On the occassion of the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the European Laity Forum made up of 18 countries met in Lisbon/Portugal on the topic of Human Rights, Christian values and Catholic Social Teaching. Through inspiring presentations on foodbanks, refugees, media and peace we were confirmed that a way of life and activities, following the Gospels and Christian Social Teaching, also contributes to the realisation of Human Rights. That is what Christians can bring, and should bring to the public sphere.

Iranaitheevu: a community reclaims their island home from the Navy

     On the morning of April 23, 2018, about 300 people from the Iranaitheevu twin islands decided to sail there in about 40 boats. They have been displaced since 1992, and the Navy has occupied the island, barring the local people from staying or even visiting their traditional land, on which had hinged their livelihood. The islands also had important institutions like a school, churches, cooperative, weaving centre, hospital and village council. These people hoped that they could return to their island after the end of the war in 2009, and the election of a new government in 2015. Yet, they were still not allowed to return, despite a series of meetings and correspondence with Ministers, politicians and government officials from 2016 to 2017. In desperation, they resorted to a continuous protest for almost a year (359 days as of April 23). Even that didn’t bring them home. On the morning of April 23, they planned something different. Something daring that most Sri Lankans wouldn’t try. I was scared of this too.

     The last twelve months, since World Press Freedom day 2017, has not been a good year for freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. The war ravaged North bore the brunt of repression, while there were also several incidents in other parts of the country. Victims included journalists, lawyers, activists, artists and in particular those speaking out and advocating on issues such as of women’s rights, gender and sexuality. A website that had published content critical of the President was blocked, following an intervention from the Presidential Secretariat. With very few exceptions, impunity reigned for past violations of free expression, including most serious ones such as killings and disappearances of journalists and media workers and arson attacks on media institutions. At an event organized by the Free Media Movement (FMM) on the eve of World Press Freedom day, all the speakers and several participants acknowledged the lack of movement in structural reforms to the media in Sri Lanka in the last year.

   For several years, the Free Media Movement (FMM) of Sri Lanka and free expression advocates has dubbed January as “Black January”. This was in the context of large number of journalists killed, disappeared, assaulted, as well as attacks on media institutions – all in January. 24th is one such Black day in January. The Trincomalee based Tamil journalist Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan, was shot dead on 24th January 2006. The Colombo based Sinhalese cartoonist and journalist Prageeth Ekneligoda disappeared on 24th January 2010.

The almost forgotten journalist killing: Subramaniyam Sugirtharajan

Sugirtharajan, popularly known as SSR, was a part-time provincial journalist working for the Tamil language daily Sudar Oli. He was a father of two children.

Following up from the INGO Conference’s work in January and June of this year, it seemed timely to make connections with the UN efforts on the same topic. The Conference’s delegate, Christoph Spreng, took part in the 6th UN Forum on Business and Human Rights held in Geneval on 27 and 28 November.

The Forum is the global platform for yearly stock-taking and lesson-sharing on efforts to move the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs) and the “Protect, Respect and Remedy” Framework from paper to practice. It should be recalled that the Council of Europe's Commitee of Ministers' Recommendation on Business and Human Rights repeatedly refers to the UNGPs, as does the Recommendation of the Conference of INGOs that was voted last June.

During its 1249th meeting of last March 2nd, the CM adopted:

  • Recommendation CM/Rec(2016)3 of the Committee of Ministers to member States on human rights and business (link)
  • Guidelines of the Committee of Ministers to member States on the protection and promotion of Human rights in culturally diverse societies (link)

They are particularly useful texts of which NGOs members of Pax Romana can take advantage in their own activities by insuring the follow-up of the effective implementation of these instruments by Member states.

If you have knowledge of breaches of these Recommendations and Guidelines do not hesitate to communicate them to me.

Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe : PACE

Adopting a report on the protection and role of human rights defenders, the Legal Affairs Committee has expressed deep concern about increased reprisals against them in certain Council of Europe member states, including Azerbaijan, the Russian Federation and Turkey. It also voiced particular concern about the situation in annexed Crimea and other territories outside states’ control.

In 2005-2006, I was working at the FORUM-ASIA Secretariat based in Bangkok. As the conflict escalated in 2006, I decided to go home to Sri Lanka. When I eventually returned to Sri Lanka in early 2007, the experience and skills I had gained during my time in Bangkok, especially personal and professional contacts with human rights defenders (HRDs) in Asia and with regional and international organisations, proved to be crucial and lifesaving.

Going back to chaos

       I left Sri Lanka in late 2004, a time of relative calm provided by a ceasefire. Still human rights abuses took place regularly, including killings, child soldier recruitment, and regular violations of the ceasefire by both the Liberation Tiger of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) and the Sri Lankan Government.

      But I came back to chaos. There was large scale enforced disappearances, extra-judicial executions, mass displacement, forcible recruitment including of children, and severe restrictions on traveling and communication. It was also a time where HRDs, including non-governmental organisation (NGO) workers, humanitarian workers, independent journalists, clergy, and opposition politicians with critical views of the Government, were killed, disappeared, detained or threatened. Domestic human rights protection mechanisms, such as the Judiciary, National Human Rights Commission and the Ad Hoc Commissions of Inquiries, had become completely ineffective.