Sri Lanka made very little progress in reconciliation, justice and truth seeking, examination of its UPR significant

UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group is set to review Sri Lanka’s human rights record for the third time on 15 November 2017 from 2:30 – 6:00 p.m. (Geneva Time) in Room 20 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Sri Lanka is one of the 14 countries whose human rights record is being examined by the UNHRC’s Universal Periodic Review in its ongoing 28th Session from 6-17 November. The 13 other countries being examined are: Czechia, Argentina, Gabon, Ghana, Peru, Guatemala, Benin, Republic of Korea, Switzerland, Pakistan, Zambia, Japan and Ukraine.

The UPR Working Group will adopt the report on Sri Lanka on 17 November.

Sri Lanka’s first and second UPR reviews took place in May 2008 and November 2012, respectively.

As per ‘Universal Periodic Review – Sri Lanka’ in the web page of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the documents on which the reviews are based are: 1) national report – information provided by the State under review; 2) information contained in the reports of independent human rights experts and groups, known as the Special Procedures, human rights treaty bodies, and other UN entities; 3) information provided by other stakeholders including national human rights institutions, regional organizations and civil society groups.

Among others, the issues raised in the above-mentioned documents include: investigations into all cases of enforced disappearances, reparations for victims and relatives, and bringing those responsible to justice; investigations into alleged war crimes; the Prevention of Terrorism Act; operationalizing the Office of Missing Persons; steps to establish a truth and reconciliation commission; ensuring equal access to justice systems for all communities; reports of the use of torture and arbitrary arrest by security and law enforcement; addressing hate speech and incitement to violence; promoting and protecting the rights of the LGBTI community; steps taken to decriminalize same-sex relations between adults; steps to protect religious minorities; the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act; combating gender-based and sexual violence; criminalizing all forms of violence against women, including marital rape; steps to eliminate child labor; and measures taken to improve the living conditions of the poor.

Some of the prominent advance questions have been put to Sri Lanka by Sweden, Belgium, Estonia, Germany, Norway, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, and Switzerland. These included:

• What measures are being taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to operationalize and ensure the independence of the Office of Missing Persons, providing it with sufficient funding and resources to fulfil its mandate to investigate all allegations of disappearance?

• How does the Government of Sri Lanka see that the ongoing constitutional reform process also can include expanding the non-discrimination clause under Article 12(2) of the Constitution, to explicitly prohibit discrimination on the grounds of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion?

• What measures are being taken by the Government to denounce incitement to hatred and violence and publicly clarifying that it is a criminal act?

• What measures have been taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to criminalize all forms of violence against women and why is marital rape not recognized as a criminal act?

• Belgium wishes to know which concrete measures have been taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to guarantee that victims, including relatives of the enforced disappeared, are provided with full and effective reparation and that those responsible for enforced disappearances are brought to justice?

• What progress has been made regarding the establishment of a truth and reconciliation Commission?

• Would the Government of Sri Lanka consider to take its engagement one step further and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty?

• Does the Prevention of domestic violence Act provide the possibility to prosecute a person specifically for marital rape? If not, does Sri Lanka consider to criminalize marital rape in the near future?

• Which measures does the Government of Sri Lanka take to prevent and counter religious hate speech in the country?

• What is being done and what progress has been achieved with regard to investigations of alleged war crimes? Have any international organisations or experts been included in these investigations?

• Could you elaborate on the work so far done by that mechanism?

• What is the current state of play with regard to the review and repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act in ensuring that it meets international human rights standards?

• In September 2017, the parliament of Sri Lanka has taken the bill on enforced disappearances from its agenda. Why was this the case and when does the parliament plan to reconsider the bill?

• Has there been any progress or are there any plans to establish a publicly accessible central register for all persons missing or in custody as previously recommended?

• What concrete measures has the government taken to improve the living conditions of the poor and to bring them into work?

• What steps has the government taken to make the CRPD ratified in 2016 operational, in particular its Article 33? Does it intend to ratify its Optional Protocol?

