The decision to defer the human rights report on Sri Lanka by six months by UN Human Rights High Commissioner Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, received mixed reactions from different stake holders here in the domestic front as well as elsewhere.
The Government immediately welcomed the reciprocation while two key sponsors of the March 2014 resolution which mandated the investigation and report, the US and the UK, aligned with High Commissioner Prince Zeid’s decision on the basis of giving time to a new government in office. However, diaspora groups like the British Tamil Forum have expressed disappointment.
The Tamil National Alliance, too responded in a similar tone initially, with the party’s hardliner and member of Parliament for Jaffna district K. Suresh Premachandran voicing the report must be tabled on schedule on March 25, because the Tamil people of Sri Lanka had been anxiously waiting for its release.
The Government’s approach towards the upcoming UNHRC session, that had Sri Lanka on its agenda, began much before Minister Mangala Samaraweera’s official visit to the US from February 11 – 12. Presidential Senior Advisor on Foreign Relations Dr.Jayantha Dhanapala undertook a trip to Geneva late January and met with the Human Rights Chief on the advice of the Government.
The former UN Under Secretary General, as a special envoy of President Sirisena briefed the Jordanian Prince on the commitments of the new government to address outstanding matters of concern and the future program of action to deal with alleged human rights issues.
Subsequently, a week ago, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera held discussions with US Secretary of State John Kerry and UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon during his first and highly fruitful official trip to the US after assuming office.
After the two crucial meetings, the Minister told media his Government was seeking to delay the scheduled March 25 release of Human Rights Report on Sri Lanka till August until a contemplated domestic judicial mechanism is in place. He made it clear that the matter was a key discussion point during his current visit, although the final word of any deferral would be made in Geneva.
Later, the much awaited news broke in Geneva, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights recommended to the Council to delay the ‘consideration of report into alleged human rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka for six months until September 2015′.
The Sunday Observer spoke to several key personalities on this latest development and their respective stance on the crucial decision by the UN Human Rights Council last week.
JHU – Power and Energy Minister Champika Ranawaka We are pleased about the latest development but as far as the JHU is concerned we flatly refuse that there has been a genocide of Tamil people in Sri Lanka. Only the racists will imply anything to that effect.
There has been a kind of ethnic cleansing in the North and East of Sinhala and Muslim communities, they were uprooted and chased away or killed by the LTTE terrorists. This ethnic cleansing took place from 1984 to 2009.
We have a very strong internal mechanism to investigate illegal activities including human rights violations by members of the security forces or any person for that matter. We have illustrated our willingness to carry out an independent domestic inquiry.
Former President Mahinda Rajapaksa appointed two commissions, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and the Missing Persons Commission. We are awaiting the reports by Justice Maxwell Paranagama and Justice Desmond Silva. If the charges are substantiated, the Government is willing to take action.
The JHU insists this internal mechanism probing human rights violations should also address ethnic cleansing of Sinhalese and Muslims and the killing of moderate Tamils during the time of terror.
The members of the LTTE who are residing in foreign countries, Rudrakumaran, Vinayagam, Nediyawan, Suren Suranthiran and Fr.Emmanuel should be held responsible for the carnage that took place in Sri Lanka. And those who are trying to represent LTTE interests here in Sri Lanka should also be held responsible and brought to book.
JHU is of the view the UNHRC report is unidirectional. They have actually deliberately forgotten the atrocities done by the LTTE. Further, we think the TNA is trying to polarize the communities, to go back in history, this is a huge impediment to the reconciliation process and restoration of peace.
It should also be noted that the vote base of Mahinda Rajapaksa in North and East has doubled since 2010. It is our consistent stance that any inquiry on Sri Lanka should be by an internal mechanism. Therefore we will not support if there is a fresh attempt to send in investigation teams to Sri Lanka by the office of the high Commissioner for Human Rights.
JVP – Vijitha Herath
We have been clear that Sri Lanka does not need an international investigation to probe whatever the allegations against it. There is an internal mechanism and this mechanism is sufficient to address the domestic issues. We repeatedly said that international involvement is not required.
The present Government has promised an internal investigation. In this backdrop, we feel the recent resolution passed in the Northern Provincial Council, which talked about an international investigation, is unwarranted.
We gather that the UN Human Rights council has given time to the new government in Sri Lanka to show commitment. The President in his election manifesto assured an independent and transparent internal investigation, which the UN had been pressing for from the previous regime. Now the UN has responded to the government’s plea to postpone the report’s release and we see this as a positive sign.
