The Sunday Leader

Sri Lanka’s Improvement In Human Rights Situation Lauded

  • Some concerns remain, warns UK FCO

by Paul Young

Phillip Hammond and Baroness Anelay

Although Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) signaled its willingness to address the long-standing allegations against the island of past human rights abuses and violations, some positive changes that the GoSL made in the north and east in this regard are less apparent, United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) latest Annual Human Rights Report released this week noted.

“There was an improvement in the overall human rights situation in Sri Lanka in 2015, although some concerns remain. Reversing the downward trend of recent years, the GoSL took positive steps to improve freedom of expression (including the media) and freedom of movement, reduce inter-community tensions, and restore the independence of institutions such as the Human Rights Commission. The government also signaled its willingness to address long-standing allegations of past human rights abuses and violations, co-sponsoring a resolution in the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in October committing it to reconciliation, accountability and the protection of human rights. In a positive change of approach, the government engaged constructively with the international community, including with the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and other UN bodies.”

In 2015, the UK encouraged and supported the government’s reform process. The UK lobbied for progress on key issues such as the return of military-occupied land, the lifting of bans on Tamil diaspora organisations, and the release of long-term detainees held without charge under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The UK was a strong advocate of the OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) and instrumental in the adoption of the HRC resolution in which the OISL recommendations were reflected. We supported this political effort through targeted funding that supported domestic monitoring efforts and increased participation for parliamentary elections in August. We also worked to improve police standards and police-community relations, and promoted interfaith dialogues across the country.

Some of these positive changes are less apparent in the north and east. Human rights defenders continued to report harassment and surveillance in 2015, a point raised by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances during their visit in November. The OISL report also highlighted a number of human rights concerns that still remain, including continued reports of torture, and sexual and gender-based violence. The UK has urged the government to investigate these and other allegations of human rights violations, and will continue to push for progress in these areas.

In 2016, we expect the positive trajectory to continue. This is a moment of opportunity for Sri Lanka, and the international community has an important role to play. The OHCHR will present its assessment of progress on implementation of its recommendations at the HRC’s 32nd session in June. We will continue to encourage and support Sri Lanka to deliver on its commitments to the HRC, and to make early progress to build wider support for its efforts to address accountability. The Prime Minister has pledged £6.6m over the next three years to continue our support for reconciliation and human rights. Our work with the government of Sri Lanka will aim to continue strengthening democracy and the rule of law, and reform the security sector, sharing UK experience and expertise.

In Sri Lanka, sustained engagement spanning the Prime Minister’s intervention at CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting) in 2013, an adversarial resolution at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in 2014, and a consensual HRC resolution in 2015, has helped this important partner put civil war behind it and embrace a brighter future. This shows what the rules-based international system can achieve when patient protagonists like the UK show firmness in pursuit of human rights objectives. In 2016, highlights will include: the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association UK working with the Parliament of Sri Lanka to develop a strong select committee system; the Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law working with Kenyan officials on the implementation of the Fair Administrative Action Act; and the UK Sierra Leone Pro Bono Network sharing experience on the administration of the High Court of Sierra Leone. Because of the interest the fund generated, the FCO has decided to scale up the focus on democracy and the rule of law under the new Magna Carta Fund for Human Rights and Democracy (MCF).

In Sri Lanka, a country which only recently emerged from civil war, parliamentary elections were reported as being the most peaceful in living memory, giving the country a strong democratic platform on which to build…. the UK provided support to domestic election monitors and to voter education programmes.

On October 1, 2015, the HRC adopted, by consensus, the UK/United States-led resolution on “promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”. This was a historic moment for Sri Lanka and the HRC, turning the page after years of international confrontation. The investigation of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights was mandated by a hard-won vote at the HRC in March 2014, following a global lobbying campaign led by the Prime Minister. It described many appalling violations and abuses committed by both sides during and after the Sri Lankan civil war. Many of its recommendations are reflected in the 2015 resolution which focuses on measures for accountability for past violations and further steps on reconciliation. This consensual UN outcome on Sri Lanka in 2015 has provided a framework for an important Commonwealth partner to rebuild peace and prosperity, which was the Prime Minister’s vision from the 2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM). It also demonstrates where collective international focus and ministerial engagement can promote change. Sri Lanka continues to be named within the United Kingdom’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) Annual Human Rights Report. Sri Lanka is one of 30 ‘Human Rights Priority Countries’ (HRPCs); countries where the UK has serious human rights concerns and hopes to engage positively to develop human rights performance.

The report commends improvement in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka during 2015, while also noting that some concerns still remain. The Report also commends the government’s willingness to engage with the international community and the co-sponsoring of a UN Human Rights Council (HRC) resolution in October committing to reconciliation, accountability and the protection of human rights. While appreciating the government’s willingness to address these issues, the report also notes that positive changes are less apparent in the north and east. Human rights defenders continued to report harassment and surveillance in 2015 and incidents of torture, and sexual and gender-based violence.

UK Prime Minister David Cameron has pledged £6.6m over the next three years to continue support for reconciliation and human rights. Work with the government of Sri Lanka will aim to continue strengthening democracy and the rule of law, sharing UK experience and expertise. At the launch of the report in London, UK Foreign Secretary, Phillip Hammond, said: “The promotion of human rights is a core part of the everyday work of the Foreign Office and is the responsibility of British diplomats around the world.”

The Report underlines the UK’s desire to work positively with countries facing human rights challenges to help them improve their human rights performance. The 30 HRPCs are: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burma, Burundi, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

“2015 proved the value of international co-operation. The 70th anniversary of the UN and the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) confirmed our interdependence, the crucial contribution of civil society, and the relevance of the Prime Minister’s “Golden Thread” (good governance and the rule of law). In the UK, the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta and a new National Security Strategy on the back of a Strategic Defence and Security Review, underlined the benefits of human rights, and our strong interest in sharing those benefits with international partners. The point is not abstract. It is about people at home and abroad and their well-being. That was the word used by the Head of the UN in Geneva when I presented to the organization a replica of Magna Carta and debated its significance with children from the international school. It fits well with the UK’s practical approach to human rights,” Rt. Hon. Baroness Anelay of St Johns DBE Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Prime Minister’s Special Representative on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict noted in her message.

 

2 Comments for “Sri Lanka’s Improvement In Human Rights Situation Lauded”

  1. ශ්‍රීලංකාව
    ෙෙෙෙෙෙෙලොව්තුරාබුදු
    අවුරුදු100

  2. Sangaralingham

    Human rights is expected from all civilized society with democratic government which was often abused with kidnapping torture detaining individuals in confinement without any reason. All unjustified personal kept in jail must be released after certain period of time must be released .violation of human rights must also include communicating with citizens not their mother tongue. Freedom of speech expression of thoughts ideas must be encouraged

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