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.
Soon after the New Year, the Human Rights Commission summoned a consultation with regard to the recommendations made with regard to Sri Lanka at the Universal Periodic Review conducted by the Human tights Council in Geneva in 2008. This was a timely move by the Commission, and brought home to me how grossly we had neglected paying formal attention to the recommendations since their inception. We had after all accepted several of the recommendations made, and we had an obligation therefore to carry out our pledges.
The fault is mine even more I suppose than that of anyone else, since having been appointed Secretary of the Ministry of Human Rights in the middle of 2008, I continued in that position for well over a year after those pledges had been made. Though I think I did a little bit, and perhaps more than anyone else would have done, I should obviously have been more systematic. In mitigation however I should note that I had a massive problem with regard to one important area with regard to which there were several recommendations, namely the Human Rights Commission itself. We were supposed to get international assistance for this, but our principal collaborator in this, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, refused to recognize its status.
That this involved deceit and sleight of hand had been clear to me earlier, when I discovered that a UNDP sponsored report on the HRC had been suppressed and not shown to the Head of Capacity Building in Geneva. The line being pushed by critics of the government in Colombo was that the HRC was illegal, and this had been swallowed – if indeed he had not been responsible for propagating it in the first place – by an Australian (yet another to add to the serried ranks of David Savage and Gordon Weiss and James Elder and Peter Mackay) called Rory Mungoven who was in charge of the Sri Lanka desk in Geneva. He had previously been the representative of the High Commissioner in Colombo, and had no affection at all for our elected government.
I tried early on to engage with him, but found him a liar, and sanctimonious at that. When I asked him why he had not supported regional activities of the HRC, he told me that donors were not willing to contribute to the HRC as it was constituted, but a Swiss diplomat who was very helpful while also clearsighted about our shortcomings that should be overcome, told me that the Swiss had provided funds for the purpose, and they had not been used. Rory, I should add, had proconsular ambitions, and was one of those who told me the UNOHCHR could do a better job than the Norwegian led Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission at monitoring the ceasefire, on similar lines to Gareth Evans who thought that he would do a better job himself, as head of the International Crisis Group.
Rory’s successor was a much more helpful person but, typically, she was soon taken away and replaced by an American young lady called Cynthia Veliko. Cynthia, like Rory, thought her primary allegiance was to opponents of the government, but she was more gracious, and helped to set up a training session for police trainers, which was I think extremely helpful.
My efforts to have this replicated soon however failed, and I do not think this was Cynthia’s fault. The police proved extremely slow at producing the Handbook that the trainers we brought down had suggested. They not only suggested it but, the more articulate one of them, my old British friend Scott Richards, actually did a superb first draft at my persuasion. This was however lost for ages in the wilds of police headquarters, since it seemed everyone had to get everyone else’s permission. A rapid turnover at the top, culminating in the appointment of an IGP who did not seem especially keen on more training (he was polite enough but insisted that nothing could be done until the election season, that was then under way, was concluded) meant that all seemed to have been forgotten by the time the Ministry ceased to exist.
When I was told that the Ministry of External Affairs would take over Human Rights, I did point out to the new Minister the need to take on our staff, and he acquiesced. However there was inordinate delay in appointing the most senior of them, who went on to other things, and the rest were treated with contumely. The special Consultant did a valiant job in ensuring that the National Action Plan we had started on was not forgotten, and I think it is largely because of her that the Plan was put to Cabinet, and then finalized and accepted by Cabinet. But the Ministry seems completely to have ignored the UPR Recommendations, which is the more culpable in that it had always been the responsibility of that Ministry to report on them four years hence.
Nothing thus seems to have been done further about the very first recommendation we accepted, which was the introduction of a Human Rights Charter, which indeed the President had pledged in his 2005 manifesto. When I took over the post of Secretary of the Ministry in 2008, I was told that a committee to draft a Bill of Rights had been set up before the Ministry had been created, but that nothing had been produced. With a great deal of cajoling, I managed to get the Committee, which was chaired by the idealistic but not always energetic Jayampathy Wickramaratne, to meet regularly, and before the end of 2009 we had what I thought was an excellent draft.
But my advice to publicize this was not taken, and reminders have not helped, given that no one was responsible any longer. The draft lay forgotten, but I hope that at least now it will be revived, in accordance with our pledge.