Created: Wednesday, 21 August 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 67th Session of the General Assembly
November 8, 2012
Thank you, Mr. Chairman,
My delegation notes with appreciation the reports of the Secretary General under this agenda item. We also acknowledge the reports of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Procedures Mandate Holders and Chairs of the Working Groups.
Following the defeat of terrorism in Sri Lanka, we have adopted far reaching measures to consolidate the hard won peace by further strengthening our democratic institutions and processes, proactively seeking reconciliation and promoting human rights. Sri Lanka has also continued its constructive engagement with UN mechanisms, including the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Human Rights Council the Special Procedure Mandate Holders, and other human rights bodies. We have also submitted reports under various human rights treaties and appeared before the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). 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.
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 has been steadfast in its treaty reporting. We take our obligations seriously. Sri Lanka has submitted its periodic reports to the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (2009), the Committee Against Torture (2011), provided responses to the List of Issues raised by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (2010), and the confidential communications received from the UN Commission on the Status of Women. In addition, Sri Lanka submitted its 5th periodic report in accordance with Article 40 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 2012.
An outcome of Sri Lanka’s engagement with the Universal Periodic Review in 2008 has been the formulation of a National Plan of Action for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights consistent with the 1993 Vienna Declaration and the Programme of Action. The Government invited the active participation of civil society stakeholders in its formulation. It addresses eight thematic areas – civil and political rights, economic, social and cultural rights, children’s rights, labour rights, migrant workers’ rights, prevention of torture, women’s rights and the rights of IDPs. Sri Lanka has already commenced the implementation of this time-bound Action Plan.
We also wish to underline the importance of broadening the scope of human rights to include economic, social and cultural rights consistent with ICESCR. Sri Lanka takes the view that the promotion and protection of human rights cannot be accomplished in a “vacuum” and that without improving social, economic and cultural rights, human rights would remain much less meaningful. In post-conflict reconstruction and reconciliation efforts, such a holistic view has become central. We strongly believe that emphasis must be given to economic, social and cultural rights when addressing the root causes of conflict. The magnitude and scope of Sri Lanka’s post-conflict challenges were truly daunting. These included, supporting 300,000 IDPs and ensuring their resettlement, restoring security, law and order and civil administration, clearing the land of UXO, IEDs and landmines, restoring physical, administrative, economic and social infrastructure, electricity, water and sanitation, restoring agriculture and fisheries, resolving land issues, demilitarization, livelihood development, education and vocational training, health services, identifying ex-combatants for rehabilitation, trauma and psycho-social counseling, support to female-headed households and war widows, effectively implementing the national languages policy, the transitioning from humanitarian assistance to a development phase and reconciliation, while maintaining a stable economy and sustained growth. Sri Lanka’s home - grown transitional justice mechanism, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, was predicated on restorative justice. We seek to sustain the momentum on reconstruction and reconciliation by drawing on the synergies between social, economic and cultural factors and restorative justice. Tremendous progress has been made in the following key areas:
• We closed the last IDP welfare centre, Menik Farm, in September 2012 resettling almost 300,000 IDPs in their own towns and villages. We stay committed to resettling those IDPs who remain with host families and the remaining Muslim IDPs who were ethnically cleansed from the North by the LTTE in 1990/1991. There are thousands of Sinhalese who were also similarly cleansed from the North. A total of 124,184 houses have been built in the Northern and the Eastern Provinces since 2005.
• Rapid progress in resettlement would not have been possible without an intensive humanitarian demining operation. Ninety-eight per cent (98%) of the 2061sq.km near human settlements contaminated with landmines and UXOs, have been cleared. Approximately 108 sq.ms of such territory remains to be cleared. The Sri Lanka Army was responsible for demining 75% of the land.
• A database of all detainees has been established, and 2, 582 inquiries have been processed. The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID) has engaged with successive Governments to clear the longstanding backlog of 5,679 cases. An inter-agency national mechanism is being set up to clear this backlog. A working committee has been established to respond to cases of disappearances and a Deputy Inspector General of Police appointed to conduct ground verifications of such cases to ascertain the present status. In this context, the Government submitted its responses in June 2012 on 59 cases of disappearances referred to in the Report (A/HRC/19/58/Rev.1) of the Working Group to the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012. In addition, clarifications on 100 cases of alleged disappearances referred to the GoSL by the Working Group were submitted in October 2012. Further investigations are being conducted on the remaining cases of alleged disappearances highlighted by the Working Group. Sri Lanka needs the cooperation of countries that have received thousands of asylum seekers to enable proper comparison of the details of those reported missing. The Registration of Deaths Act (2010) is being implemented to enable the issuance of death certificates to the next of kin, who can also claim monetary compensation, to bring closure.
