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Sri Lanka: “Seize the momentum for minority rights protection” – UN rights expert

COLOMBO (20 October 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on minority issues, Rita Izsák-Ndiaye, today urged the Government of Sri Lanka not to lose the momentum gained by the new administration in 2015, and show its commitment to minority rights through concrete action.
“In order to achieve peaceful co-existence after the long devastating civil war, a comprehensive, well-planned and well-coordinated truth, reconciliation, healing and accountability process must take place, and it cannot be done overnight,” Ms. Izsák-Ndiaye said at the end of her first information-gathering visit* to the country.

“At the same time, the Government must put in place some urgent, important and concrete measures to clearly demonstrate its political will and commitment to better protect the dignity, identity, equality and right to participation in all walks of life, of Sri Lanka’s minorities,” she emphasised.

During her ten-day mission to Sri Lanka, she consulted a large number of minority representatives across the country, including Sri Lankan and Up-Country Tamils, Muslims, Hindus, Burghers, Christians, Telugus, Veddas, Malays, and Sri Lankan Africans.

The expert commended the National Unity Government for the important progress it has made towards adopting critical laws and policies and in strengthening institutions to better protect human and minority rights.

“However, challenges remain,” she said, noting that, among the most pressing and emotive issues, especially for the Tamil and Muslim communities, were disappeared persons, return of occupied land, release of security-related detainees, as well as demilitarization, which must be addressed urgently.

The lack of adequately inclusive and representative institutions and language barriers in accessing public services and the justice system featured recurrently in all consultations across the country. “Poverty, violence and discrimination against women including in personal laws, and caste-based discrimination are further challenges,” she stated.

“Trust must be built in State institutions and between the various population groups,” Ms Izsák-Ndiaye said. “Efforts by the Government to implement good and inclusive governance must include guarantees that minorities become part of decision-making processes and have a place in state- and provincial administration. Consultations with minority groups on issues affecting them should be regular, institutionalized and systematized.”

“Educational curriculum must ensure teaching about Sri Lanka’s diversity, as a source of strength, and about the different cultural, ethnic and religious identity of its population groups to foster deeper understanding,” the expert added.

Ms Izsák-Ndiaye pointed out that minorities have a great deal of expectations from the Constitutional reform process and see it as the critical moment to codifying and guaranteeing their rights. “Minority NGOs and communities have given their voices to the constitutional consultation process with their numerous submissions,” she said. “Their views and aspirations must be taken into proper consideration.”

The UN Special Rapporteur called for the creation of an independent minority rights body to provide expertise and information to legislative- and policy-making processes, encourage and coordinate programming on minority issues, and form a bridge between minority communities and the state.

Ms Izsák-Ndiaye will present a detailed report to the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017.

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=20709&LangID=E

Ms. Rita Izsák-Ndiaye (Hungary) was appointed as Independent Expert on minority issues by the Human Rights Council in June 2011 and subsequently her mandate was renewed as Special Rapporteur on minority issues in March 2014. She is tasked by the UN Human Rights Council, to promote the implementation of the Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities, among other things.  Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Minorities/SRMinorities/Pages/SRminorityissuesIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/ProfessionalInterest/Pages/Minorities.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Sri Lanka: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/LKIndex.aspx

For more information and media requests, please contact:
In Colombo (during the visit): Mrs. Niroshini Fernando, (+94 (0) 777 55 9261 niroshini.fernando@one.un.org
In Geneva (after the visit): Ms. Olga Nakajo (+41 22 928 9348 / onakajo@ohchr.org) or write to minorityissues@ohchr.org.

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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