Colombo Telegraph

Proposed Constitutional Amendment Needs Improvement: Article 19

Article 19 welcomes the proposed inclusion of a right to information provision as the Sri Lankan Parliament amends the country’s Constitution. However, the London based freedom of expression watchdog urges Parliament to make sure that constitutional rights are available to all, not just citizens.

Article 19’s Executive Director Thomas Hughes

“It’s encouraging that the Sri Lankan government is serious about protecting the right to freedom of information and is joining the other countries of South Asia in having a full constitutional provision. However, the proposed provision only protects this right for citizens, so we urge the government to change the proposal to ensure that the right is available to all,” said Thomas Hughes, Article 19 Executive Director.

“According to international law human rights belong to all, not just those with citizenship. Rules restricting rights so that they only apply to citizens have been used elsewhere to prevent marginalised and economically disadvantaged people – many of whom cannot afford or are prevented from becoming citizens – from exercising their rights,” he added.

“Given that the Sri Lankan government is amending the Constitution, it should make sure that the provision on the right to freedom of expression is expanded to apply to everybody, not just citizens” he concluded.

The proposed amendment creates a new article (Article 14A of the Constitution) which states: ‘every citizen shall have the right of access to any information’. It goes on to say that for any organisation to be able to request information, over three-quarters of its members must be citizens. This provision unnecessarily restricts the right to information to those people with citizenship of Sri Lanka.

The Constitution also currently limits the rights to freedom of expression, assembly, association and belief so that they are only protected for its citizens. However, freedom of expression and the right to information are fundamental rights for all. This is recognised by numerous international instruments, including:

  • the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • the regional charters of the African Union, the Organization of American States, the Council of Europe, and the European Union.

In addition to this, the UN Human Rights Committee clearly stated in its General Comment 34 in 2011 that these rights apply to everyone.

Under international law, all human rights are universal, indivisible, interdependent, and interrelated. No fundamental and universal right can be applied solely to citizens. Therefore, constitutions that give rights only to their citizens are in contravention of international legal standards.

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