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Sri Lanka

Annual Work Plan of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to Include a Transparent and Accountable Process to Implement Selected Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Concluding Observations. (LK0012)

Overview

At-a-Glance

Action Plan: Sri Lanka National Action Plan 2016-2018

Action Plan Cycle: 2016

Status: Inactive

Institutions

Lead Institution: Ministry of Women and Child Affairs

Support Institution(s): National Committee on Women, Ministry of Land, Ministry of Justice; Interest group related CSOs

Policy Areas

Gender, Judiciary, Justice, Legislation & Regulation, Legislature, Marginalized Communities, Public Participation

IRM Review

IRM Report: Sri Lanka End-of-Term Report 2016-2018, Sri Lanka Mid-Term Report 2016-2018

Starred: No

Early Results: Marginal

Design i

Verifiable: Yes

Relevant to OGP Values: Access to Information Civic Participation

Potential Impact:

Implementation i

Completion:

Description

Sri Lanka ratified CEDAW in 1981. Upon ratification, Sri Lanka has an obligation to report to CEDAW every 4 years. At the last periodic state review in 2011, where Sri Lanka was reviewed, CEDAW issued numerous concluding observations to Sri Lankan government. As a state party, Sri Lankan government is obliged to follow up on the concluding observations. In the framework of this commitment, the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs will follow upon specific concluding observations on selected areas; Personal Law reforms, gender equality in state land distribution, non-discrimination in formal and informal employment sector. Consultations with community will increase accountability of the ministry of Women and Child Affairs to the public and will allow women’s networks to directly participate in improving public services and increasing public integrity. As an end result the government is to take concrete actions with the accountability to implement concluding observations with the inclusion of a transparent process and civilian participation. The progress made by such an implementation could be reported as our government’s progress at the next state review. Issues to be Addressed: There has been little follow up on the CEDAW 2011 Concluding Observations after the state review. Incorporating the implementation of selected concluding observations into the annual work plan of the Ministry will ensure a transparent and a systematic process of follow up which involves interested civil society organizations. This will also ensure better coordination between different Ministries to implement the concluding observations. The different Ministries will be held accountable to ensure the operationalization of the concluding observation. Main Objective: Increase the level of accountability of Ministry of Women and Child Affairs in Personal Law reforms, gender equality in state land distribution, non-discrimination in formal and informal employment sectorPersonal Law Reforms
1. Report on divisional secretariat level consultations with Muslim and Tamil community to elicit their views. New Sep 2016 Dec 2016
2. Report on consultations with lawyers, judges, religious leaders to elicit their views made available to the public. Ongoing Sep 2016 Dec 2016
3. Law on certificate of absence passed New Aug 2016 Nov 2016
4. Send the Cabinet paper on the findings of # 1 and # 2 reports to the Cabinet for follow up implementation by the Ministry. New Jan 2017 Feb 2017
5. Quarterly meetings of the Committee comprising of Ministry reps and CSOs to monitor progress and to promote transparency in the process by the Ministry providing an update on the status of the suggested amendments New Sep 2016 Aug 2017
6. Amendments to Personal Laws in Parliament New Mar 2018 Aug 2018
Gender equality in state land distribution

IRM End of Term Status Summary

12. Personal Law Reforms

Commitment Text:

Annual Work Plan of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to include a transparent and accountable process to implement selected Convention on Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) Concluding Observations (A) – Personal Law Reforms

Sri Lanka ratified CEDAW in 1981. Upon ratification, Sri Lanka has an obligation to report to CEDAW every 4 years. At the last periodic state review in 2011, where Sri Lanka was reviewed, CEDAW issued numerous concluding observations to Sri Lankan government. As a state party, Sri Lankan government is obliged to follow up on the concluding observations.

[…] Consultations with community will increase accountability of the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs to the public and will allow women’s networks to directly participate in improving public services and increasing public integrity. As an end result the government is to take concrete actions with accountability to implement concluding observations with the inclusion of a transparent process and civilian participation. The progress made by such an implementation could be reported as our government’s progress at the next state review.

Main Objective:

Implement CEDAW Concluding Observations on Personal Law Reforms

Milestones:

  • 1 Report on divisional secretariat level consultations with Muslim and Tamil community to elicit their views.
  • 2 Report on consultations with lawyers, judges, religious leaders to elicit their views made available to the public.
  • 3 Law on certificate of absence passed.
  • 4 Send the Cabinet paper on the findings of #1 and #2 (12.1 and 12.2) reports to the Cabinet for follow up implementation by the Ministry.
  • 5 Quarterly meetings of the Committee comprising of Ministry reps and CSOs to monitor progress and to promote transparency in the process by the Ministry providing an update on the status of the suggested amendments.
  • 6 Amendments to Personal Laws in Parliament

Responsible institution: Ministry of Women and Child Affairs (MWCA)

Supporting institutions: National Committee on Women (NCW); Centre for Equality and Justice (formerly FOKUS Women)

Start date: July 2016............   End date: August 2018

Editorial Note: The text of the commitment was abridged for formatting reasons. For full text of the commitments, see the Sri Lanka National Action Plan 2016–2018 at http://bit.ly/2wv3jXR. [146]

Commitment Aim:

This commitment aimed to support the implementation of the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) through activities that enhance transparency and accountability. This commitment supported observations on the reform of “personal laws” in Sri Lanka.

Status

Midterm: Limited

The commitment achieved limited completion by the midterm. The National Committee on Women (NCW) under the Ministry of Women and Child Affairs (MWCA) conducted expert consultations on personal law reform (Milestone 12.2). [147] The discussions included a wide range of stakeholders, including key government officers, representatives from civil society, senior university lecturers, and lawyers.

