By Brian Senewiratne –
As you know, the Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe. To claim that ‘promotion and protection’ of human rights of the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka by the UN or the UN HRC is arrant nonsense. I will mention just one of these disasters.
On 27 may 2009, just a week after the end of the slaughter of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka’s North and East, the UNHRC passed a deeply flawed Resolution at a ‘Special Session’ on Sri Lanka. It praised Sri Lanka whose Armed Forces were responsible for the repeated indiscriminate shelling of civilians. There was not even and expression of concern for the thousands of Tamil civilians killed and 350,000 men, women and children locked up in the largest open air detention centre in the world. The gross violation of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Armed Forces was ignored. The crucial message that the Sri Lankan government needed to hear – to ensure access to displaced civilians and uphold human rights – was not sent. This undermined the very purpose of the Council.
The majority of Council members, including China, South Africa and Uruguay, ignored a call for accountability and justice for the victims by the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay. She called for an independent international investigation into violations of international human rights and humanitarian Law: ”The images of terrified and emaciated women, men and children fleeing the battle zone ought to be etched in our collective memory, We must act”.
Instead, the resolution reaffirmed the principle of non-interference in the domestic jurisdiction of States, a backward step by the Human Rights Council.
Human Rights Watch in a Report released on the same day (27 May 2009): “Sri Lanka: UN Rights Council Fails Victims. Member States Ignore Need for Inquiry into Wartime Violations” expressed serious concerns.
The Report rightly blamed Ban Ki-moon: “Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regrettably undercut efforts to produce a strong resolution with his recent comments on Sri Lanka. Ban publicly praised the Sri Lankan government for “doing its utmost” and for its “tremendous efforts” while accepting government assurances, repeatedly broken in the past, that it would ensure humanitarian access to civilians in need”.
Ban Ki-moon also distanced himself from the entirely appropriate warnings by the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, April 2009, that the fighting in Sri Lanka could result in a “bloodbath”. Unlike the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, Ban Ki-moon failed to press for an international inquiry.
The Report ended with: “Secretary General Ban shares the blame for the Human Rights Council’s poor showing on Sri Lanka. This adds to a crisis of confidence in UN bodies to speak out clearly on pressing human rights issues”.
As recently as March 29, 2017, Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative on the U.N. Security Council, dismissed the UNHRC as “so corrupt”. Addressing a meeting on Foreign Relations in New York she said: “I mean, the Human Rights Council is so corrupt that it includes ‘bad actors’ who use it to protect themselves”.
The best description of the UN HRC came for Geoffrey Robertson, a world authority on human rights. Soon after the dreadful resolution was passed, the BBC interviewed him. The full interview is on my dvd, Sri Lanka: Genocide, Violation of Human Rights and International Law. Here is a part of what he said:
“The Human Rights Council is a highly politicised body. It is made up, not of experts on human rights, but of paltering diplomats. Europe is allocated only 7 of the 47 seats and we have countries like Russia and China obviously concerned to keep their own internal problems down and away from international oversight. (To ‘palter’ is to talk or act insincerely or deceitfully; to lie or use trickery.)
So the decision (to commend Sri Lanka – which the UNHCR did) is not really surprising. Sri Lanka is a member of this highly politicised Council, despite the efforts of Desmond Tutu and Jimmy Carter last year to stop them gaining membership and they passed this rather self-congratulatory motion.
Although the Human Rights Council has set up an important investigation into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict over Gaza looking at both sides, they weren’t prepared to look at both sides (in the Sri Lankan conflict).
There are however other possibilities – the Convention on Torture, the Convention on Rights of the Child, even the Genocide Convention, could all be applied in due course, So there are ways and means of finding out – fact-finding in effect – as to whether there have been breaches of the Geneva Convention, the targeting of civilians, the bombing of hospitals, and so forth, as has been alleged.”
High Commissioner, there are some serious comments made by people who cannot be ignored – by Nikki Hayley – that the HRC is ‘so corrupt’ and by Geoffrey Robertson QC a world authority on human rights – that the HRC is made up of ‘paltering diplomats’ ie diplomats who lie.
This could explain why the UNHRC ‘Core Group” on Sri Lanka produced its nonsensical report which was the Report that was submitted.
The Geoffrey Robertson publication on 15/3/19
On 15/03/2019, Geoffrey Robertson QC, a world authority on human rights and crimes against humanity, gave an outstanding presentation on the UN HRC and what was expected from the 40th Session (February-March 2019). Had there been space I would have reproduced it here. High Commissioner Bachelet, it is very important that you read this Report and pass it to the diplomats in your organisation, especially the ‘Core Group’ on Sri Lanka that has done so much damage.
I would go so far as to ask you to invite Mr Robertson to Geneva to address the UN HRC.
Here is just the beginning and the end of this excellent address.
“This is a very important time and a very important matter on the agenda for the people of Sri Lanka and particularly the Tamil community because the Council will consider what to do about the Government of Sri Lanka’s failure to implement its demands for accountability for the brutal massacres that took place almost ten years ago.
