Commonwealth Secretariat, Human Rights Commission of SL and Reconciliation

Workshop in Vavuniya

The Commonwealth Secretariat organized  a workshop for staff of our Human Rights Commission and invitees  last week.  The objectives  were facilitate to identify HRC’s role in contributing to the country’s on-going national reconciliation process;  share  experiences and best practices of  ‘A’ accredited NHRIs in contributing to the reconciliation processes of their own countries; facilitate discussions between the HRCSL staff, NGOs, grassroots organizations, community and religious leaders, and senior local administrative officials in the areas directly affected by the former conflict to reach consensus on a collaborative project/s on how to contribute to the on-going reconciliation process AND  raise awareness among the Commissioners and staff on how the direct involvement of the HRCSL in the reconciliation process may improve its effectiveness, independence and authority under the Paris Principles.

Status of HRC

Our HR Commission was granted Status ‘A’ in 2000 by the ICC. In 2007 it was downgraded to a’ B’ Status by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC). The ICC was established for the purpose of creating and strengthening national human rights institutions which are in conformity with the Paris Principles.

The Commonwealth and HRC

The Secretary-General in his Departure Statement issued in February from Colombo observed that bolstering the capacity (of the HRC)  involved in national reconciliation processes was an area of collaboration with the Secretariat.

In May,  the Chairperson of the HRCSL Justice Priyantha Perera and his delegation, which included the Commissioner in charge of the Inquiries and Investigations Division, and Regional Coordinators from Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa – met with the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General in London. They were in London to participate in the Commonwealth Roundtable on Reconciliation. The HRCSL delegation confirmed the areas in which they would appreciate Commonwealth Secretariat support and technical assistance such as – support for the HRCSL to determine its role, as the national human rights institution, in national reconciliation efforts including making firm recommendations to the government on the fast-tracking of issues around language; making public high profile cases of disappearances and sharing the reports widely; engaging in advocacy with government and Parliament around counting and naming the dead; commencing engagement with government on issues of memorialization.

The UN on Role of NHRI’s

The UN Manual on “National Human Rights Institutions: History, Principles, Roles and Responsibilities”  on the role of NHRIs in post conflict situations, describes that NHRIs can play both a preventive and a restorative role in such circumstances.

“Reconciliation may ensure that people, especially those that have experienced violations, are able to voice their feelings, experiences and expectations. It may support the rehabilitation of combatants and their reintegration into society. And it helps to create an environment where people can live together again. Ensuring justice may serve to deal with past abuses so as to ensure that there is no impunity for gross human rights abuse.”

The LLRC and role for HRC-

The HRCSL has been identified as a partner organization to work with the Ministry of Education, Armed Forces, Inspector-General of Police, and National Institute of Education only in connection with the implementation of the following recommendation:

“Provide comprehensive, island-wide human rights education programmes targeting the school children, youth, members of the Security Forces, and the Police etc.”

While the HRC aims to regain its ‘A’ grade status it is worth noting that none of the 98 countries in their 100 recommendations  nor the 46 NGO’s and others at the UPR review last year identified reconciliation as a role for the HRC to implement.

The Commonwealth Secretariats Human Rights Unit has though identified twenty-seven possible roles in areas such as Disappearances/missing persons, Treatment of detainees, Vulnerable groups, Women, Children, Elderly, Disabled persons, IDPs, Freedom of expression, Freedom of religion and worship, Land policy, Restitution/compensatory relief, Language, Peace education, Interfaith activities – role of religion, Hate speech, Memorialization, in facilitating the implementation of several Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations mostly in collaboration with the civil society.

The LLRC and its accompanying action plan lists 20 Ministries, 1 Task Force and the Presidential Secretariat as the repository monitoring the action plan. The UN Manual on “National Human Rights Institutions: History, Principles, Roles and Responsibilities”  states, “The balance that is appropriate in any one country is a matter for that country, and its people, to decide, so long as it is consistent with international norms. An institution can play a useful role in helping define where this balance may be found, including by surveying the views of the people. In all cases, the activities of the NHRI should be consistent with its enabling law.”

The HRC should undoubtedly play its mandated role fully. Gaps felt elsewhere for instance in the discontinuation of the functions of a Ministry of Human Rights or the absence of a Ministry for Reconciliation should not drag the HRC into undertaking tasks which might push to the background some of its primary functions. A stakeholder submission from SL for the UPR review last year had this to say on what it wanted the HRC to be-

“ The very language of human rights has to be liberated from legal and technical jargon of experts and replaced with the authentic experiences and voices of the displaced and suffering people. Rights will be determined by the health of human relationships at every level rather than by any abstract standard crafted at an international conference. The NHRI should in the performance of its functions become the representative of the poor, marginalized or vulnerable.”

A NHRC  funded by the Treasury, acting swiftly as a friend and advocate of the poor, vulnerable and needy. In the course of which issues of inequality or access to justice of minorities should be addressed. The Commission though must determine its areas and methods of work. It should not deposit it elsewhere for final determination. That is why it is identified as a National Human Rights Institution .

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1. LLRC report, Paragraph 9.60

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