OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION
CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS SUBMITTED BY STATES PARTIES
UNDER ARTICLE 9 OF THE CONVENTION
Concluding observations of the Committee
Elimination of Racial Discrimination
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
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
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.
130. At its 1094th meeting, held on 15 March 1995, the Committee
adopted the following concluding observations.
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
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