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Thursday, June 20, 2024

Sri Lanka Brief launches three Human Rights Reports on Sri Lanka

Today Sri Lanka Brief launch on line three Human Rights Reports on Sri Lanka in coincidence with the on going 22ndsession of the United Nations Human Rights Council. The reports have been compiled in Sri Lanka. Executive summaries of the  three reports and  PDF links to three reports given below.
Limited number of printed copies will be available at side event on Sri Lanka Human Rights  on 5th March at room No 27, 16 PM to 17.30 PM.

The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) was appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the pursuit of reconciliation in Sri Lanka, following the conclusion of a 27-year-old war in May 2009. This report looks at specific recommendations made by the LLRC in order to achieve reconciliation in the country by calling for institutional reform, introduction of new institutions for the delivery of expeditious justice and redressal to communities which suffered due to the war and the requirement to strengthen the processes which are currently in place.
Specific recommendations have been made to strengthen the county’s human rights regime and the maintenance of law and order, in a bid to assist Sri Lanka return to normalcy, specially the communities that suffered due to the protected war. In this regard, the LLRC had called for, through specific action, the strengthening of key public institutions and the introduction of new instructions to address the current issued faced by the country.
Specific recommendations have been made to strengthen the county’s human rights regime and the maintenance of law and order, in a bid to assist Sri Lanka return to normalcy, specially the communities that suffered due to the protected war. In this regard, the LLRC had called for, through specific action, the strengthening of key public institutions and the introduction of new instructions to address the current issued faced by the country.
Among the key recoemmdnations for the strengthening of democratic institutions included the call for the establishment of an Independent Permanent Police Commission  Independent Public Service Commission, appointment of a Special Commissioner of Investigation to investigate the alleged disappearances and an Independent Advisory Committee to monitor and examine the detention and arrest of persons, disarmament of armed gangs through specific police action, enhancement of the capacity of the Police Department for improved maintenance of law and order and the establishment of a National Lands Commission, among others.
Sri Lanka’s response to the call by the international community had been less than satisfactory.  The Sri Lankan Government’s onslaught on the Judiciary together with the crushing of political dissent had proved a potent combination that had undermined democracy while accelerating the path towards an authoritarian rule, threatening long-term stability and peace. The most significant blow to the country’s democratic institutions was witnessed with the politically-motivated impeachment of the Chief Justice, reflecting both intolerance of dissent and the weakness of the political opposition, an outrageous act that undermined a vital organ of government.
The Executive and the Legislature have thus, together, incapacitated the last institutional check on the Executive, at a time when the State has made strong commitments to strengthen public institutions in a bid to help the country to return to normalcy.
Given Sri Lanka’s failure to practically implement the recommendations by the LLRC, it is incumbent upon the international community to demand time-bound actions to restore the rule of law, investigate rights abuses and alleged war crimes by government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and to make genuine effort to devolve power to Tamil and Muslim areas of the North and East.
The island’s governance crisis became manifest with the impeaching of an independent Chief Justice whose ouster is traced by independent observers to two judgments delivered by her on crucial bills, one of which presented by the president’s brother, Basil Rajapaksa which was designed to subvert the process of shared power through the provisions of the Thirteenth Amendment to the Constitution by creating a parallel mechanism.
So far, the government has failed to conduct credible and impartial investigations into allegations of war crimes, disappearances or other serious human rights violations or to take genuine corrective measures as recommended by the LLRC. In addition, an Independent Commissioner to investigate rights abuses and to expedite the process has become a matter for examination by the National Plan of Action (NPA) while the government has in effect, removed the last remnants of judicial independence by unceremoniously impeaching the Chief Justice. At present, the military enjoys the same degree of control it enjoyed over terrain and matters during the time of war with many civilian tasks still being carried out or supervised by the military. Over 90,000 people remain displaced in the former war zones due to military occupation with no possibility of land restitution in the near future.
The government’s actions in the past months have only contributed to the consolidation of its own political power, further diminishing the hope of achieving reconciliation and peace in the near future.

Repression and human rights violations in the North remained under-reported throughout 2012. This report attempts to highlight some key incidents and trends facing the Tamils in the North, while recognizing the violations and repression faced by all communities across the country, such as in the East and in the plantation sector.
Forty five months following the end of the war (May 2009 to date), Sri Lanka is still unsafe for the minority Tamil community and dissidents of the State. With abductions arrests and intimidation still continuing, there exists a general sense of lawlessness rampant across the country. This is much worse in the North, with heavy military presence and control. To date, people are asked the question “are you Sinhala or Tamil” at military checkpoints in the North.
Despite of repeated assurances to the International Community that devolution of power  envisaged by the 13th amendment to the   constitution will be fully implemented and there by a long awaited political solution to the conflict will be materialized, GoSL has not shown any commitment towards this end. 
The attitude of “Victor” vs. the “Vanquished” is quite evident in every sphere of live. People are not permitted to speak or assemble freely, some have no access to their homes as the military and their families are occupying their lands and they still have no security with the security forces still being able to pick people up from off the street or from their homes on the “suspicion” of being linked to a terror outfit that the President himself has claimed to have annihilated in May 2009.
Militarisation and imposition of the Sinhala Buddhist culture in the north has continued unabated.  In the words of veteran Tamil politician V. Ananada Sangaree ” During the past three years, hundreds of mini .Army camps and many Major camps had been set up in the midst of Tamil people who had suffered in many ways during the past thirty years and lost several lives and valuable properties more particularly during the last lap of the war; I am convinced more than anybody else that the minorities now feel discriminated more than ever before.” (Letters to the President, 24 July & 8 Dec 2012)
Freedom of expression, Right to association and Right to peaceful assembly and protest has been violated all through out the year.  On several occasions burnt oil, which h has become the symbol of state sponsored terror against dissent, was thrown at the peaceful protests in the North.
The recent spate of arrests of Jaffna University students, former LTTE combatants[1] by the Terrorist Investigation Division (TID) and attacks on media workers has heightened tension in the area, and fear amongst locals in the North. Dozens of disappearances has been reported form the North and majority of them remains unresolved.   Two Tamil prisoners have been killed and many others subject to brutal torture whilst in custody, earlier this year.
Ironically it was also the current President, who made the following statement at Sri Lanka’s 59th Independence Day Celebrations, on 4 February, 2007. He said “it is our duty to protect the lives and property of the Tamil and Muslim people and bring sanctity to the future world of their children.” That being said, the State has not even been able to fulfil the recommendations made by their own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).


