The primary objective of the ESCR Programme is to promote awareness and respect for economic, social and cultural rights in Sri Lanka and their protection through reform of laws, policies and institutions. It attempts to achieve these goals through a series of multi-pronged strategies which includes: fact-finding, research and analysis, advocacy, national and regional partnerships, and alliance and coalition-building. The programme’s goal is to foster rights-based approaches to problems of poverty, marginalisation, exploitation and oppression; and to support opportunities for rights-holders to seek relief and redress at local, national and international-level. Although economic, social and cultural rights span a gamut of human rights, the programme focus between 2011 and 2014 is on three broad areas, within which selected issues of importance are targeted.
A.Promoting respect for economic, social and cultural rights
Campaign against land-grabs by state and non-state actors and for land rights for the landless
LST is a member of the Peoples’ Alliance for the Right to Land (PARL) which is a coalition of non-governmental organisations and civil society activists. PARL has organised trainings for activists; mobilised affected communities in public actions as well as to lobby state officials; developed a database on land-grabs; conducted fact-finding missions and research; and made written submissions to the UN Human Rights Council including on implementation of the final recommendations of the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission related to land policy.
LST publishes a quarterly newsletter in English, Sinhala and Tamil to exchange information and experiences among PARL members; highlight ongoing and future campaigns; as well as raise awareness and conduct advocacy on economic, social and cultural rights in general.
Migrant Workers Rights
Research and advocacy on migrant workers rights (especially those of women) has been conducted by LST since 2010. The ESCR programme is currently engaged in research on the status of Sri Lankan workers in the Maldives to be completed before the end of 2013. LST has made submissions to UN treaty bodies and on the National Action Plan on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights in Sri Lanka. It is also a founder-member of Migrant Forum Lanka that brings together trade unions, community-based-organisations and research and advocacy organisations committed to the human rights of migrant workers.
Protecting the language rights of Tamil speakers
LST lobbies state authorities at national, provincial and local level to ensure the realisation of Tamil as an official language, as provided in the Constitution (as amended), within a broader set of concerns for the promotion and protection of minority rights in Sri Lanka. The ESCR programme monitors state initiatives around language policy and rights including through research and publications. It supports the strengthening and greater effectiveness of the Official Languages Commission. It collaborates with community-based organisations to raise awareness among community activists and local officials on the obligations of the State in ensuring respect for the linguistic rights of Tamil-speakers, while promoting awareness of remedies available to Tamil-speakers whose rights are or may be violated.
B.Promoting human rights-based approaches to development in Sri Lanka
LST supports the right of individuals and the people to equitable and sustainable development; and development based on the promotion and protection of human rights, and the free, active and meaningful participation of people in development.
Budget monitoring and analysis
LST, along with three other partners (Centre for Society and Religion; National Fisheries Solidarity Organisation; Uva Community Development Centre) and with the support of CAFOD formed the ‘Active Citizenship for Development Network’ (ACDN) in 2011.
The ACDN is currently active in 6 districts island-wide: Badulla, Kalutara, Kegalle, Mannar, Monaragala, and Trincomalee. Its objective is to build the capacity of citizens organised in voluntary associations (known as Citizens’ Forums) to promote their right to informed participation in the development process and their right of voice to be recognised by policymakers and politicians.
The ESCR programme collaborates with partners in analysing the national budget to assess whether it is in the overall interests of poor and marginalised communities; as well as the macroeconomic and development policy of the State. The responses of citizens to these budgets, as well as their aspirations, are articulated in national-level dialogues, as well as through public actions at local and national-level.
Monitoring mega-development projects and external debt
The development paradigm in Sri Lanka emphasises large-scale infrastructure projects, and the financing of state-led development through large borrowings from international financial institutions, bilateral donors, and commercial lenders.
The ESCR programme is engaged in monitoring mega-development projects assessed on their impact on the rights of affected persons and communities, and has conducted field investigations in Hambantota, Trincomalee (Sampur) and Kalpitiya.
The ESCR programme also researches and publishes on issues of debt and development, with the aim of promoting greater critical awareness and debate within civil society and among political actors on these issues.
C.Promoting the effectiveness and performance of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka
LST promoted the establishment of a national human rights institution in Sri Lanka towards strengthening the national machinery for the promotion and protection of human rights; and has continued to advocate full compliance of the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka with the ‘Paris Principles’.
Monitoring annual performance of the HRCSL
As part of LST’s commitment to strengthen the effectiveness, independence and transparency of the national institution, the ESCR programme monitors its performance at national and regional-level, leading to an annual assessment that is published nationally and regionally. The report is also translated into Sinhala and Tamil for greater dissemination to human rights defenders, civil society activists and the mass media.
Engagement between human rights defenders and HRCSL
LST seeks to promote greater engagement between the Human Rights Commission and human rights defenders in all parts of the island, as envisaged in the ‘Kandy Programme of Action’. It participates in the civil society forums organised by the HRCSL, and also strives to have constructive dialogues with HRCSL members and staff on issues of concern to human rights defenders. It has also translated the ‘Paris Principles’ into Sinhala and Tamil for the benefit of human rights defenders and for use in human rights education, and uploaded the translations on its website.
Regional coalition building and advocacy on national human rights institutions
LST is a founder-member of the Asian NGOs Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI), and was formerly a member of its steering committee. The ESCR programme provides country information and analysis to the ANNI; participates in its annual members’ consultation; and contributes to its regional report on the performance and establishment of national human rights institutions in Asia.
LST has also been a regular participant in the meetings and conferences of the Asia-Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF), which are opportunities for dialogue with members and senior staff of national human rights institutions; and for capacity-building on emerging issues and recent developments concerning national human rights institutions at regional and international-level.