The External Affairs Minister Professor G. L. Peiris at several occasions has accused the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein alleging that he maintains double standards when it comes to dealing with Sri Lanka.
Speaking to The Sunday Leader, several civil society and human rights activists expressed their views on these remarks.
Being Offensive Not The Best Forward Defence
Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, Executive Director, Centre for Policy Alternatives
The High Commissioner for Human Rights has said very categorically that the Sri Lankan government is behaving in a quite unreasonable fashion. His point is simply that in the UN resolution there is a committee of investigation set up under the office of the High Commissioner and I think it would be appropriate for the government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with that investigation.
The allegations are against both the LTTE and the government of Sri Lanka and therefore it is appropriate to cooperate with the investigation. The office of the High Commissioner would be taking action against it. There is a report that should come out in March 15. But our country may well take notes for the government’s response to the High Commissioner and they might take actions accordingly.
I think everyone is waiting for the report of the Commissioner of Investigation. Our government won’t realize that in international politics, being offensive is not the best forward defence.
Accusations Would Further Isolate Sri Lanka
Sudarshana Gunawardana, Executive Director at Rights Now Collective for Democracy
The investigation was launched as a result of the third UN resolution on the same matter. First and second resolutions were in 2012 and 2013. There was a heavy lobby asking for an international investigation. Their position was that the Sri Lankan government cannot be tasked to conduct an independent local investigation – therefore the international investigations were needed. That was also the position taken by the panel of experts appointed by the Secretary General. The government still failed to conduct necessary investigations. Our position was that we asked the government to conduct credible national investigations. But that was not fulfilled.
As a result of that the 2014 resolution was passed. Thereby, the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was asked to launch an international investigation which is internationally accepted. This resolution is proposed by the United States and was supported by other powerful countries with a political will. Now the government is saying that they are not willing to cooperate with the investigation and will not allow the investigators in Sri Lanka – and they have also said that anybody who cooperates with the investigation would be penalized. The government was totally acting against the investigation. The investigation was both on the government and the LTTE.
The government has been projecting the government’s conduct and lack of government’s ability by preventing a better investigation from happening. It is not one country but a collection of countries which we are part of that has passed this resolution in support of an investigation. The government, instead cooperating with them, is making various allegations which are ridiculous in the face of the international community. The Commission has extended their deadline. Even the Sri Lankan Commissions have extended their deadlines to create space for those who wanted to make submissions after the deadline. But the point is that for the investigation they will only take the credible matters. The consequences of these accusations would be to further isolate the country.
Hard Actions Bound To Follow On Hard Words
Dr Jehan Perera, Executive Director, National Peace Council
The UN-led international focus on the issue of war crimes in Sri Lanka continues to increase, with no sign of getting less. Previously it was believed by many in Sri Lanka, including by those in the government, that Sri Lanka’s problem at the UN was being caused, if not made worse, by the actions of the previous Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay. It was believed that her Tamil ethnicity had made her biased against Sri Lanka. Therefore she too became a part of the global anti-Sri Lanka Diaspora in Sri Lankan eyes and her departure from office was expected to change the UN’s attitude to the issue of accountability for war time problems of human rights. But this has not happened.
The new Human Rights Commissioner is even stronger in his position that Sri Lanka must address the issue of accountability. There is a need to think newly about how best to deal with the situation. It is unfortunate that the government is getting into an escalated conflict with the UN system where it cannot possibly prevail.
The Office of the UN Human Rights Commissioner is one of the many UN institutions that have been set up to further the overall goal of world peace and stability for which the UN was set up in the aftermath of the Second World War, which led to the loss of millions of lives and the destruction of a significant section of the world’s heritage.
The UN system cannot permit one of its key institutions to be weakened or undermined due to the actions of one of its 193 member countries. When the Sri Lankan government rejects the UN High Commissioner’s statement using strong language, which may meet the expectations of the electorate and of the majority of Sri Lankan people, it is challenging an important component of the UN system. This is not going to solve the problem, only make it worse. Hard actions are bound to follow on hard words, and this will be bad for Sri Lanka.
This Will Adversely Affect Us In The Long Run
J. C. Weliamuna, Human Rights and Constitutional Lawyer
The government initially used their party allies like Wimal Weerawansa’s party to attack the UN and now the government is directly attacking the UN agencies.
The UN will not respond to those attacks the way our government do.
But this will adversely affect us in the long run. This is exactly how North Korea and Gadhafi responded to UN.
We Need To Gain The Dignity We Have Lost
Sunil Jayasekara, Convener, Free Media Movement