, a noted human rights defender.
37. The Jaffna High Court convicted four soldiers for sexually assaulting two women.
38. Announced that Sri Lanka will maintain a moratorium on the death penalty with a view to its eventual abolition. Sri Lanka subsequently voted for the resolution in the Third Committee.
39. Invited civil society to submit ideas on how to conduct the consultations process for the development of mechanisms for truth-seeking, justice and reparations.
40. Joined the Open Government Partnership (OGP). Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia to have joined the OGP so far.
41. Co-sponsored the UN Human Rights Council Resolution on Sri Lanka.
42. Appointed TNA Leader, R. Sampanthan MP, as the Opposition Leader.
43. Cabinet approved the introduction of Certificates of Absence for those reported missing.
44. Endorsed the Kigali Principles on the Protection of Civilians. Sri Lanka is the only country in South Asia to have endorsed the Kigali Principles.
45. The Constitutional Council, the body responsible for appointing members of the Independent Commissions, including the Police and Human Rights Commissions was appointed.
46. Closed the last checkpoint in the country, the Omanthai checkpoint.
47. Arrested four army personnel, including two senior officers, in connection with the disappearance of dissident cartoonist, Prageeth Ekneligoda.
48. The Supreme Court granted leave to proceed with regard to the five fundamental rights petitions against police inaction during the clashes at Aluthgama in 2014.
49. Ratified the Palermo Protocol.
50. Army soldier sentenced for murder of eight persons in Mirusuvil by the Colombo High Court.
51. Victory Day renamed Remembrance Day.
52. Passed the 19th Amendment to the Constitution which re-established democracy though the reduction of Presidential power, re-introduction of term limits and the introduction of independent bodies for appointment and oversight of key institutions including the judiciary, police, public service etc.
53. Hosted the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of Truth, Justice and Non-reccurence, Pablo de Greiff in an advisory capacity.
54. Passed the Witness and Victim Protection Act.
55. Released Jayakumary Balendran and eight others detained under the PTA.
56. Sent circular to all ministries stating there is no prohibition for singing the National Anthem in Tamil.
57. Arrested three navy sailors in connection with the murder of TNA MP N. Raviraj.
58. President Maithripala Sirisena and Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera meet organisations representing Tamils of Sri Lankan origin in London.
59. Departing from the triumphalism of the past, the Government made a Declaration of Peace at the national Independence Day celebrations in all three languages resolving to ensure non-recurrence and to grieve for all who had succumbed to violence since Independence.
60. Discontinued the practice of issuing a Presidential Proclamation under the Public Security Ordinance declaring a state of emergency, calling out the armed forces and giving them extensive powers to regulate civilian life.
61. Removed military governors of the North and East and replaced them with respected civil servants.
62. Ended censorship of websites, withdrew restrictions on foreign journalists visiting Sri Lanka and invited exiled journalists to return to Sri Lanka with a promise of safety.
63. The senior-most judge of the Supreme Court, an ethnic Tamil, appointed the Chief Justice.
64. NGO Secretariat moved from the Ministry of Defence to the Ministry of National Dialogue.
65. Lifted ban on foreigners visiting the North and East, in addition to restrictions on the transportation of goods to and from there.
66. Placed the Attorney-General’s Department under the Ministry of Justice. The previous administration had placed it under the Presidential Secretariat.
67. Invited all Sri Lankan refugees to return to Sri Lanka.
Expected future action:
-The Navy Training Camp in Sampur (237 acres), Eastern Province, will be relocated in March 2016. The land will be handed over to their original owners who are currently displaced.
– This document was presented by Foreign Minister Managala Samaraweera as part of is speech at the 20th Meeting of the Governing Council of the Community of Democracies. held in Geneva, 2 March 2016. Emphasis is from SLB.