The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, speaking at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) yesterday after submitting her annual report for 2012, said she welcomed the release of the report of the internal review panel on the United Nations actions in Sri Lanka during the last phase of the conflict.
Pillay said that the report released last year concluded that there was a systematic failure on the part of the United Nations.
“It is a powerful reminder that the United Nations, wherever we are, has a duty to live up to the principles and standards we promote,” she said.
The report by the Internal Review Panel released last November concluded that “events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN to adequately respond to early warnings and to the evolving situation during the final stages of the conflict and its aftermath, to the detriment of hundreds of thousands of civilians and in contradiction with the principles and responsibilities of the UN.”
The Panel, set up by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, highlighted in particular the roles played by the Secretariat, the agencies and programmes of the UN Country Team, and the members of the Security Council and Human Rights Council in the final months of that conflict.
The Panel of Experts’ report raised a number of issues, including those regarding the UN response to the situation facing civilians in the north of Sri Lanka in the last months of the war. It recommended “a comprehensive review of action by the United Nations system during the war in Sri Lanka and the aftermath, regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates” – which, in turn, led to the internal UN review
Editorial, Ceylon Today,
Head of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC), Navanethem Pillay, and Assistant Secretary of State for International Organization Affairs of the US, Dr. Esther Brimmer, have both focused the spotlight on the Sri Lanka's human rights situation in the opening session of the 22nd UNHRC sessions that got underway in Geneva early this week.
Pillay in her inaugural speech on Monday and Brimmer in her address on Tuesday regretted the fact that there had been hardly any improvement in Sri Lanka's human rights situation, with the former going to the extent of lumping Sri Lanka with Iraq. However, it's the latter's explanation as to why the US is going ahead with a new resolution that calls for attention. For couched in the innocuous words of 'to make sure the international community monitors progress and to again offer assistance on outstanding reconciliation and accountability issues in Sri Lanka,' lies an ominous portent of actions that the government may not find to its liking.
The US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka adopted at the 2012 sessions, emphasized not only the need to implement the home grown LLRC recommendations, but also to expedite the process of resolving long-standing issues that led to the 30-year war.
However, apart from the Sri Lanka Army presenting a report on its findings on the last phase of the war, which was more a whitewash job than any real serious investigation, there has been no progress in implementing even a fraction of the LLRC recommendations.
On the contrary, since the resolution was passed, human rights in the country has been on a downward spiral, with numerous violations, most notably the deaths of two Tamil political detainees following the brutal attack on them by prison officials and the killing of an unknown number of inmates in the Welikada Prison riots.
Another contentious issue is the resettlement of the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the North. Contrary to government claims, thousands staged a protest fast in Jaffna two weeks ago demanding they be given the right to resettle in their own lands, which are now occupied by the security forces. Efforts to disperse the fasting IDPs also showcased the increasing suppression of democratic rights by the government using the might of the security forces.
According to Dr. Brimmer, apart from evaluating the progress made in the implementation of the recommendations made by the LLRC, the US resolution this year is also expected to focus on the widespread allegations of extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, demilitarizing the North, implementing impartial land dispute resolution mechanism and on promoting and protecting the right of freedom of expression for all.
Reports from Geneva indicate that lobbying against the atrocities allegedly committed by the Sri Lankan Government has already started. But what's noteworthy is that the anti-government campaigns are being made not only by aggrieved Tamil groups, but also those from the South who feel victimized by the Rajapaksa regime.
A five-member parliamentary delegation of the Tamil National Alliance has also left for Geneva for sideline events to apprise international delegates on the human rights situation and the current state of the political process in reaching a solution to the Tamil question.
The government, for its part, opting for a more prudent approach, has chosen to send a small delegation led by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe to defend the country, as opposed to the jumbo delegation sent last year, which proved disastrous, earning additional black marks for the country, purely due to the uncouth behaviour of some of the delegates.
No doubt things will be handled with a better sense of dignity this year. But this will not be enough to prevent a déjà vu moment towards the end of March when the resolution is taken up for voting. Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, has already announced in the Indian Parliament that his country would stand by the US resolution that would be brought against Sri Lanka. Others are certain to follow suit.
UNHRC refuses to stop screening of video
The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has refused to stop the screening of the Channel 4 film “No Fire Zone: The Killing Fields of Sri Lanka” organized by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and FIFDH to be held at the UN premises in Geneva today.
The President of the UN Human Rights Council Ambassador Remigiusz A. Henczel has however observed that allowing the screening of the video in the premises while the UNHRC is meeting in another room will not reflect an official position of the Council.
He said this in response to a protest lodged by the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the UN Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha last Monday, which was followed up with a meeting on Tuesday.
In his letter, President Henczel has observed that “the participation and consultation with the observers of the Human Rights Council, including INGOs, is based on arrangements, including Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) resolution 1996/31 of 25 July 1996, and practices observed by the Commission on Human Rights (rule 7 of the Council‘s Rules of Procedure)”. He further notes that “NGOs in consultative status with ECOSOC have the right to organize side events”, and that “a large number of such meetings take place in the margins of the session and they do not reflect an official position of the Council”.
He however adds that “the organizers of side events take full responsibility for the content of their events”.
Sri Lanka on Monday lodged a formal protest against the screening of the latest Channel 4 film. In his letter addressed to Ambassador Remigiusz Achilles Henczel, President of the Human Rights Council, Ambassador Aryasinha had obsereved that “Sri Lanka views this film, as well as the timing of its broadcast as part of a cynical, concerted and orchestrated campaign that is strategically driven, and clearly motivated by collateral political considerations”.