The Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) has expressed deep concerns over the statement made by President Maithripala Sirisena in Parliament this week which was critical of the HRCSL.
In a letter to the President, the HRCSL notes that it is not only disheartened by the unjust criticism but is also discouraged.
Dr. Deepika Udagama, the Chairperson of Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, said in the letter that it is well recognized that it is essential that an independent commission protects the rights of all groups of citizens in the country.
“This includes even groups of people who have been marginalized and rejected from society, since the fundamental mark of a democratic civilized society is guaranteeing humanity,” she said.
Responding to the President’s criticism of the HRCSL in relation to its inquiries on the Special Task Force being deployed to the Angunakolapelessa Prison, the HRCSL said that one of the main functions of the Commission is to monitor the welfare of detainees and
protect their rights according to the recognized laws.
“As per Article 28 (2) of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka Act No. 21 of 1996, the Commission has been granted the power to enter and monitor any place of detention, police station or prison. Inquiring into the safety of detainees, their basic needs, sanitary facilities, rehabilitation process is included in monitoring places of detention. Guidelines recognized by national and international laws are used for such monitoring of places of detention. While carrying out this mandate, the Commission must properly inquire into and
investigate the complaints of detainees. Detainees and their family members have lodged complaints to the Commission regarding the recent deployment of the Special
Task Force and various other issues stemming from the deployment, it is the duty of the Commission to clarify matters related to such issues,” HRCSL said.
Therefore, the Commission’s Inquiries and Investigations Division sent a letter to the Commanding Officer of the Special Task Force requesting information regarding the matter. The Commanding Officer has given an explanation as a reply to that letter.
“We must remind ourselves of the fact that many detainees have a reasonable fear of the deployment of external armed officers due to the violent series of events that took place in 2012 resulting in the murder of 27 detainees. Therefore, we would like to point out that in this instance, the Commission has undertaken its lawful mandate in a fair manner,” HRCSL said.
On the President’s concerns raised over the Human Rights Commission and the vetting process of troops, HRCSL said that it is due to the independence of the Commission and the trust placed in the Commission that in 2016 the United Nations designated the Human Rights Commission to vet the Sri Lankan military and police officers for deployment to UN Peacekeeping Missions.
“We consider the fact that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka is the only national institution selected to undertake the vetting process, amongst all countries that supply troops for peacekeeping missions, as a triumph for Sri Lanka.Therefore, we strongly consider that it is our duty to undertake the vetting process with integrity and professionalism,” HRCSL said.
HRCSL rejected claims that a move to bring back Sri Lankan troops from Mali was delayed because of delays on the part of the Human Rights Commissions.
“The vetting process was suspended until a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) was drafted, which was a unanimous decision made by all stakeholders (the military, the police, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Defence, Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and the United Nations). This decision was taken at a roundtable discussion held in June 2018 between the above mentioned parties in Colombo to solve a multitude of issues during the initial stages of the vetting process, After the said SOP was agreed upon by all the parties, United Nations Department of Peace Operations informed that the vetting process can be resumed from 20 December 2018. Accordingly, the Commission began the vetting process from that day. Therefore, we strongly disagree that the vetting process suffered setbacks due to any delays or carelessness on the part of the Commission,” the Commission said.
The Commission also strongly condemned the attack and violence targeted at Sri Lankan Peacekeeping troops in Mali in which two soldiers were killed.
“We state with regret that holding the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka responsible for the loss of the lives of those officers caused grave dismay,” the Commission said.
The Commission noted that in the past three years, they have worked tirelessly to build respect for and trust in the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and as a result of that the Human Rights Commission was awarded international recognition in 2018 by the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI).
The Commission said that it appreciates any just critique and consider it to be a step to further growth and betterment, which they believe will serve the country better. (Colombo Gazette)