Centre for Policy Alternatives on 1 February, 2018

Human Rights Commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka and Ways Forward

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2018 is a significant year for Sri Lanka. The country marks the 70th anniversary of its independence on the 4th of February. Long overdue and much anticipated local government elections will take place under a new electoral system a week later on the 10th of February. These elections will be the first under the government elected in January 2015; the first to be conducted by the independent Election Commission established under the 19th Amendment to the Constitution in April 2015; and the first with a historic 25% allocation of seats for women. They will be followed by Provincial Council elections later in the year and depending on constitutional reform, a Presidential Election in 2019, and a General Election in 2020. The results of these elections will impact the course of constitutional reform and transitional justice, the latter half of the Sirisena presidency and the future of the National Unity Government. Limited steps towards improving human rights have been taken by the current government, but the pace of progress has slowed substantially, with persistent regressive moves imperilling human rights. Further, there is widespread concern about the status of promised constitutional reforms and transitional justice processes. Consequently, the government’s commitment to the broad reform agenda it was elected on is in serious doubt.

This year is also a crucial year in the context of a number of important deadlines established through Sri Lanka’s participation in international human rights mechanisms. Of these, UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015 remains a key document concerning human rights, transitional justice and reconciliation in the country, committing the government to enact a comprehensive set of measures by the extended deadline of March 2019. Sri Lanka’s human rights record was also reviewed in the third cycle of the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process in November 2017, where the country made 12 voluntary pledges and supported 177 recommendations thereby accepting a diverse range obligations. Additionally, Sri Lanka’s re-entry into the European Union’s (EU) GSP+ scheme in 2017 provides trade concessions from the EU on condition of improving compliance with 27 international conventions. This expansive body of international commitments is reaffirmed domestically by the National Human Rights Action Plan 2017-21 (NHRAP). Additionally, recommendations made in the report of the Consultation Task Force as well as benchmarks created by civil society actors create a substantive framework and timeline for progress on human rights in Sri Lanka.

In the context of these key milestones and deadlines there must be reflection on present human rights commitments, the status of their implementation and specific timeframes for their possible implementation. The Centre for Policy Alternatives has prepared this report as a reflection of the commitments and action that is possible within particular time periods with the purpose of encouraging their full implementation.

Download the report in English.