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I was privileged, at the end of November, to attend a workshop arranged by a group of women’s organizations looking into Gender Based Violence and related issues. It is chaired by the head of the United Nations Fund for Population Activities, which I found had been assisting with police training. This is extremely helpful because, given the revitalized role of the police in community support, and in particular the enhanced role of their Women and Children’s Desks,  assisting their officers in a better understanding of the assistance they can provide is invaluable.

In this regard I noted that I wished the section of the UN that is supposed to look after Human Rights was also similarly active. It seems rather to see its role as the lead agency in persecuting us about war crimes. Though the very helpful young lady who attended noted that it had assisted with police training, this was with regard to a programme I had initiated four years ago when I was Secretary to the Ministry of Human Rights. That had indeed been successful, largely I think because of the energies of the British Consultant in training through role play, who had also provided the initial draft of a manual which was finally published a couple of years later.

But there had been no follow up, and I was appalled to find that the office had not even contacted the head of the Police Women and Children’s Bureau. All incumbents of the post I have had to work with, since I was appointed to convene the Task Force to expedite action on the National Human Rights Action Plan, have been extremely positive and helpful. It was disappointing to find that the UN agency that should be working with them had ignored them, whereas a much smaller UN agency had been so helpful. Read the rest of this entry »

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

Because of both the National Human Rights Action Plan, and Reconciliation work that involves meetings at distant Divisional Secretariats, over 50 in the last year, I have become deeply conscious of the gaps in our systems with regard to protection for Women and Children. Most obviously there is a woeful lack of coordination of the various agencies and personnel supposed to work in this area.

But equally worrying is the absence of such personnel in most places. This has been brought home to me more forcefully, following the suggestion of the Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affaris to set up Women and Children’s Units in each Division. I now check on what human resources each Division have, and I find none that have officials in every area.

This is true of many fields. After the very productive discussion between the Secretary of the Children’s Ministry and the Secretary to the Ministry of Social Services – whom I had known in another incarnation as the courageous and efficient Government Agent in Mullaitivu and then Jaffna – I looked also for Social Services and Counselling and Welfare Officers, in addition to Women’s Development and Probation and Child Rights Protection and Early Childhood Development Officers. But more often than not these too are lacking – and the same goes for Sports Officers and Cultural Officers too.

In some places there had been Officers on probation, but they had left to take up places in the latest Graduate Recruitment Scheme government has begun. That absurdity made me realize how bizarre this scheme was, though I had already had inklings of the confusion caused in many officers by hundreds of these new recruits, for whom jobs had to be found.

I am at a loss to understand why government did not actually formulate a coherent human resources policy before it launched its latest graduate scheme. Given the urgent needs of the vulnerable in our society, it would have made sense to establish cadre positions in each Division for the various Departments that look after the vulnerable. Then, after developing job descriptions and prerequisites, they could have advertised for suitable people. If there were insufficient suitable people, they could have offered training courses, perhaps on the basis of loans that would be repayable when employment was obtained. Read the rest of this entry »

The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 ( sinhala & tamil) as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

In dealing at some length, over several columns, with the meeting on Prisons convened by the Task Force on expediting implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, I have neglected an equally important meeting that took place the next day. On August 4th the new Secretary to the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Empowerment had a meeting to discuss initiative regarding children, to deal with problems raised in the plan.

The meeting on Prisons, which I had convened as requested by the Minister to look into the excellent report the ICRC had prepared on Overcrowding in Prisons, had ranged over a number of other issues too, including former LTTE combatants and those still in detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Though we dealt much more swiftly with these problems after the conflict was over than other countries engaged in what they term a war against terrorism – which has with one notable exception never laid low hundreds of their citizens as happened to us, Muslims and Sinhalese and Tamils – there are still some issues to be resolved, and better coordination would I think help us to ensure justice as well as security for all our citizens.

In a very different way, this is what we need for children too, and the discussion in the Ministry covered a number of issues. Most important perhaps was a proposal the Secretary had initiated previously, by writing to the Secretary to the Ministry of Public Administration, to ask that a Unit for Women and Children be set up in every Divisional Secretariat. The nucleus for such a Unit is present, with Women and Children’s Desks now established in most police stations, and a host of officials appointed to deal at that level with the problems of Women and Children.

Read the rest of this entry »

Rajiva Wijesinha

July 2019
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