The picture shows some arts which were exhibited inside the auditorium during the event Pix by Nisal Baduge “The Northern part of this country was also a Palestine,” said Brito Fernando Chairman of the Families of the Disappeared at a public gathering titled ‘Fight for our lives’ which was held recently at the Colombo Public Library. Fernando underscored that the mothers in the north are concerned about their children and added that they are struggling to win their rights for the lands. Fernando said that he was disappointed with how human rights are practiced in Sri Lanka. “If we were involved in a protest march how it ends would be decided by the relevant police officers or the government. If we wish to go beyond that point we have to carry out our protests amidst tear gas,” added Fernando. Sri Lankan Human Rights Lawyer Swasthika Arulingam expressed her views on the human rights day by stating, “We are marking human rights day at a time when we are headed by both an unelected government and a president”. She underscored that on this human rights day the people continue to fight for their lives and demand a democratic economy. At a time when more than 18,000 Palestinians have been killed in the Israeli bombardment Arulingam stated that citizens of the world are standing shocked and watching in dismay. “We mark this day not in celebration, but in deep reflection on the state of human rights and the state of human dignity in Sri Lanka and across the world. We are marking this human rights day during a time of deep economic crisis in Sri Lanka. Just a few days back a youth was murdered in a police station in Jaffna. This is not unusual for us in Sri Lanka,” added Arulingam. The Al-Jazeera news channel has quoted a UN expert by stating that every single Palestinian is going hungry. The Palestine Ambassador to Sri Lanka Dr. Zuhair Zahid advised Sri Lankans by stating, “Find a way to fight for your own problems. Do not expect any other party to solve your issues”. “In 2022, Sri Lanka experienced its worst economic crisis since its independence in 1948. The food inflation rate reached an all-time high of 95 percent as the government defaulted on its foreign debts. This resulted in 6.2 million people becoming food-insecure. About 3.9 million people are estimated to be food insecure; a 40 percent improvement compared to 2022” states in the World Food Programme (WFP) report which was released in October 2023. “For the past 75 years the economic crisis has seen unmet rights. The majority of the people have to suffer from starvation and malnutrition. There should be a salary increment for estate workers and the emplyees of the apparel industries in order to address the issue of poverty. Secured and small enterprise jobs should be provided for the poor people in urban areas,” said the Attorney-at-law S.G. Punchihewa. Swasthika Arulingam – Human Rights Lawyer Juwairiya Mohideen is Muslim Women’s Rights Activist based in Puttalam who won the ‘Ginetta Sagan’ award in 2023. Juwairiya highlighted the unfortunate plight of the Muslim girls. “According to the common law in the country for a girl to get married there is an age limit. Unfortunately this law isn’t applicable for the Muslim girls. Muslim girls are getting married with a male dominant concept in the background. Only the males can sign the marriage certificate. For the past 25 years we went behind politicians and Islamic religion leaders by asking the support to assign an age limit for the marriage of Muslim girls. But still we didn’t receive any solution. Don’t frame this issue as an issue which relates only to the Muslim community. Consider this issue as one which belongs to the rights and injustice happening to human beings. This has nothing to do with Sharia law,” added Juwairiya. Speaking with this writer the Sri Lankan peace and Women Rights Activist Shreen Saroor Abdul shared her views regarding the 75th celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). “UDHR is a global pledge that established a common framework that would provide a foundation for equality, justice and dignity for all, with freedom all should enjoy without prejudice. In Sri Lanka we have come a long way in defining our fundamental rights in our constitution. However we have discriminated against citizens based on their ethnicity, sex/gender, region religion etc since receiving independence. We still have discriminatory laws like the personal laws and penal code 365 and 365A that discriminate LGBTQ community. Consecutive Governments since 75 years of independence and the creation of UDHR have created abusive laws and regulations and targeted ethnic and religious minorities to the extent that they cannot even mourn for the losses of their loved ones. Until recently we had a land law that openly discriminated against women’s access to state land. Women and girls lack choice in this country and their body and reproductive functions are controlled by the state. Sexual abuse/ harassment, domestic violence and incest are norms in our society. On top of these, the executive and legislature are bringing and approving/abusive laws and regulations that take away the basic fundamental rights enshrined in our constitution and recent examples being the Anti Terrorism Bill and Online Safety Bill. The UDHR serves as a reminder to the Executive and government to uphold and protect the fundamental rights and dignity of all individuals,” added Shreen. Dr. Zuhair M.H. Zaid, the Ambassador for Palestine in Sri Lanka addressing the gathering “I urge the Government and Sri Lankan political parties to strive for and deliver on the urgent need for renewal, deeper institutional reforms and tangible progress on accountability, reconciliation and human rights,” UN High Commissioner for Human rights Volker Turk said. “This would be particularly appropriate in this year that marks both the 75th anniversary of Sri Lanka’s independence and the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” said Turk in a press release released on September 6.

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