South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Sri Lanka’s review by International Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was concluded last week (8th and 9th of June) in Geneva. A 12 member CSO delegation from Sri Lanka  attended occasion. They presented a common statement during the opening session on 6th and had a lunch meeting with the committee members on 8th afternoon. 

Statement of the Civil Society Representatives:


We are the representatives of the Collective for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in Sri Lanka, a collective of over 110 organisations.  We appreciate the Sri Lankan Government’s commitment to engage with International human rights mechanisms and a relatively more open space for the civil society in the country. But we are concerned about the lack of commitment shown by the Government in addressing structural issues which has led to the injustice, marginalization and deprivations of peoples in Sri Lanka.   Following are our key issues that we would like CESCR to address:

  1. Sri Lanka’s Constitution fails to protect economic social and cultural rights.
    ESC rights are not justiciable rights in Sri Lanka. The present deliberations of the Steering Committee are unknown to the public at large, and the commitment to ESC rights as justiciable rights remain vague. This is despite the fact that various committees including the Public Representations Committee on Constitutional Reform, the Parliamentary Sub Committees and the Consultative Task Force on Reconciliation have highlighted the need to provide for fully justiciable ESC rights. The National Human Rights Commission[1] as well as many civil society groups around the country demanded these rights in their recommendations to the Public Representation Commission (PRC). Currently only the directive principles on state policy include ESC rights and these ‘principles’ are not justiciable. Additionally Article 16 of the present Constitution prohibits judicial review of legislation and supersedes the guarantees of equality and non-discrimination.
  2. The transitional justice agenda has sidelined economic justice:
    Serious issues of indebtedness, loss of livelihood, food security, lack of decent work, inadequate social security, and militarisation of land and economic relations in post war North and East has not been part of the transitional justice agenda and the deprivation is further aggravated by the current development approach focused on economic growth and not ensuring human rights.
  3. About 40 percent of the population in Sri Lanka lives on less than 2$ per person per day.
    Sri Lanka’s much celebrated middle-income status in fact hide much more than they reveal. Multidimensional poverty measures classify an additional 1.9 million people as poor and almost 70% of the labour force is in the informal sector, with low wages and no social security. This situation is further aggravated by development and economic policies that alienate people from their livelihoods and resources including land.
  4. Government budgets are drastically reduced for basic rights and essential services.
    Moreover, the push for privatization and the plans to initiate sweeping reforms in critical areas, such as social security, land and labour guided by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund’s austerity mind-set, raises many serious concerns. Whilst food producers—farmers and fishers—battle dispossession of resources, including land, massive tax concessions and holidays are being given to foreign investors for large and medium-scale projects.
  5. Prevention of Terrorism Act to be replaced by a more repressive new legislation of Counter Terrorism Act (CTA). CTA is being developed in secret without any consultation with the Sri Lankan public, or even National Human Rights Commission. The draft CTA reportedly contains an overboard definition of terrorism-related offences, excessive powers of detention by police, and restricted legal access during the initial stages of detention – all falling well below acceptable international standards.

We, members of Sri Lankan civil society, therefore respectfully urge this Committee to include the following among its recommendations to the State Party:

  1. Ensure that the new constitution of Sri Lanka recognizes all ESC rights are recognized as fundamental human rights that are justiciable and enforceable by a court of law. Article 16 of the present Constitution must be repealed
  2. The new constitution must reiterate Sri Lanka’s own post-independence history of public provisioning in areas such as health, education and social security. The entirety of the Constitution must provide for justiciable and enforceable ESC rights in a meaningful manner, without limitation only to the Bill of Rights. This is central to full realization of basic rights and essential services for life with dignity for all.
  3. Economic and development policies in Sri Lanka should protect and promote human rights and economic justice through inclusive, equitable, regionally balanced and sustainable development. This should include special measures for particularly vulnerable or historically impoverished communities, such as those affected by war-related harms, Hill Country Tamils or Malaiyaha Makkal; and protects the interests and participation of women and marginalized groups.
  4. The government must update and make public the National Human Rights Action Plan (NHRAP) by 31st March 2018with adequate resources, clear timeline and benchmarks and transparent, inclusive process involving participation of diverse sections of civil society, survivors and victims’ families.