Created: Tuesday, 05 November 2013
Statement by H.E. Dr. Palitha T.B. Kohona
Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka
Agenda Item 69 (b, c): Promotion and Protection of Human Rights
Third Committee of the 68th Session of the General Assembly
November 1, 2013
As it has done since independence, Sri Lanka has continued its people centric approach to social and economic development accompanied by a decisive electoral mandate from her people. The debilitating terrorist conflict is over and every effort is now being expended to consolidate the hard won peace by further strengthening our democratic institutions, while proactively seeking reconciliation and promoting human rights.
In our international relations, we have continued our constructive engagement with UN mechanisms, including the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Human Rights Council, the Special Procedure Mandate Holders, treaty bodies, the UPR, and, of course, our bilateral partners.
Sri Lanka continues to record high indicators in the Human Development Index, consistent with our obligations under the Convention on Social, Economic and Cultural Rights. As highlighted by President Rajapaksa in his address to the General Assembly, Sri Lanka, despite being a middle income country, at the lower end of the scale, has achieved or is well on the way to achieving the MDGs. The statistics speak for themselves. Sri Lanka was ranked high out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index in 2012. Absolute poverty in Sri Lanka declined from 15.2% in 2006/07 to 6.5% in 2012, surpassing the MDG mid-term target. Poverty levels in the former conflict affected regions have kept pace with the national levels. Impressively, the multi-dimensionally poor in Sri Lanka stands at 1.9%, thanks to strong performances in access to safe drinking water, sanitation, electricity, nutrition and schooling. Most villages in the country are now connected to the national grid. As we emphasise the role of youth in government policies, focused education and skills development remains a priority. The goal of universal primary education will be easily achieved by 2015, with the nett enrollment rate having reached 99% in 2010, and this includes the North and the East. The age of compulsory secondary education has been increased to 16. A large number of our students go onto benefit from free tertiary education provided at the state’s expense. There are 16 universities. The remaining numbers of students who do not enroll in private tertiary institutions access technical colleges, which provide training in a range of subjects spanning information technology to entrepreneurial skills. Two of the fully functioning universities are in the North and the East, and 8 of the technical colleges are located in these provinces. The key dividend from this strong educational infrastructure has been the reduction of the unemployment level to a low of 3.9% in 2012. In many countries this would constitute to full employment. Poverty levels in the former conflict affected regions have kept pace with the national levels.
Sri Lanka has maintained a stable economy while transitioning from a humanitarian phase to a development and reconciliation phase. To realise this objective, significant state resources have been channelled to the North and the East. The total investment by the Government for development projects in the Northern Province during the 2006 to 2011 amounts to approximately US$ 3 Billion. 225 branches of banks and 76 finance and leasing companies have been established in the Northern Province since 2009. The Northern Province has recorded a GDP growth rate of 25.9% for 2012, the highest growth rate in any Province, thereby contributing 4.0% to the national economy. The Eastern Province registered the second highest growth of 25% in the GDP.
While reaching out to care for all our people’s needs, the Government has also taken a proactive approach to post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation. The Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), established by the Government to make recommendations on the reasons for the conflict and to avoid a repetition, has made 280 recommendations. The National Plan of Action on the Implementation of the Recommendations of the LLRC seeks to implement these. The National Plan of Action is substantially consistent with the National Plan of Action on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, an outcome of Sri Lanka’s engagement with the Universal Periodic Review since 2008. The goal of the Government is to address the development needs of the people and also implement the recommendations of the LLRC with a view to achieving sustainable reconciliation.
Allow me to highlight some of the key legislative, administrative, institutional and confidence building measures implemented so far.
• A week-long visit to Sri Lanka was undertaken by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in August this year, following an invitation the Government had extended to her in April 2011. The High Commissioner had unfettered access to visit all parts of the country, including the former conflict-affected areas of the North and the East. She met with a wide spectrum of persons from the Government and the Opposition, members of civil society, and men, women and children affected by the conflict. She addressed the youth parliament. The High Commissioner met human rights activists, who also continue to actively participate in the HRC sessions, in Geneva and return to Sri Lanka.
• In July 2013 the Government accepted an additional 53 recommendations of the LLRC to be incorporated into the National Plan of Action for Implementation. The implementation of the LLRC recommendations is overseen by the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka and over 22 Ministries have been tasked to implement these so far. Over one billion rupees have been allocated for this exercise. Progress with regard to the implementation of the LLRC recommendations, are shared with the diplomatic community and the United Nations.
• A parallel political process has been advanced proactively. Elections to the Northern Provincial Council were held in September this year, the first such election held in the North since the Provincial Council System was introduced in 1987. The elections were observed by 24 election observers from South Asia and the Commonwealth. Voter turnout was 67.52%. The elections enabled the people in the North to elect their own representatives, who could now work with the central Government.
• Emphasising the civilian responsibility for administrative matters and consistent with a recommendations of the LLRC, the Ministry of Law and Order, with responsibility for the Police Department, was created in August 2013, thus delinking the military from civilian affairs.
