Southern Expressway challenged before UN Human Rights Committee

A communication under the first optional protocol to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights has been filed against the Sri Lanka government before the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Geneva a press release by the Public Interest Law Foundation (Sri Lanka) said on Tuesday.

 

Forty villagers from Akmeemana have challenged the route alterations to the Southern Expressway. The communication was filed with the assistance of the Public Interest Law Foundation (Sri Lanka) and the International Public Interest Defenders (Geneva).

It seeks, inter-alia “to test whether the right to life enshrined in the ICCPR covenant includes a right to a healthy environment. For this purpose, the communication relies on numerous South Asian and regional human rights decisions. It also alleges that the international lending institutions funding the project such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) have acted in consort with Sri Lankan State agencies to violate the human rights of the villagers”, the release said.

The case arises out of the Colombo-Matara Expressway that will permanently displace over 1000 persons. After an Environmental Impact Assessment had been done for the expressway and approval granted for an identified route, the Road Development Authority altered the route in two places, Akmeemana and Gelanigama. The villagers in these two villages challenged the route alterations, arguing that the alterations required fresh approval after a supplementary EIA and public hearings.

The release explained that the case went all the way to the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, which held that the alterations were illegal and that fresh approval was required. However, the court, in a surprise decision, decided that the illegality amounted to human rights violations of equality under the Sri Lankan Constitution and granted compensation to the victims.

“The victims are now arguing before the UN HRC that the Sri Lankan Supreme Court, had no option but to enjoin the project, when if found that the law had been violated and their human right to equality infringed. Since the victims are still on their lands and in possession of their homes, they argue that the Sri Lanka Supreme Court decided wrongly to give relief in compensation when it should have enjoined the route alterations.”

“The victims in the communication have also asked for interim relief to stay the project until the UN HRC hears and disposes of the communication. The UN HRC will have to decide if the communication is admissible under the first optional protocol and will call upon the Sri Lankan government to respond to the various allegations,” the release said.

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