international Human Rights Day - 2020
72nd International Human Rights Day 2020 was celebrated at the Human Rights Office Kandy on the 10th December 2020 with limited participants due to health restrictions. "Accept the present realities and include everyone - Human Rights for All” was the theme for Human Rights Day.
Speaking about the Prisons in Sri Lanka, Mr. Charaka Dharmasiri in his keynote address, remarked that the riots and violence erupted in Mahara Prison was a reaction by the prisoners against overcrowding, unhealthy conditions and inhuman treatment. “Prisoners reacted with fear and frustration due to the COVID 19 pandemic being spread among the prison inmates”. He further said that our prison system does not provide opportunities for rehabilitation.
Mr. Charaka Dharmasiri - Senior Legal Counsel, former Senior State Counsel focused on the Extrajudicial killings and the Rights of Prisoners. At the very outset he explained how the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into to existence 72 years ago. “Human Rights are inherent to every human being and therefore people do not have to beg for their Rights”.
Mr. Charaka highlighted the reasons for people to be imprisoned. Suspects should have an inherent right for a fair trial adhering to the standard criminal procedure and the suspects have the constitutional right under the prevailing law to be presumed innocent until proven guilty. “The suspect should be informed of the charges before he is arrested. Unfortunately, which does not usually happen in Sri Lanka“. Explaining about the prisoners, he said that there are different categories of prisoners such as remand prisoners, sentenced prisoners and prisoners pending their appeal in an Appellate Court.
He then went on to explain how leaders of several countries served prison sentences such as Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi and how they turned their prison wards into a place of learning. Further he said that remand prisoners are only detained as suspects and they are at no pint should be branded as criminals until proven guilty. Prisons have four major purposes: retribution, incapacitation, deterrence and rehabilitation. Retribution means punishment for crimes against the society. Depriving criminals of their freedom is a way of making them pay a debt to the society for their crimes. Finally, he invited everyone to continue this dialogue and to voice to improve the prison conditions to treat the Prisoners as Humans.
At the inauguration of the International Human Rights Day 2020, the traditional oil lamp, was lit followed by religious observances and silence observed in respect of the slain Human Rights Activists and Victims who fought for Justice. The participants who represented the families of the disappeared, the families of the prisoners, the Torture victims and victims of miscarriage of Justice and the members of the support group and the lawyers were welcomed by the director of the Human Rights Office, Fr. Nandana Manatunga.
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