The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.
I was pleasantly surprised at the effectiveness of the consultation organized by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka with regard to its report for the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review of the Human Rights situation in Sri Lanka. The Chairman, whom I had found both incisive and creative in our earlier discussions, was unable to be present, but the two Commissioners who presided, Jezima Ismail and Prathiba Mahanamahewa, were clearly well aware of the issues that need to be considered.
The Report of the HRC is particularly important, because it will be incorporated into the compendium the Office of the High Commissioner prepares for consideration by the Human Rights Council. The other components will be the Reports submitted by other stakeholders, which in the case of Sri Lanka will include a number of Non-Governmental Organizations that are extremely hostile to government.
We can hope that some moderate NGOs will also send in submissions, but sadly Sri Lanka has failed to engage actively with such NGOs so it is unlikely that many will take the time or trouble to present an objective perspective on the situation here. I suspect this failure to develop synergies, instead of simply engaging in hostilities when something negative is said, is why the Secretary of Defence suggested to me that I ask to be appointed Monitoring MP for NGOs.
Earlier I had not known that MPs were supposed to apply for such positions, and indeed the brighter of my fellow MPs had not been made aware of this either. The President was the first to point this out, when I suggested some educational initiatives, in saying I had been remiss in not asking to be appointed to monitor Education. He was evidently under the impression that the instructions to apply had been circulated to all MPs, but this was clearly another example of the dysfunctionality of whichever of his officials was entrusted with the task. Fortunately Education now has an excellent Monitoring MP in the form of Mr Grero, and we have already seen some constructive innovations there.
With regard to NGOs, when I did write in, and then submitted as requested a list of responsibilities, I found that all this was ignored. What I got instead was a suggestion that I be asked to any discussions that were held, something that hardly ever happens. The absurdity of this has become even clearer, now that I have experienced the active cooperation of NGOs in the consultations initiated at the Reconciliation Office with regard to the National Human Rights Action Plan. Active interaction with them, given that many are full of ideals and only seek direction as to how these could be most effectively fulfilled, would be immensely useful. Instead what we do now is react adversely to the few who are totally negative, and refuse to recognize and take advantage actively of the potential for good of all the others.
I could have done something with regard to the UPR too, through discussions with the NGOs who attended my consultations on the Action Plan, but unfortunately it was only last week that Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe confirmed that he had been asked to draft the national UPR Report, and said he hoped I would assist. Given that I had worked with him in presenting the previous Report, and been Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights thereafter, I felt I should oblige him, though I expressed the hope that our current Ambassador in Geneva would be in charge of proceedings as Dayan had been previously.
The clarification was timely, for indeed even the Human Rights Commission had been under the impression that it was the Ministry of External Affairs that was drafting the Report, and none of the senior officials present had indicated otherwise. Now that the position is clear however, there is need of much careful work. A meeting of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on promotion of the Action Plan was therefore scheduled, though unfortunately I could not be present since I had to attend meetings of Divisional Reconciliation Committees in Mannar and Kilinochchi on the prescribed date.
In addition however to discussions with key government agencies, amongst the tasks that must also be done is consultation of NGOs, since the National Report is meant to take into account the views of all stakeholders. The HRC in fact did this, the day after it consulted government officials, and I gather there was a lively discussion, which is as it should be. I hope very much that government too engages in a similar process, and notes the issues that are raised and tries to address them.
We also need of course to ensure that the voluntary pledges we made way back in 2008 are fulfilled, or at least that we cannot be accused of ignoring them. This last cannot be achieved simply by asking for time, which became a specialty of those who were sent as representatives to the Council after Dayan Jayatilleka was withdrawn. Fortunately we now have a forceful Secretary to the Ministry of Justice, who had pledged to introduce the Witness and Victim Protection Bill which came so close to passing before it was inexplicably forgotten.
Similarly, in the absence of a Ministry of Human Rights, I hope the Human Rights Commission will take the lead in ensuring passing of the Human Rights Charter that we were able to draft by the end of 2009. My efforts then to have this publicized were forestalled, on the grounds that some aspects of it might be controversial, but the answer to that is to discuss and if necessary amend those controversial elements, not hide the whole thing and imagine that no one has noticed, like the ostrich who buries its head in the sand. In that regard, as in others, I hope the UPR will be a catalyst to do what we should have done long ago on behalf of our people.