We also believe with the changes that has taken place here, the report by the High commissioner need to be reviewed. Since the Government had made a strong commitment for a free domestic investigation, the question of seeking new information by the team appointed by the Human Rights High Commissioner does not arise.
TNA Leader R.Sampanthan
Our initial position was that the report should be tabled in March during the 28th session of the UNHRC.
But there have been a request for a postponement by the Sri Lankan Government. Following commitments by the Sri Lankan Government to the UN and the UNHRC, there has been support for that position by two key sponsors of the resolution that mandated the investigation – US and UK.
This position has also been supported by the three experts appointed by the High Commissioner. The High commissioner has very clearly stated, that is a one time deferral and the report will be released in September. He has also stated the time made available by the postponement will be utilised to further enhance the quality of the report.
|Excerpts of the statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein explaining his recommendation to the Human Rights Council to delay the consideration of the report.“This has been a difficult decision.”“There are good arguments for sticking to the original timetable, and there are also strong arguments for deferring the report’s consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”
“In addition, I have received clear commitments from the new Government of Sri Lanka indicating it is prepared to cooperate with my Office on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous Government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality.”
The High Commissioner noted that the three distinguished experts, who were appointed by his predecessor Navi Pillay to advise the investigation, had informed him that, in their unanimous view, a one-off temporary deferral would be the best option to allow space for the new Government to show its willingness to cooperate on human rights issues.
“Taking all this into account, I have therefore decided, on balance, to request more time to allow for a stronger and more comprehensive report.”
“I am acutely aware that many victims of human rights violations in Sri Lanka, including those who have bravely come forward to provide information to the inquiry team, might see this as the first step towards shelving, or diluting, a report they have long feared they would never see. “
“There should be no misunderstanding.”
“I give my personal, absolute and unshakable commitment that the report will be published by September. “
Given all the circumstances, we have to understand the background in which the High Commissioner has reached this decision. He has made decisions on grounds which seem reasonable. We would request very much that the report, as per the investigation already conducted, and the investigation that will be conducted in the future be released without further delay as undertaken by the High Commissioner.
Q: The Foreign Minister has said the Government was going to set up an internal investigation.
A: The question whether they will carry out an independent, impartial inquiry is a matter for the Sri Lankan Government. Our position is whatever happened in Sri Lanka, the results of the international investigation must be made known to the whole world. Ascertainment of truth is fundamental for reconciliation.
Nimalka Fernando – Platform for Freedom
It is evident that the present government need time to respond to the Report even if it was presented in March. I was concerned, however, because a deferral meant the whole debate being inordinately delayed with no time frame and having to spend time once again to lobby to get the matter included in the Agenda.
I am disappointed to wait till September for the final deliberation. As a HR activist who faced threats and risked life to uphold fundamental human rights, we know this is yet another struggle.
We have seen assurances given by the Foreign Minister to set up a domestic mechanism to deal with the issues of accountability. The present political leaders must understand the gravity of the crimes we have to deal with, in relation to the war and militarization of our country. We are talking about violations which are categorised under international law as war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Nobody has spoken about raping women and sexual harassment that had occurred during the war. The systems and politicians have got used to cover up and living in a state of denial. There are still extreme Sinhala Buddhist fascist forces who are desirous of getting control of the State both within and outside. This is not an issue of ‘good intentions of few people’.
It will take sometime for our country and people to understand the importance of affirming human rights into the grammar of governance. In this climate I do not think that a domestic mechanism can handle the investigation nor respond effectively to the challenges before us. A domestic mechanism might be suitable to investigate properly into incidents in Ratupaswella, Katunayake , Chilaw and the prison riots.
I am calling upon the Foreign Minister(who was also a champion of Human Rights), the Prime Minister and the President to firmly and unequivocally take steps to demonstrate their political will to address issues of accountability by immediately inviting the Working Group on Involuntary Disappearances to Sri Lanka. All reports related to the Commissions like IIGEP and Mahanama that were hidden inside Mahinda Rajapaksa drawers must be published.
The Human Rights Commission need to be revamped and the independent commissioners appointed without further delay and
I would also like to remind Prime Minister Ranil Wickremasinghe, Karu Jayasuriya and all the others who signed the Memorandum with the Platform for Freedom to uphold human rights and democracy when they come to power, a pledge given to us and victims in 2009.