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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.

Perhaps the most important thing we have achieved through the Task Force to expedite implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan is to ensure better coordination between the various Ministries that share responsibility for particular concerns. Thus last week the Ministry of Rehabilitation and Prison Reforms, which had participated actively in our consultations through a very committed Additional Secretary, convened its own meeting under the Secretary. In addition to the various Departments under that Ministry, he brought together the Ministry of Justice as well as representatives of the Judiciary.

The discussion was lively and constructive, and the Secretary seems determined to move, not only on the Action Plan, but also on the positive suggestions put forward by the President in the last Budget Speech. The most important of these is to reduce the numbers now committed to jail. Currently, as we were informed during the informal consultations we had with NGOs and relevant government departments at the Reconciliation Office, there are about 130,000 persons in prison, of whom only about 30,000 have actually been sentenced to jail. The rest have simply been remanded, which seems a shocking business.

Former Attorney General Mohan Peiris made several suggestions, citing recent developments in Britain, as to how to get over this problem. Meanwhile the dynamic new Secretary to the Ministry of Justice had sent another letter to establish a Steering Committee on ‘Access to Justice’, which is also intended to ensure that vulnerable groups do not suffer. We can be pleased then that the adoption by Cabinet of the Plan has led to so much activity, much of which was contemplated before but was laid aside until just such a catalyst emerged.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

June 2012
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