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Sri Lanka must ensure accountability of ESC rights

In addition to addressing high levels of malnutrition and forced evictions, Sri Lanka must guarantee the constitutional recognition and enforceability of economic, social and cultural rights, UN Committee says in concluding observations.

After undergoing its latest review by the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), Sri Lanka is requested to reinforce the national human rights system and take urgent measures to address preoccupying rates of malnutrition. Currently accounting for 5.2 million people undernourished -almost 25 percent of the population, Sri Lanka’s high levels of malnutrition are the result of inequitable political economic development, displacement and forced evictions, discrimination and gender inequality, rising food prices, as well as weak and inadequate social security schemes, among others.

Reinforcing national human rights accountability

As stressed by civil society, current gaps in the Constitution hamper the judicial enforceability of economic, social and cultural rights. At present, most economic and social matters relevant to the individual or groups are confined to the Directive Principles of State Policy Chapter of the Constitution, which do not confer or impose legal rights or obligations, and are not enforceable in any court or tribunal. In response, the Committee has recommended that Sri Lanka accelerates its Constitutional reform process, including the adoption of a comprehensive Bill of Rights that fully incorporates economic, social and cultural rights, bearing in mind the indivisibility and interdependence of all human rights.

In addition, the Committee underscored that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka must be established as an independent body by the new Constitution, and that its mandate is extended so that its investigate powers also cover economic, social and cultural rights. The Commission should have sufficient resources, so its recommendations are duly considered by the relevant State bodies.

Addressing worrying malnutrition rates

Concerned about the high levels of malnutrition, the Committee has recommended that the State party takes urgent measures to improve the nutritional security of its population. The State of Sri Lanka must pay specific attention to children, pregnant and lactating women, especially those in conflict-affected districts and in the plantation sector.

On the same note, the Committee pointed out that Sri Lanka should adopt and implement the national action plan to reduce stunting and wasting. Sri Lanka has one of the highest prevalence of wasting in the world.  

More social protection, no forced evictions

As echoed by civil society in joint shadow report, 40 % of the population lives on less than 225 rupees per person per day (an equivalent to 3 euro) and some additional 1.9 million people classify as “poor” from a multidimensional perspective. On top, almost 70% of the labor force is in the informal sector, with low wages and no social security.

For its part, the Committee has recommended that the State party, through its reforms of the social protection system, ensure universal social security coverage and sufficient benefits for all persons, including those from the most disadvantaged and marginalized groups, so that they may enjoy a decent standard of living; and that it set a social protection floor that includes basic social security guarantees.

In view of worrying forced evictions and lack of remedy, the Committee recommended the Sri Lanka adopts a legislative framework providing adequate legal protections against forced evictions and relocations for those without secure tenure to land and housing. It also stressed that the State must provide compensation and redress to those forcibly relocated, taking into account the Committee’s General Comment no.7 on forced evictions, and the UN Basic Principles and Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement.

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