1. The Committee
considered the initial report of Sri Lanka on the implementation of
the Covenant (E/1990/5/Add.32), together with the written replies
to the list of questions, at its 3rd to 5th meetings, held on 28 and
29 April 1998, and adopted* the following concluding observations.
2. The Committee
welcomes the submission of the initial report of Sri Lanka which generally
conforms to its guidelines on the preparation of reports. The Committee
expresses appreciation for the frank and constructive dialogue with
representatives of the State party and for additional information
presented during the dialogue.
B. Positive aspects
3. The Committee
notes with satisfaction the desire expressed by the Government of
Sri Lanka to promote the economic, social and cultural rights of its
citizens in spite of the armed conflict in the country. It notes with
appreciation the numerous international agencies involved in humanitarian
assistance in cooperation with the Government of Sri Lanka.
4. The Committee
notes with appreciation that in spite of its relatively low per capita
income, Sri Lanka has achieved progress in providing essential social
services including free and compulsory education for all up to the
age of 16, free health care, and food subsidies and supplements for
targeted vulnerable groups. This has resulted in a higher UNDP human
development index rating in relation to other countries in the same
C. Factors and difficulties impeding the implementation of the
5. The Committee
recognizes that the prolonged period of violence and conflict that
has affected Sri Lanka since 1983 has hampered the realization of
economic, social and cultural rights in the country. The conflict
has resulted in large-scale internal displacement of people, hindered
government efforts to provide essential services in the affected areas,
and diverted resources from social and development objectives.
D. Principal subjects of concern
conflict between the Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil
6. The Committee
regrets that its dialogue with representatives of the State party
regarding the root causes of the armed conflict was inconclusive;
the absence in the report of statistics relating to the north and
east of the country can only reinforce the view of the Committee that
the question of discrimination in relation to the economic, social
and cultural rights of ethnic groups remains the central issue in
the armed conflict in Sri Lanka. In this regard, the Committee notes
with concern that the Government's peace plan, consisting of devolution
of authority to regional governments through constitutional reform,
has not been implemented. Although it has been more than three years
since the plan was introduced, the timetable for its implementation,
as well as for a referendum to determine public acceptance, remains
7. The Committee
expresses its grave concern regarding the situation of an estimated
800,000 persons displaced because of the armed conflict, many of whom
have been living in temporary shelters for the past 15 years and who
lack basic sanitation, education, food, clothing and health care.
It is reported that Tamil families who were forced by the military
to leave their ancestral villages in the Welioya region are among
the displaced. The Committee is alarmed by the results of an independent
survey which estimated the incidence of undernourishment of women
and children living in temporary shelters to be as high as 70 per
cent, and by reports that in many cases food assistance did not reach
the intended beneficiaries.
8. The Committee
notes with concern the uncertain situation of 85,000 Tamils of Indian
origin living in Sri Lanka. They possess neither Indian nor Sri Lankan
citizenship, have no access to basic services such as education, and
do not enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights.
9. The Committee
notes with concern the existence of disparities between statutory
law and customary law. The age for marriage in statutory law is 18
years old but girls as young as 12 years of age are able to marry
under customary law, as long as the parents consent. The Committee
is of the view that the practice of early marriage has negative impacts
on the right to health, right to education and the right to work,
particularly of the girl child. In statutory law, there is equality
of inheritance among siblings while customary law discriminates against
married women who, unlike married men, may not inherit family property.
In allowing customary law to prevail over statutory law in this regard,
the Government is not complying with its obligation to protect the
rights of women against discrimination.
10. The Committee
further notes with concern that existing legislation discriminates
against children born out of wedlock who may inherit only from their
mother. This legislation violates the rights set forth in article
10 of the Covenant.
11. The Committee
expresses its deep concern at the lack of anti-discrimination mechanisms
in the area of employment with regard to women and minority groups.
The Committee notes that while a system of ethnic recruitment quotas
is in place in the public sector, there is no effort to ensure that
promotions in the public sector and employment in the private sector
are free from discrimination. In particular, the concept of equal
pay for work of equal value is not applied effectively in Sri Lanka,
particularly in the private sector where women have no legal protection
against discrimination in employment.
12. The Committee
deplores the Government's inability to implement its child labour
laws effectively. Thousands of children are known to be fully employed,
while thousands more are working as domestic servants in urban areas
where many are mistreated, sexually abused and driven to prostitution.
In addition, the Committee is deeply concerned about the sexual exploitation
of Sri Lankan children by foreign tourists. The Committee regrets
that detailed information on the magnitude of the problem was not
provided. The Committee regrets further that the report of the State
party does not provide a satisfactory indication of how serious the
Government's efforts to protect the rights of these children are.
The Committee notes with particular regret that more than 50 per cent
of prostitutes are children.
13. The Committee
notes with concern the plight of hundreds of thousands of Sri Lankan
women working abroad as domestic helpers, many of them underpaid and
treated as virtual slaves. The Committee regrets that the Government
has not made a serious effort to assess the negative impact of this
phenomenon on children who are left in vulnerable and difficult circumstances
without their mothers and to take appropriate remedial measures.
