UN says Sri Lanka’s legal framework on children falls short

A UN Working Group says Sri Lanka’s legal framework regarding children falls short of international best practice in several areas.

The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention told the UN Human Rights Council that it is deeply concerned that over 14,000 girls and boys under the age of 18 were deprived of their liberty in 371 child care institutions across Sri Lanka. It said that only 33 of those institutions are operated by the Government.

The Working Group also said that while the number of arrests and detention under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) appears to have fallen, the Act contains numerous severe restrictions on the right to fair trial.

The Working Group called upon the authorities to repeal the Act and ensure that any new legislation complies with international human rights standards.

Meanwhile, the UN Working Group said the authorities should further ensure that the National Human Rights Commission is notified of any arrest carried out under the PTA.

The Working Group learned that placement of individuals in hospitals and treatment facilities on the basis of a psychosocial disability or a mental health condition, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression, is increasingly common in post-conflict Sri Lanka.

“We identified systemic problems with deprivation of liberty for rehabilitation purposes, including with regard to rehabilitation of women, ex-combatants, drug-users and other vulnerable persons. We also learned of several situations in which people are being deprived of their liberty, or are at high risk of being detained, on discriminatory grounds. The Group urges the Government to find affordable alternatives to detention for the most vulnerable members of society,” the Working Group said in a report to the UNHRC covering its visit to Sri Lanka last year.

The Working Group observed the ad-hoc nature of arrangements regarding asylum-seekers in Sri Lanka, as well as the dire conditions in the Mirihana immigration detention facility.

“It should be recalled that detention in the context of migration proceedings must be an exceptional measure, alternatives to detention must be duly considered, and when detained that migrants must be held in appropriate facilities which respect their inherent dignity,” the report said. (Colombo Gazette)