28 September, 2020

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Struggle For Human Rights In Sri Lanka: Progress Despite A Difficult Legacy

By Harsha de Silva

Harsha de Silva

At a time when the world seems to be struggling mightily to put human rights at the forefront of a global discourse burdened by conflict, fear of terrorism and radicalisation, and real or perceived security threats of various kinds, mechanisms like the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) at the United Nations Human Right Council gain an added importance. The UPR was enacted in 2006 by the General Assembly of the UN as a process in which the human rights record of every member state is scrutinized by fellow member states and its adherence to obligations in the UN Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other human rights instruments is tested.

Sri Lanka is reporting under the UPR mechanism for the third time this week in Geneva, with previous reports occurring in 2008 and 2012. Following more than three decades of conflict and a subsequent government which had a dubious record on human rights, I am happy to represent a government which has made vindication of human rights central to its policies. Considering the difficult legacy, it was always to be expected that the process was never going to be easy. However, there are many signs of progress on the front of human rights we were proud to present in Geneva.

On 1 November, the government launched Sri Lanka’s National Human Rights Action Plan 2017-2021, which outlines our vision for human rights during the next five years. The plan, informed by wide consultations, contains feasible, actionable and relevant action points pertaining to ten thematic areas – Civil and Political Rights, Prevention of Torture, Rights of Women, Rights of Internally Displaced Persons and Returning Refugees, Rights of Migrant Workers, Rights of Persons With Disabilities, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Rights of Children, Labour Rights and Environmental Rights. The goals set out in the plan are clear, and they will strengthen the existing national mechanisms for the protection and promotion of human rights through substantial constitutional, legislative, policy and administrative frameworks. The recently enacted budget clearly shows we are serious about seeing this plan through, and have created effective ways of monitoring and evaluating its implementation.

The National Human Rights Commission (HRCSL) has been further strengthened with the appointment of independent commissioners by the Constitutional Council. The HRCSL has the authority to entertain complaints and conduct investigations regarding infringements or imminent infringements of fundamental rights, and to provide for resolution by conciliation and mediation. It also monitors the welfare of persons in detention. The government has progressively increased resources allocated to the commission as one of the key human rights institutions and will continue to support and safeguard its independence.

We have consulted and listened to the people on how to go about addressing the needs resulting from the decades of conflict and suffering. These extensive consultations carried out by the Consultation Task Force comprising an 11-member all-civil society group inform our approaches to reconciliation and dealing with the past. We have also adopted the National Policy on Reconciliation based on the feedback we received from communities and multiple other stakeholders. 

As one of the key measures aimed at addressing the suffering of the families of the missing persons, the government enacted legislation for establishing the independent and permanent Office on Missing Persons (OMP), and it came into operation on the 15th September 2017. On 20th October 2017, the Constitutional Council advertised, in all three languages, calling for applications to fill the seven posts of Commissioners. This Office is mandated to take all necessary measures to provide for a mechanism to address the issues and concerns related to missing persons. We cannot claim to be a society where the rights of all citizens are equally respected if we are blind to the suffering of mothers still searching for their children. In the budget for 2018, we have proposed setting aside 1.4 billion Rupees for the operation of the OMP for next year.

An office is to be established to address reparations to the victims of the conflict, and the draft legislation prepared by experts in this regard is currently under discussion. Meanwhile, the Government has already paid Rs. 574 million and Rs. 605 million in 2017 and 2016 respectively, as compensation for victims, through the Rehabilitation of Persons, Property and Industries Authority (Sri Lanka) – REPPIA. A draft law for a TRC is also under consideration.  The government remains firmly committed to developing a domestic mechanism to address justice and accountability on alleged human rights and humanitarian law violations. The architecture of the mechanism will be devised taking cognizance of our commitment to fight impunity, as well as of all relevant factors that shape Sri Lanka’s constitutional and political context.

