• Last Update 2022-05-22 12:30:00

Civil Society organisations dismayed over President's remarks on CC & HRC

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Civil society activists and organizations from Sri Lanka expressed dismay and alarm by the recent statements made by  President Maithripala Sirisena in Parliament recently pertaining to the Constitutional Council (CC) and the Human Rights Commission (HRCSL).

Writting a collective letter to President Sirisena, the activists pointed out that the Constitutional Council and the Human Rights Commission are among two institutions, whose strengthening and safeguarding of independence were key demands of the civil society in 2015.

"In addition to his constitutional duty to safeguard these institutions, he received a clear mandate from the people which underscored this responsibility when he was elected in 2015. Working towards delivering on these promises through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution during the early days of his Presidency, still remains as his key achievement. This makes his current statements all the more appalling."

The activists and grassroot level organizations demanded that an enabling environment and required support be provided to independent commissions like the HRCSL to perform their duties while stressing that the President is duty bound to support and respect the independence of such institutions, and to not undermine them.


The full text of the letter by civil society organizations and activists is produced below:

Dear President Sirisena,

We, the below signed citizens and civil society organizations of Sri Lanka are dismayed and alarmed by your recent statements, including in the Parliament (6th February, 2019), pertaining to the Constitutional Council (CC) and the Human Rights Commission (HRCSL). The Constitutional Council and the Human Rights Commission are among two institutions, whose strengthening and safeguarding of independence were key demands of the civil society in 2015. In addition to your constitutional duty to safeguard these institutions, you received a clear mandate from the people which underscored this responsibility when you were elected in 2015. Working towards delivering on these promises through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution during the early days of your Presidency, still remains as your key achievement. This makes your current statements all the more appalling.

Critical and constructive engagement with any institution, including the independent commissions, is a necessary part of improving effectiveness and governance, and is welcome. But your recent statement, parts of which are baseless and sound vindictive, does more damage than good. Independent commissions, like the HRCSL, play a crucial role in protecting the citizens from the arbitrary actions of the State. That is precisely why they are set up. Not to act as guardians of the State as insinuated in your recent speech in Parliament.

Their independence from the government must be respected. They must be supported and provided with an enabling environment to protect and promote the rights and freedoms of citizens, particularly those most marginalized and vulnerable. This is a necessary feature in a democracy. In this context, your recent statements from the responsible and powerful position as Head of the Executive, criticizing the HRCSL for doing its work, we believe only serves to undermine the good work of the HRCSL. It misrepresents an essential characteristic of the HRCSL - its independence.

The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka has become an institution that we Sri Lankans can be proud of. It is a much improved and effective institution now than it was before 2015. It has become more accessible and has gained the confidence of different segments of the society. Their interventions in the right to education of children in Kuliyapitiya and Kekirawa, rights of differently abled students, budgets for differently abled to have public access, rights of women in the informal sector, redress for the affected communities following the Salawa fire, transgender identity, redress to student protesters when attacked by Police and hearing out the Principal of a girls school in Badulla who was harassed by the Chief Minister, being a few examples.

They have also been a strong voice on the issue of Police torture, arbitrary arrests, the right to memorialization of the war dead, violence motivated by religious hatred, the inclusion of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR) in the Constitution, the review of article 16 etc., They have made rights based interventions on law reforms, access to lawyers and criminal procedure, as well as on abortion and death penalty. The benefits of their robust actions and interventions have been felt by many marginalized segments of the society, as it should be. And there are others, like the Muslim women subject to discriminatory personal laws for instance, who are awaiting their rights based intervention.

It is in recognition of the work of the current set of Human Rights Commissioners, that the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) had granted ‘A’ status to HRCSL last year.  This upgrading helped uplift the image of Sri Lanka’s human rights record as well.

We demand that an enabling environment and required support be provided to independent commissions like the HRCSL to perform their duties. We believe that the President is duty bound to support and respect the independence of such institutions, and to not undermine them.

The letter was signed by the following:

1. Abdul Ramees
2. Anberiya Hanifa
3. Anithra Varia
4. Anuratha Rajaretnam
5. Ashoka Bandula Weerawardhana – Member, Sub-Committee on Disability,
Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
6. B. Gowthaman
7. Bhavani Fonseka
8. Bishop Kumara Illangasinghe
9. Chandrika De Silva – Writer
10. Channaka Jayasinghe
11. Christopher M. Stubbs
12. Deanne Uyangoda
13. Deekshya Illangasinghe
14. Dilan Ramanayake
15. Dinesh Rajawasan
16. Dinushika Dissanayake
17. Dorin Rajani
18. Dr. Malathi de Alwis
19. Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu
20. Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, D.Phil (Sussex)
21. Dr. Vickramabahu Karunaratne
22. Emil van der Poorten - In defence of civil and civic rights
23. Ermiza Tegal – Attorney-at-Law
24. Faaiz Ameer
25. Farah Mihlar
26. Gayathri Gamage
27. Godfrey Yogarajah
28. Herman Kumara
29. Ishan Jalill

30. Jansila Majeed – Activist, Mullaitivu
31. Jeanne Samuel
32. Jiffry Packeer Mohideen
33. Joanne Senn
34. Juwairiya Mohideen
35. K. Hemalatha
36. K.T. Rohini
37. Kalani Subasinghe
38. Kasunjith Satanarachchi – Member, Third Youth Parliament, Representative
of the disability community
39. Kaushalya Ariyarathne - Attorney-at-Law
40. Keshini D. Sumanasekera
41. Kurushanthan Mahaluxmy
42. Lakshman Gunasekara – Journalist
43. Lal Wijenayake – Co-Convenor, Lawyers for Democracy
44. Luwie Ganeshathasan
45. M.S. Jaleel
46. Mala Liyanage - Human Rights Activist
47. Marina Daniel
48. Mario Gomez
49. Marisa de Silva
50. Minoli de Soysa
51. Nagulan Nesiah
52. Nilshan Fonseka
53. P. Muthulingam
54. P. Selvaratnam
55. P.M. Mujeebur Rahman (LLB)
56. P.N. Singham
57. Prabodha Rathnayaka - Attorney-at-Law
58. Priyantha Peiris
59. Prof. Ajit Abeysekera
60. Prof. Chandraguptha Thenuwara
61. Rev. Fr. Jeyabalan Croos
62. Rev. Fr. Nandana Manatunga
63. Rev. Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando, (Retired)
64. Rev. Fr. Sarath Iddamalgoda
65. Rev. Fr. Terence Fernando
66. Riza Yehiya
67. Rohini Hensman - Writer and Researcher
68. Ruki Fernando
69. Ruvan Weerasinghe - University of Colombo
70. Ruvini Jayaratne
71. S. Easwary
72. S. Nirmaladevi
73. S. Niventhini
74. S. Ratnajeevan H. Hoole - Member, Elections Commission
75. S. Sameer

76. S. Suthanthini
77. S. Tharshan
78. S.L.A. Azeez
79. S.M. Anifa
80. Sabra Zahid
81. Sampath Samarakoon
82. Sandun Thudugala - Activist
83. Santhush Fernando - Attorney-at-Law
84. Sarah Arumugam - Attorney-at-Law
85. Selvaraja Rajasegar
86. Setunga Mudalige Philip
87. Shenali De Silva
88. Shreen Saroor
89. Sivasuthan
90. Srinath Perera - Attorney-at-Law & General Secretary, Free Trade Union
Centre
91. Sudarshana Gunawardene - Attorney-at-Law
92. Sunanda Deshapriya
93. T. Rajendran
94. T. Thayaparan
95. Thiyagaraja Waradas - Univeristy of Colomobo
96. Thyagi Ruwanpathirana
97. Udaya Kalupathirana
98. V. Shamini
99. V. Sinthuka
100. V. Subramaniam – Member, Sub-Committee on Disability, Human Rights
Commission of Sri Lanka
101. V. Thayalini
102. Vanie Simon
103. Zahabia Adamaly – Member, Sub-Committee on Disability, Human Rights
Commission of Sri Lanka

Organisations
104. Affected Women's Forum (AWF), Akkaraipattu
105. Alliance Development Trust (ADT)
106. Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA)
107. DAISY Lanka Foundation
108. Disability Organisations Joint Front
109. Human Rights Office (HRO), Kandy
110. INFORM – Human Rights Documentation Centre
111. Institute of Social Development (ISD), Kandy
112. International Centre for Ethnic Studies (ICES)
113. Mannar Women's Development Federation (MWDF)
114. Mentally Handicapped Children and Families Education Project
(MENCAFEP), Nuwara Eliya
115. Muslim Women’s Development Trust (MWDT), Puttalam

116. National Fisheries Solidarity Organization (NAFSO)
117. Rights Now - Collective for Democracy
118. Rural Development Foundation
119. Sri Lanka Council for the Blind
120. Vallamai Travelers, Jaffna
121. Women for Justice and Peace in Sri Lanka
122. Women's Action Network (WAN)

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