• Land has been a vexing issue in the reconciliation process. The Commissioner General of Land has initiated a new programme to resolve land issues in the Northern and Eastern Provinces within a two year period- 2013-2014. A new Land Circular was issued on January 31, 2013 to facilitate its work. Traditional Mediation processes have also been enhanced with technical assistance from the UN. 85,166 applications relating to land issues have been received so far, and a database is being developed.
• The Ministry of Justice has drafted an amendment to the Penal Code to criminalize enforced disappearances, and also formulated draft amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act in order to give effect to recommendations in the National Plan of Action for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights (NHRAP). The law has been amended to facilitate the issuance of death certificates within one year of a complaint of a person disappearing. Earlier it was 7 years.
• The Government in August 2013 appointed a three-member Commission to Investigate Missing Persons related to the conflict in the Northern and Eastern provinces from 1990 to 2009 period. Many disappeared in areas formerly controlled by the LTTE. The Commission will conduct hearings in all districts. Evidence can be provided in all 3 languages. The Government also continues to engage with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) to clear outstanding cases. An inter-agency working group is working in Colombo to support the work of the WGEID. The Government is also working with the ICRC on the issue of training missing persons.
• Inquiries with regard to unlawful killings are progressing. The inquiry into the killing of 5 students in Trincomalee has resulted in 12 service personnel arrested and produced before a judge. A special prosecutor has been assigned to lead the prosecution.
• The Attorney General’s Department is continuing the review of the case of the killing of 17 aid workers of the Paris-based Contre La Faim (ACF) in 2006.
• The draft Protection of Victims of Crime and Witnesses Bill is being re-submitted to the Cabinet following amendments.
• Military Courts of Inquiry have been established to investigate allegations of wrong doing and criminality by service personnel in the course of the conflict. It is expected that these could lead to courts martial.
• New legislation to criminalise hate speech is being considered.
• The Government will enhance the capacity of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka with technical assistance from the Commonwealth Secretariat.
• The 10 year National Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka was launched in 2012. While the learning of Sinhala and Tamil has been made mandatory for primary and secondary schools, the Government has also instituted Tamil language training for the Civil Service and the Police. The Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration is in the process of implementing the LLRC recommendations, including the UPR pledges on instituting a language policy.
• Budgetary allocations have been earmarked for a programme to pay compensation to residents of the Northern Province affected by the conflict.
• Since the end of the conflict, 12,220 ex-LTTE combatants have surrendered to the Government. Up to date, over 11,758 have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into the community. Only 234 are currently undergoing rehabilitation and 91 remain subject to legal proceedings. Many have been absorbed into the Police and military services.
• The presence of the military in the former conflict affected areas has been reduced and full responsibility for law and order has been handed over to the Police. The former High Security Zones (HSZs) have also ceased to exist. The Palaly cantonment is the only area with some security restrictions. More than 1,000 acres of land in Palaly have been returned to their owners this year.
The Government’s approach to evolving a political formula to address minority grievances encompasses the establishment of a Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to achieve multi-party consensus in respect of political and constitutional measures.
Allegations of reprisals against human rights defenders have been made. We have asked for these allegations to be substantiated with evidence that is credible so that action could be taken, and not vague throw away lines.
Sri Lanka has enabled a strong human rights protection framework by giving domestic effect, as a State Party, to seven core human rights treaties, other related international instruments, and the four Geneva Conventions. Our Constitution comprehensively guarantees fundamental rights which are enforced through the judiciary. Sri Lanka appeared before the 14th Session of the UPR on November 1, 2012. We have maintained consistently that the UPR mechanism is the most appropriate platform to address the human rights situations of all countries in a uniform, objective and constructive spirit.
As part of our ongoing engagement with the special procedures mandate holders, the Special Rapporteur on IDPs will visit Sri Lanka in December this year. We have also invited the Special Rapporteur on Education to visit Sri Lanka in January 2014. We will continue to entertain requests for visits by special procedures mandate holders.
With specific reference to the OHCHR, Sri Lanka notes the challenges faced by this Office, particularly with regard to the budget, which is paramount to the effective and independent discharge of the mandate of the High Commissioner. We believe that there is an urgent need for a more sustainable resoursing under the administrative direction and authority of the UN Secretary General and the General Assembly. To this end, Sri Lanka believes that the bulk of the OHCHR funding must come from the UN regular budget. There is also a consistent need to enhance the predictability and transparency of planning and funding of the OHCHR activities. With regard to thematic work, we highlight the need for the OHCHR as well as the community of nations to redouble efforts in mainstreaming economic, social and cultural rights, which remain disproportionately marginalized.
While we will listen to friends as we address our challenges relating to reconciliation, prescriptions developed elsewhere may not always suit our socio-cultural needs. We will continue to work with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and liaise with our friends. We also call for constructive, fair, non-selective and objective assessments of our post-conflict situation based on the ground realities. We note with satisfaction that the survey “Commonwealth Compared 2013” listed Sri Lanka at the 14th position in the Commonwealth on criteria such as press freedom, democracy and inequality.
I thank you, Mr. Chair.