Image; Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs of Sri Lanka ( file photo)
Making the opening statement at the Third Cycle of the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka- Geneva, on 15 November 2017 by Hon. (Dr) Harsha de Silva, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs provided a long list of Government’s human rights achievements. Further he said that “Sri Lanka has accomplished much. Yet, we do not consider it a reason to be complacent. Neither are we, as some tend to allege, indifferent or uncaring about human rights. We remain acutely aware and conscious that there is much more to be done, to ensure that all our citizens enjoy the rights due to them to their full extent. We firmly believe that citizens empowered by their individual rights will strengthen our nation.”
Referring to the several advance questions that have been submitted in relation to implementation of the commitments in Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, the Minister emphasized Sri lanka is working consistently and methodically towards that goal, including with assistance from many of you.
After the UPR Sri Lanka session came to an end today at ( 15) at the UNHRC, Minister Silva tweeted saying that member countries comments were “very positive”.
- Sri Lanka has intensified its engagement and cooperation with UN Special Procedures as well as Treaty Bodies.
- During the period under review, Sri Lanka became a State Party to a number of international instruments. These include:
- Today, I am pleased to announce that just yesterday, 14 November, the Cabinet of Ministers approved Sri Lanka’s accession to the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will be appointed as the National Preventive Mechanism in terms of the Optional Protocol. We see this as an important step that will help us further our firm objective of effectively preventing and combating torture.
- Sri Lanka formally withdrew its reservation to Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of Migrants Workers, and the depository notification in this regard was circulated by the UN Secretary-General on 16 August 2016.
- Sri Lanka also withdrew all derogations notified under the ICCPR by November 2015.
- A declaration was made under Article 22 of the CAT recognizing the competence of the Committee to receive individual communications.
- I will now speak of milestones we have achieved in furthering civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.
- The Parliament enacted the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in May 2015.
- The independence of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was strengthened following the enactment of the 19th Amendment.
- The unanimous enactment by Parliament of the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act in February 2015, and the subsequent full operationalization of the law, is a significant milestone that has provided for a fine balance between the rights and entitlements of victims of crime on the one hand, and suspects and accused on the other.
- Following the Right of access to Information being recognized as a fundamental right through the 19th amendment to the Constitution, the Right to Information (RTI) Act was enacted.
- Recognizing the importance of addressing issues faced by women and children, the Government continues to accord priority to this aspect.
- The Government has paid special attention to the wellbeing and livelihood support for Internally Displaced Persons in Sri Lanka. The number of IDPs at the end of the conflict in 2009 was over 300,000. Today, the number of IDPs in welfare centres in Jaffna is less than 3000 individuals, belonging to 765 families. The Government has, and continues to make efforts to provide IDPs with durable solutions. The Cabinet of Ministers approved the ‘National Policy on Durable Solutions for Conflict-Affected Displacement’ in August 2016, which was developed based on wide-ranging consultations with key stakeholders, including in the conflict-affected areas.
- A sound economy, combined with sustainable development policies is central to ensuring the rights of our people. The promotion and protection of human rights and their long-term sustenance, especially in the context of sustainable peace, reconciliation and non-recurrence of conflict that we envisage, necessitates economic growth and equitable and inclusive development in line with the aspirations of our people. This is state responsibility. The economy that the National Unity Government inherited in January 2015 was one that was beset by a heavy debt burden, and we have and continue to take steps to address this.
Read the full speech as a PDF: Opening_statement_at_Sri_Lanka_UPR
The Human rights achievement listed the Minister’s statement follows:
For example, since the last UPR, Sri Lanka has participated in 6 Treaty body reviews, and the review on the Convention on the Rights of the Child is scheduled for January 2018.
Once again most of these reviews were carried out in 2016 and 2017, manifesting the Government’s clear commitment to these processes. We are determined to never slip back on reporting obligations again, and we are currently discussing ways to strengthen internal systems for this purpose, as well as the effective examination and follow-up of implementation of recommendations of treaty bodies, special procedures, and the UPR.
We will work with the UN Country Office and OHCHR, as well as ‘UPR Info’ in addressing the requirements for setting up and strengthening internal processes for this purpose, along with civil society.
-In December 2015, Sri Lanka extended a Standing Invitation to all thematic Special Procedures.
–Eight thematic Special Procedure Mandate Holders and Working Groups have visited Sri Lanka since the last UPR, with 6 of them being received in the last two years since January 2015.
-Moreover, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) will visit from 4-15 December this year, and the Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression will visit early next year.
We in fact wonder whether so many Special Procedures may have ever been received by any other country, in such a short span of time.
Additionally, we had the previous and current High Commissioners for Human Rights visit Sri Lanka in 2013 and in February 2016 respectively; and the UN Secretary-General visited us in September 2016.
-the International Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in February 2015,
-the Palermo Protocol on Prevention of Trafficking in Women and Children in June 2015,
-the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance (ICPPED) in May 2016,
-the Marrakesh Treaty to Facilitate Access to Published Works for Persons who are Blind, Visually Impaired or Otherwise Print Disabled in September 2016, and
-the Paris Agreement on Climate Change in September 2016.
4. Milestones in furthering Civil, Political, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Mr. Vice President,
-This important Constitutional Amendment reduced the powers of the Executive President and strengthened the independence of key institutions with the objective of depoliticizing the public service.
-Executive presidential authority to make appointments to independent commissions such as the Election Commission, Judicial Service Commission, Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, Finance Commission, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption, has now been subject to the approval of the Constitutional Council established through the 19th Amendment.
-The Constitutional Council comprises representatives from the ruling and opposition parties in Parliament, as well as independent persons with no political affiliations.
-The President’s term of office stipulated in the Constitution as 6 years prior to the 19thAmendment, was reduced to five years.
-The two-term limit of the Executive Presidency was restored.
-Parliament’s term was reduced from six to five years; and the President’s power to dissolve Parliament was curtailed and the President cannot now dissolve Parliament until the expiration of four-and-a-half years of its term, unless requested by a resolution with a two-thirds majority.
-These provisions strengthen the separation of powers by establishing fixed presidential and parliamentary terms, restores the independence of constitutionally appointed institutions and reduces the power of the Executive President over Parliame
-It is empowered to investigate complaints of infringement or imminent infringement of fundamental rights, advise the government in formulating legislation, and make recommendations on ensuring that national laws comply with international human rights standards and on subscribing or acceding to human rights treaties.
-The Commission has been active in the recent Treaty Body reviews of Sri Lanka by submitting shadow reports, and we also welcome the Commission’s contribution to the current UPR Session. The Government has increased financial resources to be allocated to the Commission for next year.
-This Act enables a paradigm shift in the criminal justice system. The Act sets out rights and entitlements of victims of crime and witnesses.
-It provides for the payment of compensation to victims of crime, and establishes a special fund for that purpose.
-On 8 January 2016, the National Authority established under the Act was inaugurated by the President. The proposed Budget allocation in this regard for 2018, has been increased.
-The Inspector General of Police established the Witness Protection Division of the Sri Lanka Police, which is dedicated to provide protection to victims of crime and witnesses, and to investigate offences that may be committed against victims and witnesses.
-An amendment to the Act was passed by Parliament this month on 7 November, to provide for the victims and witnesses of a crime to record evidence or a statement through audio-visual linkage, from anywhere outside Sri Lanka, without personally attending Court, and to facilitate such process through Sri Lanka diplomatic Missions abroad.
-The Act came into operation on 3 February, 2017.
-It seeks to foster a culture of transparency and accountability of public authorities, and to combat corruption.
-By giving effect to the public’s right to access information, we are seeking to promote a society in which citizens would be able to fully participate in public life.
-The RTI Commission, set up to facilitate the implementation of the Act, is operational, and the public has already begun to benefit, with their requests for information from various public authorities being facilitated.
-Measures taken include addressing sexual and gender based violence.
-Action envisaged, for which discussion and consultations are proceeding, include legal reforms affecting discriminatory laws and practices, and amendment to personal laws deemed discriminatory.
-Regulations and measures have been made to eradicate the scourge of child labour to ensure the full enjoyment of the rights of the child. Since January 2016, a Special Presidential Task Force for the Protection of Children has been functioning under the direct purview of the President. In June 2016, demonstrating commitment at the highest level of Government, the President signed a pledge on ‘Zero Tolerance of Child Labour’ during an event held to commemorate the ‘Day against Child Labour’.