25 October, 2020

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Definitely There Are Huge Grounds For Fear, Families From Both Sides Asked My Help – Navi Pillay

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, joins Lateline live from New York to discuss her recent week-long fact-finding mission to Sri Lanka.

EMMA ALBERICI, PRESENTER: Our guest tonight is Navi Pillay, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She was born and raised in South Africa where she rose to become the first non-white female judge of the high court. She’s also served as a judge of the International Criminal Court and president of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

She has just returned from a week-long visit to Sri Lanka. Navi Pillay is the most senior UN official to visit the north since Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in 2009.

She joins us now from UN headquarters in New York. Navi Pillay we’re so pleased you could be with us.

NAVI PILLAY, UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS: Good evening and thank you for having me Emma.

EMMA ALBERICI: During your fact finding mission to Sri Lanka, did the Tamils feel free and safe to tell you their stories?

NAVI PILLAY: Let me say regularly how pleased I was that the Sri Lankan Government did not place any obstacles in my seeing whoever I wished to, going wherever I went to. And that enabled me to meet both Tamil and Sinhalese communities both sides lost family – sons, husbands, fathers. Both families from both sides just wept and asked for my help in tracing their relatives.

EMMA ALBERICI: What did they tell you about what life has been like in the four years since the end of the civil war?

NAVI PILLAY: The Tamils in particular in the north have huge complaints. For instance they feel completely threatened by the very heavy military presence there, the military have been positioned over Tamil lands, so that’s the seconds complaint that lands have been taken away.

I met about 700 people in IDP camps, all of them has been fishing folk or planted rice on paddy fields and their lands have been confiscated without compensation, some of them said that the military have built their structures over that.

Huge levels of insecurity, fear, surveillance and I saw that for myself. People whom I’d interview such as a Jesuit priest, a Christian father were immediately visited by the military even while I was still in the country and I complained to the Government about this.

EMMA ALBERICI: What evidence did you specifically uncover that led you to express deep concern that the Government of Sri Lanka was heading toward what you called “authoritarian rule”?

NAVI PILLAY: What concerned me is that previously there were various independent commissions and it was the commissions who made recommendations on who should be sitting as judges, who should be sitting on Electoral Commissions and so on and these commissions have been disbanded and all the selection now is in the hands of the President himself.

He recently created new ministry of law and order and he’s placed that under him in the presidency, similarly defence is under the presidency.

I’m also concerned that NGOs now have to undergo a registration system and that goes through the defence and obviously under the presidency so these are the authoritarian trends I was concerned about in a country that calls itself a socialist democracy, these just are totally inappropriate.

EMMA ALBERICI: This week you criticised Sri Lankans for not properly investigating allegations of war crimes during the country’s civil war. You said that if they didn’t show progress on this by March of next year that the international community would have to establish its own inquiry. That has already drawn a rebuke from Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the UN, so what happens next?

NAVI PILLAY: Let me say that all this stems from the commission set up by the Sri Lankan Government itself, called the LLRC, the lessons learnt, and the rehabilitation committee. It’s their own committee who made various recommendations including the investigation of crimes, during the conflict, and justice for victim, reparation for victims and memorial to be erected for all those who lost their lives.

And this is where the human rights council comes in, they have urged Sri Lanka to implement their own recommendations and I then reported to the council that that has not happened. Now, the LLRC recommendations fall short of our expectations on what should be done for proper accountability.

Nevertheless, they have not fulfilled even their own recommendations, I view this with some seriousness and this is why I am urging the human rights council to consider that if implementation is not carried out, say, by March next year when I will filing my further report, then the council should consider credible international investigations.

EMMA ALBERICI: Now, some of your concerns about Sri Lanka specifically where you talk about Tamils telling you of their fear and insecurity, those sorts of reports are at odds with what Australia’s own Immigration Minister found when he visited the north himself six months ago.

He said Tamils were most likely seeking asylum in Australia, not for fear of persecution but rather than they were looking for better job, a change in lifestyle?

