COLOMBO: Quashing speculation that the UN is going soft on Sri Lanka after the electoral defeat of the country’s hawkish President Mahinda Rajapaksa in January, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, told the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Monday, that he is very much engaged in pursuing grave issues pertaining to the island nation such as war-time accountability and post-war ethnic reconciliation.
In his opening remarks at the 29 th. Session of the UNHRC, Zeid said that his continued engagement will be on the “need for transparent and inclusive processes to develop credible mechanisms for accountability and reconciliation.”
Zeid added that the said process should be developed ahead of his report to the September session of the UNHRC.
However, Prince Zeid sounded generally hopeful about progress in Sri Lanka.
“The new Government in Sri Lanka has passed a constitutional amendment which, if implemented appropriately, brings renewed hope for democracy and the rule of law. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and I will encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to consult broadly with all political parties, civil society, and above all victims and their families, to ensure full national support and ownership of these processes,” the UN rights chief said.
US Representative Eric Richardson told the UNHRC on the same day that Washington “commends the people of Sri Lanka for restoring democratic institutions and combating corruption, and urges the government to continue on its path of ensuring accountability and reconciliation.”
But indicating that the US has not sidelined the High Commissioner’s report on Sri Lanka which was to be presented in March but was withheld, Richardson said: “ We look forward to reading the OHCHR’s report on Sri Lanka in August.”
The Maithripala Sirisena government had promised the UN and the US that it will set up an independent domestic mechanism to inquire into charges of war crimes before the September session of the UNHRC.
This was the condition on which the US had agreed to refrain from urging the Human Rights Commissioner to present to the UNHRC his damaging report on Sri Lanka as per schedule in March.
The Lankan government is yet to set up the promised independent domestic mechanism to inquire into the charge of war crimes. Perhaps it is dragging its feet because the issue is too sensitive in an election year. Parliamentary elections are expected in September. But the government has been addressing the issue of ethnic reconciliation in various other ways.
According to the Commander of the Lankan Army in the Jaffna peninsula, 19,000 acres of land seized by the Security Forces in the peninsula have been returned to their original civilian owners since the end of the war in May 2009.
About 818 acres in Sampur in the Eastern Province was returned to civilians by the government, but the move was stalled by a Supreme Court injunction, secured by the private company to which the government had leased the land earlier.
As part of the reconciliation process, the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government has reached out to the Tamil Diaspora in association with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA); former Norwegian Peace Envoy Erik Solheim; a South African NGO; and the Swiss government.
After a meeting with the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) in London over a week ago, Lankan Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told parliament last week, that the Diaspora is likely to publicly state that it is eschewing separatism and violence.
Such a statement seems likely because the GTF said in a press release on May 1, that the situation in Lanka after Maithripala Sirisena took over as President on January 8, is “breathtakingly fresh.”