Advocacy, Ampara, Batticaloa, Colombo, Jaffna, Peace and Conflict, Puttalam, Trincomalee, Vavuniya

Seeing mobile phones as a basic human right

Communication rights remain for most of the world’s people a vision and an aspiration. They are not a reality on the ground. On the contrary, they are frequently and systematically violated. Governments must be constantly reminded that they are legally required under the human rights treaties they have ratified to implement, promote and protect communication rights. Communication rights are the expression of fundamental needs. The satisfaction of these needs requires a strong political will and the allocation of substantial resources. Lack of commitment to such resources serves only to deepen the global distrust of political institutions.

News that mobile phone users in the North & East of Sri Lanka are once again cut off is a disturbing trend in the erosion of fundamental rights, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which proclaims: “Everyone has the right to freedom of expression and opinion; this right includes the freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” This basic freedom is also recognized in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 19), in other UN treaties, such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Article 13), and in all three main regional human rights instruments (Africa, the Americas and Europe).

As noted in the excerpt above, taken from the Statement on Communications Rights, even governments that have signed and ratified the ICCPR & UDHR, such as Sri Lanka, show a marked disinterest and unwillingness to follow in action what they have agreed to in spirit and word. The very fact that Telecommunications Regulatory Commission Director General, Kanchana Ratwatte, as reported here, thinks it is “routine” to shut off communications, shows to what degree the lack of awareness of fundamental rights, including communications rights of citizens, has eroded in Sri Lanka.

As noted further in the Statement on Communications Rights:

At the same time, full implementation of communication rights cannot depend only upon governments. Civil society has a key role to play in terms of advocacy for rights, in terms of monitoring and exposing rights abuse and in terms of educating and popularising rights.

Noting the growing difficulty of and the shrinking space for civil society activism & agitation for anything to do with rights and peace in Sri Lanka, yet recognising that without communication rights, human beings cannot live in freedom, justice, peace and dignity, it is imperative that the fundamental rights of citizens are secured and strengthened through civil society initiatives aimed at building awareness on the human rights, including media and communications rights (even when the country is at war).

Next, it could be your mobile phone in Colombo they shut down.

See also this story from Lirneasia in October 2006.