While expressing its deep concern over attempts made by some quarters closely associated with the current constitution-making process to prevent the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights), the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has called on President Maithripala Sirisena, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe and members of the Constitutional Assembly to ensure the incorporation of economic, social and cultural rights in the future constitutional chapter on rights as ‘fully protected rights.’
“The HRCSL is deeply concerned by attempts made by some quarters closely associated with the current constitution-making process to prevent the inclusion of economic, social and cultural rights (ESC rights), such as the right to education and an adequate standard of health, from the constitutional Bill of Rights as full-fledged rights for which judicial remedies are available. It has been argued that only civil and political rights should be guaranteed as full rights,” HRCSL said.
“The HRCSL, the primary institution charged with the protection and promotion of human rights in the country, rejects this artificial division of human rights. lt calls on the Constitutional Assembly to ensure that the people’s rights are fully guaranteed in the future Constitution. Failure to do so would seriously impede full protection of human rights and undermine the legitimacy of the new Constitution in the eyes of the public. lt is the opinion of the HRCSL that such a move would also amount to a violation of international human rights obligations undertaken by Sri Lanka,” the Commission said.
ln March of this year, the HRCSL made submissions before the Public Representations Committee on its proposals for constitutional reform. The proposals were sent to the Hon. Prime Minister and the Hon. Speaker and were made available to the public in Sinhala, Tamil and English. ln its proposals, the HRCSL endorsed the Draft Charter of Rights completed in 2009 for inclusion in the new constitution of Sri Lanka. The Charter, formulated by a group of experts appointed by an inter-ministerial committee guarantees not only civilian and political rights but also economic, social and cultural rights as full-fledged rights capable of attracting judicial remedies.
“The HRCSL proposals also emphasized the need to, among other things, recognize the promotion of social justice as a fundamental constitutional principle. lt reiterated the importance of incorporating a strong system of checks and balances, including judicial review of legislation to ensure the effect protection of people’s rights. Above all, the need to recognize the principle of supremacy of the constitution was underscored,” the commission said.
“The HRCSL proposals were made fully conscious of the unique opportunity this moment presents for Sri Lanka, especially as a post-war society, to acquire a modern constitution that addresses concerns of its people within a strong democratic State structure. This is a moment to right the wrongs of the past, and forge ahead to create a new Sri Lanka that is humane and just, as much as it is prosperous. Protection of the rights of the people in a strong and holistic manner is critical to achieving those goals. The post conflict constitutions of South Africa, Kenya and Nepal, for example, are illustrative of such efforts. Sri Lanka too should follow suit and not miss out on this unique opportunity,” the Commission said.