Now let me remind you of what did take place. In 2009…….”
He goes on to set out in detail what happened.
He ended this extraordinary address with: “So let us hope that the Human Rights Council does what is necessary to rehabilitate its own reputation and to advance the cause of Human Rights in the world by putting the Government under strict instructions to set up accountability mechanisms within a short time and failing that to actually send the case to the international criminal court or to an ad hoc tribunal with power to punish the perpetrators.
Failing that of course whether there should there should be set up a UN Special Rapporteur as soon as possible in Jaffna. So it is important to maintain the pressure. To maintain the rage to see a measure of justice and accountability for all those victims. They cry out for our assistance. Let us hop that this time the Human Rights Council will not let them down”.
All I can say is that the Tamils are very fortunate to have someone like Geoffrey Robertson doing what the UN HRC has not done.
In your Report (which was not submitted) you referred to the Panel of Experts (PoE) set up by the former UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon. The PoE Report is one of the most comprehensive reports ever written on Sri Lanka.
On page 68 there is a worrying reference to ‘extermination’ which the Report spells out. Here is what was stated:
“Extermination. Under the ICC Statute, extermination includes “intentional infliction of conditions of life, inter alia the deprivation of access to food and medicines, calculated to bring about the destruction of part of a population” (Art. 7(2)(b))
The part of the population to be exterminated has to be numerically significant.
The credible allegations support a finding of the crime against humanity of extermination insofar as the conditions imposed on civilians in the final months in the NFZ (No Fire Zone) were calculated to bring about the destruction of a significant part of the population”.
If ‘extermination’ is what is going on, it is Genocide. I have written a comprehensive article on Genocide of the Tamil people in Sri Lanka. It is on the net and also in my upcoming book, The Struggle for Justice of the Tamil People in Sri Lanka. I will send you a copy of this book when it is published.
What are my reactions to the nonsense Report?
It is a mixture of extreme anger, frustration and sadness.
I am extremely angry that a group of ‘paltering diplomats’ should be able do what they have done and get away with it.
I am frustrated that two year extensions have been given to Sri Lanka yet again to do what politicians in that country have done over and over again. I am absolutely certain that in two years time the same will be repeated. High Commissioner, when will this end? Is it when the Tamils have ceased to exist? When they are ‘exterminated’?
I am filled with sadness for the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka who pinned so much hope that some positive action will be taken at the UN HRC. They must be devastated.
I feel sad at your plight. I have followed your career in Chile for many years and the years you spent in Australia as a refugee. I think that basically you are a decent person doing an impossible job with ‘paltering diplomats’. It must be very difficult for you to submit the nonsense that was submitted. So was it for one of your predecessors, Justice Navi Pillai, one of the finest people the UN HRC is ever likely to have.
What can we do?
What will I do?
I will go on doing what I have done for the past 70 years – to stand with the Tamil people in their struggle for justice.
What can you do?
That is something that you will have to decide to save your reputation and the reputation of the UN Human Rights Council that has been decimated. It is to make a statement that you do not agree with the submission that has been made and would like to table the 15-page Submission that you made on 8 February 2019 (A//HRC/40/23).
You can visit the North and East of Sri Lanka as Justice Navi Pillay did and see what is going on. Take your own interpreter and security staff with you. You can tell those in Colombo that you can manage without their help. You cannot communicate with the people on the ground with a Sri Lankan military man or policeman standing there with a notebook.
What will the Tamils in the Sri Lankan North and East do?
I do not know. Tens of thousands have already rallied (on 11 March 2019) opposing of time given to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.
I will end with the last paragraph of the PEARL publication “Delayed or Denied? Sri Lanka’s Failing Transitional Justice Process”. PEARL’s researchers compiled and analysed over 170 English language statements made by Sri Lankan government on the subject of transitional justice. Researchers also visited the North and East of Sri Lanka to speak with the affected individuals.
I will quote the last paragraph of this important publication:
“The growing protest movement across the North-East reflects the fact that despite Sri Lanka’s grand promises in Geneva, many Tamils feel that nothing has changed for them. “Are we even in transition?” Queried one activist, echoing comments made by numerous interviewees. Others spoke of the possibility that the increasing anger within the Tamil community may spark violence. “Our children are talking about taking up arms”. Many suggested that the ongoing failure to grapple with victims and survivors’ grievances is endangering the prospects for long-term peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. “If the government doesn’t listen, there needs to be other action. If that doesn’t happen, Tamils will take up arms. This is how it all started”.
High Commissioner Bachelet, as you know from what happened in Chile, the country you come from, no one will put up with a dictatorship forever. Not even someone as powerful as Augusto Pinochet. I am aware of, and admire, your stance that as the Socialist President of Chile, you said that it would be a violation of your conscience to attend a state funeral for Pinochet. There are several ‘Pinochets’ in Sri Lanka, not just the one you mentioned in the Submission you wrote but did not present.
The tyranny of the Sri Lankan Military/Police running the North and East will end. It is only a matter of time. If violence breaks out again in Sri Lanka, the UN Human Rights Council and the UN will be responsible.