The Sunday Leader

HRCSL Alerts New Government

  • Human Rights violations still remain

By Waruni Karunarathne

Many national and international human rights activists have observed that Sri Lanka is a country with grave human right violations – the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office also noted recently in an update on the situation during last three months of the last year that concerns over human rights situation of the country still remain.

The previous government was constantly accused of grave human rights violation which included allegations of abuses during the conflict, extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, persecution of journalists and human rights defenders and arbitrary arrests. Upon these accusations, many seem to have relied on the new government to take measures to improve human rights condition of the country – even though many of the accused party have become part of the new government.

Amongst the incidents during the last couple of years, Rathupaswala and Aluthgama incidents came under grave criticism of the human rights defenders. Some places of worship of minority religious groups came under constant attack and groups and activists who were protecting and promoting human rights continued to face many challenges. Supreme Court orders were brought against trade union and students activities and unions were suppressed using state forces. There were also complaints from the North and East about human rights violations including complaints about land issues. Many of these incidents were brought into the attention of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL), which according to some, were gone unnoticed. However, the HRCSL said that they have given necessary recommendations and directives after investigating thoroughly the incidents.

When interviewed, Dr Prathibha Mahanamahewa, a member of the HRCSL, assured that even the previous government carried out thorough investigations into complaints they received related to human rights violations. He added that the HRCSL extended there support to carry out the investigations of the Presidential Commission on Missing Persons and assisted where needed even though the mandate was not given for the HRCSL. He further noted that the Missing Persons Commission does not hold power other than to carry out the investigation according to the gazette notification and therefore there was nothing much they could do.

With reference to the international inquiry into alleged human rights violations of Sri Lanka, Mahanamahewa added that the UNHRC never requested the HRCSL to assist the investigation nor they were given any mandate. He added that the HRCSL produced reports to state authorities on Rathupaswala as well as Aluthgama incidents with necessary recommendations. “In any country HRC is not a court or a tribunal. We give recommendations and directives,” he added. He said that they proposed to acquire legal validity to their recommendations. He said that 100 day programme promises to introduce the Right to Information and Witness and Victim Protection Bills which is conducive toward improving human rights situation in Sri Lanka. “The HRCSL in 2012 United Nations Human Rights Council Universal Periodical report, recommended that the Right to Information Bill should be introduced – which is very important in terms of human rights. Including it in the 100 day programme is a positive step” he added. However, he observed that the concern of the HRCSL right now is that the100 day programme does not include a provision to establish a system to protect and promote human rights. He added that even in certain other countries like the USA, New Zealand, there have been promises during elections to implement programmes similar to the 100 day programme – but for that purpose there need to be a proper system and the HRCSL will intervene to establish that system. He also pointed out there are certain things that are not included in the 100 day programme that are important in terms of human rights such as the national inquiry into violations of human rights.

He added that the HRCSL has received technical assistance from the Commonwealth Human Rights Division and now there is a very conducive environment to work on human right issues – he said he expects to see a progress in the future where the new government ratifies the mistakes. “Any government is obliged to protect citizens and rights of the people. The major issue is protecting human rights which need to be strengthened in our country,” he added.

He further said that the HRCSL expects to conduct an investigation and ask the relevant parties to withdraw the restrictions brought upon some NGO and civil society activities through the NGO Secretariat circular. He added that the HRCSL received complaints from the civil society activist about the circular introduced by the former government restricting activities of their organisations. According to him, at that point the HRCSL contacted the person who signed the circular and got a verbal promise that they would not interfere into civil society activities but the circular was not withdrawn. He assured that the HRCSL will discuss with the new secretaries and make recommendations to withdraw the circular.  “Last week we had a meeting with civil society activists. Their first request was to look into this circular which is hampering their freedom of speech. We have given lot of consideration to that request and we expect to inquire the relevant parties and give our recommendations to withdraw the circular,” Mahanamahewa added.

He also added that the Prevention of Terrorism Act is also pivotal – as what we have at present is a very old one. “We have to make sure that international human rights and humanitarian laws are protected in the PTA. I think it is the time for us to see the amendments to PTA Act where there is a need to look into security laws to fall in line with the standards of the Intentional Covenant for Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),” he added.

He remarked that Prime Minster Ranil Wickremesinghe had stated recently at a ceremony at BMICH that Sri Lanka is going to ratify ICCPR second optional protocol which is the abolition of the death penalty. Mahanamahewa added that HRCSL recommended this in 2012 and observed this promise as a marvelous move in terms of protecting human rights.

According to Mahanamahewa, Wickremesinghe also promised to introduce the Witness Protection and Right to Information Bills – and assured the protection of rule of law and changes to the constitution which are seen as conducive towards promoting and protecting human rights.

He added that certain legislations and bills are there but they need to come into effect for even the HRCSL to play their role more effectively. However he noted that they have not yet seen those bills brought in and that they will put pressure on the new government to protect and promote human rights.

1 Comment for “HRCSL Alerts New Government”

  1. Chris

    Idealistic interpretations of human rights is good for preaching but when the reality of terrorism sets in terrorists don’t play by the rules.They use all the vile tactics that terrorists usually use and demolish society to dust and rubble as it occured during the LTTE as well as the JVP days of old.Therefore the governments have to maintain a balance between the two extremes of denial of basic human rights and protection of society.Absolute vigilance at all times is a must if the country is to prevent another era of similar to the 30+ years before May,2009.Those who speak out on restoration of human rights must do so with the human rights of the vast majority as well in mind.When things go horribly wrong as it did in Sri Lanka the human rights activists were able to do very little to solve the real problem of terrorism.It is better to be safe than sorry and the need to ensure this is vigilance even at the inconvenience of not enjoying all the human rights enshrined in post Worl War 2 idealistic HR Charters.All countries including the so called liberal Western Democracies are coming to terms with this reality as it recently transpired in Paris and Sydney Australia. Balance through vigilance and effective deterrant is the need of the hour.

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