NAVI PILLAY: I just heard your news report just before your program, Emma and here, there we heard a very public transparent harassment and violence against a candidate who eventually won in those elections. Now if something can happen where in the eye of the public you can imagine how much more is happening.

I have spoken to actual victims, I did not – I went with an open mind, I wanted to hear from the people themselves so definitely there are huge grounds for fear, people are disappearing, journalists, activists, NGOs are being harassed. These have to be investigated and stopped.

I would urge Australia and particularly the immigration department, to review each case on its merits, when they’re looking at a refugee or an aslyum seeker. and not follow the Government statement on this.

EMMA ALBERICI: More than 1,000 people from Sri Lanka have already been sent back by the Australian Government, that’s the previous Australian Government. They say they couldn’t find any evidence to justify claims of persecution. Do you think that’s likely to be because the situation has improved dramatically over the past four years or could it be because the Sri Lankan authorities have become better at covering up their misdeeds?

NAVI PILLAY: The Sri Lankan Government is justly proud of all the reconstruction, the building of roads, and other physical structures that they’ve put in place. These are obviously of benefit and it’s very visible improvement in the north, that with the help of other Governments including Australia, including the United Nations, they were able to achieve a physical reconstruction.

But that is totally incomplete if you do not address the human rights situation, address the concerns of people and this is not the image then that Australia should take on board when they’re looking at refugees. According convention on refugees, the 1951 convention to which Australia is a party, there has to be an individual case by case review of refugees and aslyum seekers.

For instance, when I was in Australia, in 2011, and visited the detention centres, I found a sizeable number of Sri Lankan refugees being held there, there was a group being held indefinitely, allegedly because of security concerns, now that is a cause for concern in August this year, the human rights committee ruled against Australia on this and requested Australia to release those detainees.

EMMA ALBERICI: Just today our very new Prime Minister Tony Abbott has expressed the hope that aslyum seekers that arrive by boats would be no more than a passing irritant for his Government and for the Indonesians. How do you feel about a world leader describing aslyum seekers as irritants?

NAVI PILLAY: I am deeply concerned by statements such as that because they promote a stigmatisation of a whole group of people and totally against the vision and concept of the convention on refugees to which Australia is a party.

Australia is actually known for having provided sanctuary and safety for many refugees, from the region and other parts of the world, Australia is known for readily rescuing people who are in distress, in boats that are unsafe and against this good record I am appalled at statements such as this which justify discrimination against a whole group, a minority group, people who are coming to Australia, because conditions in their own countries are unbearable.

And let me emphasise again – these are poor marginalised men, women and children who are seeking safety in Australia, they should be rehabilitated and will be of benefit, migrants, refugees, must be seen for the value they can add to a country, rather than as some kind of irritants or toxic waste.

EMMA ALBERICI: Is it though not legitimate for a Government to want to protect its formal immigration processes including an orderly humanitarian intake?

NAVI PILLAY: This is what the refugee convention is about. It understands the legitimate interest of a country, of Australia and Government, the Australian people, that they’re not flooded with refugees, I know that in every state nationals are very wary that their jobs are being taken away by immigrants or migrants which actually is not factually correct.

Nevertheless there is that fear I understand then that Governments do have to protect their own citizens against an influx of outsiders, but international human rights standards must be observed at all times, because these are human beings we are dealing with, they’re entitled to fundamental rights and one of them is individual screening to understand their situation and obviously no indefinite detention of people on so-called security grounds which the human rights committee has ruled against Australia in August.

EMMA ALBERICI: Finally, the intergovernmental panel on climate change which reported just in the past hours, says it’s now 95 per cent certain that global warming is a result of human activity. What to you is the most urgent human rights challenge that that presents?

NAVI PILLAY: Let me say as High Commissioner for Human Rights how concerned I am that it is the poorest women, men and children who are most affected by climate change, who have least contributed to the causes of climate change, who have the weakest voices and the least influence on policies and this is one of the rights I espouse which is the human rights of participation and consultation.

The protection of their rights must be paramount in all climate change policies. In the islands around Australia, there is deep concern, in Fiji, Kiribati for instance where they have identified hundreds of communities who will be affected by climate change.

