Colombo, October 20 (NIA): The UN Special Rapporteur on Minority Issues, Rita Izsak-Ndiaye, has recommended to Sri Lanka, the establishment of a fully-empowered Minority Rights Commission under the constitution which is to be drafted.
Briefing the media after her nine day tour of the island, Izsak-Ndiaye said that in the short term, government should set up a “dedicated minority rights mechanism” with representatives of the minorities to coordinate policies and actions on minority issues.
She urged “affirmative action” (reservations or quotas) to give adequate representation to under-represented communities in the government, judiciary, armed forces and law enforcement agencies. Representation in these institutions should be along ethnic, religious, linguistic and gender lines.
Izsak-Ndiaye pointed out the minorities are aggrieved that they are not adequately represented in national institutions and decision making structures in the Sri Lankan government at the national and provincial levels.
The proportional representation system in the proposed electoral reforms should ensure that the minorities are adequately represented in the elected bodies on the basis of accurate and disaggregated social data, she said. She stressed the need to change the official language policy so that the present linguistic barriers are dismantled and the government and the minorities are able to reach out to each other better. At present the dominance of the Sinhalese language has resulted in an impregnable communication barrier between the government and the minorities who speak Tamil.
On religions minorities, she said that the Muslim Marriage and Divorce Act of 1951 should be reviewed and a new law drafted to be in line with international human rights standards. At present the law allows marriage of girls under 16 she pointed out. To promote religious tolerance she suggested that in schools, every child be taught the basics of all the major religious in Sri Lanka.
Izsak-Ndiaye recommended that the Prevention of Terrorism Act be replaced by a law which is up to international best practices. Cases under PTA should be reviewed to either charge and prosecute the detainees or release them.
The heavy military presence in North Sri Lanka is resented by the people there as relations between the Tamils and the near totally Sinhalese military had been adversarial for decades, she pointed out.
However, on the whole, the UN official found the minorities to be hopeful about getting a better deal from the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government. The moderates’ voices are dominant and the extremists’ voices are lower for lack of support. The minorities are enthused by the large-scale consultative process in regard to various matters relating to reconciliation and the constitution.
However, people felt that the movement could be faster, Izsak-Ndiaye’s pointed out. Many things could be done in the short term to prevent the minorities from lapsing into hopelessness, she said, listing the short term and long term measures separately.