The Sunday Leader

UN’s Alston Slams Commission

The UN's Philip Alston

By Udara Soysa

In a brief but compelling interview with The Sunday Leader, UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Executions, Philip Alston slammed a Sri Lanka government initiative, asserting the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation will not focus or address human rights, humanitarian law, violations or war crimes.

Excerpts of the interview:

Q: What are your views on the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation?
Well, first of all, the Commission on Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation has not, as you suggest, been appointed to look into alleged war crimes.  As an article on the website of the Ministry of Defence summarises its purpose, it is “to find out the root causes of the terrorist problem”.  There is not a single mention of ‘human rights’, ‘humanitarian law’, ‘violations’, ‘war crimes’, or any comparable term. The mandate accorded by the government very carefully avoids any of these issues. Instead, the President has indicated that the commission should look forward, which is generally a way of saying that past violations should be ignored. Consistent with this, he has spoken of restorative justice designed to further strengthen national amity, which is another way of making the same point.

Q: What if the mandate were to be changed?
Even if the mandate were to be changed, the question would then be whether the commission meets international standards for a credible inquiry into alleged human rights violations.  A key issue here is whether an observer could consider the commissioners to be reasonably independent of the government. Here, again, the picture is not a very convincing one. The Chairman, Chitta Ranjan de Silva, is a former Attorney-General who oversaw that office when it was strongly criticized for having interfered with the independence and effectiveness of one of the government’s previous inquiry commissions (the still unpublished 2006 Presidential Commission of Inquiry). Including the chairman, six of the eight members are former senior government officials, several of whom have spent much of their time defending Sri Lanka in international forums. While the latter is a worthy endeavour, it does not tend to signal independence or impartiality when one is considering serious allegations directed against the government itself.

Q: What is your opinion of the procedures by which the commission will function?
The next issue concerns the procedures under which the commission will operate.  Chairman de Silva has stated that proceedings will not be public, and the government has made no commitment to making the findings and recommendations public. There is no indication that the commission will use the powers of law to sub poena all relevant witnesses and to obtain evidence from internal government sources. Overall, it is difficult to conclude that there are any conditions which are conducive to the production of an independent report, which would seriously and credibly address the very extensive allegations of war crimes that have been made.

Of course, the fact that any such crimes occurred, has consistently been denied by the government. Most recently, Sri Lanka told the Human Rights Council that they were “unsubstantiated, uncorroborated heresy”. But the detailed and deeply troubling allegations won’t magically disappear. Sri Lanka’s capacity to heal and forge a unified national identity which embraces all of its different ethnic groups will require a genuine examination of the past sooner or later.

Unfortunately, Sri Lanka has an unparalleled track record of ineffectual commissions of inquiry of this kind. Indeed, its history, especially since 1977 is littered with them. It is precisely because such inquiries have been utterly unconvincing, that they have not succeeded in drawing a line under the contentious issues of the past that need to be addressed before they can be transcended.

Q: But do you not think it only right that the government be left alone to conduct its own inquiry minus outside interference?
It is also interesting to contrast the government’s insistence in the UN Human Rights Council, that it should be left entirely alone to conduct its own inquiry, with its strong support for an international investigation into Israel’s killing of nine people in the raid on the Gaza flotilla carrying humanitarian aid. Sri Lanka apparently feels so strongly that international measures are needed in relation to Israel that its ambassador to the UN in New York is the chairman of the so-called group of three currently carrying out an international investigation into Israel’s activities.

I believe there are strong grounds for international action in both cases. I should add that one of the most problematic responses in terms of giving Sri Lanka its own space, in this matter, has been the suggestion by the Minister of Defence that any statement by General Fonseka on war crimes should be treated as treason and could thus lead to his being executed. If the objection is that Fonseka is not telling the truth, then let there be a public inquiry with the opportunity for all sides to present their evidence. Yet, for the government, this appears to be out of the question.

Instead, the very idea that any Sri Lankan could acknowledge that war crimes might have been committed, despite the fact that they have been reported by a wide range of other sources, is treated as a hanging offence. This approach does not bode well for the prospect of a genuine national inquiry into war crimes any time soon.

23 Comments for “UN’s Alston Slams Commission”

  1. silva

    as all knows rougand distatorors states never accept their crime, state is managed by jokers what do u expect only lies to the works

  2. Saro

    The reason for resisting an independent inquiry is to hide the direct involvement of the government in encouraging, promoting, abetting and aiding human rights violations and war crimes against its own citizens.

    • Crow

      Hey Saro

      For your information still the colonism is existing. Only thing is they say new interesting words for that. i.e. “Human rights”. As Sri Lanka public we are with the government. Because they eliminated “cancer” from our society. But we know west wanted that cancer to be spread all through our nation.

      If the west still wants to protect human rights why they do not go and fight against the people who killed the Congo president , namely Kabila. They can not because they know the CIA did that to gain richest the gold and copper mines.

