In view making a joint submission for the 03rd Cycle of the Universal Periodical Review (UPR) on Sri Lanka scheduled to take place in November 2017 during the 28th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, a special meeting took place on the 01st & 02nd February 2017 at Madhu Retreat House in Mannar with the participation of Human Rights activists, Priests & Religious. This was followed by the RPHR meeting on the 03rd & 04th February with the theme “Together, Let us protect our Rights”.
Since the participants who gathered were actively involved in most important issues of the country and were experts of different fields the discussions were rich, lively and practical. The discussions were further enriched by Budi (Franciscans International, Geneva), Sr. Yolanda (Good Shepard Sisters, Geneva), Fr. Mike Deeb (Domincan, Rome / Geneva)
The present Human rights situation of the country was discussed with the Panelists:
Ruki Fernando then made a presentation on Domestic & International trends in relation to Human Rights in Sri Lanka and Introduced the UN system, UN & Human Rights in Sri Lanka, with a focus on March UNHRC session. It was followed by sharing of experiences and additional comments by Yamini (NCEASL) and others with experience of UPR general discussion.
UPR experiences from other countries, successes, challenges, tips for Sri Lanka were presented by Budi Tjahjono, Sr. Yolanda Sanchez and Fr. Mike Deeb OP. This was followed by the Prioritizing the focus areas for UPR submissions and lobbying.
After several discussions, it was decided to assign one person from each group to prepare the draft for the submission and sent to Ruki & Fr. Nandana. Further the committee agreed to meet along with the coordinators to review the drafts and finalize the submission. Philip Setunga, Budi, Fr. Rohan Dominic and Fr. Nandana Manatunga were appointed as Coordinators while responsibility of preparing the drafts were assigned.
· Tea Plantation - Fr. Camillus Janz
· Women - Sarah Arumugam
· Children - Sr. Niluka Perera
· Cultural Rights, especially Religious freedom - Yamini Ravinpran
· Prisoners, detainees, former combatants - Fr. Nandana Saparamadu
· IDPs & Land - Fr. Dilan SSS
· Disappeared - Sr. Nichola Emmanuel
· Transitional Justice, Criminal accountability - Ruki Fernando
· Sustainable Development & Environment - Port city etc. - Fr. Manoj
The RPHR meeting which followed began with a Scripture Reflection on “The parable of Good Samaritan” led by Fr. Jeyabalan. Participants then shared their experiences in the light of the parable. Program for the women headed families were shared by Philip Setunga, Sr. Vijaya and Fr. Jeyabalan.
Bishop Kingsley Swampillai the Apostolic administrator, bishop of Mannar, joined the RPHR meeting on the 03rd evening and shared his views while listening to the sharing of the participants from different parts of the country. The delay of ensuring rights of the Tamil people in the North & East by the present government was highlighted. Releasing of land occupied by the military was pointed out as an urgent issue that requires attention. The Bishop condoned with the people as hopes on the present regime is gradually diminishing.
A presentation was made by Fr. Nandana Manatunga on campaigning for Prison reforms against inhuman degrading treatment. The congestion of the prisoners with death sentence and life imprisonment at Kandy Bogambara - Dumbara prison was explained by Fr. Nandana and said that during his recent visit to the Kandy Bogambara - Dumbara prison ward - D where prisoners serve the death sentence, “we found 74 prisoners detained in one cell ( 70x 30 ) and as many as 55-60 prisoners detained in one single cell and, both prisoners with life imprisonment and death sentence mixed in same prison cell due to lack of space.
He further stated that “the undue delay imbedded in the system of adjudication have come to a point where suspects are held indefinitely in prisons and families of suspects have to pay the lawyers for many years selling out all what they have without any recourse. Prolonged litigation creates a culture that encourages many forms of manipulation, which in turn favor the wealthy and the powerful”.
With the assurance of continuing the discussion, the meeting was terminated with dinner. The next meeting of the RPHR was fixed for 17-20 July 2017.