UN Committee meetings
ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION ADOPTS CONCLUSIONS ON REPORT OF TRINIDAD
7 August 2001
Starts Consideration of Report of Sri
Lanka on Giving Effect to the
Provisions of the Convention
Committee was monitoring Sri Lanka's compliance with the provisions of the
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial
Introducing his country's report, Prasad Kariyawasam, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said that the Government emphasized the need for a new vision for Sri Lankan nationhood embracing all ethnic communities on the basis of equality and partnership. That policy envisaged the promotion of value systems necessary for the survival of ethnic groups as distinct collective identities with dignity, while maintaining the territorial integrity of the country, he said.
Kariyawasam said that the policy of national integration intended to promote
harmonious multi-ethnic policy with a view to resolving ethnic issues that had
engulfed the country. However laudable the Government's efforts had been, it had
not been able to eliminate the ethnic and racial prejudice that tormented almost
every society in the world, he added.
Tang Chengyuan, the Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur to the report of Sri Lanka, said that the domestic conflict would have been settled had the policy of devolution of power to regions been implemented. If that had been the case, the Tamil fighters would have not continued to struggle for the creation of a separate state.
Mr. Tang further said that the Sri Lankan Government had participated in international human rights fora, and had adopted several human rights instruments, to which it should be commended; however, concerning article 4 of the Convention on condemnation of racist propaganda, the Government had to take more measures.
Committee members also raised a number of questions on such issues as lack of
freedom of the press; the killing of individuals; political assassinations;
arbitrary detention; racial discrimination against minority groups; and
stateless persons of Indian origin, among other things.
In addition to Mr. Tang, the following Committee Experts also took part in the debate: Michael E. Sherifis, Luis Valencia Rodriguez, Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai, Regis de Gouttes, Gabriele Britz, Marc Boussuyt, Mario Jorge Yutzis and Patrick Thornberry.
The Sri Lankan delegation was also made up of G.B. Keerawella, Secretary to the Ministry of Ethnic Affairs and National Integration; C.R. De Silva, Solicitor General, Attorney-General's Department; S.S. Ganegama Arachchi, Counsellor, Sumedha Ekanayake, Second Secretary, and Himalee Arunatilaka, Second Secretary, Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka in Geneva.
Sri Lanka is among the 157 States parties to the Convention and as such it is obligated to present periodic reports on how it was implementing the provisions of the treaty.
The Committee will continue its consideration of the report of Sri Lanka when it reconvenes at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 8 August.
Report of Sri Lanka
The ninth periodic report, contained in document CERD/C/357/Add.3, says that the report covers a critical period, 1994 to 1999, in the history of socio-political institutions and ethnic relations in the country. It notes that the present Government, which assumed office in 1994, has taken a definite and positive stand and has pursued a proactive policy on the ethnic issue. During the last ten years, unprecedented measures have been initiated to further strengthen equality, social justice and dignity for the people of Sri Lanka. The Government has pursued a 'one nation - one people' policy, which emphasizes the unity of the country while recognizing its multi-cultural and multi-religious nature.
Sri Lanka is committed to building a society where all communities can live in safety and security, where human dignity is valued and equality of treatment is an accepted norm of public life, the report says. Effort is continuously made to ensure that all communities have the space to express their identity, including the right to enjoy their own culture, profess and practise their own religion and nurture and promote their own language. From the time of independence, various legislative, judicial and administrative measures have been adopted by successive governments to address the demands of minority communities. The present Government has taken steps to identify the remaining elements which may contribute to perceptions of discrimination between people on the basis of race, with a view to eradicating them and to creating an environment for harmonious ethnic relations within society.
The resumption of a dialogue between the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Government of Sri Lanka to find a durable solution to the issues affecting the North and the East was accorded priority consideration by the Government, the report states. Between October 1994 and April 1995 four rounds of peace talks were concluded between the Government and the LTTE. Despite the positive responses of the Government to the new conditions put forward by the LTTE, the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement was unilaterally violated by the LTTE on 19 April 1995.