• Does the Government of Sri Lanka plan to include the rights of LGBTIQ persons and address sexual and gender-based violence in the final version of the National Human Rights Action Plan (2017-2022)? If not, for what reason?

• When will the Prevention of Torture Act be repealed and replaced by legislation that is fully compliant with human rights standards?

• Which steps will Sri Lanka take to follow up the report of the parliamentary Sub-Committee on Fundamental Rights with respect to non-discrimination?

United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
• When does the Government of Sri Lanka expect to have transitional justice mechanisms in place, to ensure accountability and give greater certainty of non-recurrence, as set out in the UNHRC Resolution 34/1?

• What steps is the government taking to ensure that detainees held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act are either charged, tried or released without further delay and what is the related timescale?

• What further steps will the Government of Sri Lanka take to eliminate child labour as defined by Article 3 of ILO Convention No.182?

• What steps is the Government taking to ensure equality of access to the democratic process and justice systems for all communities across Sri Lanka?

• What plans does the Government of Sri Lanka have to amend Article 16(1) of the constitution and to repeal the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act to ensure that all laws are not discriminatory?

United States of America
• When does the government plan to establish a credible judicial mechanism to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights, and violations of international humanitarian law?

• What steps is the government taking to end these abuses and, when will the government repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with anti-terrorism legislation that complies with international law and is less susceptible to serving as a pretext for human rights violations and abuses?

• What steps is the government taking to address these concerns raised by Canada and Argentina in the previous UPR cycle, and to protect members of the LGBTI community from undue harassment?

• What steps is the government taking to protect members of religious minority groups from discrimination?

• What efforts is the government making to amend the law in a manner that protects the human rights if women and girls?

• How does the government intend to proceed with constitutional reform?

• How is the government using the recommendations in the Consultation Task Force report to guide it through an inclusive reform process?

• What action is the government taking to ensure land returns continue, to provide internally displaced persons with durable solutions, and to fairly compensate individuals whose land will not be returned?

• What are the reasons for the delay in implementing the resolutions 30/1 and 34/1? What are the milestones and benchmarks foreseen in the further implementation?

• When will the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) become fully operational? What kind of international involvement do you plan in the establishment and running of the OMP?

• Where do you stand in terms of replacing the Prevention of Terrorism Act?

• Which steps are taken to implement the recommendations as per the Concluding Observations on the Eighth Periodic Review of Sri Lanka by the CEDAW Committee, in particular ensuring judicial review for the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act, Kandyan Law and Tesawalamai Law?

• Is the Government of Sri Lanka of the opinion that the amount of private land to be returned to the rightful owners as per the report Advancing Human Rights, Reconciliation & Good Governance In Sri Lanka will be enough to ensure the return of displaced people and to contribute to lasting reconciliation (total 5327.44 acres / 22km2 to be retained by state institutions)?

• Which steps are taken to increase the amount of private land to be returned to their rightful owners?

Sri Lanka made very little progress in the Transitional Justice process – UN Expert

The review of human rights record of Sri Lanka under the UPR holds high significance in view of the very little progress made by the island nation on its commitments given to the international community.

On 23 October, Pablo de Greiff, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence noted in Colombo on the conclusion of his 14-day official visit to the island nation from 10-23 October that “Sri Lanka continues to deprive itself of the benefits of Transitional Justice.”

UN Special Rapporteur Pablo de Greiff addressing the media in Colombo on 23 Oct 2017 at the conclusion of his 14-day visit of Sri Lanka

The UN expert said that the progress is nowhere close to what it should be more than two years later after the new government made its commitments to its people concerning accountability.

The Special Rapporteur reminded that Sri Lanka committed itself to establishing in a two-year period (which lapsed in March this year) measures in four different areas including, truth, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence in a resolution Sri Lanka co-sponsored at the Human Rights Council in October 2015.

The UN expert said the slow progress on pre-conditions for transitional justice erodes trust in the Government’s capacity to move forward with the reforms.

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