11 December, 2023


An Open Letter To The High Commissioner For Human Rights – VI

By Brian Senewiratne –

Dr. 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.

May 2009

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”.

Nikki Haley

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”.

Geoffrey Robertson

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.

Related posts:

An Open Letter To The High Commissioner For Human Rights

An Open Letter To The High Commissioner For Human Rights – Part II

An Open Letter To The High Commissioner For Human Rights – Part III

An Open Letter To The High Commissioner For Human Rights – IV

An Open Letter To The High Commissioner For Human Rights – V

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Latest comments

  • 6

    I am wondering why this guy who write letters to High Commissioner of Human Rights bringing all kinds of cooked up charges do not write a letter charging Indian Peace Keeping Force (IPKF) for the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by them during their military operation against LTTE. They are the guys who really committed war crimes not Sri Lankan Armed Forces. Sri Lankan Armed Forces gave peace in mind to Demala mothers who were worried that their children will be grabbed by LTTE to be recruited as child soldiers.
    Brian Seneviratne. Are you scared of Modi that you do not write against IPKF?

    • 5

      Blind eye
      Why don’t you write to modi?

      • 5

        Eagle modaya won’t write to MODI in India as Lord Buddha was born there.

      • 4

        What I suggested was Brian Seneviratne should write to High Commissioner for Human Rights on war crimes and crimes against humanity committed by IPKF. Demala people suffered a lot due to IPKF brutalities. They could not bring peace although they came to do that. Sri Lankan Armed Forces brought peace to all communities (Demala, Sinhala, Muslim, Malay) by making huge sacrifices to end LTTE terrorism.

    • 5

      While the UNHRC show is on-going in Geneva to distract everyone, in Jaffna, the SL navy is land grabbing in Mandathivu — for Washington’s Millennium Challenge Corp. Fake projects.
      Its wheels within wheels.
      Human Rights is a game for the US-UK and their arms trade and war games..

    • 5

      Eagle eye modaya,

      Crimes are still ongoing, including torture and sexual violence. If you can’t accept these facts, please keep your stupid mouth shut. Let the gentleman Mr.Seneviratne continue his good work.

      • 2

        SL kolla,
        “Crimes are still ongoing, including torture and sexual violence.”
        Sword wielding ‘Awa Kalliya’ is committing crimes and torturing their opponents. Demalu rape even underage girls and Demala politicians help them to escape. Great! Isn’t it.
        “If you can’t accept these facts, please keep your stupid mouth shut.”
        Demala people do not talk facts. They fabricate all kinds of lies to mislead the international community. We will expose all the lies like ‘Traditional Homeland’.

        • 1

          “Demala people do not talk facts”
          Sorry to hear that your mrs do not talk facts.

  • 2

    author: Barbara Seneviratne “An Open Letter To The High Commissioner For Human Rights – VI”
    Correction: Brian not Barbara.

  • 0

    This comment was removed by a moderator because it didn’t abide by our Comment policy.For more detail see our Comment policy https://www.colombotelegraph.com/index.php/comments-policy-2

  • 1

    This is who guy promoted and encourage by Separatism will leads to Extremism this is another form of Terrorism by so-called man called Brian….. Terrorism is political another virus against People’s Democracy, that is world-wide political phomnnomone promoted by Hegemonies to gain globe-power in different areas. Only way to created Puppet Regime is that quite possible to support to Established Puppet regime in many parts of Globally.
    Guwan sudu Brian Senavratahaan …….. has no political philosophy except he knows language of writing English!

    Knowing that E…..is not be qualified for become Politicatican on behalf of Tamil spokesmen in globally. For his personal reputation is good for Brian by staying LTTE + TNA good books.
    But that is unachievable mission of Tamil diasporas Politics for Tamil Home cannot or Non-achievable project that Tamil Homeland of Tamil Nadu by that remain Republic OF India survival in Globe Map .

    By the way Brian effortless by non brain-work for Tamil homeland remain in powerful in Tamil Nadu India. No need say any other Homeland in Island of Sri lanakn , but that is awaiting for Tamil Empire in Globally by Tip if Indian sub-contatantial .

  • 0

    I suggest Brian S, the Australian citizen right to US and Donald Trump. Trump threatened ICC. They capitulated and said they will NOT investigate alleged war crimes by US troops in Afghanistan. Trump attacked UNHRC. Sooka will be pooka if she tries to deal with US. Remember how they had to back-off when Baharain was criticized? Why don’t you try a campaign to protect Assange too? He is after all, a fellow citizen of Australia like you.

    Excerpt from Island Editorial on April 17th for people like Brian maama who used to claim to a “close relative” of CBK. Not at all close but that was his source of credibility those days.

    The Trump administration minced no words, when it called the UNHRC ‘a cesspool of political bias’ before pulling out of it. Now, President Trump has called the ICC ‘illegitimate’. In September last year, US National Security Adviser John Bolton threatened sanctions against the ICC if it tried to prosecute US citizens for war crimes. International human rights groups have let out a howl of protest, criticising Trump’s statement, but they are all barks and no bite in dealing with western powers. The US does not care a damn about their protests, which are limited to media statements.

    The ICC’s abortive bid to probe war crimes allegations against the US has given the lie to the yahapalana government’s claim that since Sri Lanka is not signatory to the aforesaid treaty, no ICC probe can be conducted against its military. The US had to resort to threats to abort the ICC investigation, but countries like Sri Lanka are too weak to do so. Having been humiliated, the ICC might turn on soft targets as a face-saving exercise.

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