SRI LANKA: Need for a UN mission & problems for application of international law

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) greatly appreciates your address to the second session of the UN Human Rights Council on September 18, 2006, and in particular the attention you gave to the perilous circumstances in which the people of Sri Lanka find themselves. 

As you may be aware, the AHRC has been directly concerned with the situation in Sri Lanka for some time now. We feel that you have given a fair summation of the current state of affairs and attendant human rights violations in the country. We also fully endorse your statement that, “There is an urgent need for the international community to monitor the unfolding human rights situation as these are not merely ceasefire violations but grave breaches of international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The AHRC joins the calls of others, including local and international human rights organisations, for an independent human rights monitoring body with full UN backing–especially from the new Human Rights Council and your office.

Under the present circumstances, an independent monitoring mission similar to that operating in Nepal since 2005 seems to be the only viable option. Such a mission would help not only to reduce violence but also open space for democratically-minded groups and persons to work towards solving the country’s persistent problems.

A personal initiative from you to see such a mission established, together with the best efforts from your office, would likely secure the assistance that Sri Lanka needs most urgently at this time.

The AHRC also takes this opportunity also to bring to your notice a matter of extreme importance concerning the future role of Sri Lanka in the United Nations, and its possible implications where other states are concerned.

The matter arises from a judgment by a five-judge bench of the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka on 15 September 2006, which arose from a communication to the UN Human Rights Committee by a Sri Lankan citizen in accordance with the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Sri Lanka is ostensibly a party.

The Human Rights Committee had earlier found that the Sri Lankan state had violated the rights of Nallaratnam Singarasa and submitted its views to the government that he should be released from detention and afforded redress. However, the Supreme Court, in a far-reaching decision, declared that Sri Lanka’s accession to the ICCPR in 1980 has no internal effect upon Sri Lanka, and that its becoming a party to the Optional Protocol in 1997 by virtue of the president’s signature is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court held that the protocol grants judicial power to the Human Rights Committee. It held that the only way such power could be granted would be through a law passed in parliament followed by a referendum. We attach a copy of the judgment for your information [see also AHRC AS-217-2006].

This case poses insurmountable legal problems for the implementation of the rights guaranteed under the ICCPR in Sri Lanka, as well as for Sri Lankan citizens seeking recourse through the UN Human Rights Committee under its Optional Protocol. It will affect all aspects of human rights work in the country, including any efforts to establish an international monitoring mission of the sort described above.

Both the UN Human Rights Council and your office need to take swift and concerted steps to address the government of Sri Lanka over this judgment and its consequences.

In view of the recent concern that you have expressed towards the present situation of worsening violence in Sri Lanka we are confident that you will take appropriate measures on all of the issues raised above.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong

Document Type : Open Letter
Document ID : AHRC-OL-057-2006
Countries : Sri Lanka,
Issues : International human rights mechanisms,