At both the informal consultations on implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan held at the Reconciliation Office, and the official meetings conducted at the Ministry of Plantation Industries by the Task Force of the Inter-Ministerial Committee, three factors have been stressed by many participants. The first is better training, not only for the police but also for public servants in general.
The Action Plan asserts the need for this in many places, talking not only about internal programmes but also about outside training. The institution it mentions most prominently in this regard is the Human Rights Commission, but it was also noted that agencies such as the Sri Lanka Institute of Development Administration, and universities that conduct courses in Public Policy and Management should incorporate Human Rights awareness in their programmes.
An important distinction was made however in the course of discussion, that training of officials should be not so much in awareness of human rights as in awareness of duties that ensured that human rights were protected. Whilst there is also need, and the Action Plan notes this, to educate the public about their Rights, with regard to those whose activities impact through a power relationship on others, the vital point is that they should function with sensitivity about the rights of those they affect.
Even before I was asked to convene the Task Force on implementation of the National Human Rights Action Plan, we had commenced at the Reconciliation Office a series of consultations with relevant Government officials as well as Civil Society, to develop suggestions as to how best the Plan could be taken forward.
We had three such consultations which all produced a wealth of ideas, and these fed in to a meeting of the Task Force which looked in particular at Children’s issues. The Secretary to the Minister who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee sent out several requests on the basis of the decisions taken then, though we still need a clear directive from the Presidential Secretariat about swift implementation of the Plan.
Unfortunately the next set of Consultations we had planned had to be postponed when I was suddenly asked to go to Geneva. I fear now that we will again have to devote time and energy to dealing with misguided criticism rather than moving forward with productive action. I suppose that has to be expected though, when Human Rights becomes a political tool rather than an entitlement for people that needs to be strengthened.
I was delighted last week to be told that the Human Rights Commission was receiving assistance from the Asia Pacific Centre which coordinates work with National Human Rights Commissions. When, following my appointment to convene the Task Force to promote and monitor action on the National Human Rights Action Plan, I met the HRC, I had been told that such assistance had been requested. I asked for a meeting, since I believe that the HRC is one of the core elements in the promotion of Rights in Sri Lanka, but I heard nothing, and later I was told that they had said they were too busy to meet me.
It was fortuitous that I found out they were present. During the Council of Asian Liberal and Democrats Congress that was held at Colombo, I noted the presence of the UN and on checking was told that a number of UN Human Rights personnel were staying.
The Ministry of External Affairs knew nothing about this, but I then checked with the UN Resident Coordinator who was helpful as always, and said he thought it was the Asia Pacific people who were working with the HRC. The chairman confirmed this, and kindly arranged a meeting for me at short notice.