Mohan Pieris on actions taken on Sri Lanka’s voluntary submissions in 2008 to Universal Periodic Review
On 2008 May, Sri Lanka Government voluntarily submitted proposals to the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council and the submission is coming up for review on 1st November this year before a tripartite review group – India, Benin and Spain.
It is important to note that these three countries appointed to review Sri Lanka’s submissions earlier voted against Sri Lanka in the US sponsored resolution in March this year, at the 19th session of UN Human Rights Commission held in Geneva.
Asian Tribune took up with Mr. Mohan Pieris important issues that were in the voluntary submissions put forward by Sri Lanka in May 2008, at the last Universal Periodic Review in Geneva.
The next Universal Periodic Review which is coming up on 1st November 2012 and Asian Tribune pointed out that he was also in the Sri Lanka delegation in 2008 May, which made voluntary submission to the Universal Periodic Review. Asked whether any of these submissions has been accomplished.
Mr. Mohan Pieris – A former Attorney General of Sri Lanka, presently the Senior Legal Advisor to the Cabinet of Ministers, Chairman, Inter Agency Commission to Implement the Interim Recommendations of the LLRC, has offered his comments on the voluntary submissions Sri Lankan Government made in 2008, at the Universal Periodic Review.
Mr. Mohan Pieris said that the Government has already prepared the national report and the report was submitted to Geneva as required and that will set out all the steps that have been taken in the implementation of those pledges.
Given below the excerpts of the interview Asian Tribune had with Mr. Mohan Pieris.
Asian Tribune: Yes some of those things you voluntarily agreed to do were not touched at all I think? Am I right?
Mr. Mohan Pieris: We put in place a national action plan on human rights which we have done. It is now an official document. We pledged to reduce the bulk of the IDPs , which has been done. That matter is history now. We pledge to resettle people and that has been done. We pledged to reduce the detainees as possible and that has been done with only 635 detainees in custody from a total of nearly 12,000. So a substantial amount of work has been done. We pledged to make sure that the North and East return to normal and we are making towards that. So substantial amount of work has been done. So I think there is lot of room for optimism.
We have also launched the National Action Plan for the implementation of the Recommendation of the LLRC which received Cabinet approval.
Asian Tribune: It is reported that some of those voluntary submissions are not done and one of them is that the’Thirteenth Amendment will be fully implemented’.
Mohan Pieris: We are working towards it and the Government has indicated that the Elections in the North is going to be held in the latter part of next year.
Asian Tribune: I am now coming to the voluntary submissions:
In pursuit of its commitment to the further promotion and protection of human rights, Sri Lanka voluntarily makes the following commitments:
87. Sri Lanka will continue its efforts to strengthen its national mechanisms and procedures to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all its citizens through the adoption and implementation of the proposed National Plan of Action which will set targets to be achieved during the five years commencing 2009, facilitate a holistic approach to human rights protection and promotion and lead to greater cooperation between Government and civil society.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: We have done the National Action plan and we are implementing it. We have identified the Key Performance Indicators. We are now monitoring it. We are following it closely.
Asian Tribune:88. Sri Lanka will continue its active and constructive dialogue and cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen national mechanisms in all aspects.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Yes of course that engagement has been very healthily proceeding. And she is to visit by the end of this year to Sri Lanka.
Asian Tribune: 89. Sri Lanka will take necessary measures to enable the reconstitution of the Constitutional Council which will facilitate the strengthening and effective functioning of national human rights mechanisms, including the National Human Rights Commission.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: The Constitutional Council has been found to be ineffective and that has been replaced by a Parliamentary Council and it is working and a national mechanism has been computed as opposed to a mechanism that was not workable. So what you prefer?
Asian Tribune: 90. A Witness and Victim Protection Bill will be introduced in Parliament shortly and measures will be taken to implement the legislation including the establishment of the necessary institutions.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Now we have the draft in the amended form before the Cabinet to be considered and I have every reason to believe that it will be part of the statute sooner than later.
