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Friday, 07 July 2017 04:38

Engaging Civil Society in Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review

At the invitation of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, NPC facilitated a meeting to bring together government officials and civil society organisations engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights to discuss Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Colombo.

About 60 participants drawn from human rights groups and NGOs, including 22 members from NPC’s District Inter Religious Committees, attended the meeting.

The United Nations reviews the human rights records of a state every four and a half years in a report called the (UPR). All UN countries are reviewed for the promotion and protection of human rights. Each country states what actions have been taken to ensure human rights and improve them. The country’s national report, reports of independent human rights groups and UN entities and other stakeholders and civil society organisations are taken into account for the review. Sri Lanka’s third UPR comes up in November 2017.

Sri Lanka’s national report details progress made in regard to human rights since 2012 and addresses recommendations and voluntary pledges made in the 2008 cycle made. A draft report was made available to the participants. Similar national consultations will be held around the country before the report is finalised.

At the consultations, participants brought up many issues that have not been included in the national report and asked that they be included in it.

Some of these were:

  • The national report needs to specify time lines. Time frames were necessary in some cases. The draft report mentions investigations into past extra judicial killings but there are no details about the investigations.
  • A number of bodies have been established for reconciliation but little planning and coordination. Bodies not responsive. The process is not transparent.
  • There is no government outreach on reconciliation. No one is doing anything at grassroots level on reconciliation.
  • Violations of freedom of religion are not prosecuted. It is difficult to get state action on violations for minority communities. The situation is getting more serious.
  • There are no time frames for language programmes. Trilingual and bilingual officers are needed in public places such as police stations.
  • Programmes to help war affected women should be expanded with statistical data and information.
  • Sri Lanka Human Rights Commission’s recommendations are not implemented. It must be monitored.
  • Need to bring economic, social and cultural rights into the new constitution.
  • Food security is an issue.
  • Inadequate attention to disability issues. Disabled children of school going age have problems. There are no facilities for wheel chairs. There are no translators for deaf or blind people so they cannot convey their issues to doctors. Physical obstacles should be removed. There should be special programmes for the disabled.
  • Limited resources should be made use of properly and sustainably. Agriculture policies are formulated but not implemented because the government is afraid its economic power will be lessened. The Government is doing contrary things. Projects should be environmentally safe.
  • Information needed about people detained without charge, as progress is slow.
  • Need details about enforced disappearances.
  • OMP is not operationalised.
  • People searching for missing relatives are harassed and abused by the army. There are no independent investigations of complaints. Enforced disappearances are still not a crime.
  • OMP was not a consultative process. The CTF report came after it was legislated so the OMP was not set up through a consultation process.
  • Reforms are needed to strengthen existing law on victim protection.
  • Military continues to remain in civil areas. Why are such large tracts of land not released post war by the military?
  • There is a clear language policy but officers do not implement it. There are no Tamils officers in many areas. Boards are only in Sinhala. How can minorities get to know about the services?
  • Good governance principles have been identified but are they being implemented? The Government is going against principles of good governance. There are financial corruption charges against the government. There is very slow progress is punishing wrongdoers. Laws do not apply to Government party members. Laws should be equal for all.