COLOMBO: Sri Lanka told the 33 rd. session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Thursday, that constructive engagement with the Special Procedures and the UN system as a whole has benefitted Sri Lanka “significantly”, and it looks forward to continuing the engagement.
“We believe that engagement with the UN system and the Human Rights Mechanisms is in the best interest of the people of our country, to obtain advice and views, and also expertise and technical assistance that will benefit us in terms of capacity building and ensuring the strengthening of our own local institutions,” said Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN system in Geneva while speaking on the report of the Report of the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) at the UNHRC on Thursday.
He further said that Sri Lanka hopes that it will receive the support required from the international community as a whole in capacity building and strengthening institutions, and also ensuring economic development which is essential for entrenching the reform agenda undertaken by the government.
WGEID had toured Sri Lanka from November 9 to 18, 2015, at the invitation of the Sri Lankan government. The three-member UN team was given free and unhindered access.
“We are pleased that the Working Group, in its Report, has “appreciated the openness and cooperative disposition of the officials. The Government considers its engagement with this Working Group as an important component of the reconciliation efforts in the country,” Aryasinha said.
“The Government has already taken concrete legislative and policy measures to translate its promises to the people of Sri Lanka, into action even amidst the many challenges being posed by certain extreme elements who attempt to pose obstacles to the Government’s sincere efforts at ensuring that the rights of all persons are promoted and protected and recurrence of violations that happened in the past are prevented,” Aryasinha told the council.
Sri Lanka ratified the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance on May 25, 2016. The process of drafting enabling legislation to incorporate the provisions of the Convention into Sri Lanka’s domestic law through an Act of Parliament, is underway. This should be presented to the Cabinet and thereafter to Parliament shortly.
On August 11, 2016, parliament passed, without a vote, legislation to establish an independent ‘Office on Missing Persons’ (OMP).Following its certification by the Speaker on 23 August 2016, the legislation has now been gazetted as the Act. No. 14 of 2016.
Currently, steps are being taken to allocate funds for the Office on Missing Persons in the Budget for 2017 which is to be presented to Parliament in November this year.
“We are pleased to say that the Office on Missing Persons has been endowed with the recommendations made by the Working Group in paragraph 79 of its Report and the Office also has the provision to enter into agreements with organizations including international organizations in the pursuit of its work,” Aryasinha pointed out.
On August 25 this year, the Parliament approved the Bill to amend the Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) Act No 19 of 2010 for the issuance of ‘Certificates of Absence’. This enables the families of missing persons to apply for benefits under social welfare schemes; temporarily manage, under the supervision of the District Court, the property and assets of the missing person and act as a provisional guardian for dependent children of the missing person. The issuance of this certificate will not halt any investigations to determine the fate of a missing person.
Consultation Task Force
The Government has proposed to establish a Truth-Seeking Commission, a Reparations Office and a Judicial Mechanism, also by statute. Presently, wide consultations are being carried out in the country to seek the views of all stakeholders regarding the mechanisms that should be set up.
This is being done by an Eleven-member Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms consisting of representatives of civil society and zonal task forces in districts appointed by the Task Force. This process of consultations was also opened up to anyone overseas who wished to provide input to the Task Force through e-mail or even by meeting members in Sri Lanka or other web-based means.
The Task Force is expected to hand over its Report to Government in mid-October after which the process of designing the mechanisms outlined will take place.
The Consultation Process, designing and drafting of legislation for the reconciliation mechanisms, and follow-up regarding their establishment are being coordinated by the Secretariat for Coordinating the Reconciliation Mechanisms (SCRM), set up by the Cabinet of Ministers and is placed under the Office of the Prime Minister.
Cooperation with UN
In all these processes, the Government and Government institutions work closely and in consultation with the United Nations system and the OHCHR as well as other international experts.
We are also working closely with ICRC, especially in the area of dealing with the missing, including the technicalities of the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons, the training and capacity building requirements as well as obtaining expertise and sharing experiences of other countries that have similar mechanisms.
Legislative measures related to ensuring the non-recurrence of disappearances and of ensuring justice wherever such incidents occur also include the Right to Information Act approved by Parliament on June 24, and certified by the Speaker on August 4 this year.
The Witness and Vitim Protection Act is being reviewed with assistance from the UN. A new counter-terrorism legislation which would see the eventual repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is obtaining the assistance of the UN Counter-Terrorism Executive Directorate.
On June 18, President Maithripala Sirisena issued to the tri-forces and police, strict instructions to be followed when arresting and detaining persons. Guidelines issued by the National Human Rights Commission were also incorporated into the instructions issued by the President.
In February 2015, Parliament unanimously enacted the Assistance to and Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Act. All parts of the Act are now operationalized.
971 Tamil refugee families to be resettled
Sri Lanka is also committed to making all possible effort to complete resettlement of the remaining 971 families who are still in welfare camps in the North. The Cabinet of Ministers in August this year, approved the National Policy on Durable Solutions for conflict-affected displacement which was drafted through a process of wide consultations and with the assistance of the United Nations.
National human rights action plan
With the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers, an Inter-Ministerial Committee co-chaired by four Ministers has been set up to draft a National Human Rights Action Plan for 2017-2021.
This is a voluntary process in which the National Human Rights Commission as well as civil society are involved. Any individual member of the public or any group that is interested has been invited to submit their views in the formulation of the National Human Rights Action Plan preferably by 16 September 2016.
The Inter-Ministerial Committee is assisted by a steering committee of officials and experts. Drafting Committees have been set up in 10 thematic areas of human rights drawn from core Human Rights Conventions, consisting of officials and civil society representatives.
The draft Plan will be open for consultations with the stakeholders including the civil society working in all thematic areas.
Following this, the NHRAP will be sent for the consideration of the Cabinet of Ministers. The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) is engaged in this process and has facilitated the participation of civil society representatives in coordinating the drafting processes.
The objective of these processes is to ensure equal rights, justice and dignity for all communities in Sri Lanka. The Committees will also take into account the recommendations of this Working Group, Aryasinha said.
Following the Standing Invitation extended on 17 December 2015, to all UN thematic Special Procedures Mandate Holders to visit Sri Lanka, a number of Special Rapporteurs, in consultation with the Government regarding Sri Lanka’s priorities, have already undertaken visits representing a broad range of mandates.