UNITED NATIONS COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS 59TH SESSION
Item 18: Effective Functioning of Human Rights Mechanisms
Implementing the recommendations of UN Working Groups
Statement read by Ali Saleem of the Asian Legal Resource Centre
I speak on behalf of the Asian Legal Resource Centre.
In 1989, Mr Ajith Luxman disappeared. He was one of over 30,000 Sri Lankan citizens who were kidnapped without a trace during a period of intense repression. Due to domestic and international pressure, the Government of Sri Lanka was forced to act on these cases. It undertook to abide by the recommendations of the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances (E/CN.4/1992/18/Add.1, para 204), and other international agencies.
In 2000, Mr Luxman’s case was filed in a domestic court (Negambo High Court, case no. 339/00). His was one of just a handful of cases to have reached the courts. It remained in court until 2002, when his father died. The Attorney General then withdrew the case, stating that it could not proceed without the dead man’s testimony. Mr Luxman’s father had spent 13 years awaiting justice for his son. This was not enough time for the Sri Lankan legal system to record his evidence. The two suspects were freed. (See attachment for further details).
Working Groups and other UN mechanisms make recommendations to member states with the express purpose that they be adopted. They recommend ways to improve dissatisfactory human rights situations. In the case of Sri Lanka, the Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances made further detailed recommendations to the government in an addendum to its 1999 report (E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1, para 63). Except for issuing death certificates for victims, the Government of Sri Lanka has not implemented any of these recommendations.
So what can be done if the recommendations of a Working Group are ignored? This is a question that the Commission has not examined in depth. Often the easy response is just to say that we must rely on the goodwill of the state involved. This does not contribute to the sense of OBLIGATION carried by UN treaties and covenants.
To enforce an obligation requires thorough and objective monitoring. Periodic reviews, sometimes years apart, are not sufficient. Modern technology now allows for quick and constant communication between states parties and UN agencies. It could be used to facilitate and better report on implementation. It does not require a change in procedure. Rather, it requires a change in mentality. Above all, it requires greater understanding of, and respect for, the concept of obligation.
Finally, much more must be done than the making of recommendations. The High Commissioner should initiate discussion on how to expand and deepen the role of Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs. The Commission should include article 2 of the ICCPR (International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights), which deals with implementation of human rights by states parties, on its annual agenda. If made a regular feature, it may be a forum through which Working Groups could be kept efficient and productive. At least then the citizens of some states may expect to see justice within their lifetimes, lest they be forgotten, like the father of Mr Ajith Luxman.
Thank you, Chairperson