Attorney-at-law Priyalal Sirisena (Left), Herman Kumara (Centre) and Hans Fridlund, Programme Manager at UPR Info UPR Info Country Coordinator brief the media about improving the human rights situationin the country
(Pics by Waruna Wanniarachchi)
As a country that is in the process of recovering from a 30-year ethnic conflict, many people affected by the war are yet to enjoy their basic rights such as safety, ownership of lands and settling down in permanent shelters. In a war-torn backdrop, a country has to start its forward march from scratch. The struggle to establish a framework to deliver justice to affected victims- including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and their families, victims of torture and abuse among others- was experienced by successive governments. However, under the Yahapalana regime, Sri Lanka recently expanded its commitment to Human Rights by ratifying the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearances and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Implementing the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) and several other mechanisms were quite challenging and the contribution by civil society groups is commendable. Yet, Sri Lanka as a country has a long way to go in terms of achieving
However civil society groups and human rights activists believe that the freshly drafted National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) needs to be executed with immediate effect.
“167 Recommendations were based on ideas by civil society groups”
Speaking at a recently held press conference, UPR Info Country Coordinator Herman Kumara said that it’s important that the civil society groups get involved in implementing the human rights framework. “Back in 2012 we carried out the UPR process, but the Government of Sri Lanka didn’t get involved with the civil societies. However, we now observe that the Government has been involved in some way or the other. Sri Lanka received 230 recommendations in relation to human rights and 167 of these recommendations were based on the proposals and ideas presented by the civil society groups. But we need to check how they will be implemented in future. There are various issues in relation to human rights that haven’t been solved to date,” said Kumara.
"The struggle to establish a framework to deliver justice to affected victims- including internally displaced persons (IDPs) and their families, victims of torture and abuse among others- was experienced by successive governments"
He further said that the civil society collective immensely contributed to the drafting of the NHRAP, but this contribution isn’t satisfactory in terms of executing this plan. “Another concern is that there are several issues with regard to the constitutional amendment process. We also raised concerns with regards to lands and people who were affected by the war. Here we noticed that the Government is ready to provide solutions for these issues with the necessary infrastructure and resources. But we also observed that these plans aren’t being implemented at the grassroots level. This is because most displaced or affected families live without basic needs. They are insecure in terms of safety, ownership of lands etc. but it was mentioned that almost 88% of lands have been released to the owners,” he added.
According to Kumara, the Office of Missing Persons needs to commence operations with immediate effect. “In terms of torture and abuse we don’t see a shift in the attitudes of Government officials. But we appreciate the fact that the attitudes of certain officials have changed in a positive way,” he said.
“State bears the primary responsibility of implementing the Review”
UPR Info is a non-profit, non-governmental organisation that aims to raise awareness on the Universal Periodic Review and to provide capacity building tools to all stakeholders such as UN Member states, parliamentarians, civil society groups, media and academics. In his comments, Hans Fridlund, Programme Manager at UPR Info, said that a defining feature of our engagement with partners is that we don’t seek to impose any pre-set agenda on national voices. “We are simply a facilitator and a partner, ready to support national efforts with technical expertise on the UPR.
“In order to achieve this endeavor, we support national UPR stakeholders both before and after the review,” Fridlund continued.“Before the review we extend support to Governments in the consultation process and drafting of the National Report. After the review, we collaborate with actors to kick-start the implementation process at the domestic level through discussions between Government officials and civil society representatives and to report back to the Human Rights Council halfway between reviews.”
Speaking on the Recommendations Hans said that one of the strengths of the Universal Periodic Review is that it covers the full set of human rights including economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights and group rights. “Implementation of UPR recommendations must be coupled with addressing recommendations coming from other United Nations Human Rights mechanisms such as the treaty body system and the Special Procedures. Recommendations from national processes and the National Human Rights Commission should also be taken into consideration as well as the state’s obligations towards the Sustainable Development Goals. In this vein, it was encouraging to see a recommendation calling for the incorporation of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women into Sri Lanka’s domestic system, and that Recommending states seized the opportunity to make recommendations calling for the full implementation of Human Rights Council resolution 30/1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’,” he added.
When asked about how the 167 recommendations should be implemented by the State, Hans said that the Universal Periodic Review is a state-led peer-review mechanism and as such the state bears the primary responsibility for their implementation. However civil society is a recognized actor in the follow-up process and should thus be involved in the realization of recommendations,” said Hans.
According to Hans, in the absence of an official follow-up mechanism, voluntary mid-term reporting is a good practice to take stock of the implementation levels of all recommendations, noted and supported, halfway between reviews.
“Slow progress in terms of implementation is a question”
Airing his views on this review, attorney-at-law Priyalal Sirisena said that the National Human Right Action plan contains a specific chapter on Internally Displaced Persons and Returning Refugees. “It speaks of creating a policy and framework to address displacements, provision of interim facilities, release of occupied lands, compensation for IDPs and returnees, supporting their livelihood and establishment of Office for Reparations.
These action plans are welcomed by the civil society. However, the implementation of these proposals requires a proactive and cooperative approach by the relevant ministries, including the Ministry of Resettlement, Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Lands etc. Resettlement is not going to be meaningful unless proper preparations and restoration of livelihood are taken care of. The NHRAP seems to describe what needs to be done, yet the slow progress in terms of implementation is a question,” said Sirisena.
"Civil society is a recognised actor in the follow-up process"
Although the war ended in 2009, issues relating to IDPs, war victims and victims of abuse were neglected by successive Governments. “These are matters falling under transitional justice which are happening very slowly,” Sirisena continued. “The resettlement of IDPs is a crucial issue, yet getting delayed due to political and other reasons. The government-declared 80% of the lands acquired by the military in war-time have been released to civilians, but civil society activists have pointed out that the figures were not correct.” he added.
"Resettlement of IDPs a crucial issue"
In terms of interventions which could be carried out by the Government, Sirisena believes that fast resettlement and restoring livelihoods of the affected population is an urgent necessity. “Yet the process seems very slow,” he added. “Sri Lanka has reaffirmed its firm commitment to United Nations resolution 30/1 at the Universal Periodic Review last November. This resolution prescribes four transitional justice mechanisms to be established, of which OMP and Office of Reparations are two mechanisms. A Truth Commission and Accountability mechanism are yet to be established. In achieving justice for the affected people, accountability mechanism is a must, but it has already become a matter of much controversy. It should be noted that the Government made a voluntary pledge at the UPR session at Geneva to establish these four mechanisms including a judicial mechanism. For any transitional justice process with an ethno-political aspect, openness and bold steps by the Government are necessary to make things move forward, despite criticisms,” he concluded.