      Why the west does not take action agains isarel, because they need a little brother to control the gulf. “Human Rights” is something west have created to control the other world. But Asian parents teach their children about “responsibilities” to their children. So we do not need west to tell us what to do.

  3. Psycho

    Hello Alston, just get lost.

    All you white guys thinks that you all have better brains to advice us.

    Go and advice the Americans for the slaughters in Iraq and drones in Afganistan,

    Please note when you guys were in caves we had a rolicking civilisation.

    • resgoon

      Access to Internet Cafe and little English writing does not mean you are smart. I think we should be careful what we say and what we write in the internet. If Sri Lankan are civilized than Western countries (rolicking civilisation), why hell you guys are not appreciating all civilians are equal and have same rights like everyone in this country? Hey this is 2010 man…

    • Now the other way around! No more civilization.

    • Yohan

      Psycho… maybe time has come for guys like you and so called government you protect on human rights violations to switch from rolicking civilisations to caves. This is what will happen within a short period under these idiots.

    • tap

      iraq and afghanistan are wrong too, that doesn’t make sri lanka right! terrorism is bad for sure, but fighting with fire is not always the best way. as there are internationally accepted rules to fight a ‘war’, why should this not apply to SL. all are pleased to see a victory over terrorism, as long as it is done according rules, otherwise it becomes like colombo traffic: survival of the biggest!

  4. TRuth

    Dear Psycho Singhalese …you guys never had a rolicking civilisation….remember you guys were just weddah´s till the indian ´s came :P

    • Appuhamy

      That’s why the Indians are still squatting and shitting all over their towns early in the morning. Call that civilization?

  5. Alston is incredibly intelligent. Just look at the answers and the language used. Mahinda Raja Ghota Raja will have no place to hide

  6. Banda

    Veddahs, you mean? They are certainly more civilized than the Indians dear TRuth or whoever ! You certainly don’t know the ancient civilization of Lanka, so better that you talk of your Indian ancestors who would like to claim a block of land from any country that shows weakness in accepting you guys !

  7. Appuhamy

    Indian civilization = drinking their own urine as practiced even by their Prime Ministers!

  8. Saverimuttu

    Indian civilization = millions of people bathing in a river that that is extremely badly polluted with carcasses of dead animals and half burnt human bodies from funeral pyers.

  9. John

    We sri lanksns have not moved from the time of the Veddahs. We are still stick in that time period in our way of thinking where the rest of the world has moved on.

    • Patriot

      Hey John, So if it were the “Veddahs” who kicked the Tamil Tiger Terrorists in their backsides and totally eliminated them from the face of Sri Lanka, I am proud to be a “Veddah!

  10. Appuhamy

    Indian civilization = millions of people squatting on roadsides, on railway tracks and on beaches early morning laying their “stinky landmines”. India is the World’s biggest toilet! If you don’t believe me, just arrive at Mumbai airport on an early morning flight and observe on your way from the airport to the city.

  11. dagobert

    Let anyone slam or hold inquiries. Why must we care ?
    The LTTE fought a war and GOSL forces were forced to reciprocate on standards set by the LTTE.

    At the end of the day, we have eliminated them from our soil. Achieved.

    What GOSL need to do now is to have in place a National Plan and stay the course.
    Its ours and the Country’s future we need to focus.

    • Vathy

      who told you that LTTE killed thousands of civilians? The government had false propaganda. Even if there is any truth in it no government is allowed to do ethnic cleansing as SL did.

  12. karasi

    If any government is responsible for genocide it has to be investigated. Come on wake up from reality. Now, the government wants to find the root causes of terrorism. Why was this not investigated before instead of opting for war. After committing genocide then you want to find the answer. Find the answer after war crimes have been investigated.

  13. Canaga

    Yes this is the usual attitude of the SL governments which has brought SL to this position. The attitude is that the ‘Killer’ should appoint its own investigator – isn’t this very funny?

    Thousands of Tamils have been killed and the government does not want to know about it ! A good combination made up of governments helping SL.

    This is the real “Psycho” attitude repeated. Good luck to SL.

    • tap

      as with the other 17 presidential commissions of inquiry, inestigating one’s ones shortcomings does not usually bring out the best, if anyhthing at all. as a respected late sri lankan lawyer once said: it has become norm to spit fire if spat on, SL politicians no longer take responsibility for their faiures, they will make another look worse!

  14. sathya deva

    This clone cann’t do a thing about Iraqui invasion. British expelling all the inhabitanats of Diego Garcia and killing a lot. Indonesia conquering Papuas
    Irianjaya and killing natives and populating Iriyanjaya with Javans.
    English speaking in Srilanka think that Brits are gentlemen.
    They are not used to anybody stading up to them.
    Britain even ill treat Irish .
    The so called kalu Suddhas talk a lot of garbage , cough on behalf of English.
    They have never been to their country , they are like a bunch of toads in a well.

    British benevolence is an oximoron.

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