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8th June 2023 (7 Topics)

Sri Lankan population on dissent for Human Rights

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act of 2007 – a law meant to protect human rights – has become a tool for the Sri Lankan state to crack down on dissent.

International Bill of Human Rights:

  • Following the Second World War (1939-45), a series of declarations and covenants began to articulate universal human rights.
  • In 1948, for the first time, countries agreed on a comprehensive list of inalienable human rights.
  • In December of that year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a milestone that would profoundly influence the development of international human rights law.
  • 30 articles of UDHR provide the principles and building blocks of current and future human rights conventions, treaties and other legal instruments.
  • In December 1966, the UN General Assembly adopted two international treaties that would further shape international human rights:
    • The International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) which is monitored by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.
    • The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) - monitored by the Human Rights Committee.

About the issue:

  • Recently, a Sri Lankan stand-up comic was arrested under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) Act.
  • As per authorities, the arrest was made due to “derogatory remarks” made by the comedian about Lord Buddha during a comedy show in Colombo.
  • The arrests have drawn widespread condemnation from the Sri Lankan civil society and various human rights groups, who point to this being yet another instance where the state has stifled free speech using the ICCPR Act.

What is the ICCPR?

  • The ICCPR is a multilateral treaty that commits nations to respect the civil and political rights of individuals.
  • Compliance with the ICCPR is monitored by the UN Human Rights Committee, which reviews regular reports by state parties on how human rights are being implemented.
  • It was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and entered into force a decade later after its thirty-fifth ratification.
  • Presently, the covenant has 173 parties and six more signatories without ratification.
  • Sri Lanka ratified this treaty in 1980.

What is Section 3 of the ICCPR Act?

  • The section prohibits the propagation of war or advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence.
  • Offences under this section are ‘cognizable’ as well as ‘non bailable’.
  • The Sri Lankan state has repeatedly used this section to arrest individuals accused of committing blasphemy, since the Sri Lankan constitution and other laws themselves do not have any provisions to deal with the issue.

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