Rights Protection and Effective Monitoring Urgently Needed
For a Just and Democratic Peace"
We the undersigned, have long been committed to the integration of HUMAN RIGHTS into every stage of the peace process and are concerned that this was not adequately reflected in the official statement of the last session of talks in Hakone. We note that since then the LTTE has suspended its participation in negotiations whilst at the same time reiterating its commitment to seek a negotiated political solution to the ethnic conflict.
We welcome the appointment of Mr Ian Martin as the Human Rights Advisor to the two negotiating parties at the fourth session of the peace talks in Thailand, 6-9 January 2003. However, we note that the statement issued at the conclusion of the Hakone sessions indicated the apparent lack of commitment by the two parties and their Norwegian facilitators to making meaningful human rights protection an integral part of the peace process in the interim period prior to a final constitutional settlement. We are perturbed that the two parties have still not made a clear and public commitment that they will be bound by these norms in verifiable and effective ways. We believe that no peace in Sri Lanka can be either just or sustainable in the absence of strong and effective protection of the full set of fundamental civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights as recognized in a broad range of internationally accepted covenants. We therefore urge the two parties and their facilitators, as well as the community of bi-lateral and multi-lateral donors to Sri Lanka to reaffirm that the protection of the human rights of all Sri Lankans will be guaranteed throughout the duration of the peace process.
In particular, we write to express our deep concern over the following :
1. We were disappointed that the two parties at the Hakone session of talks opted for a markedly limited focus on HR . While the parties have requested Mr. Martin to draft a "Declaration of Human Rights and Humanitarian Principles" which would "reflect aspects of fundamental human rights and humanitarian standards," in our view this falls short of a commitment to the protection of the full range of rights recognized in international human rights and humanitarian law. We call on the Sri Lankan government and the LTTE to commit themselves to a comprehensive and binding human rights document, which would be in force until a final constitutional settlement (itself grounded in this same set of international norms) is agreed to and enacted.
2. We also call on the negotiating parties to agree explicitly to an effective mechanism for the monitoring and protection of human rights. Any such system would require from the start a strong international element that is fully independent of the parties to the conflict and that would have as its mandate the protection of internationally recognized human rights and humanitarian law. The agreement by the two parties at Hakone to "undertake to ensure" that "aspects of fundamental international human rights and humanitarian standards" are "respected in practice by their personnel" is no substitute for a strong mechanism that would allow for independent and effective monitoring.
We are disappointed to note that the Hakone statement makes no firm commitment to any monitoring mechanism. It states instead that Mr. Martin has been asked to submit "proposals for the strengthening of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka to enable it to develop the capacity for increasingly effective monitoring throughout the country," and that these proposals "would involve international advice and assistance to the HRC from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights" and in "close coordination with" UNICEF, UNHCR, and the SLMM. While we appreciate the recognition that the Human Rights Commission does not presently have the capacity for effective human rights monitoring, we are disturbed by the absence of provisions for effective monitoring which would commence immediately.
We are furthermore concerned that an arrangement whereby certain agencies would have - at most - the task of monitoring only a specified set of rights - "UNICEF in relation to child protection, UNHCR in relation to the protection of returning internally displaced persons and refugees, and SLMM in relation to acts against the civilian population"- is not an adequate substitute for an independent and effective body of international monitors. Relying on the SLMM to offer assistance to the Human Rights Commission for the prevention of "acts against the civilian population" is clearly not adequate, given the fact that the primary commitment of the SLMM remains the preservation of the cease fire agreement, not the protection of civilians' rights.
3. With regard to the need for independent monitoring, we are concerned by the emerging outlines of the "Action Plan" for the rights of children, the monitoring of which "will be undertaken by a steering committee comprising of the TRO and the Dept of Probation and Childcare Services, and facilitated by UNICEF". We are especially concerned by the provision that children demobilized from the ranks of the LTTE will be housed in "transit centres co -managed by the Tamil Rehabilitation Organization (TRO ) and UNICEF". The provision that " local probation and child care services officials will have periodic access to the transit centres" is in our view inadequate. Without specification of how long the children will remain "in transit," or specific rules to guarantee the protection of the rights of the children involved, such an arrangement is subject to potentially grave abuse. Without independent, effective and continuous monitoring , even the strongest set of rules would be of little avail.
Many of the concerns outlined above are connected to the general limitations of the tripartite "Government-LTTE-International Agency" model that the two parties seem to have accepted. The less than transparent and inclusive process of developing policies or formulating action plans, excluding civil society participation, prejudices the quality of their content and effectiveness of their implementation.
In conclusion, we call on all the parties involved, including the international donors, to ensure that meaningful human rights protection is adopted in practice as an integral part of Sri Lanka's peace process.
6th May, 2003
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