Sri Lanka needs to deliver
The European Commission called on the Government to deliver on important reforms, expressing concerns over the failure to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, ongoing reports of routine torture, impunity, hate speech, military occupation of land and the difficulties faced by minorities in its report entitled ‘The EU Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance (‘GSP+’) assessment of Sri Lanka covering the period 2016 – 2017′, released on 19 January 2018.
Sri Lanka has re-engaged with the international community and made a series of impressive commitments to national reconciliation, as articulated in its co-sponsorship of Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 (2015) on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka. The Government has issued a standing invitation to all UN special procedures and several have visited the country. EU-Sri Lanka relations have also been rejuvenated and regular dialogue takes place under the 1995 Cooperation Agreement, including annual meetings of the Joint Commission and its working groups. This includes the Working Group on Governance, Rule of Law, and Human Rights, which has already met twice. It is the first time a Sri Lankan Government has entered into human rights dialogue with the EU.
The report says that Sri Lanka has made some progress on human rights in the past two years. It has restored the independence of key oversight institutions. There has been a significant opening of democratic and civil society space. A process of constitutional reform, including a Bill of Rights, has started, and action is underway towards accountability for enforced disappearances. A national human rights action plan has been prepared. Furthermore, women will have a larger stake in local governments. A National Plan of Action for Children has been adopted, and reform of the juvenile justice system is being prepared.
The Government is engaged with the UN system. With the co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution 30/1, Sri Lanka has made far -reaching commitments on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights. Nevertheless, according to UN reports, relevant reforms have stalled or slowed down considerably. Measures taken so far to fulfil Sri Lanka’s transitional justice commitments have brought insufficient progress, including bringing perpetrators of war crimes to justice and resolving longstanding ’emblematic cases’.
The Government has to urgently deliver on a number of important reforms that are of direct relevance for the effective implementation of the human rights conventions listed in the GSP+ Regulation. The Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) must be repealed and if needed replaced by legislation that is fully in line with international human rights law, including CCPR and CAT. The Code of Criminal Procedures Act needs to be amended to ensure fundamental legal safeguards. The Government should ensure that alleged torture by the police and security forces comes to an end, that perpetrators are brought to justice and that its policy of zero -tolerance to the use of torture is implemented. This is essential in addressing reports of prevalent impunity in most cases of torture.
The operationalisation of the Office on Missing Persons (OMP) is welcome and should deliver truth and accountability to the families of those that isappeared during and at the end of the armed conflict. The OMP needs to be equiped with the necessary resources and capabilities to fully carry out its functions and mandate. Transposing the Convention on Enforced Disappearances into national law will contribute to this process.
Whilst progress has been made in the return of land in the former conflict areas, the Government should speed up this process.
The Government should, in line with recommendations from the UN Treaty Bodies, actively take forward the Children (Judicial Protection) Bill, provisions on the minimum age of marriage, the amendments to the Land Development Ordinance and other laws that discriminate against women. The Government should take steps to amend laws that discriminate against Sri Lankans from the LGBT IQ community.
The Government should increase public transparency and consultation on legislation being prepared and in this respect, should pro-actively and consistently consult the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka on all draft legislation within the remit of the Commission’s mandate.
It also said that, while non-discrimination is guaranteed by the Constitution, adequate anti -discrimination legislation should be introduced to ensure protection from discrimination in employment and occupation, including guaranteeing the principle of equal remuneration for men and women for work of equal value. Further measures to improve the protection and labour market participation of women would be an important step towards equality in employment.