Sri Lanka’s National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (‘National Action Plan’) appeared at the end of 2011. The drafting process had begun in 2008, consequent to a commitment made by the Government of Sri Lanka in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. The first draft of the National Action Plan was formulated in a process which included the representation of civil society representatives and was completed in 2009. However, the process floundered following the abolition of the Ministry of Human Rights in 2010. The subject of human rights was not formally assigned elsewhere within government. The progress of the National Action Plan was subsequently entrusted to the Attorney-General’s Department that produced the second draft, and organised further civil society consultations in 2010. However, some civil society representatives complained that the second draft was weaker than the first version, and had removed most of their contributions, revealing the cosmetic quality of non-governmental participation in the process. Thereafter, the momentum for the adoption of the National Action Plan slowed; and its fate appeared to be uncertain.
The government was preoccupied with crisis-management abroad, of its human rights record at home, and particularly, demands for international monitoring of human rights and investigation into alleged war crimes in the final phase of the war in 2009. Over the course of 2011, as efforts began to table a country-specific resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), the National Action Plan was finally presented to the Cabinet of Ministers that further amended the draft, shortly before the 18thregular session of the HRC in September. The sudden urgency was prompted by diplomatic exigencies to permit publicity of the NAP as evidence of the government’s commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights. However, the final text of the National Action Plan remained inaccessible and unknown within the country, until its release in December 2011, and was only made available more widely one year later.
The National Action Plan comprises two broad sets of issues grouped into Civil and Political Rights, and Economic, Social and Cultural Rights respectively; as well as six specialised areas: Prevention of Torture, Rights of Women, Protection of Labour Rights, Rights of Migrant Workers, Rights of Children, and the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons. Consistent with best practice, the National Action Plan does not stop with the identification of broad goals: there are dozens of individual issues isolated for attention – many reflect longstanding problems in the legal, administrative and criminal justice systems; key performance indicators are enumerated; as are time-frames for implementation; and key responsible agencies are named.
Considering the mounting political authoritarianism of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration, and combined with the weakness of democratic movements, institutions and values, the adoption of the National Action Plan registers an advance.
Whereas influential discourses within state and society present human rights as alien and imposed from without, the ‘home-grown’ National Action Plan creates opportunities for domestic advocacy on human rights and is potentially a bridge-head for critical civil society engagement with the state.
The National Action Plan should be supported, and be swiftly implemented. In addition, there should be plural civil society representation in its ongoing monitoring and evaluation; complemented by periodic public consultations, and ongoing information-sharing on its progress.
In every other respect, there is limited reason for optimism. More than 12 months since its adoption, it is not possible to identify where progress has been achieved as a result of the National Action Plan. There is nothing to show, beyond coordination meetings of government agencies and internal reports that are not available to the public. None of its proposed activities, of three or six month duration have, to public knowledge, been completed – even after 12 months. In actuality, the NAP has made no appreciable difference to the culture of, and climate for, human rights promotion and protection in Sri Lanka.
No reading of the National Action Plan indicates that its authors have confronted the scale and severity of Sri Lanka’s human rights crisis. The right to life, the right not to be tortured, and the freedoms of expression, association and assembly, are violated with impunity. The Prevention of Terrorism Act continues to be used to repress non-violent actions. The centralisation of power in the office and the person of the President unveil the worthlessness of the legislature and the judiciary in checking abuse of authority and defending the rights of citizens. The militarisation of state and society has accelerated since the war ended. Post-war reconciliation is platitudinous for the Tamil victims and survivors of the war without truth and justice.
If there is no sober acknowledgement of the human rights crisis in the National Action Plan, there cannot be cause for hope that it will rise to, leave alone meet the challenges of human rights protection in Sri Lanka. If the Government of Sri Lanka cannot be trusted not to back-track on pledges and commitments in international forums, as well as in its own National Action Plan, then what reassurance is there of sufficient political will for the remaining promises to be honoured? If there is no transparency in its implementation, no regular consultation with the plurality of civil society, and no discrete allocation of institutional, human and financial resources for its progress, there cannot be any confidence in the progress or in the meaningful realisation of the goals of the National Action Plan.
Indeed, it is hard not to see the obvious. As of now, the National Action Plan’s importance to the Government of Sri Lanka is for international advocacy on its human rights record and as symbol of its acknowledgement of human rights obligations. There is nothing inherently dishonourable in these ends; provided it is accompanied by sincerity of purpose and substantive improvements in human rights at home. However, where the National Action Plan masks the inaction of the government in confronting abuses and violations by state actors; and is a tool for deflection of its domestic and international obligations, then all who profess concern for human rights should know a fig-leaf when they see it.


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