by Easwaran Rutnam
The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) concluded its 30th session last week with the Government scoring, what it claims to be a “historic victory” by being able to win the support of the entire Council for the resolution on Sri Lanka.
However, that historic victory got off to a bad start with the police being accused of alleged torture in the Seya Sadewmi rape and murder case.
The 17-year-old boy arrested as a suspect in the case had claimed that he was tortured and abused before being released when the CID found that he had no direct links to the rape and murder of the child.
The issue of torture also drew the attention of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Thursday when he formally presented the report on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council.
Zeid said the Government has yet to clarify the number and identity of detainees still held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) and emergency regulations.
“Reports have continued to suggest the existence of secret and unacknowledged places of detention. These require urgent investigation. According to local civil society sources, from January to August this year, 19 people were arrested under the PTA. Twelve of them remain in detention and 14 cases of torture have been reported to us by credible sources since January 2015. I welcome the Government’s commitment to review and repeal the PTA, which has long provided a legal context facilitating arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture,” he said.
The monitoring of the progress of the actions taken by the Government to meet its commitments under the resolution at the UNHRC, which was cosponsored by Sri Lanka, will see Sri Lanka remain on the UNHRC agenda even next year.
Titled “promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, the resolution calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to continue to assess progress with the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes related to reconciliation, accountability and human rights, and to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its 32nd session, and a comprehensive report followed by discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its 34th session, both will take place next year.
OHCHR has said it is ready to provide technical assistance to the Government to implement the resolution adopted by consensus by the UNHRC.
The High Commissioner himself will be visiting Sri Lanka to assess firsthand the situation on the ground.
The OHCHR headed by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein would require USD 337,800 to implement the resolution on Sri Lanka, our sister newspaper the Daily Leaderreported last week.
The Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts informed the Council in writing on the budget requirements.
The Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts says the USD 337,800 is not part of the 2016 – 2017 UN budget, so funds have not been allocated for it.
In order to obtain the required funds, the UN budget will be revised and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was to inform the UN General Assembly during its ongoing 70th session on the additional funds required.
The Daily Leader quoted Johannes Huisman, Director of the Office of Programme Planning, Budget and Accounts as saying USD 337,800 will be required for OHCHR Geneva staff to conduct six missions to Colombo of 14 days each and for local transport and other expenses during the field missions,.
The funds will also be required to support the review and assessment of progress on implementing the recommendations related to reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.
Johannes Huisman said that the funds will also cover conference services for the translation and processing of the final report.
Implement 13A: IndiaIndia says the Consensus Resolution, co-sponsored by Sri Lanka, underscores the collective desire of Sri Lankans expressed in elections earlier this year for change, reconciliation and unity and the rejection of extremist voices.
As Sri Lanka’s closest neighbour, India cannot remain untouched by developments in that country. India has always supported efforts to preserve Sri Lanka’s character as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual and multi-religious society in which all citizens, including the Sri Lankan Tamil community, can live in equality, safety and harmony, and prosper and fulfil their aspirations within a united Sri Lanka.
Towards this direction, we reiterate our firm belief that the meaningful devolution of political authority through the implementation of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka and building upon it would greatly help the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
India hopes that with the sagacity and political will of its leadership and the support of its people, Sri Lanka will achieve genuine reconciliation and development.
Tamil Diaspora remains an important constituency: South AfricaSouth Africa welcomes this resolution by consensus because by its adoption by consensus, it will signify a turning point in the relations between the Human Rights Council and the Government of Sri Lanka. This is indeed also a turning point for the people of Sri Lanka, particularly the victims of the civil war.
South Africa has always promoted the need for a peaceful, sustainable, long-term political solution, which will be achieved through broad consultations and an inclusive dialogue process amongst the people of Sri Lanka. In this respect, we have offered to share our experiences on finding a lasting political solution and to develop an organic model for truth telling, justice and reconciliation with the government in a non-prescriptive manner.
South Africa appreciates that the draft resolution before this Council recognises decisive steps the Government of Sri Lanka has taken in the nine months since it took office, towards the process of reconciliation and addressing the domestic challenges of the justice and judicial systems. This is a fact also acknowledge by the OISL and the High Commissioner’s reports. South Africa commends the Government for the bold steps it has undertaken and the commitment it is showing towards the implementation of the recommendations of the report.
While there is recognition of the positive step taken, the High Commissioner’s report also highlights the endemic violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law including the lack of credibility in Sri Lanka’s domestic mechanism. South Africa believes that the establishment of a credible domestic mechanism on accountability, truth telling and reconciliation must be underpinned by sincere political dialogue process between all concerned parties, which includes the Sinhalese, Tamil and Muslim communities to bring about a lasting political solution and the achievement of sustainable peace for the people of Sri Lanka. The Tamil Diaspora remains an important constituency, and its support is critical in fostering a real and meaningful dialogue.
In this respect, South Africa calls for an effective implementation of the constructive recommendations in the report including the return of private land, missing persons, torture and sexual and gender-based violence. We also call on the Government to fulfil its commitment to the devolution of political authority through the 13th Amendment of the Constitution of Sri Lanka and the review of the Victim and Witness Protection Act and the Prevention of Terrorism Act.
This is an opportunity for the people of Sri Lanka to resolutely progress towards reconciliation, peace, stability and nation building. These are dependent on credibly investigating the alleged violations of human rights to avoid no-recurrence.
In conclusion, President of South Africa welcomes the collaborative spirit of the resolution between the Government of Sri Lanka and the Office of the High Commissioner, including the special procedures and mandate holders. We encourage Sri Lanka to continue in this path for the good of its people cognisant of the challenges ahead and the delicate balance that the Government needs to maintain in its pursuit of a lasting peace in the country.
What the Government and the people of Sri Lanka need is support and nurturing by the international community as they embark on this difficult journey