Asian Tribune: 91. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights will launch a national human rights awareness campaign to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 2008.
Mr.Mohan Pieris: So we did that. We did that last year. And now our National Action plan is a reality.
Asian Tribune: 92. The Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights will organize a regional seminar for parliamentarians on a human rights related theme in 2008.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Those discussions are going on throughout the country and there are civil society’s consultations and discussions. There are active discussions that are going on and it is a free flow of exchange of views and the people has been sensitized of their rights of what their entitlements and also sensitized of their duties. We are very quick to talk of fundamental rights, but we are very slow to talk of our fundamental duties.
And now we are sensitizing people on both angles as what your fundamental duties as a member of the human family and as a citizen of this country and then at the same time sensitizing people of their rights. This to make them aware of their rights and duties.
Asian Tribune: 93. Sri Lanka has commenced work on drafting a constitutional charter on human rights that will strengthen the human rights protection framework in the country and bring Sri Lanka’s constitutional human rights guarantees in line with its international obligations. The process includes engaging in consultations with civil society. The draft charter and the process of consultation will foster a national discourse on human rights.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: I think the present constitutional provisions are in line with the international norms. We have an exclusive jurisdiction which makes fundamental rights actionable in the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court has been given exclusive jurisdiction to try and hear and pronounce upon infringements which is a robust active jurisdiction which is being exercised and invoked on a daily basis by every ranked citizens of this country. There is a human rights action plan in place. There is a human rights commission which is actively involved with their business. So really human rights have come to stay as a part and parcel of the fabric of the Sri Lankan culture unlike in most of the countries.
Asian Tribune: 94. As a part of its commitment to guarantee civil and political rights as well as economic, social and cultural rights of its people, Sri Lanka will continue to align its development strategy within the larger framework of promoting local values and social protection for women, children, elderly and differently-abled people and other vulnerable groups in society and respect for human rights and good governance.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: K.T. ... human rights and cultural values are nothing new to people in Sri Lanka, compared with other parts of the world. We are born with it. The declaration of human rights and propensity to human rights in Western World began only after the Second World War, after there was a carnage in Germany.
But long before that, 2500 years ago, when Arahat Mahinda actually arrived in Sri Lanka and he was in the wood talking with the King when he met him hunting. Mahinda spoke to him about rights. That is the one we have very deep rooted religious values. We are born with that. Lord Buddah taught us ahimsa, who taught us tolerance, who taught us Maiytri, so we are born with this. So we have Christ who taught us to love our neighbor. Then we have the Prophet who again preached his last sermon on Mount Arafat. So human rights is something we are born with.
The respect for women and children are something of which we are innately born with. We are born with it whereas in the Western world they have to be taught to love their mothers, where they shed their parents and run off. But here we look after them until they breathe their last. So we have a culture, we have a religious value, where we respect our elders, we respect our neighbors, and we love our people.
Asian Tribune: 95. Sri Lanka, manifesting its commitment to promote people-oriented development, will work towards the alleviation of poverty and achieving the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 through continued investment in social infrastructure, education, and health services in line with the vision of the Government of Sri Lanka for social and economic development.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Poverty alleviation is the part of our constitutional process, that we will strive together as a nation where everybody will be equals. When I say equals, don’t get me wrong. I mean everybody will live in dignity. Our legislation, for example the Land Reform Commission , our Poverty Alleviation program, our Jansaviya program – means to uplift the poor people from the village level who are less fortunate, then our establishment of the construction of the low cost housing – 60,000 houses are going to be built in Jaffna – in North alone to eradicate the question of being homeless. Settling of lands by the land kachcheries of state lands to people whom don’t have lands and by and large our legislation is a social legislation which is there to help who are less fortunate and to ensure the equal distribution of wealth.
Asian Tribune: 96. Through modalities including the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights and the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance, Sri Lanka will continue to promote and protect human rights, coordinate humanitarian assistance and facilitate the work of local and international agencies providing such assistance.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Now the inte-rministerial committee is in place and there is inter-ministerial consultation and the monitoring mechanism is through to inter-ministerial mechanism . Several Ministries which are coordinating the human right action plan with the Minister who is the special envoy on human rights - Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe who actually heads all the national action plan on human rights and all that is being done. We are always looking at what happens around the world, we fashion those to meet our local conditions in the best way we can.
