Sri Lanka: Participants from all over the country as well as Internationals gathered for two important meetings in Mannar, hosted by our member organisation
In view making a joint submission for the 3rd Cycle of the Universal Periodical Review (UPR) on Sri Lanka scheduled to take place in November 2017 during the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a special meeting took place on the 1st an 2nd February 2017 at Madhu Retreat House in Mannar with the participation of Human Rights activists, Priests and Religious. This was followed by the RPHR meeting on the 3rd and 4th February with the theme “Together, let us protect our rights.”
Since the participants who gathered are actively involved in these important issues of the country and are experts of different fields, the discussion was rich, lively and practical. The discussions were further enriched by Budi (Franciscans International, Geneva), Sr. Yolanda (Good Shepard Sisters, Geneva), Fr. Mike Deeb (Dominican, Rome / Geneva).
The present human rights situation of the country was discussed with the following panelists:
- Fr. Jeyabalan Croos – North and East and Tamil community
- Fr. Nandana Manatunga – Hill Country
- Fr. Reid Shelton Fernando – South & General situation
Ruki Fernando then made a presentation on domestic & international trends in relation to human rights in Sri Lanka and introduced the UN system, UN & Human Rights in Sri Lanka, with a focus on March UNHRC session. It was followed by sharing experiences and additional comments by Yamini (NCEASL) and others.
Budi Tjahjono, Sr. Yolanda Sanchez and Fr. Mie Deeb OP presented UPR’s experiences from other countries, situations of success, several challenges and helpful information for Sri Lanka. This was followed by prioritizing and focussing areas for UPR submissions and lobbying.
After several discussions, it was decided to assign one person from each group to prepare the draft for the submission and sent to Ruki and Fr. Nandana. Further the committee agreed to meet along with the coordinators to review the draft and finalize the submission. Philip Setunga, Budi, Fr. Rohan Dominic and Fr. Nandana Manatunga were appointed as coordinators while responsibility of preparing the drafts were assigned.
- Tea Plantation – Fr. Camillus Janz
- Women – Sarah Arumgam
- Children – Sr. Niluka Perera
- Cultural rights, especially Religious freedom – Yamini Ravinpran
- Prisoners, detainees, former combatants – Fr. Nandana Saparamadu
- IDPs & Land – Fr. Dilan SSS
- Disappeared – Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
- Transitional Justice, Criminal accountability – Ruki Fernando
- Sustainable development / environment – Port city etc. – Fr. Manoj
The RPHR meeting which followed began with a scripture reflection on “the parable of Good Samaritan” led by Fr. Jeyabalan. Participants shared their experiences in the light of the parable. Program for the women headed families were shared by Philip Setunga, Sr. Vijaya and Fr. Jeyabalan.
Bishop Kingsley Swampillai the Apostolic administrator, Bishop of Mannar, joined the RPHR meeting on the 3rd evening and shared his views while listening to the sharing of the participants from different parts of the country. The delay of ensuring richts of the Tamil people in the north and east by the present government was highlighted. Releasing of land occupied by the military was pointed out as an urgent issue that requires attention. The Bishop condoned with the people as hopes on the present regime is gradually diminishing.
A presentation was made by Fr. Nandana Manatunga on campaigning for prison reforms against inhuman degrading treatment. The congestion of the prisoners with death sentence and life imprisonment at Kandy Bogambara-Dumbara prison was explained by Fr. Nandana. He said during his recent visit to the Kandy Bogambara-Dumbara prison ward D, where prisoners serve the death sentence: “we found 74 prisoners detained in one cell and as many as 55 – 60 prisoners detained in one single-cell. Prisoners with life imprisonment and death sentence were mixed in the same prison cell due to the lack of space.”
He further stated that “the undue delay imbedded in the system of adjudication has come to a point where suspects are held indefinitely in prisoner and families of suspects have to pay the lawyer for many years selling all their belongings. Prolonged litigation creates a culture that encourages many forms of manipulation, which are in favor for the wealthy and powerful.”
With the commitment of continuing the discussion, the meeting ended with a dinner. The next meeting of the RPHR is fixed for July 17 – 20, 2017.