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Sunday, 13 December 2015

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Raising citizenship standards

Last Thursday, December 10, Sri Lanka signed the International Convention on Enforced Disappearances, bringing the country more in line with the corpus of global agreements and international citizenship standards that should be observed by the country as a member of the United Nations. External Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera proudly announced the signing on Thursday in Colombo.

With this signing, done at Sri Lanka's permanent mission in New York, citizens are that much more assured of their physical safety on this island in which, in recent decades, such an assurance was an illusion. Minister Samaraweera would, himself, have taken pride in this signing, as a personal achievement after his own involvement in the 1980s in human rights activism against such disappearances, torture, detentions and other human rights violations.

Ever since the 1980s, Sri Lanka has had the dubious reputation of being a country notorious for tens of thousands of 'disappearances'. And even though the local news media was often reluctant - out of fear - to report and discuss such disappearances, the people of the country learnt to live with this terrifying reality.

In these past decades, 'terrorists' and 'subversives' were seen responsible for outright killings of people through guerrilla attacks. But on an even greater scale, people were abducted and disappeared forever at the hands of groups of people who were never identified and were only guardedly described in the news media as 'persons in uniform' or 'unknown groups in white vans'.

More blatant 'disappearances' also occurred when people went to police stations or military installations and were then never seen again, their presence denied by the authorities.

If in the late 1980s, this country was reported to the UN for its high level of enforced disappearances, in the 2000s, the situation became so bad that the UN Human Rights Council felt compelled to act against the government of the time, demanding accountability and redress. The situation, bloody as it had become, was all the more farcical in that the regime suspected of being responsible was headed by the very person who trekked to the UN in Geneva in the 1980s to complain of disappearances occurring at the time!

As explained by the Convention, 'enforced disappearance' is considered to be the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which place such a person outside the protection of the law.

No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification for enforced disappearance. We, Sri Lankans, know full well what has been happening in our 'paradise' in the name of 'national security'.

As Minister Samaraweera explained, the country's laws will now be calibrated so that citizens will genuinely be assured of protection against such extreme violations of rights.


Engaging men

You macho guys, do not preen! This is not about attractive gents but about dudes who are real enough to appreciate women as genuinely equal humans and, therefore, are sensitive to the current social inequality of women globally. The United Nations launched on December 10 - World Human Rights Day - a global campaign to end gender-based violence led by UN Women, the specialised agency for the upliftment of women.

UN Women has launched a program that engages with the men in society to obtain their understanding and solidarity in the struggle of women to survive gender-based violence whether in domestic or public life. Under this program, named the "He for She Campaign", the UN and the Government will work with networks of social service and women's organisations to draw in the support of the menfolk of our society for this endeavour.

Last Thursday, World Human Rights Day, one of Colombo's best known landmarks and a proud symbol of nationhood, the Independence Hall, was lit up in orange, which is now the globally designated colour to mark the worldwide endeavour to reduce and end violence against women.

To us, Sri Lankans, orange is similar to saffron, and easily emphasises the spiritual dimension of this endeavour to raise our civilisation to greater heights.

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