Implement orders of HRC of Sri Lanka and ensure its independence

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The following is a statement released collectively by several organizations and individuals who wish to see the implementing of orders of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and ensure its independence.

We the undersigned individuals and groups welcome efforts of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka (HRCSL) to protect and promote the equal rights of education of all students who are facing the Advanced Level (AL) examinations by ensuring no power cuts during the examinations. We call upon all authorities to adhere by the 5-point agreement reached at the HRCSL on power cuts during the A’L Examination, which was subsequently issued as a written order by the HRCSL and to report on the implementation of the said order to the HRCSL. We strongly condemn the recent public statements made by the Minister of Power and Energy regarding the HRCSL’s actions and call on authorities to stop the attempts at undermining the HRCSL’s independence.

On 2nd January 2023, the Commissioner General of Examinations appealed to the Public Utilities Commission of Sri Lanka (PUCSL), to suspend power cuts citing difficulties to 331,709 students sitting the AL examination from 23rd January to 17th February 2023.

According to HRCSL press releases:
1.   On 23rd January 2023, HRCSL wrote to the PUCSL, Ministry of Power and Energy and the Ceylon Electricity Board requesting the suspension of power cuts since this violates the A/L candidates’ education rights;
2.   On 26th January 2023, the HRCSL announced that a 5-point agreement had been reached during discussions with the PUCSL, Ministry of Power and Energy, Ceylon Electricity Board (CEB), Ceylon Petroleum Corporation CPC) and two leading state banks to suspend power cuts during the examinations including how to ensure needed fuel and the process of payment for the fuel;
3.   On 26th January 2023, the HRCSL further announced it had issued written orders to the Ministry, PUCSL, CEB and CPC to implement the 5-point agreement and report back on progress;
4.   On 27 January 2023, the HRCSL reported that it had filed relevant certificates at the Supreme Court about the failure of authorities to give effect to its written orders.  
On 2nd February, the media reported that the CEB had assured the Supreme Court that it would refrain from imposing power cuts until the Contempt of Court application filed by the HRCSL is taken up for consideration and concluded.

Current situation
We strongly condemn the public statements made by the Minister of Power and Energy who, instead of ensuring compliance with the HRCSL’s written order, alleged that the agreement on which the orders were based on was reached due to threats by the HRCSL to impose jail sentences on the Senior Officials who participated in the discussions at the HRCSL.
We wish to remind the authorities that under Section 21(3)(c) of the HRCSL Act No. 21 of 1996, refusal or failure to comply with a notice or written order or direction issued by the HRCSL is an offence punishable by the Supreme Court as though it were an offence committed against, or in disrespect of, the authority of that Court.

For too long, state officials and authorities have ignored or flouted recommendations, notices, orders and directions of the HRCSL and this has negatively affected promotion and protection of human rights in the country, erosion of rule of law and impunity for past and continuing rights violations.  It has also undermined public confidence in the HRCSL’s ability to promote and protect human rights. Thus, we welcome the HRCSL moving the Supreme Court to have its orders implemented, as provided for in its enabling parliamentary act.
We wish to remind all authorities the HRCSL is required to be independent of the executive. We also note with concern the threats/ allegations against the HRCSL with even the President making negative remarks in public on 24 November 2022 about the Commission. These allegations must be viewed in the context of growing threats against independent commissions. The most recent are the death threats received by members of the Election Commission of Sri Lanka. 

We are aware of the AL Exam being a significant stepping stone for higher education in Sri Lanka. It provides access to higher education and is the indicator of successful completion of schooling. The lack of electricity will disproportionately affect poorer students with no access to private generators and the scheduling of cuts privilege students living in areas with no cuts or where the cuts are not at night. We welcome and appreciate the interventions of the HRCSL to ensure uninterrupted electricity to ensure equal right to education of AL students.
We note that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) recognize the Right to Education of everyone. The HRCSL’s recent actions and determinations contribute to promoting and protecting this important right.

We also welcome the efforts of the HRCSL to move the Supreme Court to have its written orders implemented. We call on the President, Ministers and all officials of the executive arm of the state to implement recommendations, notices, written orders and directives of the HRCSL and refrain from actions, including negative public statements, that will undermine the credibility and effectiveness of the country’s premier statutory human rights institution.

Courtesy Daily Mirror

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