Presentation of Sri Lankan Report
PRASAD KARIYAWASAM, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, recalled that the duration covered under the report, 1994-1999, was a period that had ushered landmark achievements in the country's history. Several progressive socio-political institutions had been created, as well as the promotion of ethnic relations in the country. Several measures were taken by the present Government to set up many institutional mechanisms for the promotion and protection of human rights. In addition, the Government also ratified and acceded to several international human rights treaties coupled with active cooperation with many United Nations human rights mechanisms.
Mr. Kariyawasam said that authorities in Sri Lanka appreciated the valuable role of the non-government organizations (NGOs) pertaining to promotion and protection of human rights. Nationality and internationally recognized NGOs in Sri Lanka actively campaigned on many issues including human rights, environmental and development issues. There were several hundred such NGOs active in Sri Lanka and they had the freedom and ability to be critical of the Government while bringing the executive under vigorous scrutiny.
Sri Lanka was the home for several ethnic and religious communities, Mr. Kariyawasam continued to say, adding that they all had equal rights and fundamental freedoms, which were enshrined in the Constitution and were justiciable in the highest court in the land. Sri Lanka's commitment to multi-ethnicity and unity in diversity was reflected in the country's ethnic affairs policy. The People's Alliance Government that came to power in 1994 recognized the importance of an ethnic affairs policy as a key area in the public policy domain.
Mr. Kariyawasam further said that the Government emphasized the need for a new vision for Sri Lankan nationhood embracing all ethnic communities for Sri Lanka on the basis of equality and partnership. That policy envisaged the promotion of value systems necessary for the survival of ethnic groups as distinct collective identities with dignity, while maintaining the territorial integrity of the country. The policy of national integration intended to promote harmonious multi-ethnic policy with a view to resolving ethnic issues that had engulfed the country. However laudable the Government's efforts had been, it had not been able to eliminate the ethnic and racial prejudice that bedevilled almost every society in the world.
Mr. Kariyawasam said that for the past two decades, his country had suffered immensely due to an armed conflict with a terrorist organization whose primary objective was the creation of a mono ethnic separate country. Their violence and intolerance was completely contrary to the general ethics of the country and in fact that of the global village. The extreme violence and terrorism perpetuated by the group called Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in the past decade had had a devastating impact on the society as a whole. The group had assassinated several democratic political leaders belonging to all communities. Recently, the President of the country had miraculously escaped an assassination attempt during an election campaign when she was running for re-election. Sri Lankan authorities, nevertheless, recognized the importance of dialogue and reconciliation for long-term and sustained ethnic harmony and for promotion and protection of human rights for all communities in the country, Mr. Kariyawasam said. The Government of Sri Lanka had agreed with LTTE suggestion to obtain the good office of the Government of Norway as a facilitator to commence a dialogue to find an acceptable solution to all the communities in Sri Lanka with a view to halting the on-going armed conflict. Despite such good intentions on the part of the Government, as recently as last month, the LTTE had attacked the only international airport in Sri Lanka.
In his conclusion, Mr. Kariyawasam said that notwithstanding such regular provocations and acts of terrorism, the authorities had made every effort to provide facilities and ensure protection of human rights of all citizens, in particular those living in conflict prone regions such as northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka.
Consideration of Report
TANG CHENGYUAN, the Committee Expert who served as country rapporteur to the report of Sri Lanka, said that the country was a democratic republic. The conflict in the country had led to racial tension, which in turn had created hatred among racial groups. In fact, the Government had affirmed that it was not pursuing a policy of racial discrimination despite the conflict.
The domestic conflict would have been settled had the policy of devolution of power to regions been implemented, Mr. Tang said. If that was the case, the Tamil fighters would not have continued to struggle for the creation of a separate state.
The Sri Lankan Government had participated in international human rights fora, and had adopted several human rights instruments, to which it should be commended, Mr. Tang said. However, concerning article 4 of the Convention, on condemnation of racist propaganda, the Government had to do more to penalize those who had burned places of worship.
With regard to article 5 of the Convention on equality before the law, Mr. Tang said that illegal detention had been prohibited and perpetrators had been punished. However, both the Tamil and the State army had committed, in the name of revenge, a number of illegal acts against the civilian population.
The law enforcement institutions were also affected by the authorities who destabilized the situation, thus leading to extrajudicial executions, Mr. Tang said quoting non-governmental organization (NGO) sources. The Tamil Tiger fighters were also committing the same acts. There were unresolved cases of disappearances by the Government of Sri Lanka. The occurrence of forced disappearances had also continued.
