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Monday, 22 October 2012






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‘SL well on track in achieving key MDGs’ - Part II :

Gender –sensitive projects - a priority

Text of the speech by Plantation Industries Minister and Special Presidential Envoy on Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe at the UN General Sessions at the Third Committee Meeting in New York.

The objective of the project is to improve the quality of life for conflict-affected and isolated rural poor communities, especially women, through a community-driven, participatory livelihood development programme linked to the rehabilitation and maintenance of rural access roads. It is expected that gender-sensitive development projects such as this will improve post-conflict reconstruction and also benefit those marginalized and or deprived by the conflict.

In the post conflict scenario, the resolution of issues relating to women is critically important. While addressing their economic empowerment needs, we must be conscious of the need to prevent exploitation and abuse of women. In fact in a recent engagement with civil society representation in Colombo, several issues and allegations were brought to our attention.

Many of the allegations cited did not include information as to the identity of the victim, specific location, date and time of incident and the alleged perpetrators. We invited the civil society organizations represented to provide us with these details as well as urging them to take measures to reach out to local avenues of assistance - the Police and other organizations which should be the first resort of persons - especially women - facing any difficulties.

If there are any shortcomings or lack of responsiveness, the national government will take steps to investigate and take corrective measures. We have taken special measures to expand women’s and children’s desks in local police stations, especially in the former conflict affected areas to which these complaints could have been made.

The phenomenon of female headed households in the aftermath of the conflict poses unique challenges. The Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs is also working with UNDP and UNFPA on issues under Security Council Resolution 1325 which are also to be incorporated within the scope and ambit of the National Action Plan on Women.

Remedial measures

Within the law enforcement process, when a child under 18 years or a woman is being arrested or detained, a person of their choice must be allowed to accompany them to the place of questioning. As far as possible, any such child or woman arrested or detained should be placed in the custody of a Women’s Unit of the Armed Forces or Police or in the custody of another woman military or police officer. Such simple guidelines on arrest and detention issued by the President, go a long way towards protecting the rights of women and children.

In Sri Lanka’s experience - both in the aftermath of the Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004 and in the present post-armed conflict phase - is a problem of land title for those returning to their original places of habitation after the lapse of a period of time.

The old concept of the ‘head of the household’ (usually the male) has been found to be an impediment when a widow of a deceased or female spouse of an untraceable person claims restitution, relief or compensation. Remedial measures are being formulated to address these problems.

One other notable result of the ending of the armed conflict and the defeat of terrorist forces is the large number of ex-combatants that had to be dealt with. In many cases recruitment was forced. In others false propaganda and other forms of manipulation and coercion were utilized to boost the cadre of the terrorists.

After the end of the conflict, it became the responsibility of the government of Sri Lanka to take over nearly 12,000 persons who surrendered or were taken into custody. Pursuant to a proper legal framework being put into place, these ex-combatants - with varying degrees of involvement in the conflict - were screened and the vast majority submitted to rehabilitation programmes.

Women’s rights

It is with a degree of satisfaction that I am able to inform this Committee that we have been able to process, rehabilitate and reintegrate 10,985 ex-combatants.

This includes 2, 240 women ex-combatants. The remaining number of female ex-combatants undergoing rehabilitation as at October 1 was a mere 27. Our programme was not merely aimed at weaning them away from seeking to gain their objectives through the force of arms. Our approach was predicated on giving them suitable education and training - opening up choices for them to follow a productive life within their communities.

To conclude, I have mentioned a few of the steps being taken to bring about a transformation in the manner that women’s rights, their right to equality, equal protection of the law and the maximization of the options and choices available to them are sought to be promoted. Sri Lanka appreciates the consolidation of the 4 UN gender entities into a single strengthened UN Gender Machinery.

We do so in the belief that this consolidation will strengthen the UN systems’ work on gender equality and the empowerment of women at the national and international levels. Similarly, at the domestic level, we in Sri Lanka are contemplating draft legislation aimed at the creation of a National Commission on Women which will be the apex body for coordinating and implementing national plans and policies and will serve as the focal point for activities concerning women’s rights, empowerment and development.

We are confident that, as one nation and one united people, we can move forward in this new era of peace harnessing the talents and efforts of all Sri Lankans - especially women - to build the new Sri Lanka.



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