Asian Tribune: 97. Sri Lanka will continue to take steps to safeguard and advance the rights of children through national mechanisms such as the National Child Protection Authority and the Ministry of Child Development and Women's Empowerment. Sri Lanka will also continue to actively support international processes that seek to advance the rights of the child.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: We have actually subscribed to the convention on the rights of the child. We have put in legislation for child protection. We have actually established Child Protection Authority, and that Authority is working tirelessly to uphold the rights of the children.
Asian Tribune: 99. Trafficking of human beings, particularly women and children, is emerging as one of the most urgent issues of today and involves the gross violation of human rights of vulnerable segments of the society. In line with Sri Lanka’s policy of open and constructive engagement with the international community and its commitment to enforce global standards, Sri Lanka will work closely with its partners to combat this heinous activity.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: We have a zero tolerance policy on trafficking women and children and we will not tolerate at all. We don’t subscribe to it. We have very tough laws to deal with it and anybody found violating the laws regarding women and children and trafficking will be dealt with severely. Even the question of illicit trafficking of migrant labor we come down very hard and we have and we are actually controlling it in a very substantial way.
Asian Tribune: 100. Sri Lanka will continue its traditional role of consensus builder and participate actively in the work of the Human Rights Council to make the Council a strong, effective and efficient body – capable of promoting and protecting the human rights and fundamental freedom of all – and will continue to participate in the work of the Council in normal setting in the field of human rights.
Asian Tribune: 102. Sri Lanka will also work with Member States and relevant United Nations bodies to assist the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to formulate proposals for treaty body reforms, with a view to making the treaty body system more effective and in line with present-day requirements of Member States.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Of course I don’t think that there is any reservation about it. But just that, when you come to some treaties, or some conventions like the United states, the Russian Federation, India or China the bigger countries too are selective when they come to subscribing to certain treaties. There are some treaties which are a luxury as far as Sri Lanka is concerned. We cannot subscribe to some of those treaties purely for our own survival. Not that we can’t afford the luxury of those treaties because we have far more pressing issues that we need actually address them domestically before we start dealing inter nationally and we can’t be fighting our way top. Indeed we don’t have the logistical muscle to subscribe and live up to those treaties. By and large if there is a treaty by which Sri Lanka can be comfortable with and well afford to live with and which is good perhaps for Sri Lanka in its totality and would be helpful to the nation then I don’t think we will be having any reservation about it. But by having said that as I said some of those treaty bodies have to be looked into carefully and some of the larger nations too do not actually subscribes to some of them.
Asian Tribune: 103. Sri Lanka will take measures for the effective implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Yes I think I have answered that question earlier. His Excellency has told the public now that there will be election in the North in September next year. The Government will certainly works towards that. I am fairly sure that the 13th amendment will eventually will be put in place.
Asian Tribune: What about the other aspects of the 13th amendment. The most controversial are police powers and land powers to the Provincial Councils?
Mr. Mohan Pieris: That is something under consideration by the Parliamentary Select Committee and that will has to be considered at the highest level that is the matter of policy which has to be reached by consensus with all the Parties.
Asian Tribune: I don’t understand one simple thing. Why do you need to have a consensus when that is already in the constitution?
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Isn't consensus is the fundamental to democracy? If there is no consensus you will accuse me of unilateral, despotic and it will amounts to dictatorship.
Asian Tribune: On the other hand, we can also term it as dictatorship if you don’t implement what is there in the constitution.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Yes what is there in the constitution must be achieve by consensus, by agreement.
Asian Tribune: It appeared in the Constitution because of consensus and because of Agreement?