The security forces have continued to progressively vacate lands in the Northern and Eastern Provinces that had been occupied for military use and strategic security reasons and appropriate compensation will be provided where release is not feasible due to security reasons. At the end of the conflict the security forces were using approximately  88571 acres of state lands and 30, 337 acres of private lands. Of this, as at 31st October 2017, the armed forces had vacated 57,278 acres of state lands and 24,675 acres of private lands in the Northern and Eastern provinces. 604 more acres of state lands and 294 acres of private lands have been earmarked for release by the end of this year. Appropriate compensation in consultation with the persons concerned, will be made in connection with private land that cannot be released for security or strategic purposes such as land around the Palaly airport in the North.

In 2016, a total of 11,253 houses (Rs. 8,963 million) were handed over to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) and an additional allocation of Rs. 4,785 million has been made in the 2017 budget for the construction of 5,732 houses. In the next year’s budget, we have proposed an allocation to support the construction of 50,000 brick and mortar houses in the North and East. It is clear for all to see that our commitment to redressing those affected by the conflict in all areas of our country is rooted in action, not only words.

Amongst many other positive developments, the government endorsed the ‘Declaration of the Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict’ on 12th January 2016, including by ending impunity for such crimes. To address the specific issues faced by Women Headed Households (WHH) who have been identified as a vulnerable social group, the Cabinet of Ministers approved a National Action Plan on WHHs in October 2016 which focuses on health and psycho-social support, livelihood development, protection, social security, support services systems, as well as national level policy formulation and awareness building.

Regulations and measures have been put in place to eradicate child labour to ensure the full enjoyment of the rights of the child. Various initiatives are underway on this front, including the concept of Child Labour Free Zone initially piloted in the district of Ratnapura, successfully eradicating child labour in that district. The success of this project has now been replicated in all the 25 districts in the country.

And there is much more to point to in illustrating the progress we have made in the past two years as there is much to be proud of. At the same time, we must not be blind to the significant challenges we are facing as we continue on this journey.

While the government has released over 12,000 ex combatants, and it has taken a policy decision to reduce the number of detainees held without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA), we are aware of the need to reform this act and previous emergency regulations. To this effect, a draft policy and legal framework for a proposed counter-terrorism law to repeal the current PTA was formulated by a committee of experts and a draft bill is being finalized.

The government maintains a ‘zero tolerance policy’ on torture and is cognizant of the continued challenges encountered with respect to combating torture, illustrated in the recent reports by some media and international NGOs. We will ensure that such allegations of torture committed in the country are investigated and prosecuted to the full extent of the law. We can’t claim progress on human rights if we allow for such despicable practices to continue. On 14th November, the Cabinet of Ministers approved Sri Lanka’s accession to the Optional Protocol on the Conventional against Torture and the appointment of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka as the National Preventive Mechanism under the Protocol. Our government is determined to take all possible steps to eliminate the practice of torture in our country. We urge everyone in the country to unite in this effort. No human being should ever face the horrors of torture in our country. 

Our commitment to human rights is firm, and we will continue to illustrate this through action, policy and legislation. It is a journey we embarked upon in 2015 with a mandate from the people who were tired of conflict, tired of corruption and tired of abuse. It is a journey towards the full respect for the rule of law, towards reconciliation and sustainable peace, towards upholding and protecting human rights of all our citizens. We are aware that similar processes in some countries which faced similar legacies of conflict as Sri Lanka took decades, we are aware of the difficulties and challenges. However, our human rights agenda is much more ambitious and we don’t intend to measure our progress in decades, as it can clearly be seen from the record presented in Sri Lanka’s UPR report. We stand firm in our commitment to the struggle for human rights and to seeing our journey through to the benefit of all Sri Lankans. We are proud of the progress we have achieved in less than three years, progress which all citizens and the international community can clearly see. We’ll be prouder still when we finish the ambitious job we started.

