By Paul Newman –
As the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay, a former International Jurist of eminence presented the Introduction of the Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka (A/HRC/25/23), Sri Lanka once again was up in arms calling the report as biased, partial, unwarranted and rejected it.
In her address the High Commissioner stated, “The progress in reconstruction and resettlement of internally displaced persons, elections to the Northern Provincial Council, and in implementing some LLRC recommendations, such as giving effect to the trilingual policy.
We regret to report that there has been little progress in other critical areas identified by the Council in resolution 22/1 and by the LLRC, notably the need to ensure independent and credible investigations into past violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.
Almost five years since the end of the conflict, it is important for the Human Rights Council to recall the magnitude and gravity of the violations alleged to have been committed at that time by the Government and the LTTE, which left thousands of civilians killed, injured or missing. Failure to address the grief and trauma among victims and survivors undermines confidence in the State and reconciliation.
In recent years, the Government has established various mechanisms with the task to investigate past violations. But none have had the independence to be effective or inspire confidence among victims and witnesses”.
The High Commissioner also pointed out that as there were new witnesses emerging and stating that they were prepared to testify against an International mechanism, they should be given a fair chance. It is here one need to impartially analyze that even a sacked Chief Justice of Sri Lanka was not given a fair chance to defend herself. In such a situation how can an ordinary victim belonging to oppressed community expect justice in the domestic process? We also need to remember the scores of Sinhala brethren who disappeared in the 1980s and families do not know the whereabouts of their graves.
In the Sri Lankan response, as usual it was made clear that Sri Lanka rejects this report along with its recommendation. Sri Lanka termed the report as ‘reflects bias and is tantamount to an unwarranted interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state’.
Sri Lanka also calls the ‘UN Panel of Experts’ (PoE) report of 2011 as discredited and argued that the report of the OHCHR was based on the report of the PoE.
The Sri Lankan ambassador highlighted the progress made by the state with regard to the Witness and Victim Protection Bill, which would be tabled in mid April in the Sri Lankan parliament. The Department of Census and Statistics has prepared its interim report on the island wide Census on Death/Injury to Persons and Property Damages Due to Conflict from 1982. This author had written an article on the same dubious issue and can be read in this link Conducting A Census; Another Cosmetic Exercise Before Geneva 2014 .
The Presidential Commission to investigate cases of alleged disappearances of persons in the North and Eastern Provinces from 1983 – 2009 was ongoing. This apart the other highlights of the progress were resettlement of IDPs, rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants, reconstruction, reduction of military presence, demining, resolution of land issues, removal of high security zones, restoration of civil administration, housing, infrastructure development, livelihood development, Northern Provincial council elections, restoration of democratic governance on former conflict affected areas and the Parliamentary Select Committee process and the setting up of the National Plan of Action.
The OHCHR report gave due credit to certain areas of progress in reconstruction and resettlement of internally displaced persons, elections to the Northern Provincial Council, and in implementing some LLRC recommendations, such as giving effect to the trilingual policy.
When one carefully takes a look at the achievements highlighted by the state of Sri Lanka, they can make their own judgment. Further, Sri Lanka also stated that it continues to maintain vigilance in the face of credible evidence on the resurgence of terrorist activity by the LTTE. Here one clearly understands that this is a ploy of the government to continue its militarization of the North.
When it was the turn of the countries to speak many unaddressed issues were highlighted by the European Union, Montenegro, USA, France, Ireland, UK, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Austria, Japan, Macedonia, Germany, Norway, Switzerland, Belgium, Canada, Denmark.
- Attacks on Human Rights defenders, lawyers, civil society members, journalists
- Lack of political will to establish a credible domestic investigations
- Need for an Independent International Investigations
- Continuing Impunity
- Attacks on non Buddhist places of worship
- Sexual harassment
- Continuing Disappearances
- Lack of progress in the killing of 16 ACF workers
- Continuing violence and security situation on ground worsening including deliberate attacks on religious minorities, women and girls
- Fulfill International obligations on Human Rights treaties signed by Sri Lanka
- Continued detention of those seeking justice (Case of Mrs.Balachandran and her daughter was referred by Germany)
- Open its doors to human rights groups
- Shrinkage of democratic space
- Freedom of press, essential for a democracy
On the other hand there were countries which supported Sri Lanka, among them were Russia, China, Pakistan, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Zimbabwe, Laos, Bhutan, Uganda, Bolivia, Nigeria, Venezuela, Egypt, Vietnam, Sudan, Thailand, Belarus, Southern Sudan and Bangladesh. These countries contented that it was
- An invasion of the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and interference in its internal affairs.
- Politicization of double standards against countries of the south
- No acknowledgement of the progress made after 30 years of war
- International Investigation would lead to a negative impact on reconciliation
- OHCHR exceeds the mandate
- Provided unfettered access to the Ms.Navi Pillai
- Successful in wiping out terrorism
- Held successful election in the Northern Provincial council
- Welcome the setting up of the LLRC and the NPA
- Has addressed the issue of poverty
- Should be given more time
Human Rights transcend International borders, a violation in US, UK, Kashmir, Afghanistan, Myanmar or any part of the world is a blot on the dignity of human beings in any part of the world. Human Rights are inalienable as a person is inherently entitled simply because she or he is a human being.
Countries tackling terrorism must adhere to International obligations and there is an impending need for an International Inquiry into War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity before the world wakes to the reality of investigating whether there was a genocide that took place in Mullivaikal. At the end of the session one was left wondering with the remark made by Ireland which stated that “Reconciliation can come only with respect and thinking from the other’s perspective!” Hope this happens at the earliest.