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Yes. But the constitutional process and what is the point – when the constitution is only a written document. We will be able to give life to what is written there and isn't it good to have consensus there
Asian Tribune: Consensus has been arrived at in 1987. It is the Sri Lanka Parliament that passed this 13th amendment in 1987. Why do you wanted to duplicate it again?
Mr. Mohan Pieris: No we are not duplicating it again. K.T … look at this way. The 13th amendment could not have been given its rightful place in the North and East due to a supervening factor. Due to a factor that intervene in the implementation of the 13th amendment. Now that factor has been eliminated and the right environment is been created where the 13th amendment can be given life now. In an environment where the 13th amendment could not have been given life it is no point in talking about the constitutional process when the democracy process was not being working.
There was terrorism that was going on in that area. That had been eliminated. Now the time is ripe for the right thinking people in this country and in the North and East to sit down and work out a democratic process within the 13th amendment and this is what the government has set out to do.
Asian Tribune: Anyway I can’t argue with you because I am only a journalist and whatever you say I have to write.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Don’t write whatever I say.
Asian Tribune: I have to write whatever you say. I can’t add or subtract. That is my bounden duty as a journalist.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Be careful in what you write because you might misunderstand what I say.
Asian Tribune O.K., No Problem. 104. Sri Lanka will continue to work towards the economic development of the Eastern Province, which will uplift standards of living and the realization of social, economic and cultural rights, and also assist strengthening and smooth functioning of democratic institutions. Sri Lanka will also promote the dissemination and inculcation of best practices, good governance and political pluralism, as well as take measures for the rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, particularly children and young persons.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: K.T. … I suppose you know that 594 child soldiers had been restored to their parents.
Asian Tribune: This is what you have said when North was not captured.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: That is the matter of history. That has been confirmed by UNICEF. With regard to child soldiers, as far as children are concern, that matter has been completely address in a very substantial way and do you know that 212 children have gained admission to the University who are ex-combatant. They have gained admission to University system, who were ex-combatant and isn't that something to talk about. You can see how the restorative justice progress how successfully working. 212 has gained admission to universities.
Regarding this restorative justice where in the world, not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in anywhere in the Middle East has governments taken the risk of releasing ex-combatants in such a short pace of time? Sri Lanka Government has done it. Why because it genuinely believes that the route to peace is not by retributive justice, but the route to peace is by restorative justice. In other words the government takes upon itself the obligation of restoring people to where they were to the position before the conflict.
Asian Tribune: 105. Implementation of the official languages policy and continuing encouragement of bilingualism, in particular in the security forces, police and within the public service.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Now you are talking of bilingualism, but President has given 2020 as the date for trilingual. He wants it to be trilingual we have gone past bilingual. The Department of National Integration and the National Language is going about with a scheme by which a program by 2020 the entire public service will be trilingual. Out of the 22 million people in the countr, y the large section of the public service will be trilingual. That is the kind of length to which the government is going. Recognize the fact that communication between the minorities is an important factor. To be able to communicate so there are no suspicion, or misgivings because of the fact that we don’t talk to each other and talk in a language we can understand.
Asian Tribune: You see I am a Tamil and you are a Sinhalese and both of us to make ourselves understood we have to talk in English. It is a pity.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Exactly. That is the point. We are like brothers.
Asian Tribune: Up to 1955, we were studying Sinhala language as a subject in our schools in Jaffna. I studied Sinhala as a subject at Hartley College Point Pedro. I pretty well remember one Mr. Somaratne was my Sinhala language teacher. After 1956, when Sinhala language was made the only official language, schools got rid of the Sinhala teachers from their staff list, as communal politics reared its ugly head.
Mr. Mohan Pieris I don’t think that there are any misgivings about the right thinking Sinhalese and the right thinking Tamils. I think we can live side by side without any problems whatsoever. I think we should rise from narrow nationalism and rise to those heights to statesmanship.
Asian Tribune: 106. Confidence-building and stabilization measures: implementation of the action plan for IDPs and conflict-affected communities, including host communities.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Yes now the IDPs - The Menik Farm IDP welfare sector is now closed down and it is now a matter of history. In the Eastern Province there are no IDPs at all. The Eastern Province mechanism has worked very well. All those people evicted are already restored to their original places of their residences.
