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Human Rights Committee reviewed Sri Lanka’s alarming situation

Date : 2014.10.09

IMADR and Forum Asia delivered a joint statement on “Attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders” at the NGO briefing on Sri Lanka with the Human Rights Committee on 7th October 2014.

At the 112th session of the Human Rights Committee, the State party report of Sri Lanka under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) was reviewed from the afternoon of 7th to the morning of 8th October 2014. As a result of this consideration, concluding observations with recommendations will be issued from the Committee later this month. Summary of the comments and questions raised by the Committee during the review is available below.

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DAY 1

Constitutional and legal framework within which the Covenant is implemented, right to an effective remedy (art. 2)

The Human Rights Committee expressed concern on a lack of cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka with the individual communications system. The Committee also pointed out the inconsistency of the Constitution with the ICCPR and limited effects of the Act No. 56 of 2007. The Committee also referred the parliament decision to deny the legal nature of previous concluding observations. Other issues such as denial of certain rights of non-citizens, 18th Amendment and its negative impact on independence of institutions drew the Committee’s attention. Issues with regard to former LTTE combatants including ill-treatment, lack of rehabilitation services, restriction of freedom of movement and surveillance were raised during the consideration.

Non-discrimination (arts. 2, 3 and 26)

The Committee shared its concern on stereotypical views of high level politicians against women while quoting their negative comments. The withdrawal of the Women’s Commission Bill also raised the Committee’s concern. The Committee was alerted by the low level of female participation in political and public affairs including the extremely low number of women in the Parliament and no female representation in the Presidential Task Force for Resettlement, Development and Security in the Northern Province. Other issues such as inequality in Muslim marriage and divorce, discrimination against women in land and development ordinance, discrimination against LGBTI persons in law and practice were commented by the Committee.

Violence against women, including domestic violence (arts. 2, 3, 6, 7 and 26)

Lack of implementation of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act was addressed by the Committee, which has prevailed impunity for violence against women. Furthermore, non-criminalisation of marital rape was questioned. The Committee referred the low rate of prosecution for rape cases as well as widespread sexual violence in the North and the East.

Counter-terrorism measures (arts. 2, 7, 9, 10 and 14)

Under the Government’s counter-terrorism measures, liberty of detainees is derogated. The Committee raised the issue of arbitrary detention of human rights defenders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). Insufficient legal safeguards regarding the counter-terrorism activities, including a lack of courts’ jurisdiction over counter-terrorism measures and reversal of burden of proof, were questioned. The Committee requested the Government to provide further information on pending Habeas Corpus cases.

Right to life (art. 6)

The Committee stressed that wide scales of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances remain serious issues and need to be addressed appropriately. The Committee questioned whether the Presidential Commission on Disappearances can investigate disappearance cases happened in areas and times which are not covered by its mandate. The Committee emphasised the need to prosecute perpetrators of such crimes and to provide compensation for victims and their families. The current criminalisation of abortion except in life-threatening circumstances needs to be reconsidered.

Accountability (arts. 2, 6, 7, 9, 10 and 14)

A number of well-known incidents such as the Muttur massacre, Menik farm, shelling against the hospital, Channel 4 allegation have not been properly investigated, and perpetrators have not been held accountable. There is a lack of witness protection programmes which has made it difficult to hold those responsible for the crimes accountable. The Committee also expressed serious concern on the involvement of the military with the Disappearance Commission. Selective implementation of the LLRC recommendations by the National Plan of Action was questioned by the Committee.

Negative effects of the 17th and 18th Amendments, the necessity to prosecute perpetrators of grave human rights violations were repeated by the Committee in the first part of the consideration.

 

DAY 2

Prohibition of torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment,liberty and security of person, fair trial and independence of judiciary (arts. 7, 9, 10 and 14)

The Committee asked the Government whether the definition of ill-treatment by police also includes rape. It also requested the Government to provide a data on torture and other cruel and inhuman treatment. It highlighted that the absence of investigation to tortures has prevailed impunity. The Committee emphasised that the draft bill on arbitrary and unlawful detention is not guaranteed to be in law yet, and even the non-compliance of police with the existing law has been witnessed. It raised concern on the practice of detention in unauthorised places, as well as a lack of sanction against perpetrators and remedies for victims. Overcrowding in prisons was another concern for the Committee, and it highlighted the need of an independent monitoring system of prisons. Again, the 18th Amendment was raised by the Committee as it has deprived the independence of judiciary. It also asked whether the impeachment against the Chief justice followed the Constitutional procedures. The Committee asked what plans the Government has to ensure the independence of judiciary.

Protection of rights of children (arts. 2, 7, 24 and 26)

The Government was asked a various questions including the change of the minimum age for criminal charges and alternative sanctions for imprisonment of juveniles. The Committee requested the Government to provide a data of child abuse cases in child care institutions. It also expressed concern on the use of child labour including for dangerous work activities.

Elimination of slavery and servitude (art. 8), Freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of association (arts. 19, 21 and 22)

The Committee requested a statistical data of prosecution of perpetrators of trafficking and remedies for victims. The Committee strongly emphasised that no one should be subjected to reprisals by providing information to the treaty body. It also commented that public defamation campaigns against human rights defenders have seriously impacted freedom of expression, as it has led to self-censorship. It urged the Government to take actions to address such incidents rather than leaving victims to do so. The Committee raised concern on attacks against journalists, while referring the Lasantha Wickrematunge and Prageeth Ekneligoda cases. The Committee requested the Government to provide outcomes of investigations to violations of freedoms of expression and assembly. The Committee also expressed its concern on the fact that freedom of association is often violated due to the interferences by the security forces and intelligence service.

Freedom of movement and right to privacy (arts. 12 and 17)

The Committee questioned the Government why the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) between the State party report and a NGO report is different. The Committee also noted that military occupation of land has prevented many IDPs from returning to their places of origin. The Committee asked the Government whether the draft resettlement policy facilitates informed and voluntary choices of IDPs. It also mentioned that IDP women are often harassed in resettlement processes.

Right to take part in the conduct of public affairs (art. 25), Rights of persons belonging to minorities (arts. 18, 26 and 27)

With regard to the Trincomalee massacre, the Committee asked why it has taken so long to investigate the incident. The Committee also questioned the plausibility of the Court of inquiry with the involvement of the military for investigation. The Committee asked whether any safeguard against the abuse of law exists while addressing the case of General Sarath Fonseka. It expressed its view that the Underperforming Enterprises and Underutilized Assets Act is used in discriminatory and arbitrary manners. Regarding attacks against Christians and Muslim communities, the Committee concerned that no effective police action were taken to stop those incidents when they happened, as well as a low number of prosecution for violence against minorities. Rights of Tamils have been violated in various ways. Places in Tamil names have been renamed to Shinhalese names. Buddhist temples have taken over places of worship of Tamils. Tamils are not allowed to commemorate 18th May.

The Government was also asked whether it is going to amend the emergency articles in the Constitution. The Chair of the Committee asked whether the Government is prepared to hear testimonies of witnesses in abroad for the incidents such as the Trincomalee and Muttur cases, while ensuring their whereabouts remain unknown.

 

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