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Conclusions and recommendations of the Committee on the Elimination of
Racial Discrimination, Sri Lanka, U.N. Doc. A/50/18, paras. 110-142 (1995).



Forty-sixth session


Concluding observations of the Committee on the
Elimination of Racial Discrimination

Sri Lanka

110. The third, fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports of Sri Lanka, submitted in one document (CERD/C/234/Add.1) were considered by the Committee at its 1079th and 1080th meetings, held on 3 and 6 March (CERD/C/SR.1079 and 1080).

111. The report was introduced by the representative of the State party who expressed confidence in the constructive dialogue between his country, the Committee and other United Nations human rights mechanisms. He drew particular attention to a recent major constitutional change whereby administrative power had been devolved to provincial councils in response to the demands of minorities, and Tamil had been made an official language.

112. The representative described the work and powers of the Official Languages Commission, established in 1991, which monitored compliance with the constitutional provisions concerning language and recommended policy concerning official languages. Problems concerning minorities were also being addressed through initiatives in the field of employment. Further to recommendations of the Youth Commission, there was now a policy of positive discrimination to redress under-representation of minority ethnic groups in the public service, subject to restrictions laid down by the Supreme Court. Developments in promoting human rights education in schools, universities and professional courses were also described.

113. The representative stated that considerable progress in promoting human rights had occurred following a change of Government in 1994. A range of measures to promote peace in the northern part of the country were described, including a cease-fire and peace negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), consideration of devolution options for minority groups in the region and rehabilitation projects. He also noted that the Government had established a Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and National Integration and would soon put before Parliament a proposal to establish a national Human Rights Commission. The representative presented to the Committee a document entitled, "Sri Lanka - Human Rights", which outlined his country's action in the field of human rights since the submission of the sixth periodic report.

114. The members of the Committee commended the State party on the quality of its report, prepared in accordance with the Committee's guidelines, and thanked the representative for the information provided orally. Measures taken by the Government to find a political solution to problems in the northern and eastern provinces were welcomed as were the recent constitutional and legislative changes and the establishment of the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and National Integration. Members expressed approval for the increased promotion of human rights education in the country and the expressed willingness of the Government to cooperate with international human rights mechanisms and institutions.

115. Concerning article 2 of the Convention, members put a number of questions about the 1978 Constitution and the extent to which its provisions could be suspended in times of emergency. Clarifications were also requested as to its compatibility with international law and the status of international human rights law in the national legal system. Members requested information on the operation of emergency legislation and the proposed National Human Rights Commission. Information was requested as to whether, in its efforts to combat discrimination within the terms of article 1 of the Convention, the Government was considering ratification of relevant ILO conventions and Protocol II Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949.

116. Concerning article 4, further information was requested regarding the practical application of the criminal law provisions concerning prosecution of manifestations of racial and religious hatred. Members also expressed unease as to the effectiveness of those provisions and the fact that they did not address acts of hatred other than those which are racial or religious.

117. In discussing implementation of article 5, a number of members drew particular attention to the situation of the Tamil, Sinhalese and other communities. More information was requested on matters including freedom of movement between the mainland and the Jaffna peninsula and elsewhere, the role of the army and the extent to which it might impede national reconciliation, the reports of the ongoing practice of torture by the security forces and the work of the Presidential Commission investigating abductions and disappearances. A member asked about the fate of some 4,000 to 5,000 Sinhalese who the Government stated in 1991 were to be detained for life. Information was requested on the status of some 85,000 stateless Tamils of Indian origin currently in the country.

118. Other matters queried in terms of article 5 were the treatment of workers, notably women in free trade zones, trade union freedoms and equal employment opportunities. A member queried the extent to which ethnic quotas were or might be employed to select from among candidates for government posts, with reference, inter alia, to the information in the report that Muslims were allotted 8 per cent of such posts.

119. Concerning implementation of article 6 members asked for further information on the work of the commissions set up to examine cases of bribery and corruption, disappearances and political murders as well as on the extent of protection provided to those who had been threatened for taking legal action against the State in matters concerning alleged abuse of human rights. Further information was also requested on the effectiveness of legal remedies for violations of rights protected by the Convention and on the role and activities of the ombudsman. Some members expressed concern as to the extent to which the variety of human rights monitoring and redress bodies might overlap or effectively hinder each other in the carrying out of their activities.

120. The representative of the State party in commencing his replies expressed satisfaction with the dialogue with the Committee and gave assurances that matters not dealt with orally would receive consideration in his country's next report.

121. The representative explained the security exigencies which had prevented the holding of a national census and gave details of the new constitutional reforms, including the strengthening of human rights guarantees. He emphasized that the changes would restrict the possibility of limiting a range of rights other than for purposes of maintaining public order. The representative clarified that the policy of the State was to ensure compatibility of national laws with international standards prior to adhesion to the international instruments.

122. The state of emergency declared for the entire country on 24 October 1994 was still in effect in certain regions.

123. The representative provided information to the effect that many of the detainees referred to by members had now been released and that there was an ongoing inquiry which made recommendations on release and conditions of detention. The Government would, he stated, take all necessary action to halt and punish violations of human rights.