*By Dr Harsha de Silva, MP, Deputy Minister of National Policies and Economic Affairs

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Latest comments

  • 2
    2

    What happened to Thilak Marapana, the foreign minister ?.
    IS this trying to forget the Day light robbery of the central bank ?.
    Were you one of the foot note gang and you defended the central bank robbery. in TV programs Now what do you say some of the robbers are caught ?
    Why in Sri lanka, animal rights are not important, millions of animals are torture and killed
    The whole world knows, human rights is the western countries’ Trojan horse for other countries to subjugate. why Sri lanka is this dumb.

    • 4
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      UN people would be thinking that SL sending people with different faces but all saying the same story, same lie.. But the truth is we are NOT lying.. This is how we see it.. Majority of us can’t reason and understand objectively… because genetically we are not brave enough to accept our faults… every wrong we do is somebody else’s fault….. we are always good…..
      Extracts from the book “Hundred Years in Ceylon: 1818 to 1918” The following is the judgment of Sir William Gregory, a former governor , written after he retired from the island…
      Weakness and moral and physical timidity are their main faults, and as you well know, cowardice is a difficult defect to cure . The way to deal with such a race is to give them confidence and encouragement, to reward even ostentatiously good conduct , fidelity and strength, but to be down on offenders with relentless severity. I have ‘pursued this course , and without egotism I can say that I believe no Governor ever before succeeded in inspiring such a universal trust in his motives .
      Looks like this British governor failed too.

    • 1
      1

      Harsha’s Statement is unpatriotic, unprofessional and unethical. Should we surprise of this type of a statement coming from someone who was nowhere when our security forces fought with bloody LTTE terrorists?
      .
      The first thing Harsha/Government should have talked would have been the unbiased Statement made by Lord Naseby who is an expert in Sri Lankan affairs since 1975. One should not only have guts but patriotic towards his own country to challenge the UNHRC at the UPR. His “deliberate failure” to do so proves that Harsha had ulterior motives to make our security forces and the Sinhalese Leader who eradicated terrorism to be subject to war crimes investigations.
      .
      Then again, about recent bogus torture allegations against security forces which was a production of Emmerson who visited prisons, he says; “we can’t claim progress on human rights, if we allow for such despicable practices to continue…” Continue, Harsha, continue? What are you trying to imply? Without any proof, you’ve accepted that there had been such torturing in the past. Not only that, you have agreed that there is a possibility of continuing torture even now. You should have vehemently denied those new allegations, firmly stating that there is no room at all any such thing to happen. How could you degrade and betray your own country and Army like this, man? Forget about the past which should be dealt with separately where our Army who brought peace is already feeling the pain of being betrayed by Yahapalana Government, how could you betray them repeatedly like this accepting new allegations? Can you give any valid reason why should Army torture prisoners now? People like Harsha are downright disgusting to me. Harsha came on National List, but if UNPers ever come before voters again, people should receive them with 2×2 clubs.
      .
      Contd’…..

      • 2
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        Dear Champa,
        Hope you now realize your continued ranting of these lying politicians won’t happen if your Government accepted the golden opportunity for the war crimes investigation. All the bad eggs would have been thrown out and the rest saved with integrity and your Country fast developing. Your Government allows the bad eggs to get all other good eggs to decay and even the well educated Harsha became a bad egg!

        • 0
          1

          Richard
          .
          .”..Accept the golden opportunity for the war crimes investigations?????”

          Why should we accept something we didn’t do? It is not necessary to have investigations against our Army when there is no issue of war crimes. They neither commit war crimes nor targetted civilians. Their only target was terrorists, otherwise they would not have evacuated civilians from the battlegrounds and safely shelter them in no-fire zones.
          .
          When Prabhakaran was alive, knowing fully well that he killed more than 100k civilians including Two Presidents, other political leaders, mostly Tamils and Buddhist priests in the cold blood, none of the Western countries ever demanded war crimes allegations against Prabhakaran or his outfit LTTE. Instead, the West, especially Norway had negotiations with the world’s most ruthless war criminal, with the full support of the US. In fact, at the last phase of the war in 2009, French FM Bernard Kushner and British FM David Miliband came to Sri Lanka SOLELY for the purpose of rescuing the barbarian terrorist leader, Prabhakaran NOT civilians. If not, they should have demanded to go to battlegrounds to rescue civilians not the bloodthirsty terrorist leader. Until Prabhakaran was killed in a fierce battle, the West NEVER cared about civilians or the carnage committed by LTTE in Sri Lanka.
          .
          It is the exiled LTTE remnants who are in the Tamil diaspora who wanted war crimes investigations based on their own unsubstantiated allegations purely to take revenge from our Army for killing their barbarous terrorist leader, nothing else. People like you, the United Nations and the West have swallowed their bait.

