Judge criticizes Sri Lanka’s dismal record on fundamental rights

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 21 December 2004, 04:44 GMT]
“The Government of Sri Lanka went to the United Nations in 1980 and 1981, raised its hand to say it was a signatory to the UN’s social, cultural and economic rights conventions, and sought to raise the country’s profile internationally. But until now, not even a single section of the fundamental rights laws set forth in the 1978 constitution has been changed to reflect international conventions," said Vavuniya District Judge, Mr. Manickavasagar Ilancheliyan, Monday.

Vavuniya Judge on SL fundamental rights
Vavuniya District Judge M.Ilancheliyan speaking at the Human Rights seminar.
The Judge was speaking at a seminar titled “Human Rights: Challenges and Opportunities,” organized by the Human Rights Education Division of the University of Colombo, at the Rose Garden auditorium in Vavuniya, sources said.

He said that the failure by Sri Lanka to implement the international conventions it has ratified showed that the government was doing one thing internationally [to be in the good books of the international community], and quite another in the home front.

The Judge warned that if war breaks out again tomorrow, there will be very grave human rights violations. He was speaking on the topic of “Human Rights and Peace.”

“When war intensifies, as experienced in 1990 and 1995, there will be displacement, destruction, many untold, tragic stories. The first two months of war have often been the period of most intense violation of human rights, and often when human rights cases are brought to courts over such violations, no hearing is held and there is often no knowledge of the persons who disappear, not even what grave they were buried in,” said Mr. Ilancheliyan.

Human Rights are a yard stick of peace, and there is no peace in countries where such rights are violated. It is important to practice human rights during periods of peace, he said.

Continuing his speech, in unusually candid remarks for a Judge in Sri Lanka, the Judge said: “Though many of the laws of Sri Lanka as they exist on paper are good, in real life they are often not implemented.

“The current constitution of Sri Lanka came into existence in 1978, and it was after 1978 that Sri Lanka became a signatory to many United Nations and international conventions. None of the articles of the constitution on fundamental rights, written in 1978, has been changed up to now.

“As a member of the Commonwealth nations, Sri Lanka has to implement amendments to it laws through parliament based on international conventions. Since 1978, there have been 19 such amendments to law. But no amendment on fundamental rights has been brought to parliament, After 1980, the Government of Sri Lanka government ratified international conventions on civil law, laws on economy and culture, and laws on torture.

“The UN convention on torture, promulgated in 1993, was brought to Sri Lanka’s parliament in 1997. It is the only law that has been implemented by Sri Lanka as a result of it becoming a signatory to UN conventions.

“Sri Lanka has ratified conventions in some cases where no other country has ratified. But what use is there in accepting such conventions if no such law is brought within the country?

“Sri Lanka went to the UN in 1997 to become a signatory to a UN convention on human rights declared in 1977. Even big democracies like the United States and India are hesitating to sign the convention, because they are afraid of being hauled to the UN Human Rights Commission (UN-HRC) in Geneva. Sri Lanka has signed it, and it means appeals of decisions made by the Supreme Court of Sri Lanka can be made to the UN-HRC.

“But how many human rights cases of Tamil people have reached UN-HRC from Sri Lanka? Until now, none, that is the truth,” the Judge concluded..

Attorney-at-Law and Lecturer Mr. M. Sivapatham, spoke on the topic of Human Rights and Development.

Mr. M.A.M.Hakeem, Attorney-at-Law and Lecturer, spoke on Human Rights and the people affected by war and crime.

Quoting Sri lanka Police statistics, Mr. Hakeem said that there are between 40,000 to 50,000 cases brought in Sri Lankan courts annually, and out of these cases, about 40% of the cases go forward to identify the offenders, but only in 4% of the cases reach a decision. The reason for this, he asserted, is problems in the laws.

Mr. Hakeem said that in Sri Lanka, many show a zeal to punish the guilty, but victims and the plight of their families are often forgotten. “It is important to safeguard the victims and their families, and address their problems, “ he said.

Mr. M.Sarveswaran, also an attorney and Lecturer, spoke on Human Rights and Education.


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