Though the National Human Rights Action Plan is now available in all three languages on the web (at http://hractionplan.gov.lk/), we still have a long way to go in getting information across about progress. The reports that have been received have not been uploaded, which is essential if ownership of the plan is to be extended to the public – which is essential for a National Plan.

This is not the fault of the officials in charge. Though I have drawn comparisons with the LLRC Action Plan, the monitoring report of which is available on www.priu.gov.lk, that Task Force has all the resources of the Presidential Secretariat at its disposal. With a capable Additional Secretary in charge of collating reports, and bright youngsters familiar with web technology at his service, he has now been able to provide clear information of what the many Ministries involved have achieved. Some of the Ministries which had failed to report when I checked previously have now sent in their accounts, and the Plan currently seems well serviced.

Far different is the situation at the Ministry of Plantation Industries, which is supposed to coordinate work on the Human Rights Action Plan. The Minister is supposed to chair the Inter-Ministerial Committee that is tasked with implementing the Plan, and he has set up a Task Force to expedite this, but neither body has power or even influence to ensure that things move quickly. Though the government agencies involved have all been extremely positive at the meetings that have been held, we still do not have effective means of coordination, and the classic government approach to action means that there is no sense of urgency.

Thus, though the Minister of Justice said very recently in Parliament that the Duty Attorney Scheme, which is a key element in safeguarding the rights of those taken into custody, is going ahead, there were some questions about how precisely this should be set up when we last met, and we have not heard that these have been resolved. It also transpired that, instead of having different Committees to report on the various areas that need to be decided, there is only one Committee, which of course means that things will move very slowly.

I assume I was naïve to have thought that there would be several Committees each tasked with reaching a few decisions and implementing them, since I should have realized that the pool of knowledgeable people capable of reflection and making decisions is small, and they are all very busy. But unfortunately what this means is that the timelines in the Action Plan are being ignored.

Given the excessive workload of the Ministry of Justice, I feel I cannot complain too much, but the result I fear will be a general assumption that we are not serious about the plan. That is why it would make sense to put up the monitoring reports so that all those concerned could see the progress that has been made, and where we need to move more swiftly. I should note that I would also feel better, because I am getting tired of being told that I am a nuisance in asking for swift results, and until everything is available for examination at a glance, the reasons for my concern are not recognized.

But to have a user friendly website with updated information we need better staff than we have. At present there are two young ladies who do their best, but they do not have the required expertise in either the subject matter or the technology to work effectively. It took them a long time to actually collate the information we had received from the various Ministries in line with the format of the Plan, but getting that uploaded on the website will not be easy for them.

There was a third young lady who was slightly more dynamic but she has now been translated to higher things. Meanwhile the Consultant, who had done yeoman service for us in the days when I was Secretary to the Ministry, has still not received a position commensurate with his experience and capacity. This is understandable since the Ministry has formally no role with regard to Human Rights, and though the young ladies were sent back when the Ministry of External Affairs realized it could not handle the subject, a more senior position seems to require Cabinet approval, and that has not been pursued.

In addition, he has had much to do in preparing other reports, including the one that was presented at the UPR, and then getting External Affairs approval for such. There is also a tendency to work towards not goals but crises, so there is a flurry of activity before sessions in Geneva, at which stage the wider picture encapsulated in the Plan has to take a back seat.

The understanding expressed by one of the bright new Secretaries appointed last year, that the process of Nation Building (to complement the State Building that is proceeding relatively well) required fulfillment of both the LLRC and the Human Rights Action Plans does not seem to have been widely understood as yet. In addition, the sharing of relevant information with all stakeholders is still seen as a luxury rather than a necessity. The commitment to introduce a Freedom of Information Act, which was stated directly by the President, agreed to in Parliament, and spelled out in the Human Rights Action Plan, has been qualified in the LLRC Action Plan, and I fear that the suggestion that the same aims could be achieved by other means will not be implemented either.

Meanwhile I have suggested that, in addition with a meeting with the Minister of Justice to fast forward the work his Ministry is proceeding with, we must also have more and better technical resources. Even if the next Geneva sessions are about other things, this element should not be neglected in the general interests of the country.

Daily News 4 Feb 2013 http://www.dailynews.lk/2013/02/04/fea02.asp

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