FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
May 11, 2006
A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
SRI LANKA: Human Rights Council a new forum to discuss Sri Lanka’s human rights record
An article published in Mirror Politics by Champika Liyannarachchi, entitled ‘Failed States and unfair indexes’ is an interesting example of how commonly known facts can be contested through seemingly sophisticated arguments.
The article’s author questions whether Sri Lanka is indeed one of the most vulnerable countries in the world. To answer this question, all that is needed is to talk to ordinary folk in the country. If ordinary persons were asked if they are vulnerable to attacks by criminals, if the police act urgently and efficiently in response to these attacks, if the courts decide their issues speedily and fairly, whether rape victims get immediate legal and other redress, whether people seeking state assistance for any matter obtain such assistance, or whether state departments such as the Inland Revenue Department and the Government Auditor’s Department are able to function ‘normally’, their answers would clearly point to the vulnerability of Sri Lanka.
Another glaring indicator of Sri Lanka’s vulnerability is poor public perception of the country’s law enforcement agencies. It would be difficult to find ordinary persons surprised by the accusation that senior police officers were involved in the recent murder of an Inspector of Police and his wife, allegedly for investigating drug offenses. The criminal-police link is one that comes through in too many daily occurrences. The Inspector General of Police has himself publicly stated that if police officers were to be investigated for fraud and corruption, there would likely be no one left within the force.
Other indicators of vulnerability are the lack of public confidence in the judicial system, largely due to the extraordinary delays in adjudication, and the massive distrust of political leaders. All of these indicators together have led to the present fear and instability that people live with daily.
It may be useful to initiate public discussions on these matters once again, now that Sri Lanka has been elected to the United Nations Human Rights Council. Sri Lankans will be confused about why their country has been elected to the Council if its seat is misunderstood as a reward for its human rights record. However, they may be more confident if the occasion is instead used to keep human rights at the top of the national agenda. According to the UN Resolution creating the Human Rights Council, the “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights, shall fully cooperate with the Council and be reviewed under the universal periodic review mechanism during their term of membership”.
Sri Lankan citizens therefore have a right to ask whether their country will uphold the ‘highest standards’ in the promotion and protection of human rights. They must ask whether the death of the inspector and his wife will be properly investigated and prosecuted, whether police reforms will be implemented to ensure that human rights are protected and complaints dealt with in a civilised manner and whether delays in the justice system will be addressed.
More informed citizens may ask whether the constitution will be respected and proper appointments made to the Constitutional Council. At a time when there is discussion of a new constitution, it may also be questioned whether that constitution will be compatible with the country’s membership in the Human Rights Council. One of the tests for its compatibility is the removal of the legal tyranny that legitimised large scale disappearances and other forms of violence, creating the present state of instability. Sri Lankans may take comfort in the fact that it is now possible to use the UN Human Rights Council as a forum to review the situation of the protection and promotion of human rights in their country.