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Human Rights Can’t be Won by Fighting Alone

In conversation with Surangi Ariyawansa, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights

13.12.2019  |  

“When we get complaints related to human rights violations, we jointly appealing to the Human Rights Commission is the way forward. Human and civil rights organizations need to work together as a network,” says Surangi Ariyawansa, Executive Director of the Center for Human Rights.

THE CATAMARAN: What are the reasons human rights failures in Sri Lanka?

The main reason is the lack of clarity or inadequate knowledge of human rights among the public. Human rights are the fundamental rights of human beings. However, due to the lack of clarity in the country, some people are involved in human rights violations. The inability of human rights issues to succeed is due to the lack of adequate institutions to address human rights issues. Human rights include all aspects of child rights and femininity. However, lack of adequate units in our country to ensure these is a drawback. Over the past 10 to 15 years there has been some clarity on human rights today.

THE CATAMARAN: What steps has your organization taken to do this?

No organization can win human rights struggling alone in the current situation. Human rights organizations and civil organizations need to work together as a network. Our strengths are greater when we act as a network. Especially in the case of complaints of human rights violations, when we jointly appeal to the Human Rights Commission, it is easier to find a solution.

In 2013, through the Sri Lanka Human Rights organizations we created a network of people from different districts, with different professionals. We created a district network by incorporating civil organizations dealing with children and women, election monitoring, fisheries, agriculture and education. We have successfully organized and developed a project to create a national network through that district network. Now we have an environment where the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka can address any issues, particularly through the network we have created when human rights violations occur. This is a further act of pressure in order for the victim to obtain justice. Therefore, our aim is not only to find solutions to human rights violations collectively, but also to provide a clear understanding of human rights for all people over the next decade.

THE CATAMARAN: Fewer people are punished for Human Rights violations in Sri Lanka. What do you have to say about this?

While there are instances of human rights violations, it is unclear to the public how to file complaints and the timeframe for complaints should be lodged with the Human Rights Commission. Particularly if you look at it from the village level, there are more instances of human rights violations. However, it appears that the complaints are merely made with the police. Thus, the human rights violators are freely walking outside and victims face difficulty in finding solutions.

THE CATAMARAN: Domestic violence and oppression in the workplace is not talked about outside. But there is no shortage for such things. What can be done to prevent this?

This is because South Asian countries are prevalent with the effects of patriarchy. The subject of women’s obedience to men is often spoken of religiously and culturally. Decision-makers are men, and when women refuse to accept them, they do not agree or there is a crossing point, which leads to violence and anarchy. This cannot be changed immediately. It is important to raise awareness about women’s rights first. Domestic violence can be prevented by such clarifications. Next, if violence and repression in the workplace is seen, women will not be able to find a solution until they reveal it. Every woman is vulnerable to some form of oppression and violence. Each has a stories. But when they are reluctant to reveal it, it will benefit the perpetrator instead. Therefore, when women voluntarily disclose such things, violence and repression in the workplace can end, because others fear to do such things.

THE CATAMARAN: A female principal of a school in Badulla was asked kneel down by a chief minister. The complaints made in the proper manner but the person still in power?

Our human rights organization is seen as an organization that informed the outside world of the incident. A complaint was lodged with the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka and an inquiry is still underway. We have taken several steps to remove the relevant Chief Minister from office. We put pressure on the government. However, the party represented by the Chief Minister is not concerned about it. There is no doubt that these are the reason for the continued existence of such conditions and the political culture of the country. The fact is that despite the possibility of removing the Chief Minister, no action was taken on him for political gain. However, we are constantly struggling for human rights. We will definitely take action when we get complaints with evidence.

THE CATAMARAN: How are your activities related to female headed families?

Today, female-headed households are more prevalent in the North and East. People lost important documents, including identity cards, especially during times of war and natural disasters. Therefore, we carried out our service to female headed families. In particular, a birth certificate is required to obtain a national identity card. However, for people who did not have any documents, we have contacted the Department of Registrar of Person and took its officers to remote areas to give these women a certificate through Divisional Secretaries to obtain identity cards. Almost 500,000 people in this country do not have a national identity card. This is a very serious matter.

THE CATAMARAN: The role of women in politics has not improved significantly. Have you carried out any activities in this regard?

Since 2012, we have called for increased representation of women in politics. We held discussions at the district level. The proposal for the quota for women in the local bodies, provincial councils and parliament was put forward during the discussion at Puttalam. Women now represent 25 percent of all local councils. Our organization will continue to work to ensure that this percentage is maintained even further in parliament.