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Sunday, June 23, 2024

CEADW 66: WAN raises Issues related to women’s access to justice in N & E of Sri Lanka

Image: Sri Lanka civil society delegtes at the CEADW 66.

At the ongoing 66 session of CEADW in Geneva  Women’s Action Network  has raised following issues related to Women’s Access to Justice in North and East of Sri Lanka.

Transitional Justice (TJ)
Today, Sri Lanka claims to be in the process of developing programs for transitional justice, resettlement, and constitutional reform.  However, the government has not adequately considered particular vulnerabilities and needs of war-affected women in developing these programs.  State perpetrators are rarely charged, convicted or dismissed from their posts.  Of the four TJ mechanisms the UN promised the Human Rights Council, the government has only passed an Act to create an Office of Missing Persons (OMP), which the President has yet to sign into law.1  The government is seeking to weaken the OMP Act by eliminating paragraph 11 (a) which provides for international cooperation.  The President and Prime Minister have given mixed signals on the Government’s promise to create a special court, a central demand of war-affected women, and has publicly disavowed its commitment to staff the court with Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.
What has the Government done to:
Implement the recommendations of the Consultation Task Force (CTF)  on proposed TJ mechanisms and counter statements of the government officials who have tried to discredit the CTF report and have undermined public confidence in TJ among women in the north and east.

Implement the four TJ mechanisms Sri Lanka promised the U.N. Human Rights Council (UNHRC), including a hybrid special court which brings in international judges, lawyers and investigators and an Office of Missing Persons that allows for international assistance and oversight.

Women in the consultation process of TJ have stressed that complete withdrawal of Military from civil administration, cultivation and deploying youth for running farms and all land that belongs to people have to be returned. They identified military withdrawal as part of the reparation since it will make them feel secure and increase their access sustainable livelihoods that drive from free access to their natural resources which are mostly controlled by the military in the post-war.

What measures are being taken to ensure that public officials who committed violations of CEDAW are being lustrated from public office or held accountable for their acts?  Explain in detail what kind of specific actions have been undertaken to establish review mechanisms, perform security sector vetting for those involved in the military and law enforcement during the civil war, investigate allegations, and if officials are found to have committed a violation, to remove them from power.

All Transitional Justice Mechanism should have over 50% women’s representation as demanded by the very affected women during the CTF consultation.  CTF main recommendation stresses on this women’s demand.

Rape and Murder
From 2014-2015, between the Batticaloa and Ampara Districts there were 1,024 domestic violence reports, 74 reported rapes, and 139 child abuse reports. Impunity and delays foreclose justice for war-affected women.

What has the government of Sri Lanka done to:
Ensure timely and impartial justice for the prosecution of sexual violence and compensation for victims, including appointing a special prosecution team to expedite the backlog of SGBV cases

Provide medical, psychosocial and rehabilitative treatment for victims

Ensure that transitional justice mechanisms are at least 50% women, gender-sensitive and responsive to wartime SGBV, torture and enforced disappearance

Domestic Violence, Police, and the Justice System

Many women’s organizations in northern and eastern Sri Lanka are reporting that instances of domestic violence are increasing. Obstacles preventing this issue from being addressed include: A shortage of Tamil speaking police officers, a shortage of women officers and sensitive investigative procedures, victim blaming, biased attitudes towards women, unreliable emergency response mechanisms, bribery and corruption, and it can often take 6-10 years for a case to go to trial.

What has the Government of Sri Lanka done to:

Decrease structural barriers to justice by instituting gender sensitivity training at all levels such as the police and the judiciary including Quazi courts and equipping police stations with women’s desks, private rooms and sufficient women translators and officers, and improve access to legal aid

Expedite domestic violence and divorce cases and ending compulsory counseling
Facilitate enforcement of court orders under the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act

Ensure the 1-1-9 emergency response phone number is working and reduce response time

Sexual Harassment, Exploitation, and Bribery

Sexual exploitation through bribery is widespread in every level of the Sri Lankan government and institutions and instances are only increasing. Officials abuse their position and will extract sexual favors from women before providing services such as certification of residence and other various forms of government assistance.

What has the Government of Sri Lanka done to:
Actually investigate, prosecute, and punish cases of sexual bribery/exploitation
Amend the “Bribery Act” to include sexual bribery
Adopt a zero tolerance policy in the administrative and service departments
Create a public awareness program and complaint procedures at the Human Rights Commission

Demilitarize the north and east: Challenges face by differently-abled women

Many women are physically challenged, often as a result of war-related injuries. Currently the state infrastructure is not equipped to accommodate these women.

What has the Government of Sri Lanka done to:
Ensure public spaces are accessible
Set up a public fund to assist women victims of war and domestic violence with medical expenses
Female Ex-Cadres
Former female ex-cadres face challenges finding employment that uses “non-traditional” skills such as driving, building, engineering and face monitoring by intelligence officers .

What has the Government of Sri Lanka done to:
Eliminate discrimination and assist female ex-cadres access employment
Eliminate surveillance programs
Suicide and Psychological Concerns
Over the past few years the number of suicide attempts have been high with some hospitals seeing 30-60 cases of deliberate self-harm each month. In the north and east, there are inadequate medical facilities. What has the Government of Sri Lanka done to:
Increase psycho-social support, education, and empowerment programs, and staffing
Establish Intensive Care Units and ambulance facilities in the many hospitals that lack them
Violations of Article 13: Equal Rights to Economic and Social Benefits [List of Issues No. 8]:  Access to Legal Documents, Sustainable Livelihoods and Post-War Aid
There a large scale issues for women attempting to obtain documents like national ID cards and birth certificates in the north and east.

What has the Government of Sri Lanka done to:
Create a system to enable easier access to obtain necessary legal documents and obtain livelihood assistance, housing and land in their own names
Amend the “Land Development Ordinance” to give women equal access to cultivate and transfer land
Incorporate economic and social rights in Sri Lanka’s new constitution and create a social security system for all women
Demilitarize the north and east and release military-held lands
Violations of Article 16: Marriage and Life [List of Issues No. 23]:  Issues faced by Muslim Women and Girls
The Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act (MMDA) is highly discriminatory to the rights of women. There is no minimum age for marriage and there has been a notable increase in the arranged marriages of girls under 18. There is no free will marriage; women even if over 18 must have permission from male guardian. The MMDA provides different divorce procedures for men and women and provides for a “right” to polygamy.  Quazi court judges display inappropriate and biased views towards women and Muslim women are prohibited from becoming Quazi judges.

What has the government of Sri Lanka done to:
Address the concerns over the MMDA as a human rights issue not a cultural issue, work with Muslim women to reform the MMDA and repeal article 16(1) from the Constitution
Create a minimum age requirement for marriage and remove the requirement for women to seek permission from a male guardian
Create a monitoring mechanism for the MMDA and Quazi court system to report and address grievances


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