By Amaravathi –
Your visit to Sri Lanka, after years of failed efforts by the Sri Lankan Government to insult and intimidate you, is most welcome. Its outcome will be critically important for the future of Sri Lanka – whether it can evolve as a democracy where universal human rights are observed or whether the present autocratic genocidal regime will be further entrenched in power for the indefinite future.
We are confident that you will act strictly consistent with the responsibilities of your high Office, and not let external pressures deter you from your task, as reportedly was the case during the final months of the war, according to the UN Internal Review of UN Actions in Sri Lanka—called the Petrie report (1)
To your credit, you were the only high UN official who was prepared to speak the truth about ongoing atrocities and their possible implications as violations of international human rights and humanitarian law, before you were effectively silenced, until the end of the war —when you called for a independent international investigation , explaining your reasons for it, which subsequently available information has amply justified. The Petrie report noted the irony of the “UN’s most senior human rights and humanitarian law official not having a direct role in the UN monitoring or supervision or oversight for UN action, or UN engagement with Security Council”
The Petrie panel therefore recommended that in future the UN Human rights Commissioner be given an explicit and enhanced oversight role “ to coordinate the human rights promotion and protection activities throughout the UN system” as defined in the UN General Assembly resolution of 1993 setting up that Office. The Secretary General has already approved the Petrie recommendations.
Sri Lanka stands out as the only case in recent decades where the UN and the International Community remained not only silent but was complicit in mass atrocities against civilians during the war. They have also failed to hold the Government to account for its failure in over four years to implement its many promises to the UN and UN Human Rights Council in May 2009 on accountability, human rights, democracy, devolution and reconciliation, with dire consequence to all Sri Lankans.
Madame High Commissioner, you now have the opportunity as well as the moral and legal high ground to help remedy those wrongs.
You are already well informed on events in Sri Lanka during and after the war. However, we wish that your highest priority during your visit will be to listen first hand to the silenced victims of both the mass atrocities during the war as well as in the years since.
The impressive new network of transport infrastructure in the war devastated North East is welcome. It is, however, it is important that you find out what is behind that impressive façade for the war affected people, or whether it is serving mainly the Government’s plans for militarization and ethnic cleansing and demographic and cultural change of those areas, and not national reconciliation.
The truth is that the Sri Lankan Government and its foreign collaborators have never expected to be seriously called to account for their alleged crimes. They believed, and still seem to believe, that they could continue indefinitely to buy time by simply asserting that no crimes were committed and , as usual, through promises which they had no intention to implement.
As recently as this April, Foreign Minister Pieris revealed the Governmment’s true intention when he declared in Parliament that Sri Lanka would never accept the UNHRC resolution of March 2013, and even added a few caustic comments questioning your integrity. More recently however, the Government seems to have decided to charm you with more worthless promises in order to buy more time. We are confident that you will not be persuaded by such blandishments, either by Sri Lanka or by its supporters.
In conclusion ,we would also request that you give particular attention to the following.
1.Among the information on the mass atrocities during the war that has been publicly available for a number of years are the Channel Four video documentary called “ Sri Lanka’s Killing Fields” , reports of two of your own UN Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Killings confirming the authenticity of army executions of unarmed prisoners, as well as satellite photos of the conflict areas—all of which support and supplement the credible allegations in the two Un Panel reports.
The Sri Lankan Government has rejected all of them as baseless and even fabricated.
It is critically important that an objective evaluation of the authenticity and reliability of these sources and their implication to accountability be made under your direction, and be made available to UNHRC to help it in arriving at an informed decision.
It is particularly unfortunate that there has been no follow up action of the reports of the UN Rapporteurs, especially since the 2013 UNHRC resolution calls for an additional eight UN Rapporteurs on different aspects of the Sri Lankan situation.
2. It is astonishing that all the reports on Sri Lankan events ( including the UN Panel reports) have avoided mention of the genocidal pattern of the alleged crimes under international human rights and humanitarian law, even though the stark fact is that the hundreds of thousands of victims in the North East were almost entirely Tamils and the alleged perpetrators were predominantly the almost 100% Sinhala security forces. This has been even more evident since the end of the war, driven by the Government’s commitment to Sri Lanka as a Sinhala Buddhist country.
We hope that this serious gap will be be addressed in your report to UNHRC.
3. Two of the most vicious but under reported aspects of the Sri Lankan events, which are also of central relevance to 2. above, are the pervasive use of sexual abuse and rape by Sinhala security forces and their paramilitaries against Tamils, and the extensive use of land appropriations and ethnic cleansing of the North East, under heavy cover of militarization.
4.Finally, while your visit will help in ascertaining the broad contours of the current situation, only an independent international investigation, as has indeed been done in every other case of mass atrocities in recent years, and which you have already called for, can provide a clear and comprehensive picture of the troubling events during and after the war, and an effective system of remedies and monitoring.
The Petrie report concluded that “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warning and the evolving events during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities adopted by Member States and the Secretariat, agencies and programs.”
The UN internal report also concluded that “ the UN’s political engagement in Sri Lanka during the period from 2007 to the end of the conflict in May 2009 rmained secondary to the efforts of external actors.. These included other countries in the region, including India and China, along with Norway which had sponsored the CFA (Cease Fire Agreement); and the EU, Japan, and the US which, also along with Norway, formed a Co-Chair Group of States to coordinate financial contributions to Sri Lanka as a support to the peace process. The UN was not invited to be a member of the Co-Chair Group.”