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Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights hears from Sri Lankan non-governmental organizations

GENEVA (6 June 2017) - The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights this afternoon heard from civil society organizations about the situation in Sri Lanka, whose report it will review this week.  The Committee will also examine the report of Lichtenstein, but there no non-governmental organizations from this country were present during the meeting today.

Collective on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Sri Lanka expressed concern about the injustice and marginalization of certain populations and that the Constitution did not protect economic, social and cultural rights as they could not be invoked in court.  The National Commission on Human Rights and civil society organizations had demanded that these rights be respected.  The transitional justice agenda had placed economic rights on hold and one of the main problems in the country was the rise of inequality.  There were 1.9 million more poor people in the country.  More and more people found themselves in the informal sector.  State budgets for access to basic services had been reduced and the austerity measures posed serious problems.  Land had been confiscated and the Anti-Terrorism Act, drafted in secret, contained a broad definition of terrorism and gave exorbitant powers to the police.  The non-governmental organization called on Sri Lanka to ensure that the new Constitution recognized all economic and social rights and was legally enforceable.  Economic development policies must protect human rights in the context of sustainable and equitable development and the situation of vulnerable and poor people must be taken into account.

Equal Ground stressed that heterosexuality was deeply rooted in the social fabric of Sri Lanka.  Members of Parliament referred to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons as if they were defective, stating that sexual diversity was contrary to the culture of Sri Lanka.  Serious violations were being committed against members of this community and homosexual behaviour was considered a criminal offense.  These populations were victims of multiple discrimination on the basis of sexuality and gender. Many lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transsexual children dropped out of school because they were discriminated against.  They were also rejected by their families and often found themselves in the informal sector or the sex trade.  The Government opposed the repeal of laws criminalizing same-sex sexual conduct and requiring transgender individuals to undergo psychiatric, hormonal and surgical interventions.

Franciscans International denounced the military occupation of land owned  by civilians.  The population was still waiting for the military to leave, and there was a lack of progress on the right of return to land.  Franciscans International called for an end to the military occupation and for the return of land rights to displaced persons.  The right to return had to be respected.  It was of concern that many children were employed as domestic workers and in tea plantations, and many were also victims of sexual violence, with boys being trafficked to coastal areas.  The culture of impunity was aggravated by the failure to investigate.  Franciscans International raised the issue of language rights and access to services, noting that the Tamil language had been recognized as an official language, but the application of this provision remained very weak.  An administrative circular ensured the promotion of bilingual services in the public sector, but it was not widely applied.  For example, Tamil workers faced many difficulties in asserting their entitlement to social benefits because very few officials spoke Tamil.

During the dialogue that ensued, Committee Experts inquired about the new Constitution of Sri Lanka, and whether it was already applicable.  What were the contents of Article 16 and was the Article acceptable to the civil society?  Experts also asked about measures taken to combat child labour, budget cuts in areas such as education and health and if the stigma against the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual and transsexual community was due to public opinion on this issue, and thus required awareness raising campaigns in addition to legal reform.  Experts asked about the rights of the Vedda population, indigenous peoples and their access to cultural rights such as education and language, and about the work of the national human rights institution, commercial activities by the military, and issues that migrant workers faced. 

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on 7 June to start its consideration of the combined second and third periodic report of Liechtenstein (E/C.12/LIE/2-3).
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