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Government Gazette

Strong case for voting rights of Sri Lankan expatriates

“It is our view that granting Political Rights to Sri Lankan Expatriates will ensure participation of expatriates in Sri Lanka’s development process”. These views were expressed when the Migrant Services Centre, held a Workshop at the OPA, on the voting rights of Sri Lankan expatriates.

Estimates of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) reveal a total of 1,221,763 Sri Lankan expatriates abroad during 2005. Of them non-labour grades (including housemaids) constitute 337,749 persons. These are skilled and professional expatriates. However it includes only numbers who went abroad through the SLBFE mainly to the Gulf Region. (SLBFE)

The Sri Lankan Diaspora in the UK is estimated at 200,000 of whom a vast majority are professionals; while Canada, Australia and the European countries have a large number that have escaped given estimates (Montage June / July 2007)

According to the Director, Migrant Services Centre David Soysa, during previously held National level elections in Sri Lanka, no expatriate was able to exercise the Right to Vote while being abroad. “In an all inclusive Democracy denial of voting facilities is a denial of the fundamental right of any citizen” Soysa said.

Expatriate Sri Lankans for whom data is available constitute 12% of the registered voters of this country and 10% of the National Work force. During the year 2005 they contributed to 17% of National Savings and more than 20% of Foreign Exchange earnings.

The UN Convention of 1990 on the Protection of the Rights of migrant workers and members of their families ratified by Sri Lanka in 1996 obliges the State to bring in changes to Election Laws to enable a system of special voting for migrant workers.

“We pointed this out to the relevant authorities. Based on our representations, the Human Rights Commission after inquiry recommended to the Labour Minister to make “suitable arrangements to facilitate and ensure the Voting Rights of Sri Lankan Migrant Workers in the respective countries they are employed and proposed a Special voting system”.

Soysa said they were not discouraged at the lack of progress on this recommendation, but were currently engaged in the process of recollecting signatures of migrant families to represent matters to the President of Sri Lanka on International Migrants Day, which falls on 18th December 2007.

“Yet time is fast catching up on us. Migrants want their rights, including Political Rights.

We have called upon all migrant workers, prospective migrant workers and members of migrant worker’s families to band themselves together irrespective of political considerations and call for a scheme of absentee voting at National Elections in Sri Lanka, as we believe that political representation of migrant workers at a high political level is the best guarantee to restore the rights and dignity of migrant workers”.

Soysa said there is a popular misconception that the term ‘migrant worker’ refers to labour or unskilled grades. “This is not so. The UN Convention defines a migrant worker ‘as a person who is to be engaged, is engaged or has been engaged in a remunerated activity in a state of which he or she is not a national’ with respect to rights of all migrant workers.

The Convention states that a migrant, irrespective of ‘nationality, age, economic position, property, marital status, birth or other status, is considered equally entitled to enjoy all rights conferred by the Convention”.

The United States, United Kingdom, Jordan, Spain, Russia, Portugal, Poland, Switzerland, Australia, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Italy, New Zealand; Philippines, Lithuania, Indonesia, Thailand, Moldova and Ukraine are some countries that have recently enacted laws to enable citizens overseas to exercise their vote at National Elections.

The keynote address was delivered by Legal Counsel, CMA and Philippine expert on elections, Henry Rojas, while the panelists were Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Dr A.C. Visvalingam, and Kingsley Rodrigo, while Chief Executive of the Marga Institute, Godfrey Gunatileke, was Chairman of the Panel.

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