Government Braces For Pillay’s Parting Shot

  • Pillay to seek cooperation

By Easwaran Rutnam

The month of June is set to be a crucial time for the Government as the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) launches the much anticipated investigation into the war in Sri Lanka.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, is expected to refer to the investigations when she makes her opening speech at the 26th Session of the UN Human Rights Council which begins meeting in Geneva on Tuesday. The focus will be on the composition of the Commission with several names already being mooted including that of former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The Tamil National Alliance (TNA) has begun holding public meetings to gather support for the international investigation and one such meeting was held in the East last week.

“I note also that last month marked the fifth anniversary of the end of the war in Sri Lanka, where the scars created by terrorism and conflict have yet to heal.  My Office has now put in place a staff team that will be supported by several experts and Special Procedures mandate holders, to conduct the comprehensive investigation mandated by this Council in order to advance accountability, and thus reconciliation. I encourage the Government to take this opportunity to cooperate with a credible truth-seeking process,” Pillay notes in a prepared speech which she will deliver on Tuesday.

TNA MP M.A. Sumanthiran said that meetings are being held in all the districts in order to explain to the Tamils the importance of the investigation which was authorized by the UN Human Rights Council in March. He said that the investigation is expected to begin in about two weeks’ time and the TNA wants to prepare the public to give evidence before the Commission, which will conduct the investigations, if required. “We understand the investigation will begin in two weeks time. By then our people can be prepared to reveal the truth,” Sumanthiran said.

The UN Human Rights Council had in March adopted a US sponsored resolution which calls for an investigation into alleged war crimes committed between 2002 and 2009. The investigation is to be conducted by a Commission appointed by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Government maintains stand

M_Id_391989_Navi_PillayThe Government however said it will not assist the UNHRC to conduct investigations in Sri Lanka and insisted that even visas will not be approved for any member of the Commission to visit Sri Lanka to conduct the probe. Government spokesman, Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said the Government position has been that it does not accept the US resolution under which the investigation on Sri Lanka was approved. Rambukwella said that since the resolution has been rejected there is no question of any process affiliated to that being assisted.

He also said the Ministry of External Affairs will decide on the visas for members of the Commission who will be appointed by Navi Pillay. On reports that former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is to be appointed as part of the investigation team, Rambukwella said that Annan will be given a visa if he visits Sri Lanka as a tourist but if he comes to investigate the war, the External Affairs Ministry will most likely decide against it.

The Government feels that outsiders investigating Sri Lanka’s war constitutes interference in Sri Lanka’s domestic issues but the TNA feels a probe will help bring justice to the victims.

Diaspora hopeful

The Tamil Diaspora meanwhile remains hopeful that an international investigation will reveal more than what some expect.

The Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE), in an email to The Sunday Leader, said they hope that, based on the findings of the international investigation, the UN Security Council will either refer the matter to the International Criminal Court or will establish an International Tribunal similar to the Former Yugoslavia Tribunal.

“When there is overwhelming evidence of such serious crimes, we don’t believe that China and Russia – for their own integrity and respectability – will bail out Sri Lanka. Sudan is a case in point. We also hope and expect that the Secretary General will give unequivocal support for the investigation,” the TGTE media unit said in the email.

TGTE added that while they welcome the UN Secretary General’s “Rights Up Front” policy following the UN Internal Review Report on Sri Lanka (Petrie Report), the Secretary General has remained silent on Sri Lanka, and his spokesperson explained on February 6, that “ultimately it is up to different member states to determine whether there will be an international process”.

“Given the findings of the UNSG’s Internal Review Report (Petrie Report) namely, the “systemic failure” of the UN during the final stages of the war, sidelining of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights during the war; instruction to the UN/SG’s Advisor on Genocide “not to speak out” and the ongoing months’ long massacre of civilians, the Secretary General has an obligation to ensure that Justice is done, if not for any other reason but for the sake of the very integrity of the Secretary General’s office and the United Nations as an institution,” TGTE noted.

The TGTE says it has collected more than 150,000 petitions calling for the UN Secretary General to refer the political and military leaders of Sri Lanka to the prosecutor of the International Mechanism recommended by the UNSG’s Panel of Experts. More than half of the petitions have been sent to him from India and TGTE says it will send other 79,028 petitions next week.

Political solution

Meanwhile the TNA is focused on ensuring that a political solution for the Tamils is reached soon and the party has sought proposals from the public in Sri Lanka, the Diaspora and others for a solution to the ethnic issue.

TNA Parliamentarian Suresh Premachandran said that the proposals will be used as a basis to draft the final political solution to the ethnic conflict. Premachandran said the proposals can be emailed via tnaproposal@gmail.com or handed over to the TNA office in Jaffna.

He said that five years after the war ended the people continue to suffer and need a permanent solution. He said the proposals for the solution will be accepted by the TNA till the end of this month and a draft solution will be formulated next month.

The Government has already said that the TNA must join the Parliamentary Select Committee on the National Issue to discuss constitutional changes which will be a step towards a political solution. However the TNA has refused to join the PSC as they feel its main goal is to reduce the powers in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, and as far as the TNA goes it wants the 13thAmendment implemented in full.

Pillay’s final goodbye

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will be attending the Human Rights Council for the last time as the High Commissioner at the twenty-sixth regular session to be held from 10 to 27 June, 2014 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

On the first day, Pillay will present an update on the activities of her office, marking the last time she does so before stepping down as High Commissioner in August this year.  Pillay’s presentation will be followed by a general debate on the annual report of the High Commissioner.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, following consultations with the Chairmen of the regional groups of Member States, had informed the General Assembly of his intention to appoint Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein of Jordan as the new United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein is currently Jordan’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, a post he held previously for six and a half years, from 2000 to 2007.

From 2007 to 2010 he served as Jordan’s Ambassador to the United States and non-resident Ambassador to Mexico. He also served as Jordan’s Deputy Permanent Representative at the United Nations, with the rank of Ambassador, from 1996 to 2000.

Earlier several names had been speculated as the possible candidates to replace Pillay, including  Marzuki Darusman, the author of the Darusman report on Sri Lanka.

The Government is meanwhile preparing to counter allegations expected to be raised through the international probe on Sri Lanka. External Affairs Ministry sources said that the Government is hopeful it will be able to present a case before the international community and win strong backing to prevent the outcome of the international probe from having any serious impact on Sri Lanka.