Sri Lanka needs further help to strengthen its human rights promotion and protection. That’s according to the country’s Human Rights Commission, which has called on the Commonwealth Secretariat for technical assistance.
Its Chair, Dr Deepika Udagama made the Commission’s request during a meeting with Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, who is on her first official visit to the country.
Dr Udagama described the Secretariat as ‘an ally on human rights in Sri Lanka’ providing help with, among other things, models of reconciliation post-conflict, how to deal with torture, as well as advising it on civil and political rights.
During her three-year term as chair, which comes to an end later this year, Dr Udagama said that the Secretariat had assisted her commission immensely.
For example, it brought in experts to help the constitutional assembly on the protection of economic, social and cultural rights in the new proposed Bill of Rights. The Secretariat ensured that Sri Lanka participated substantively in the Commonwealth Forum of National Human Rights Institutions, allowing the country to connect with other member state commissions. It also helped to get the Commission accredited.
But the Commission needed further help, she said.
“One thing is that the Commonwealth has developed very many good practices and standards on democracy and human rights. The Secretariat brings together countries from the Commonwealth, common legal traditions, common traditions of governance and democracy, so it’s very important for the Secretariat to be engaged. It’s mainly in the area of technical cooperation.
“Another [area] is about raising human rights awareness within the community, providing us with techniques that could be effective using technology for such purposes. There’s a lot that could be done.”
Secretary-General Scotland congratulated the Commission for being accredited ‘A’ status by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions. This means that Sri Lanka has complied fully with the United Nations Paris Principles, which provide the international benchmark by which national human rights institutions are accredited.
“This is excellent news for Sri Lanka’s government, its people and your Commission,” said the Secretary-General. “We focussed our efforts in supporting the Commission in regaining its ‘A’ status, but we should also credit President Maithripala Sirisena, who began the constitutional reform process in 2015. By strengthening the process of appointing members to independent commissions, including this one, the President enhanced transparency and accountability.”
The Secretary-General said that the Secretariat would continue to work in partnership with Sri Lanka when it came to human rights, as set out in the Commonwealth Charter.