EMMA ALBERICI: Navi Pillay we’ve run out of time. I thank you so much for taking your time to speak to us.

NAVI PILLAY: Thank you Emma.

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Latest comments

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    Rajasingham,

    Please read this carefully. Seems rather seriously at at odds with the view you presented in this blog hardly two moths ago, climing you have your ears so much more closer to the ground than the rest of us.

    You said “Tamils in the North are going about their walk of life with a smile”, and you kept highlighting the reconstruction including the new railway station as the ultimate witness to MR’s generosity towards Tamils.

    Check what Navi Pillay has to say about these. Do you think she is mistaken?

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      It is you who has to read Navaneetham Pillai’s answers in full and also her final statement before her departure from Sri Lanka.

      Do not pick and choose what you want to hear or remember. I reiterate what the government has done on the infrastructure front is tremendous. The devastation that one witnessed at the end of the war has been largely reversed. The trains running up to Kilinochchi is a miracle of sorts, considering how the railway infrastructure was totally and wantonly destroyed by the LTTE.

      There are persisting problems on the human development front and I have repeatedly highlighted this. The LTTE grabbed state lands and private lands as it wished during its reign. It burnt land related documents at the Kilinochchi Kachcheri. Its operatives now with the government , tell the government that such lands were donated to the LTTE by the adoring public! There are Tamil politicians who were involved in land fraud in cohorts with lawyers in the post-war period. Many land documents at the Jaffna Kachcheri have been tampered with.

      The land issue is further complicated by the many illegal settlements the LTTE created and the government phobia to see a tiger behind every bush, while having within its fold the tigers who mattered. There was a period post-war that the Vanni was no man’s land. There was a feeling that land was for the taking. The armed forces were at this time lording it over all land. Nobody imagined normalcy would return this fast and the original owners will return to lay claim to their lands. The government no doubt contributed to this return to near normalcy.

      Everything you hear from wherever you are, is not what it is on the ground in the north and East. The people of the north have no doubt voted in the numbers they did, because the have largely come out of the post-war coma and are in the frame of mind to see beyond the immediate horizon. Although there were instances of intimidation and violence, the conditions yet are such they were able to vote fearlessly in large numbers. They are comfortable enough now to think of asserting their right to claim their political and citizenship rights. This is progress, despite the cussedness and criminality of the government in many fronts.

      Further, conditions were much worse in the CP and NWP. Three more bags of votes cast have been discovered in St. Andrews College in Puttalam, a few days back!

      Learn to be objective and dispassionate enough to acknowledge what is right and highlight what is wrong. If not we will be struck in a groove.

      Dr.RN.

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        tell the government that such lands were donated to the LTTE by the adoring public

        Tamul youth also willing and enthusiastically joined the struggle ?

        I think, already Tamils have told that. Only the UN accused Sri Lanka for Child soldiers.

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        Rajasingham,
        Respecting your suggestion, I re-read the article – to confirm if I missed anything in Navi Pillay’s view on the two issues I questioned you about – since they were at odds with what you had said in the recent past. Here is what I came up with.
        On the issue of what life has been like in the four years since the end of the civil war
        1. The Tamils in particular in the north have huge complaints. For instance they feel completely threatened by the very heavy military presence there, the military have been positioned over Tamil lands, so that’s the seconds complaint that lands have been taken away.
        2. Their lands have been confiscated without compensation, some of them said that the military have built their structures over that.
        3. Huge levels of insecurity, fear, surveillance and I saw that for myself.

        On the issue of Reconstruction:
        The Sri Lankan Government is justly proud of all the reconstruction, the building of roads, and other physical structures that they’ve put in place. These are obviously of benefit and it’s very visible improvement in the north, that with the help of other Governments including Australia, including the United Nations, they were able to achieve a physical reconstruction.

        But that is totally incomplete if you do not address the human rights situation, address the concerns of people.

