At its virtual session in October, the Sub-Committee on Accreditation (SCA) of the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) had recommended the downgrading of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to “B status” for its structural flaws and unsatisfactory performance. The HRCSL currently enjoys A status.

However, the downgrading will not take effect till after a year in 2022, the SCA clarified. In the interim, the HRCSL has an opportunity to provide documentary evidence necessary to establish its continued conformity with the Paris Principles.

The SCA said that in February 2021, it had received correspondence from civil society organizations regarding the flawed appointment process of the HRCSL, the lack of pluralism in the HRCSL’s membership and staff, as well as its ineffectiveness in discharging its human rights mandate.

The SCA conducted a telephone interview with the HRCSL in which the latter was asked to provide responses to the following issues: (a) the selection and appointment process that took place for the current Chairperson andCommissioners of HRCSL; (b) how pluralism is ensured in the current membership of the Commissioners and staff; (c) how the 20th amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka (20A) has affected the HRCSL’s ability to realize and perform its mandate; (d) the steps taken by HRCSL to respond to recommendations made by international human rights mechanisms; (e) actions taken, including public statements/positions on reports of serious human rights violations including surveillance, intimidation, judicial harassment of human rights defenders, excessive use of force and arrest and detention of protesters, deaths in police custody and torture by law enforcement officials, and the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

While the SCA acknowledges that the HRCSL has provided some information in relation to the above mentioned issues, in both its interview and written submission, it considers the responses insufficient to address the substance of its concerns. In view of the information before it, the SCA is concerned that the institution’s independence and effectiveness have not been sufficiently maintained in line with the requirements of the Paris Principles,” the SCA said.

It encouraged the HRCSL to continue to actively engage with the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights, the  GANHRIand other rights bodies as well as relevant stakeholders at international, regional and national levels, in order to continue strengthening its institutional framework and working methods.

20 th.Constitutional Amendment

The 20A passed in October 2020, had abolished the Constitutional Council, a 10-member body with three seats reserved for civil society representatives, that was tasked to recommendcandidates for appointment as HRCSL Commissioners. In its place, the 20A reinstatedthe Parliamentary Council, composed exclusively of members of parliament, with power to make only observationsto the President of Sri Lanka with respect to the appointment of HRCSL Commissioners.

Appointing Process

In the recent selection and appointment process in December 2020, the government did not advertise the vacancies, nor did it detail the criteria for the assessment of the candidates. This resulted in appointments made in a manner that was not wholly transparent to civil society, the SCA noted.

The HRCSL’s reply to this was that the Parliamentary Council is composed of parliamentarians who represent the public and different groups in society and therefore they knew the best interests of the country. The HRCSL also pointed out that the publication of vacancies is not a legal requirement.

In view of the available information before it, the SCA was of the view that the process currently enshrined in law was not sufficiently participatory and transparent. The process alsodid not provide sufficient opportunities forconsultation with or participation of civil society.  

Based on the HRCSL written and oral response to the issues above, the SCA is of the view that the HRCSL has not effectively engaged on and publicly addressed all human rights issues,including allegations of deaths in custody and torture, nor has it spoken out in a manner that promotes and protects all human rights.

The SCA held that a national human rights institution mandate should be interpreted in a broad, liberal, and purposive manner to promote a progressive definition of human rights which includes all rights set out in international, regional and domestic instruments.

Further “National Human Rights Institutions (NHRIs) are expected to promote and ensure respect for all human rights, democratic principles and the strengthening of the rule of law in all circumstances, and without exception. Where serious violations of human rights are imminent, NHRIs are expected to conduct themselves with a heightened level of vigilance and independence. Further, the SCA highlights that regular and constructive engagement with human rights defenders and civil society organizations is essential for NHRIs to fulfil their mandates effectively.



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