• The military is no longer involved in civil administration. The former High Security Zones in the North have been reduced to a minimum. The Palaly Cantonment is now the only area in which security restrictions remain but even within the Cantonment civilians have unrestricted access to the airport and the KKS harbor. There has been a significant reduction of the military strength in the North since the end of the conflict. The present strength of the security forces in the Jaffna peninsula is approximately 15,000.
• The Trilingual Policy (Sinhala, Tamil and English) formulated in 2012 to further expand the Official Languages Policy is being implemented. 35,000 public officers have been trained under this programme in 2012.
• 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. The Sri Lanka Parliament adopted a motion in November 2011 for this purpose. While the Government has already nominated its members to the PSC, nominations of members representing the opposition political parties is awaited. The Government has also conducted parallel bilateral discussions with Tamil political parties as well as Muslim parties.
• The Government’s time-bound Action Plan to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) is monitored by a high level inter-Ministerial Task Force headed by the Secretary to the President of Sri Lanka. The Action Plan will address International Humanitarian Law and human rights issues and accountability, land return and resettlement, restitution/compensatory relief and reconciliation.
• Of the approximately 12,000 former LTTE combatants who surrendered or were taken into custody, 10,981, including 594 child combatants have been rehabilitated and reintegrated with their families and communities. Sri Lanka was delisted by the Secretary General from Annex II of the Security Council Resolution 1612 on Children and Armed Conflict.
• The Government of Sri Lanka has devoted significant attention and resources to the socio-economic development of the former conflict affected areas in the North and the East. The Government has committed US$2.8 billion to this effort. The Northern Province in 2011 recorded a GDP growth rate of 27.1 per cent.
Sri Lanka has adopted a humanitarian approach to recovery from the conflict while strengthening democratic governance. With normalcy returning to the country, and the improved security situation, the Emergency regulations were allowed to lapse in August 2011 demonstrating Sri Lanka’s commitment to ensure that the normal law prevails in the post conflict phase.
We have taken measures to strengthen law enforcement and prosecution through capacity building and language training. Sri Lanka has implemented legislative changes to prevent torture. Directives have been issued by the Police Department to ensure the physical safety of persons taken into custody and provision has been made for access to legal counsel as of right.
It was Sri Lanka’s democracy that was assailed by LTTE terrorism for nearly three decades. The scars of the protracted conflict are real in the collective psyche of Sri Lankans. Therefore, we are aware that reconciliation is a challenging exercise and that it cannot be achieved overnight. The Government of Sri Lanka has embarked on its multi-dimensional approach to reconstruction and reconciliation with a decisive electoral mandate from its people. Prescriptions to our political concerns, including addressing issues related to human rights, must necessarily have local resonance and public acceptance. Concomitantly, a sympathetic external environment would be useful to realize these objectives for all our people. If, indeed, our objective is to institutionalize an abiding appreciation of the promotion and protection of human rights, then countries that are convulsed by terrorism must necessarily be allowed the needed space to begin restoring and revitalizing their regime of rights and freedoms, especially when there is a manifest political will to do so.
In the last twenty eight years, while Sri Lanka grappled with terrorism, we continued to engage with the international community, HRC mechanisms and UN agencies. In April 2011 the Government invited the High Commissioner for Human Rights to visit Sri Lanka. A preparatory visit by a team from the OHCHR to Sri Lanka took place in September 2012. This team was accorded unfettered access to all locations and was provided with the opportunity to interact with a broad range of stakeholders, including senior representatives of the Government, the Opposition and members of civil society. They also undertook a field visit to the former conflict-affected Northern Province. We are still awaiting the dates from the High Commissioner on her proposed visit to Sri Lanka. While we will continue to work with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, we also call for constructive, fair, non-selective and objective assessments of our post-conflict situation based on the ground realities.
I thank you, Mr. Chairman