The information supplied by the Sri Lankan organization for the Defence of Democratic Rights indicated that persons were arrested in police stations for lengthy periods, Mr. Tang said. At least 6,000 cases had been presented by the Government of Sri Lanka to the Working Group on forced or involuntary disappearances, which was among the Government's efforts.
A committee against illegal harassment and illegal arrests had been established by presidential decree, which resolved several cases, Mr. Tang continued to say, adding another committee had also been set up to monitor illegal detentions.
Mr. Tang said that the Government should continue its efforts in providing relief aid to persons not only living under its control but also to those living beyond its jurisdiction within the country, as it did now. Other Committee members also said that the forthcoming constitutional reform, which was at present before the parliamentary committee, should restate the principle of racial equality and should affirm the prohibition of racial discrimination. The major problem faced by the Government of Sri Lanka did not have only racial and ethnic aspects but also had political considerations. People who worked in plantations had been prevented from continuing their work and such issues should be considered by the Government as the part of the fulfilment of the people's economic, social and cultural rights. In addition, land rights issues to indigenous peoples should be ensured in accordance with the Committee's General Comment no. 23, which recommended to States parties to recognize the rights of indigenous people to use, to possess and to live in communities in their own lands.
It was also said that people of difference racial and linguistic origin were obliged to attend court hearings in other languages other than their own. They were also compelled to sign police findings without knowledge of their contents.
An Expert said that there were discrepancies between the information produced by the report and the information provided by non-governmental organizations. The NGOs information had indicated the existence of problems in the country, particularly in the region of armed conflict. The state of emergency, which had given special power to the armed forces, had been a focus of human rights violations. Various other NGOs had also reported on acts of discrimination of all sorts, including the administration of justice, against Tamil people. Many of the plantation workers were stateless people who were used in situations amounting to servitude.
Another Expert said that the report did not deal with the main racial problem faced by the country at present. The delegation was asked to give its views with regard to power sharing arrangement with regions. To which ethnic group did offenders of human rights belong?
An Expert said that many Sri Lankans of Tamil origin had been fleeing the country for Europe and America to seek asylum, while many of them were taken to the Middle Eastern countries as workers. The Expert wanted to know how many of the asylum-seekers had returned home after their requests were rejected by the host countries. How did the Government receive those returnees?
In a brief reply, the delegation, in reference to an Expert=s allusion of a report that the Government was recruiting children in the army, said that the Government of Sri Lanka did not recruit children below 18 years into the army. The delegation said it was the LTTE that was recruiting children by force.
8 August 2001
Concludes Public Consideration of
Report of Sri Lanka
Also this morning, the Committee concluded its public consideration of a report presented by the Government of Sri Lanka after hearing the response of the delegation to questions raised yesterday.
Responding to allegations made by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of acts of torture committed by law enforcement officers, the Sri Lanka delegation said that while there had been incidents of such offences, the perpetrators had not enjoyed any immunity. It had been found that 28,000 persons had gone missing from 1 January 1988 to 31 December 1990. At present, 1,438 cases had been examined and criminal action had been instituted against 591 police officers and armed personnel. Among the missing persons, 16,800 were Sinhalese who had disappeared during an ultra Marxist insurrection in the non-Tamil areas, the delegation added.
Tang Chengyuan, the Committee Expert who acted as country rapporteur to the report of Sri Lanka, said in preliminary remarks that the Government had adopted huge measures towards the resolution of the armed conflict and was also investigating allegations of human rights violations, including cases of disappearances; the role of Norway should be appreciated for its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict with the Liberation of Tamil Tigers Eelam (LTTE).
Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the
report of Sri Lanka before the end of its three-week session which ends on 17
Participating in the debate were Committee Experts Michael E. Sherifis, Mario Jorge Yutzis, Regis de Gouttes, Mahmoud Aboul-Nasr, Raghavan Vasudevan Pillai, Ion Diaconu, Marc Boussuyt, Partick Thornberry, Yuri A. Reshetov, Francois Lonseny Fall and Gabriele Britz.
Sri Lanka is among the 157 States parties to the Convention and as such it is obligated to present periodic reports to the Committee on how it was implementing the provisions of the human-rights instrument.