However, the NCW/MWCA had not conducted community consultations—although these were scheduled for later in 2017, after the midterm assessment period (Milestone 12.1). As consultations had not concluded, the NCW/MWCA had also not developed and published the related reports. As a result, activities relating to the implementation of the findings could not begin (Milestones 12.4–12.5).

No amendments on any of the personal laws were submitted to Parliament (Milestone 12.6). Given the sensitivities involved, civil society expressed scepticism about whether this ambitious goal could be realistically achieved within a two-year period. [148] Issuance of certificates of absence, however, was included as an amendment to the Registration of Deaths Act [149] in September 2016 (Milestone 12.3). [150]

End of term: Substantial d

As Milestones 12.1–12.5 were largely completed, the commitment was substantially completed by the end of term.

Milestones 12.1–12.2: According to the chairperson of the NCW, the ministry conducted three community consultations in the districts of Colombo, Jaffna, and Puttalam in November 2017. Civil society verified the consultations [151] and NCW shared an attendance register. The consultations aimed to elicit views on Tesawalamai and Muslim personal laws. [152] The NCW also facilitated more expert consultations in December 2017, with participation by leading women’s rights experts and other civil society representatives. [153]

Milestone 12.3: Completed.

Milestone 12.4: The NCW / MWCA prepared a report on the consultations with the community and experts and submitted it to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) for further action. [154] Although the ministry has not published the report, the Centre for Equality and Justice (CEJ) confirmed the consultations. [155]

Milestone 12.5: The NCW convened a 14-member, multistakeholder committee comprising government officers, legal experts, and other members of civil society. The Centre for Equality of Justice (CEJ) was also represented on this forum. [156] The committee met on a monthly basis. Although the committee fell short of formally monitoring progress on implementing the findings, it was a useful platform for stakeholders to discuss and deliberate key developments pertaining to amendment of personal laws. [157]

Milestone 12.6: The NCW noted it is the task of the MOJ to take this commitment forward—act on the report, prepare a cabinet paper, and implement findings toward the amendment of the personal laws. [158] As such steps have not taken place, this commitment remained incomplete.

Did It Open Government?

Access to Information: Did Not Change

Civic Participation: Marginal

At the outset of the action plan, personal laws in Sri Lanka contained antiquated provisions that were largely detached from modern culture. In particular, treatment of women under these laws was outdated, overly conservative, and often discriminatory. [159] As part of its Concluding Observations, the CEDAW recommended that the government of Sri Lanka pursue legal reform and accelerate the amendment of discriminatory provisions in the personal laws. [160] This commitment aimed to introduce transparency and accountability in the process of legal reform and amendment of the personal laws.

Although this commitment was substantially completed by the end of term, the commitment only marginally opened government. The NCW/MWCA held community and expert consultations in order to elicit the views of an inclusive group of stakeholders. Given previous limited engagement, civil society experts noted that this was a positive achievement in efforts to foster civic participation in decision-making processes. [161] However, these consultations, while inclusive, did not represent a major step forward in the relevant policy area. This was confirmed by CEJ who noted that more transparency and accountability could contribute to the reform of personal laws in Sri Lanka. [162]

The NCW also did not publish the consultation findings. Publication of these findings was the only activity that would have directly improved access to information. Therefore, there was no change in access to information as a result of this commitment.

Carried Forward?

Sri Lanka’s second action plan was not released by the time of this report.

In the 2016–2017 IRM midterm progress report, the IRM researcher noted the value and importance of leveraging the principles of open government to pass contested legislative reform. In this context, the IRM researcher continues to recommend that this commitment be carried forward. The commitment may be supplemented with other specific interventions. These include: drawing on the consultation reports to conduct awareness programs and publicity campaigns; and collaborating with progressive religious leaders to construct and disseminate strong counternarratives to the preservation of discriminatory provisions in the personal laws.

[146] In the action plan, milestones pertaining to personal law reform (Commitment 12), gender equality in state land distribution (Commitment 13), and nondiscrimination in formal and informal employment (Commitment 14) are listed under a single commitment. For clarity, these milestones are separated into three different commitments in this report.

[147] Swarna Sumanasekera (National Committee on Women), interview by IRM researcher, 13 October 2017.

[148] Dr Ramani Jayasundere (The Asia Foundation), interview by IRM researcher, 17 October 2017; Shyamala Gomez (Centre for Equality and Justice), interview by IRM researcher, 27 October 2017.

[149] Registration of Deaths (Temporary Provisions) (Amendment) Act, No. 16 of 2016, http://bit.ly/2DujucL.

[150] Sumanasekera, interview; Shyamala Gomez, interview.

[151] Shyamala Gomez (Centre for Equality and Justice), interview by IRM researcher, 29 September 2018.

[152] Swarna Sumanasekera (National Committee on Women), interview by IRM researcher, 20 September 2018.

[153] Id.; Gomez, interview.

[154] Sumanasekera, interview.

[155] Gomez, interview.

[156] Id.

[157] Sumanasekera, interview.

[158] Id.

[159] Z. Imtiaz, “CEDAW Asks Sri Lanka to Amend Personal Laws” (Daily News, 8 March 2017) http://bit.ly/2DqcP34.

[160] “CEDAW/C/LKA/CO/7,” Human Rights Bodies, United Nations Human Rights, § 44(a), 8 April 2011, http://bit.ly/2EUSlvS.

[161] Id.

[162] Gomez, interview.


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