By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
Sri Lanka’s record of tackling racial discrimination will be scrutinized by the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), on 15 and 16 August in Geneva.
Issues such as the ongoing process of reconciliation and work to ensure non-recurrence of civil war and protection of ethno-religious minorities and their places of worship from discriminatory acts and attacks will be among many other topics set for discussion.
The International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discriminations 90th Session began on 2 August and will run till 26 August 2016, in the Ground Floor Conference Room, of Palais Wilson, Geneva. The review on Sri Lanka would take place on August 15 -16.
Sri Lanka is one of the 177 States that have ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and so is reviewed regularly by the Committee of 18 international independent experts.
Among the possible issues for discussion between CERD members and a delegation from the Sri Lankan Government are: Measures to protect ethno-religious and ethnic minority human rights defenders, members of civil society, and journalists from arbitrary arrest, detention, enforced disappearance, attacks and stigmatization;Steps taken to address caste-based discrimination; Measure to protect the Veddah people from discrimination and stigmatization; Resettlement of internally displaced persons and refugees, particularly Tamil and Muslim ethnic minorities.
At the opening of the CERD session on 2 August, the Chief, Groups in Focus Section, Human Rights Council and Treaty Mechanisms Division, Orest Nowosad, said, that the 32nd session of the Human Rights Council, in June 2016, brought some significant developments with regard to the topic of racial discrimination. The High Commissioner of Human Rights began the session with a global update on 13 June 2016, noting: “Hate is becoming mainstreamed. Walls – which tormented previous generations, and have never yielded any sustainable solution to any problem – are returning. Barriers of suspicion are rising, snaking through and between our societies – and they are killers.” The High Commissioner urged States to respect human rights of all persons and eradicate all forms of discrimination.
He pointed out last year the UNHRC celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the 15th anniversary of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action and in the five decades since the adoption of this momentous Convention, the struggle to end racial discrimination had gained great momentum however, “half a century later, in shameful disregard of these great sacrifices, we are glimpsing the same hatred and bigotry, vitriol and violence take hold in some communities once more. Following in the footsteps of politicians and leaders, voices of hatred and divisiveness have become emboldened. Polarized positions are hardening, and some people are retreating into their respective corners of “us” versus “them,” he added. The Government of Sri Lanka submitted the update to the Committee against Torture on the implementation of the provisions of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). Sri Lanka submitted its Fifth Periodic Report under Article 19 of the Convention in October 2015.
Sri Lanka acceded to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT) without reservations in 1994.
In addition to the CAT, Sri Lanka is also a signatory to many International conventions to strengthen its protection against torture such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that specifically states that “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” (Article 7), which Sri Lanka has incorporated into domestic legislation through the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Act, No. 56 of 2007.
In addition to that, Sri Lanka recently signed and ratified the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons from Enforced Disappearances on 25 May 2016. In view of incorporating the provisions of the Convention into domestic law and criminalizing enforced disappearance, comprehensive enabling legislation has been drafted and is awaiting Cabinet approval.