Response by Sri Lanka
In response to queries raised by Committee Experts yesterday afternoon, the members of the delegation said that the Government had made efforts to negotiate peace with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Despite the LTTE's intransigence and provocative acts, the Government had presented proposals for a devolution of power that could form the basis for further discussions with all parties concerned. Those proposals were brought to the attention of the LTTE previously. The Government believed in the need for a political solution, emphasizing clearly that there was no military solution for the ongoing conflict in the country. The facilitation efforts by the Government of Norway would continue and Sri Lanka hoped that the result would be a peaceful solution.
The delegation said that the commission on human rights had the right to inquire into violations of human rights complaints alleged to be committed by any person, including public authorities. It was also empowered to investigate any abuse of individual rights by police officials. Offenses committed by public officers were punished; and no perpetrator was left unpunished. The Government was not willing to tolerate any form of human rights violation committed particularly by security forces personnel and police officers. Whenever such incidents had occurred, prompt investigations had been conducted and perpetrators had been prosecuted.
In application of article 4 of the Convention on the condemnation of racial superiority, the delegation said that the commission of acts of violence or racial or communal disharmony could attract an imposition of a minimum mandatory sentence of five years, which could be extended up to 20 years.
Responding to allegations made by non-governmental organizations (NGOs) of acts of torture committed by law enforcement officers, the delegation said that while there had been such offences, the perpetrators had not enjoyed any immunity. The Government had appointed three zonal commissions of inquiry to inquire into the disappearance of persons from 1 January 1988 to 31 December 1990. It had found that 28,000 persons had gone missing during those years. In addition, a special unit had been set up on missing persons at the Attorney-General's Department to monitor the investigations and to evaluate the evidence. At present, 1,438 cases had been examined and criminal action had been instituted against 591 police officers and armed personnel. Among the missing persons, 16,800 were Sinhalese who had disappeared during an ultra Marxist insurrection in the non-Tamil areas.
Concerning acts of torture, the delegation said that at present eight indictments had been referred to the high court and decisions had been taken on four of the cases. In addition, investigations were being conducted by police with respect to a number of cases and those investigations were expected to be concluded by the end of the year.
Further, police were conducting investigations into the disappearances of 150 Tamil persons from the Northern province, the delegation said. The investigation of 134 cases had been completed after recording statements by witnesses. Such actions militated against the assertion of immunity for law enforcement officers with respect to offences committed in the Tamil areas.
question was raised about the justiciability of the infringement of fundamental
rights by judicial action in respect of criminal proceeding in the proposed
constitution, to which the delegation said that the proposal enshrined the
fundamental right for a person charged to have his or her case tried without
undue delay by a competent court.
Regrading the recording of statements of Tamil suspects, the delegation said that no statement made by any person to a police officer was admissible as evidence. However, the prevention of terrorism act provided an exception where a confession recorded by an officer of the higher rank was admissible. Interpretation service was available to persons not conversant with investigating officers.
A question was raised about the killing of 27 persons at a rehabilitation centre, to which the delegation said that within a few hours of the incident, the Government had immediately ordered an investigation and statements of more than 200 witnesses and 47 suspects had been recorded.
The Government of Sri Lanka was ready to enter into a political dialogue with the LTTE within the context of national unity, the delegation said. It was also ready to make arrangements for power sharing under the new constitutional concession.
TANG CHENGYUAN, the Committee Expert who acted as country rapporteur to the report of Sri Lanka, said in preliminary remarks that the report and the delegation's attitude in responding to the Committee's questions were honest. The Committee was now clear on how the State party was implementing the provisions of the Convention. The impediments to the full implementation of the Convention were also known to the Committee. The country was not free from problems.
The Government had adopted huge measures towards the resolution of the armed conflict, Mr. Tang said. It was also investigating allegations of human rights violations, including cases of disappearances. The role of Norway should be appreciated for its efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict involving the LTTE. The Government attached great importance to bilingual education; and other efforts in improving the situation should also be appreciated.
MICHAEL E. SHERIFIS, the Committee Chairperson, said that the delegation had admitted the problems faced by the Government and had expressed the determination of the authorities to seek solutions to the problems and to bring peace in the country.