HRC activities to cease, Asian Rights body raises alarm
[TamilNet, Thursday, 30 March 2006, 12:45 GMT]
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) said in a press release issued Thursday that "the real problem facing the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, as well as other commissions that are now without commissioners, is the government's deliberate attempts to place the commissions under its direct control and to discourage the monitoring of government agencies in any form." Meanwhile, Radhika Coomaraswamy, the outgoing chairperson said "Sri Lanka will find it increasingly difficult to defend itself before international treaty bodies if the country does not speedily reactivate the Commission once its members leave on April 3."
Full text of the release follows:
In a news item published in the Island on March 29, 2006 outgoing chairperson of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, Radhika Coomaraswamy, confirmed that the terms of office of the Commission members would expire on April 3, 2006. Like the other commissions created under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka will be without commissioners because the Constitutional Council, which has the power to appoint the commission members, is defunct due to a failure to appoint Constitutional Council members. Like the National Police Commission, Public Service Commission, Judicial Service Commission and the Election Commission, the Human Rights Commission will be without independent leadership and will come under the direct control of the government. The very purpose of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka was to create an independent body to monitor the state agencies in their performance of human rights, to investigate violations of rights by using its own mechanisms, to recommend corrective action for individual rights violations, and to make recommendations for the improvement of human rights within the country.
From April 3 there will be no legally empowered body to perform these tasks.
There are a large number of cases before the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka which are pending in lieu of inquiries. These cases relate to torture, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, undocumented migrant workers and other human rights violations. In recent months, retired judges and other persons of seniority have been recruited to ensure that inquiries are conducted with greater competence and independence. Dr Coomaraswamy, in her interview, has stated that the funding bodies have informed the Commission that they will not provide finances for its activities until the new commissioners are appointed. The work of many of the departments of the Commission is dependent on funding from outside sources and if this funding is stopped, there will be serious problems regarding the employment contracts of the employees and consultants of the Commission.
Dr Coomaraswamy is also reported to have warned President Rajapakse "that Sri Lanka will find it increasingly difficult to defend itself before international treaty bodies if the country does not speedily reactivate the Commission once its members leave on April 3."
The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is of the opinion that the real problem facing the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, as well as other commissions that are now without commissioners, is the government‚s deliberate attempts to place the commissions under its direct control and to discourage the monitoring of government agencies in any form.
This is a concerted attempt to introduce a degree of authoritarianism such as that incorporated by the 1978 Constitution. The origin of the Human Rights Commission can be traced to the enormous local and international pressure surrounding the gross human rights abuses of the 1980s, when the executive president was created by the 1978 Constitution to prevent independent control. The creation of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka in the early 1990s and the passing of the 17th Amendment to the Constitution in 2001 were attempts to introduce some semblance of accountability into the system. However, these have now been removed. The AHRC reiterates that the result of this action will be to greatly increase the prevalence of corruption, to enhance the capacity of human rights abusers by creating an environment of impunity and to make the lives of ordinary people increasingly difficult. We urge the public to take up this matter, despite any disappointment regarding the performance of the Human Rights Commission, because the removal of the services that the Commission provides, no matter how limited, will only make the situation worse.
In recent years the Human Rights Commission has embarked on ambitious ventures to promote a serious stance on the prevention of torture. In recent months the Commission's senior officers conducted inquiries into torture cases and made recommendations to the Attorney General for the prosecution of officers under the CAT Act (Act No. 22 of 1994). This move resulted in a lot of resentment and Dr Coomaraswamy was quoted last year in REDRESS, an international magazine, as saying "the police don't like us [Human Rights Commission]". It is clear that certain sections of the government do not favour investigations into the policing system either by the Human Rights Commission or the National Police Commission.
It is only strong public intervention aimed at the reactivation of the Constitutional Council that will restore the minimum mechanisms available within the Sri Lankan system, to protect basic rights.