        Can you please identify the specific sentences I had missed where she is in agreement with your view views I specifically referred to. Please be specific without beating about the bush. The two views you expressed/assured us are that (a) the people are walking about with a smile as they see better future, and (b) they are appreciative of the reconstruction work done (Note that she specifically states that “the Govt is proud”, “it is a visible improvement in the North”, but as far as the Tamils are concerned “it is totally incomplete”. If you like I will be happy to also cite recent views expressed by Wigneswaran and Sumandiran on these reconstructions that has earned your veneration.)

        Rajasingham, just raising a tirade against LTTE at the drop of a hat, in a lame effort to distract and to cop out of a rational explanation is not an educated or courageous way to respond to an argument – rather unbecoming of one seeking respect for a duly earned academic title.

        I hope you will justify your requesting me to re-read the article – if not, I will know where to send the next guy looking for the coprophagic calf that you had mentioned elsewhere.

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    Great lady. Exposed everything without fear. She really knew the mental sufferings of the oppressed Tamils.
    Look at her statement – ‘these are poor marginalised men, women and children who are seeking safety in Australia, they should be rehabilitated and will be of benefit, migrants, refugees, must be seen for the value they can add to a country, rather than as some kind of irritants or toxic waste’. These are truths.

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    Kumar R
    for gods sake you take Rajasingham seriously?

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      Yes indded Rajesh. After all he is not just NR — he is DR.NR (not unlike DR. DJ and DR.RW).

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    Most of Tamils who live in notrh and East of Sri Lanka are lead by the LTTE suporters who live in abroad. They asked them to complain about Sri Lankan government then they do it. They hope then they also can go to abroad and have a comfortable life. I am tail who live in Colombo with Sinhalese and Muslims. I face only common difficulties not specialty for Tamils. I only asks you to let Tamils live peacefully. We don’t want another conflict. If there is more war again poor Tamils have to be killed in battle. politician and tamils who live in Colombo and abroad they have comfortable life. they have good education, jobs so on. As a part time jobs they do the politics using innocent Tamils.

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    Navi Pillay has indeed learnt so very much, about the ground situation in SL and the Tamil NE!!!

    Gota’s swabasha educated paid idiot workers who write rubbish in CT comments sections, should report this to him. But, then, they are spineless; do not have common sense or intelligence! Also have the worst cases of affliction of the Sinhala Budhist frog in the well, small islander syndrome!!!

    It is most unfortunate that the average, decent Sinhala Buddhist person in SL does not learn about media reports such as this one. SL writers such as Malinda S., Dayan J, Rasika Jayakody and Dharisha Bastians (plus many more) distort and suppress the truth exceedingly well!!!

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    Respected Madam,

    It has been known to many of us that the development in north was aimed towards changing demography by settling huge military and Sinhalese. This alteration was aimed to rob the political advantages that are with Tamils being the majority of that area. Please observe Mr. Sumanthiran speeches and columns in CT and elsewhere which clearly expressed the concerns of development not being distributed to the locals while grabbing their private land for establishing military and other machinery which are not immediate need of the day. The women and young girls are vulnerable and subjected to sexual harassment and common men are subjected to intimidation. It will be shame for UNHRC to rely on GoSL to implement any measure in restoring the people rights and livelihoods, let alone expecting it to conduct war crimes in last stages of war.

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      Ask Russia and China about UNHCR.

      Navi Pillai can talk and write reports. That is all.

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    This introduction does not talk that Navi Pillai’s grand parents had connections to Sri Lankan Tamils. Navi Pillai also sympathizes with terrorists because her husband was also a terrorist and she did her best to save him. So, the Tamilness of Navi Pillai is not mentioned any where. Listen to the ALJazeera introduction of Navi Pillai.

    Secondly, Navi pillai does not talk about and does not feel that she was set up by LTTE tamils by making she meet only the specific people that Extremist Tamils wanted her to meet. She does not have any second thoughts about what she heard or what she read.

    IF Navi pillai is honest and genuine she should clear the accusations that President Mahinda Rajapakse mentioned in the ALjazeera interview.

