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 in Sri Lanka
Civil society networking and coalition-building for promotion and protection of economic, social and cultural rights
LST is an active partner in a network of mainly community-based organisations from across the country. This alliance came together to collectively submit a shadow or alternate report from Sri Lankan civil society organisations for the information of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, in its consideration of the State report on implementation of Sri Lanka’s obligations under the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, during its 45th Session in November 2010. This was the first occasion that a shadow report from Sri Lanka was received by the UN Committee on ESC Rights.
Since then, the ESCR Network has continued to work together in sharing information on ESC rights violations; on monitoring the State’s obligations to follow-up on the Concluding Observations and Recommendations of the UN Committee; and campaigning to highlight ESC issues within Sri Lanka.
The ESCR programme at LST aims to strengthen and expand the civil society network through capacity-building of members on advocacy, research, reporting and documentation; encouraging utilisation of national and international human rights mechanisms; and facilitating regular sharing of information and experiences between members.
Protecting the language rights of Tamil speakers
LST continues to lobby for 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 continues to monitor state initiatives around language policy and rights including through research and publications. It also campaigns for the strengthening and greater effectiveness of the Official Languages Commission. It also works 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.
LST is a member of the civil society forum (‘Experts Panel’) of the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration.
B.Promoting the right 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
The ESCR Programme at 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 present in 9 districts island-wide: Ampara, Badulla, Colombo, Jaffna, Kalutara, Kegalle, Mannar, Monaragala, and Trincomalee. Its objective is to build the capacity of citizens in voluntary associations (citizens’ forums) to protect and promote their interests within the process of development and be heard by policymakers and politicians.
The ESCR programme collaborates with partners in analysing budgets at national-level, and in selected provinces, districts and divisional secretariats. 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 the Hambantota district, to be followed by surveys in other parts of the island.
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. It has collaborated with the Committee for the Cancellation of Third World Debt(CADTM) and the Jubilee South – Asia Pacific Movement on Debt and Development (JS-APMDD) on regional initiatives.
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.
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 is presently one of its steering committee members. 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 was a member of the ANNI fact-finding mission on the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in 2011.
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.