Universal Periodic Review
Second session meeting highlights
13 May 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record
The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Sri Lanka this afternoon, during which 56 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.
Presenting the national report of Sri Lanka was MAHINDA SAMARASINGHE, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights of Sri Lanka, said Sri Lanka had taken an active part in the institution building of the Human Rights Council and had worked to develop the Universal Periodic Review process based on universality and equal treatment to all States. The national report portrayed an accurate picture of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. The Government was of the view that equal attention should be given to economic, social and cultural rights and civil and political rights as well as to the right to development. The promotion and protection of human rights based on internationally accepted standards was a priority for all governments and it was in that vein that the Government of Sri Lanka held as a matter of priority the need to guarantee and safeguard the human rights of all people in its territory. The ultimate aim of the Government was to implement a national action plan on the promotion and protection of human rights based on the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action. This would include a national mapping exercise on human rights to identify challenges and aims in human rights, and would focus on the implementation of obligations to United Nations treaty bodies, as well as recommendations that came out of the Universal Periodic Review process.
Responding to questions submitted in advance, the head of delegation noted that, as to the establishment of a presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka, the presence already existed in Sri Lanka by a Human Rights Adviser. As discussions reached fruition on this matter Sri Lanka would consider some expansion of support to the Adviser to meet mutually agreed upon capacity building needs. As to the questions on the National Human Rights Commission, the Commission was a vital cog on the human rights promotion and protection machinery put in place by the Government. UNDP was currently engaged in the process of developing a new framework for United Nations support to the National Human Rights Commission. A Parliamentary Select Committee will look into and propose legislative measures to ensure that lessons learned were taken heed of any shortcomings corrected. As to cooperation with Special Procedures and mechanisms of the United Nations human rights system, it was noted that Sri Lanka had received many special mandate holders in the recent past, along with a suggestion that a standing invitation to all such mandate holders be issued. Sri Lanka had maintained a record of openness and constructive engagement in this connection. In the context of the policy of Sri Lanka on constructive engagement, Sri Lanka will consider each request on its merits, and therefore the question of a standing invitation did not arise. Concerning access and safety of humanitarian workers, the Government of Sri Lanka had taken several measures to ensure the safety of humanitarian workers and to give them access to populations in need. Restrictions if any were to ensure that these persons were not caught up in the conflict or its fallout.
As to the existence of a political party known as the TMVP [Tamil Makkal Viduthalai Pulikal], which developed out of a breakaway faction of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam [LTTE] known previously as the Karuna Faction, it was noted that this group was a lawfully and validly registered political party under the electoral laws of Sri Lanka. It must be noted that induction of such groups, who have previously resorted to terror, into the mainstream of politics was a gradual process and Government was fully committed to this objective. With regard to terrorist fund-raising, such actions, both direct and indirect, provided a vital resource to sustain terrorist campaigns that destabilized democracies and led to violations of human rights. It was therefore imperative that the international community effectively discharged its obligations in terms of relevant Security Council resolutions and international conventions by taking effective measures to counter fund-raising efforts in their territories and the transmission of such funds to other States to perpetrate acts of terror. With regard to the independence of the media, the Government in no way condoned or endorsed attacks and killings of media workers. Unlawful attacks against media workers were investigated promptly. Where media workers or any other persons were suspected to be compromising national security and threatening the cohesiveness of the social fabric, such incidents must be investigated and if any laws had been violated prosecutions must ensue.
With regard to questions posed on human rights defenders, the head of delegations noted that the Government stressed that any unlawful attack against any person will be thoroughly investigated. However, where such attacks took place in uncleared areas there were limitations on the ability of investigation by the authorities. The Government was working with NGOs and International NGOs and the NGO Secretariat to devise a jointly agreed upon mode of operations for International NGOs and NGOs in Sri Lanka. On the issue of child recruitment for armed conflict, the Government maintained a zero tolerance policy supported by strong legislative measures. The Government was encouraged that the TMVP facilitated the release in April of 39 children held by the paramilitary group known as the Karuna Faction. UNICEF had recorded a drop of children held by the Karuna Faction from 164 in January 2008 to 76 at the end of April. Unfortunately the figures for the LTTE were not as encouraging. The Government had called on all groups that had used child soldiers used in armed conflict to cease the practice immediately and to release all minors in their custody. With regard to cases of enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings, all complaints were registered with law enforcement authorities which have resulted in the initiation of investigations. Over 600 cases in the High Court have been initiated by the forwarding of indictments by the Attorney General against members of the Police and Armed Services for such incidents gong back over two decades. And in respect of the rights of freedom of religion, it was recalled that Sri Lanka had a non-derogable constitutional provision guaranteeing freedom of religion. The question of unethical conversion had been examined by a committee of experts to assess the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief and was in the process of submitting its report.
During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission; the provision of free education; the provision of free health care and food subsidies for vulnerable groups; that Sri Lanka was party to seven core human rights treaties; the success of the country in the area of economic, social and cultural rights, in particular access to education; steps taken to investigate the recruitment of child soldiers; the adoption of the National Action Plan for Children; the accession to the Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; the moratorium on the death penalty; steps taken to enhance gender equality; and measures adopted in the field of human rights education.
Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to efforts to stamp out child recruitment and to rehabilitate former child soldiers into society; measures taken to fully implement obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict in its territory; plans to ensure the protection of civilians, especially women, children and journalists, during the conflict; efforts of the Government to respect human rights while undertaking its counter-terrorism measures; steps taken to address the psychological trauma of victims of the conflict; information on the minimum age for voluntary recruitment into Sri Lankan armed forces; how the Government was providing social services to areas under the control of the LTTE; efforts of the Government to alleviate the situation of the Up-Country Tamils; steps to protect and promote the human rights of victims form minority communities that were disproportionately affected by the conflict, in particular, to investigate human rights abuses; steps taken to guarantee the rule of law, particularly in the context of the emergency regulations; and concrete measures intended to compensate for the void given the abrogation of the cease fire agreements at the end of March 2008.
Other issues pertained to efforts to ensure that the National Human Rights Commission was in compliance with the Paris Principles; the status of establishing a national plan of action for human rights; the measures being taken to safeguard the human rights of IDPs, who number 500,000 according to UNHCR; steps to root out all forms of impunity; steps taken to address acts of domestic violence and to improve the situation of women, in general; steps to uphold the human rights of national minorities in Sri Lanka; the human rights education in the school system; the constitutional Charter of rights; the status of the Bill for the protection of victims and witnesses and whether it would apply to victims of human rights violations; efforts to ensure greater representation of women in public life; plans to further efforts to respect the rights of migrant workers, especially women; efforts to combat child labor; the minimum age of marriage; steps taken to eliminate the use of torture by the police as well as the armed forces and to ensure victims of torture access to justice; measures taken to investigate cases of forced disappearances; and steps being considered for the complete abolition of the death penalty.
A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To strengthen the National Human Rights Commission in order to implement all its recommendations; to allow the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen its presence in Sri Lanka; that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to assist Sri Lanka to develop capacities, to strengthen national human rights institutions and to strengthen the National Human Rights Commission in Sri Lanka; to provide for the independence of national human rights protection institutions; to ensure that the National Human Rights Commission was a pluralist and independent body and that its establishment was in compliance with the Paris Principles; and to reengage with international human rights monitoring by agreeing to the establishment of an OHCHR presence in the country.
Several delegations made recommendations with regard to child soldiers: Among them: To take steps to ensure that those organizations with which it is affiliated, such as the TMVP, to stop recruiting child soldiers and release them; to step up efforts to stop the recruitment of child soldiers; to undertake urgent measures to reintegrate children and to provide them with special protection; and to remove the reservation to article 3 of the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child be lifted.
Other recommendations included: To take measures to allow access to humanitarian assistance to vulnerable populations; to take measures to protect civilians, including human rights defenders and humanitarian workers; to ensure the adequate completion of into investigation into the killings of aid workers by the Presidential commission of inquiry; to investigate all allegations of extrajudicial summary or arbitrary killings and bring those responsible to justice; to ensure to protect human rights defenders and their work and effectively investigate allegations of attacks on human rights defenders and prosecute those responsible; to ensure that human rights were applied in the midst of the state of national emergency; that the international community help Sri Lanka in it counter-terrorism strategies especially through taking effective measures to counter terrorism fund-raising efforts; and to take efforts to disarm all paramilitary groups.
Additional recommendations included: to increase cooperation with UNHCR and to provide a clear policy for IDPs allowing them the right to return to their homes; to adequately protect the human rights of IDPs, including implementing a long-term housing and property restitution policy for the whole country that met international standards and protecting the property of IDPs, their right to a voluntary and safe return, and their right to adequate restitutions; to enter into further agreements with countries hosting its migrant workers; to take measures to safeguard the freedom of expression and to effectively investigate allegations of attacks on journalists and media personnel and prosecute those responsible; to take all necessary measures to ensure the full respect of freedom of expression; and that Sri Lanka continue to work with the international community to assist with the protection of human rights, the environment, disaster risk management, HIV/AIDS, and capacity building.
Further recommendations consisted of: To ratify the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court; to ratify the Convention on enforced and involuntary disappearances; to take appropriate measures and award up-country Tamils with a full set of civil rights, including the right to vote; to extend a standing invitations to Special Procedures; to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture; to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteurs on torture and on extrajudicial killings; to strengthen the rule of law with the aim of preventing grave violations of human rights, including torture, extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances; to increase efforts to strengthen legal safeguards for eliminating all forms of ill-treatment or torture in the prisons and detention centers; to establish of the Constitutional Council as soon as possible; that special attention be given to women in promoting education and development to increased their wages and their representation in political and public life; and that a broad range of civil society organizations be involved in the follow up process to the Universal Periodic Review.
Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Ukraine, Canada, India, Cuba, the Russian Federation, France, China, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Slovenia, the Philippines, Pakistan, New Zealand, Brazil, Romania, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Japan, Guatemala, Egypt, Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and Uruguay.
Observer States participating in the discussion were Bahrain, Palestine, Sweden, Belgium, Portugal, Nepal, Luxembourg, Ireland, Finland, Bhutan, the Holy See, Syria, Austria, Colombia, Belarus, Latvia, the Czech Republic, Poland, Turkey, Denmark, Morocco, Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Tunisia, Venezuela, Algeria, Greece, the United States, Iran and the Sudan.
The 19-person delegation of Sri Lanka consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, the Office of the Attorney General, the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, the Ministry of Justice and Law Reform, the Ministry of Constitutional Affairs and National Integration, the Ministry of Defense, the Office of the Solicitor-General, the Sri Lanka Army, the Office of the Inspector General of the Police, the Sri Lanka Air Force and the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of Sri Lanka are Ukraine, Cameroon and Bangladesh
In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on Sri Lanka can be found here.
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of Sri Lanka on Thursday, 15 May.
When the UPR Working Group continues its work tomorrow morning at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by France after which it is scheduled to adopt the reports of Pakistan and Zambia.
Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.
To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp