Language Rights
in Sri Lanka

Did you know?

There are two official languages in Sri Lanka.
Well, 74% of Sri lankans are not aware of this fact…

Imagine being involved in a terrifying road accident, and finding yourself being questioned by the police in a language you didn’t know, although this is your homeland and you have lived in this country all your life, and your own language is an official language of this country? Then imagine going to the clinic and the doctor trying to treat you, speaking in a language which you don’t understand, although this is a health service that is supposed to be for everyone in your country. Incidents like these can be avoided if there is language equality.

“Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”

Language Rights are therefore fundamental human rights included in the Constitution, in particular in its 13th Amendment, and upheld by other laws and legal instruments of Sri Lanka such as the Official Languages Act 1956, Extra ordinary Gazzette 1620/27, Public Administration Circulars, and there was even a Ministry set up named the Ministry of National Languages and Social Integration, to uphold these values. This Ministry was in charge of the Official Languages Department, the Official Languages Commission and the National Languages Education and Training Institute. The mandate of all these important institutions recognize that language barriers need to be overcome if Sri Lanka is to progress without conflict, towards social harmony.

Language Equality is essential for reconciliation

A fundamental human right that was recognized in the Constitution of Sri Lanka was “Language Rights”.

Section 12(2) says “No Citizen should be discriminated or favored due to the reasons of race, religion, language, caste, sex, political opinion, place of birth” This is quite similar to Article 2 of the Universal declaration of Human Rights which states:

Citizen Language Related Grievances

Regardless of the number and apparent force of regulation, legislation, and institutions set up to promote the Official Languages Policy – the actual ground situation with regard to language rights, as studied in the numerous field visits, interviews and other research carried out during the project is demonstrably dismal and has serious implications on the following:

This post is also available in: தமிழ், සිංහල

Administration and Daily Life

Numerous cases exist among Government officials including Grama Niladharis not knowing the language ...

Access to Information

Signage- Though accepted that all government institutions, particularly in bilingual areas, should h...

Language rights laws

Citizen Language Related Grievances Regardless of the number and apparent force of regulation, legi...

Access to Education

Sri Lanka’s public education system has included teaching in both Sinhala and Tamil even since col...

Access to Justice

At any stage of the judicial process, where an accused is unable to defend him/herself in his/her mo...

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