          • 0
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            Champa, Harsha and Eran are the American wing of the UNP.

      • 0
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        Hey, Harsha, before trying to please the UNHCR, the US and the West at the expense of your own country, you should have noticed their double standard.
        .
        Has your conscience ever prompted you to think as to why the UN never demand investigations on torture allegations at the Guantanamo Bay detention centre which was established in 2002 or release them as political prisoners similar to TNA’s claims?
        .
        I have more to prove their double standards. Every time US Army killed terrorists, Obama and before him George Bush praised them stating that they brought peace to them and the world, as if only they have the right to say that.
        .
        I love talking about the US who tabled the Geneva Resolution against Sri Lanka with the help and full agreement of Sri Lanka (this despicable government is responsible for treachery) and highlight their double standards.
        .
        Between 1945 and 2014, US has bombed 40 countries, killings hundreds of thousands civilians. See this link. https://wikispooks.com/wiki/US_Bombing_campaigns_since_1945
        .
        Between 2014 and 2017, US has dropped 84,000 bombs and missiles killing hundreds of thousands civilians, in Iraq and Syria ONLY. This is the link. https://www.globalresearch.ca/the-us-state-of-war-july-2017-84000-bombs-since-2014-and-counting/5598530
        .
        There should have been war crimes investigations against the US where there is ample supporting evidence, before intimidating and forcing the feeble Sri Lankan government to accept unsubstantiated war crimes allegations against her Army.
        .
        Harsha, someone said you hail from Down-south. I doubt it. There is no history of people who hail from the South betraying his own country. You should have had a backbone and the courage to revise the statement.

        • 0
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          Someone has sent me this website too, which I forgot to add earlier, re: US bombing the world killing 20 MILLION people since World War II.
          .
          If anybody or the UNHRC wants to know what is a war crime looks like, these are the examples.

          • 0
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            Dear Champa,
            If your thought process is for Sri Lanka stay with your Country and feel for your countrymen. You cannot equate LTTE with a Country’s armed forces. War regulations and reputation don’t apply to LTTE when you say they are a terrorist organisation. Harsha is well educated to know a lot more.
            You are also admitting Sri Lanka forces committed crimes the same way US and other western Countries committed by your equating the Sri Lanka forces with the forces of other Countries. Stay away from committing your Country any further. Sri Lanka is trying to regain its dignity and make some progress.

            • 0
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              Richard
              UN doesn’t consider LTTE as a terrorist organization. For nearly 4 decades they could even give a proper definition for terrorism. Check for yourself. If there was one, this allegation of war crimes will never be an issue. I have said this before many times. Terrorists have no human rights. They should be vanquished. UN Charters/Treaties/HR all applied to countries who are party to them, when they engaged in a war. LTTE is not party to any UN treaties, therefore, HR matter is not applied in our case. Besides, every country has a right to protect its sovereignty. UN has no right whatsoever to interfere in that. Look at Myanmar, they didn’t allow UNHRC to interfere.
              I never admitted our forces committing crimes.There is no comparison of what the US did and what our Army did. Our Army fought with terrorists to save their own country while US bombed other countries recklessly and the UN covered all the killings of civilians in the name of terrorism in favour of US. What I talked about is the duplicity of war crimes allegations. Human rights should be applied to deliberate killings of civilians by US. Our Army never targetted civilians. If anybody know what is war crimes, they should look at what US has done.
              SLs trying to regain its dignity?? How?, betraying her own Army who fought against terrorists with life? Man, we Sinhalese all should be dead if we ever allow this government to betray our Armed Forces..

