Promoting and protecting human rights is a work in progress and it is not something that can be done overnight despite the most sincere of commitments, Sri Lanka told the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session of the country in Geneva yesterday.
In the opening statement, the Head of the Sri Lankan Delegation, National Policies and Economic Affairs Deputy Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said the UPR, to us, is a process that recognizes this fact.
“The UPR is a process that is aimed at helping each other self-assess, share best practice, and support one another to take steps to more effectively address the concerns of individuals in our respective countries. There are many, both in Sri Lanka and overseas, who question the commitment of the National Unity Government to addressing concerns of human rights. Of course it is natural to be impatient; it is natural to question; and it is natural to feel a sense of frustration. We all know very well that some who criticize do so with the best intentions as they want Sri Lanka to do well,” he said.
He said there is no nation that does not have challenges, and no nation is perfect.
In a democracy, however, he said, it was not easy to always make changes at great speed, or navigate change in a rapid manner, or along a straight and preconceived path.
Dr. De Silva said significant progress has been made in Sri Lanka since the last UPR in 2012 and the National Unity Government has facilitated policy coherence and stability that enabled decision-making required to make the Government’s pledge to its people a reality.
He said the Government is committed to a process of truth-seeking, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence and that the reconciliation mechanisms that are being set up are for the entire people of Sri Lanka.
“Investigations into allegations pertaining to human rights and humanitarian law violations during the conflict are unfortunately misperceived by some in my country, as specifically targeting the security forces, which is completely erroneous. As the President recently stressed, security forces will not be unfairly targeted or punished. But, we are committed to investigations being carried out in respect of violations of the law, through judicial processes, respecting due process,” he said.
Meanwhile, he said the Constitution Reform process is prioritised as a measure for guaranteeing non-recurrence of conflict.
In response to the several advance questions that have been submitted in relation to implementation of the commitments in the UN Resolutions in Sri Lanka, the Deputy Minister reaffirmed the government’s firm commitment to ensuring their implementation.
He said Sri Lanka has accomplished much but the government does not consider it a reason to be complacent.
“We remain acutely aware and conscious that there is much more to be done, to ensure that all our citizens enjoy the rights due to them to their full extent. Our efforts to ensure harmonious relations between the different ethno-religious communities, and our commitment to constitutional reform, are often attacked by opponents as attempts to create divisions. Yet, we persevere with strong determination,” he said.
As a democratic country, he said Sri Lanka welcomed robust criticism and debate about its journey towards the full enjoyment of human rights, and sustainable peace and reconciliation.
Later yesterday, in a facebook post, the Deputy Minister said global response to Sri Lanka’s progress in human rights achievements was extremely positive and constructive.
“It was a great pleasure for our delegation to hear State after State commend the progress made by our National Unity Government after I made my opening remarks. Ninety countries made short interventions. They appreciated our commitment and understood the difficulties in implementing our commitments; and encouraged us to do more particularly on reconciliation and accountability,” he said. (Lahiru Pothmulla)