14. The Committee
notes that Sri Lanka not only has the second highest rate of suicide
among youth in the world, but a rising incidence of drug and alcohol
dependence, adolescent crime, child abuse, sexual disorders and domestic
violence against women. The Committee expresses its deep regret that
the Government has failed to comply with its obligation under article
10 of the Covenant (concerning protection of the family) and article
to an adequate standard of living
15. The Committee
notes with grave concern the information from UNDP that 22 per cent
of the population of Sri Lanka lives in poverty, and that many women
and children are suffering from malnutrition. It also notes with grave
concern the information regarding the continued acute shortages of
adequate housing and construction materials for homes in need of repair.
The Committee further notes the lack of updated information on the
measures implemented by the Government in accordance with its obligations
under article 11 of the Covenant.
16. The Committee
also notes with concern that inadequate efforts appear to have been
made by the Government to promote awareness among the women of Sri
Lanka of their human rights.
17. The Committee
is concerned that the Constitution does not expressly recognize the
right to strike and imposes vague restrictions on the right to form
trade unions, which would lead to penalties being arbitrarily imposed
on workers who exercise these rights.
18. The Committee
notes with concern that the current policy allowing industry-specific
wage boards to determine minimum wages does not protect workers in
the smaller industries which are not part of the wage board system.
19. The Committee
expresses concern that the distinction contained in the current Constitution
between "citizens" and "other persons" with respect to the right to
equality, has not been removed from the proposed revised Constitution
currently before Parliament.
20. The Committee
notes with concern the uncertain situation concerning demolition of
houses and illegal settlements in Sri Lanka.
E. Suggestions and recommendations
21. The Committee
is fully aware of the human and material costs of the armed conflict
in Sri Lanka and the deleterious effects this has on the economic,
social and cultural rights of every person living in the country.
In the hope of a just, speedy and peaceful solution to the war, the
Committee urges the Government, as a matter of the highest priority,
to negotiate the acceptance by all concerned of its proposed peace
plan involving devolution of authority to regional governments. The
Committee requests the State party to include in its next report detailed
information on how the process of devolution of authority affects
the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights throughout the
country. In this regard, the Committee reiterates that it attaches
great importance to the gathering of relevant data, disaggregated
by all factors including gender, age, ethnicity and nationality, which
may help identify vulnerable groups in society. The Committee requests
that such data be made available to it in the next report of the State
22. The Committee
strongly recommends that the Government establish mechanisms to facilitate
the flow of humanitarian assistance and to strictly monitor and ensure
that the intended recipients actually receive the assistance. In particular,
the Committee urges the Government to seek further international assistance
in its efforts to provide permanent housing to displaced persons who
have been living in "temporary" shelters since the war began 15 years
ago. It is further recommended that the Government reassess the food
assistance programme already in place in affected areas with a view
to improving the nutritional standards of the food provided, particularly
to children and expectant and nursing mothers.
23. The Committee
takes note of the Governments's avowed plans to award citizenship
to the 85,000 stateless Tamils living on Sri Lankan territory. The
Committee requests an update regarding this situation in the next
24. The Committee
urges the State party to enforce the minimum legal age for marriage
of 18 years, as well as inheritance laws affecting women, thereby
superseding discriminatory customs and traditions. The Committee urges
the State party to repeal all laws that discriminate against children
born out of wedlock.
25. The Committee
recommends that the State party adopt policies and implement relevant
measures to combat discrimination in employment against women and
minority groups in both the private and public sectors. Particular
attention should be paid to the enjoyment by women and men of the
right to equal pay for work of equal value.
26. The Committee
urges the Government vigorously to enforce its child labour laws and
to establish immediately a legal minimum age for work in all industries
that is in accordance with international standards. In relation to
the exploitation of children, the Committee strongly recommends that
Sri Lankan authorities renew their efforts to seek out those who are
responsible for the sexual exploitation of children and to prosecute
them to the full extent of the law. The Committee encourages the Government
to seek the cooperation of other Governments in bringing to justice
all those who engage in the sexual exploitation of children, and international
assistance to establish rehabilitation programmes to facilitate the
reintegration into society of children who have been victimized.
27. The Committee
strongly recommends that the Government undertake an assessment of
the impact on children of the prolonged absence of their mothers working
abroad with a view to educating Sri Lankan women in this regard, and
to discourage women from leaving the country for employment abroad
as domestic helpers, the conditions of which are often deplorable.
28. The Committee
further requests that an updated report be provided on progress achieved
by the Government in addressing the problems of poverty, malnutrition
and lack of adequate housing.
29. The Committee
recognizes that economic conditions provide a strong incentive for
many adults to seek work abroad, but notes that any resulting separation
of parents, and especially mothers, from their children can have significant
negative consequences, especially for the children. The Committee
recommends that a study be undertaken to shed more light on the issues
involved and to provide a basis for more informed decision-making
in such cases.
30. The Committee
has taken note that a presidential task force has been investigating
the problem of suicide among the youth and has issued recommendations
in this regard. The Committee requests that the report of this task
force, as well as information on action pursuant to its recommendation,
be made available in the next report submitted by the State party.
* At the
25th meeting (eighteenth session), held on 13 May 1998.