124. The representative described in some detail the mandate and composition of the proposed national Human Rights Commission and indicated that its reports would be put regularly before Parliament.

125. In response to the questions of a member the representative explained the reasons for restricted freedom of movement between the mainland and the Jaffna peninsula and expressed his Government's determination to improve the situation.

126. Clarifications were given concerning the nature of the Muslim and Tamil communities and on consultations with Muslim communities in matters concerning their welfare.

127. The representative contended that the number of disappeared persons in the country was considerably less than the number of 60,000 mentioned by a member. He described government policy concerning the future role of the armed forces and ongoing programmes of human rights education for troops. Also described were strategies to care for and bring about the return of displaced people. Other institutional initiatives to redress human rights problems included the human rights task force, the independent commission on corruption, the Centre for the Independence of Magistrates and Advocates, implementation of recommendations of the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, the Presidential Commission of Inquiry on Involuntary Disappearances, the Ombudsman, etc. The role of the Supreme Court was described.

128. The representative denied that religious freedom, freedom of expression or trade union and employment rights were limited in a manner inconsistent with the Convention.

129. In conclusion, the representative presented figures on the ethnic composition of the public service and its recruitment policy.

Concluding observations

130. At its 1094th meeting, held on 15 March 1995, the Committee adopted the following concluding observations.

(a) Introduction

131. The Committee commends the State party on the quality of its report prepared in accordance with the Committee's guidelines for the preparation of State party reports and expresses its appreciation to the State party's delegation for additional information that it provided to the Committee orally. It notes with satisfaction the submission by Sri Lanka of the core document (HRI/CORE/1/Add.48) and of the document entitled "Sri Lanka - Human Rights" containing information of a general character. The Committee regrets, however, that the third, fourth, fifth and sixth periodic reports have not been submitted on time and that the report under consideration combines the third to sixth reports and covers a period of almost 10 years.

(b) Positive aspects

132. Measures adopted by the People's Alliance Government of Sri Lanka with a view to finding a political solution to the problems affecting the northern and the eastern provinces are welcomed. Those measures, particularly the commencing of negotiations with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), the elaboration of the rehabilitation projects of some US$ 800 million for the northern province, and the signing of a cessation of hostilities agreement with LTTE which came into effect on 8 January 1995 pave the way to national integration and to the promotion of national reconciliation between all communities of the Sri Lankan society.

133. Also welcomed are legislative and administrative measures recently adopted by the Government with a view to fostering and consolidating the process of peaceful resolution of the conflict situation prevailing in the country during the period under review. Among measures noted are the thirteenth amendment to the Constitution providing, inter alia, for the creation of the mechanism of provincial councils to satisfy minority demands and for the introduction of Tamil as an official language in addition to the Sinhalese language, with English as the link language; the amendments to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration Act No. 17 of 1981 simplifying the procedure for submission and consideration of complaints; the creation of the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and National Integration; and the announced establishment of a National Human Rights Commission which would be yet another forum through which the minorities could seek redress to their grievances.

134. Noted with satisfaction are measures taken by the Government to disseminate knowledge of human rights among the various segments of the national community by, inter alia, the incorporation of human rights concepts into school curricula; training in human rights provided for law enforcement officials; and introduction of human rights as a subject in undergraduate and postgraduate university studies.

135. The readiness of the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with various United Nations human rights monitoring mechanisms, other intergovernmental and non-governmental organs and institutions in the domain of human rights protection is appreciated.

(c) Factors and difficulties impeding the application of the Convention

136. It is noted that the situation prevailing in the country during the period under review has not been conducive to the effective implementation of the Convention and has made it difficult for the State party to comply with its reporting obligations, thus preventing the Committee from fulfilling its obligations in accordance with article 9, paragraph 1, of the Convention.

(d) Principal subjects of concern

137. It is noted with concern that the state of emergency in effect intermittently since 1983 continues in a significant part of the national territory. The Committee hopes that the situation improves so that the state of emergency can be lifted.

138. Concern is expressed that the State party has not provided sufficient information on the implementation of the provisions contained in articles 4 and 5 of the Convention.

(e) Suggestions and recommendations

139. The Committee draws the State party's attention to the obligation under article 9 of the Convention to report regularly and that the seventh report, due on 20 March 1995, be submitted without delay.

140. The Committee also recommends that the State party pay more attention to sensitizing the members of the law enforcement agencies, security and armed forces about human rights.

141. The Committee also recommends that the State party, in its seventh periodic report, provide more detailed information on the system of human rights organs functioning in the country, and in particular on how their mandates relate to the rights mentioned in the Convention; information on how these organs interact and coordinate their activities is also requested.

142. It is recommended that the Government provide the Committee with the information necessary to assess its implementation of articles 4 (b) and 5 (e) of the Convention. The Government is reminded that it should adopt specific penal legislation in accordance with General Recommendation 15.




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