    For example, Navi Pillai had not told many things, to the PResident Rajapakse, that she mentioned in her report to UN. How can she as a responsible UN – employee and as the Human rights Commissioner to UN hide things to the President of that country where she was investigating about and then write a report with different accusations ?

    That is why countries like Russia mentioned that they wanted to stay away from UNHCR because it is a politicized organization of certain members of the UN.

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      [Edited out], you are too thick to understand what the lady says. you chingala pariahs are the worlds ruthless terrorists.

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        RAMA;

        you should be just another low caste Vassal.

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          JimSofty

          “you should be just another low caste Vassal.”

          What do you exactly mean by low caste?

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    Dr. Pillay should have listened to the Interview that our President gave to Al-Jazeera TV. Answers for all the questions raised by Dr. Pillay are there in our Presidents answers to Al-Jazeera and all the allegations against him and his Government has been proved beyond any doubt by non other than the President himself.

    During 25 or more minuet’s interview, all what he said was utter few word’s and shake his head only as he could not find an answers for questions. He was just like “Gale Paharapu Balala”

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      your president. he is a [Edited out] got a short temper. anger management will help him i think.

  • 0
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    why has shit lanka produced only [Edited out] as presidents and prime ministers for the past 65 years.

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      Rama,You are wrong. Sir John and Dudley Senanayake were gentlemen.

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        Medalankara, you are also wrong. Sir John and Dudley are statesmen

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    It is a great pity that the UN body is manipulated by a few wealthy countries to bully a smaller country like Sri Lanka. The commissioner is partly responsible for the impending demise of an organisation that had the potential to serve mankind well. She has the tenacity to encourage these nations to meddle and destroy societies in various parts of the globe or look the other way when they did. Sri Lanka is targeted as a test case whereby the West will do their best to impose R2P against opposition from China, Russia, Brazil … . They will persue their goal with vigor, having lost their project to bomb Syria due to Russian and Chinese opposition (at UNSC).
    Would Navi Pillai dare to compare post conflict progress in Sri Lanka, against the ground realities in Iraq, Afghanistan, Gaza where Western nations have gone in to “protect” the people and “restore democracy”?
    Like some diaspora Tamils, she would rather see all of Sri Lanka to be blown to bits, because they cannot have it their way (whic is all or nothing and Sinhalese do not matter).

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      I think so too.

      NAvi Pillai is destroying UNHCR.

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        And you and your ilk help distroying srilanka.

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    ” the military have been positioned over Tamil lands ”

    No such lands exist in any part of Sri Lanka. This is the land that they demanded be handed over to them to fulfil their fantasy Eelam. Tamils do own land privately in all parts of the country, but that is NOT the context in which Navi Pillay made the claim.
    The Security forces should do their utmost to release private land that they occupy to the proven owners whenever feasible and move over to state land.

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      ram

      “No such lands exist in any part of Sri Lanka.”

      I hate to agree with you.

      However I just like to remind you that the entire land once belonged to my ancestors. I would like to claim it back in the fullness of time.

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    When Sri Lankans waited for Navavi Pillai’s visit with an open mind just as she says that she reached here with an open mind we too waited to ascertain how impartial she is from a holistic perspective. We Sri Lankans (Sinhalese, Tamils, Muslims) lived through the last 30 years are better able to assess our situation and find that we have to go some way on human rights, democracy, rule of law etc. However, Navavi’s assertion goes beyond the word ‘unbiased’ and this has made many who were open minded to close their minds to Pillai. Many of her conclusions are based on what she heard from different people and they are mostly opinions and not facts. So her visit was not a fact finding mission but a mission to collect opinions or re-reinforce her mind. She did not say anything different to what she has been telling prior to her visit and as such the visit was just a show and used to justify her previously held views. As such, it can be concluded that she is biased and partial.

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    This lady has so much compassion for the downtrodden amongst all human beings and fully deserves her position in the UNHCR. She is such a fine example to a lot of other hangers-on, who are just a waste of time.

    It is she who deserves to be awarded a Nobel Prize for Peace, rather than some of the other recent jokers who have been recipients, including that fellow who presides over the world’s strongest military, the cowardly drone-bomber.

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