    • 1
      0

      Harsha

      Just before the 2015 Presidential Elections in an interview to Al Jazeera you said”I am a proud Southerner and a Sinhala Buddhist. I have no desire whatsoever to align with the Tigers and betray my country”.

      What exactly did you mean when you said ” I am a proud Southerner and a Sinhala Buddhist”. Do you have a special position in this island just because you claimed to be a proud Southerner and a Sinhala Buddhist? What makes you a proud Southerner?

      • 0
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        Are you mad native, These educated sinhala knows how to fool their own people….you real vedda…

  • 2
    2

    Torture has a broader definition than the infliction of physical pain. You have so many people in jails without trial for so long. You cannot pretend that there is no torture that goes on. Land is still under the control of the army. Hotels are run on such land. It is a fib to say that the land is needed for national security. Why mislead the world?

  • 2
    0

    Yes, AVB,

    *

    We just cannot see ourselves as others see us.

    *

    Why do we patronisingly build houses in the North and the East, instead of giving them the freedom to decide how to build? I think that it was pointed out by somebody quite some time ago that what we had to do was to train masons and carpenters to do the work, and give them the materials; while monitoring that construction really was taking place.

  • 2
    0

    MR once claimed that HIS soldiers carried a book on human rights in one hand.
    GR claimed that ‘not a single civilian causality’ in Vanni war.
    We have been in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of UNHRC ever since.
    We, the silent majority of Lankans want to get out of this UPR.
    Do it Harsha.

  • 0
    2

    I read here two articles from this same minister. I was so disappointed. I read his statements out of this too. Sri lanka will be still the same stupid country. See how Myanmar has handled so-called Rohingya issue. They said NO to UNHCR straight forward. Sri lanka has pissed and all over the body. What a disaster. What are you trying to do. Making who is happy at the expense of those who protected you without getting blown up. How many times that has to be explained ? AVB is correct Dumb and weak running the country. We need Duterte (phillipines) and Fidel Castro (Cuba) like leaders. Not these looters are the rulers – lot.

  • 1
    0

    God is regretting now as to why he made humans to speak unlike the animals because the god given languages are now maligned, used for tongue twisting, lies and hypocrisy by politicians all over the world and Sri Lanka is no exception. It has become the norm in ordinary humans as well.

    Harsha, you know in your inner heart that Human rights violations are, even now taking place in Sri lanka. I can name many in the North and East. Political prisoners, after a long period of time, still in prison. Army is occupying in private lands and its owners are still in camps. The rights to self determination for the minorities is refused since independence from the British. Prevention of terrorism act is still not repealed. Why?
    The Human Rights Council, the UPR is all there in words and not in action. The International Community, if willing could have stopped the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Tamil Civilians during the war. It deliberately failed but helped the Sri Lankan Army to defeat the LTTE. Therefore the UN cannot be trusted. And America the main partner cannot be trusted.

    • 0
      1

      Harsha De silva: See what human right violations in Sri lanka. Do not prison former suicide bombers and the black tigers and let them go. three of those were accused for murdering 26 army fellows and 8 police officers. —————— Allow Tamils to tamilize the whole north.
      Why we should not say, that idiot politicians are there to bend to the west so they can do what ever they want to you and let down the country.

  • 0
    1

    Another human right violation that Tamils do not admit in open is tamils, even now, get burned by cigarette buds etc. Interestingly enough they all have submitted asylum applications in the UK. It says that they pay Sterling pounds 5000 to get their body burned by cigarette because they want their claim approved.

    • 1
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      jimmy

      “Another human right violation tha Tamils do not admit in open is Tamils, even now, get burned cigarette buts etc.”

      True, at police stations, especial army torture camps, ………………………….

  • 0
    0

    There were no HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATION during the war because All Tamils were considered Animals-” TIGERS”.

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