Asian Tribune: 107. Development of a comprehensive and uniform compensation policy for the displaced and dispossessed.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Yes you probably know that all the IDPs are resettled and were given a kind of start up cash advance. There are also banks, micro finances facilities which have been extended to the IDPs who want to enter into some kind of business activities. So that assistance is being given and that is being monitored carefully and we want actually with the view to establish their livelihood. So that assistance being given and that is being monitored carefully And the government has set aside such quiet a large amount of money, if I remember, in fact 300 million rupees to help people to restore themselves to their livelihood and in their starting new livelihood and this amount of money has been voted by the Government as a provision provided for and the correct kind of beneficiary who needs assistance given that assistance to start live once again.
Asian Tribune: I wish to point out that thousands of people in the Jaffna Peninsula are languishing because of the security zones which are still in place.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: As far as the security zone, let me tell you that there are no more security zones, except where those cantonments are or where the security establishments are. You may probably know that there is a significant rolling backs of the camps or the shrinking of those camps and what is proposed is the establishments of cantonments which will not impinge on civilian activities. Quiet a substantial extent of land which were occupied are restored to the original ownership and the camps are being shrunk and it is expected that the camps will shrink further to a kind of size that will take both concerns into account and that is the need for national security and the need to make sure that the civilians life continues unimpeded in the manner it should. There is a conscious efforts to shrink camps and some properties that have been occupied by the Army has been returned .
Asian Tribune: Returned without compensation.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Some properties that are being occupied, the Army is now paying rent.
Asian Tribune: Yes the Army might be paying rent to some properties. But about 15 to 20 Grama Servaka Divisions in the Mathakal and Tellipalai area have been returned, but returned without paying a cent as compensation for occupying those civilians lands for 20 to 25 years.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: I am unable to make any observation and I don’t know the ground realities. But I do know as a matter of principle that those of them who lost their houses are being compensated.
Asian Tribune: 108. Complete the process of drafting a bill on the rights of IDPs having consulted all relevant stakeholders.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: You know the question of IDPs has been address in a very substantial manner. I don’t think we need to have a Bill of Rights as far as IDPs are concerned, because I think that the IDPs have been given priority attention and virtually priority over everyone else. Having recognized the need to compensate them or restore them to their original positions and best that we can do and that Government done its best more than anything else. Furthermore by the end of July 2012 there want be IDPs.
Asian Tribune 109. Improve and upgrade detention facilities.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: Well, I can tell you that the detention facilities have been turned into and we no longer call them detainees, but we call them beneficiaries. For the reason that there is lot of rehabilitation that is actually going on. Programs of rehabilitation and there are no longer detention facilities, but facilities which people are trained to various discipline in life and various trades, so that they are not treated as detainees, other than those of course who are bad during their time under fiscal custody but those detainees are those in Boosa or in Poonthoddam or Maruthamadhu or in any one of those camps and are going through phases of rehabilitation and I can tell you they are being treated in a way incomparable in a manner of people in fiscal custody are being ordinarily treated and every kind of facilities that can make life little easier is been afforded to those of them in detention. So there is a lot of sensitivity with which the detainees are treated for the reason because the Government believes that the phase of rehabilitation is to restore their lives.
Asian Tribune: 110. Improve the capacity of the police in carrying out investigations, with additional training in interrogation and prosecution.
Mr. Mohan Pieris: I would agree that there needs to be a lot of capacity building if we are keep the contemporary challenges which we are facing and I think and we would welcome any assistance that help us in that direction of capacity building and you probably know that we have already recruited about 1000 Policemen Tamil speaking people in Jaffna for the North and we are making great progress in that direction but certainly we need capacity building so that our investigation mechanism are sharper so that we can bring criminals to justice and prosecuted and consigned to the appropriate place if they are found guilty. So I do agree that we need to work to that capacity building and we welcome any assistance if anyone who is ready to give us.
- Asian Tribune -