Make preparations count
Sri Lanka sometimes seems to know the answer to everything, but the solution to nothing. Human rights are an important part of peace, democracy and sustainable economic development. It should be focused on with genuine and serious intent, empowered to impart justice.
After the lapse of three years as part of early contingency plans for the next United Nations General Assembly Meeting, the Government in October 2011 adopted the National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights.
The Sri Lankan Government in May 2008 at its Universal Periodic Review had voluntarily pledged to the UN Human Rights Council to prepare an action plan to protect human rights on various issues in the country.
Three years later the Cabinet-approved plan was launched, with every Government ministry charged with the task of implementing the action plan. Plantations Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, who is also the Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights, said at the time that Cabinet approved the five-year action plan which would be presented to the United Nations General Assembly in March and other international forums, countries and INGOS. The Minister also insisted that this was done to prove the political commitment towards human rights in Sri Lanka.
In a clear measure to prepare for the UNHCR Council sessions next month, the Cabinet approved a ministerial subcommittee to oversee its implementation. This adds yet another layer of bureaucracy to the process that has little to show to date.
This, together with the launch of ‘Ruthless,’ a DVD showing the gruesome acts of the LTTE during three decades of violence, seem to be among the tools adopted by the Government for the upcoming UN sessions, since it has already been announced that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) report will not be presented for scrutiny.
More than ever before, the Government has the challenge of ensuring that these human rights are in fact implemented and the action plan is not just another part of Sri Lanka’s ‘show and tell’ exhibit for the international community and UN sessions. So far neither the LLRC nor the Human Rights Action Plan has answered the burning question of political reconciliation adequately. The Human Rights Action Plan must also not be allowed to be doubted and tossed aside, but strengthened with the genuine commitment of the Government and all other stakeholders, including the public.
The action plan has three main objectives, to improve the protection of human rights, create awareness about human rights and to promote and coordinate human rights activities among diverse stakeholders. It is divided into nine thematic areas including civil and political rights, women’s rights, rights of migrant workers, rights of internally displaced persons and prevention of torture, which would be handled by various ministries relevant to the subject.
This means that contentious issues within the Government organisations need to be sorted out. The Police is one great example of how the action plan can genuinely assist people and protect them from torture. It can conversely also prevent the Police from being used as an implementing arm for the Urban Development Authority and other civilian-centred development projects.
Human rights have been talked of so much in connection with Internally Displaced People, but it almost seems as if the fact that they also pertain to the rest of the people has been forgotten – particularly in the case of infringement of rights concerning development projects where people lose their homes or livelihoods. Environmental considerations and corruption in large-scale deals are all inclusive in the human rights paradigm.
If the Government really wishes to prove that it is dedicated to protecting the rights of its population, then these too must be added to the fabric of the national plan.