The Sunday Leader

The Clock Starts Ticking

  • Pillay’s 27 point update draws strong reactions
  • HR chief counters reference to UNHCR baseline survey
  • Government hits back

By Easwaran Rutnam

Navi Pillay

The government was put on notice last week by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay to either effectively address human rights related concerns by March 2014 or face an international investigation.

In a 27-point oral update to the UN Human Rights Council, Pillay had detailed out the failures of the government on various issues.

The government, however, was quick to reject her concerns, including her warning of a possible international probe, saying she has no mandate to make such a comment.

Pillay’s comments were backed later by several countries including the United States, the EU, Britain and Norway. Sri Lanka had the support of its closest allies in the form of China, Russia, Pakistan, Venezuela and Brazil.

Ravinatha Ariyasinghe and The Human Rights Council

Outside of her 27 points in the update submitted to the Human Rights Council, Pillay made reference to a recent UNHCR baseline survey cited by the government as providing a favourable assessment of the outlook of IDPs on a number of issues including the presence of the military, safety and security.

She said that, according to the same report, almost 30% of those interviewed responded negatively when asked how they felt about the military presence, with the highest levels of negative response in Kilinochchi (51%) and Mullaitivu (37%) districts.

Furthermore, she said 57% reported that military installations or posts were less than one mile away from their homes and 87% of respondents reported that the military ‘registered’ their family at least once, in addition to civilian government registration. Almost 30% of respondents highlighted that the military visited their households (sometimes repeatedly) for reasons other than registration, all of which points to the high level of military presence and intrusion in civilian life.

However, with regard to the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual harassment and abuse in the North, as referred to in Pillay’s update, the government, while deploring all such acts of violence against women and girls, said the inference that the presence of the military contributes to insecurity of women and girls in the former conflict affected areas is baseless and disingenuous.

Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ravinatha Aryasinghe noted that a comprehensive study of incidents of sexual offences which have occurred in the North had revealed that out of a total of 375 reported incidents during the conflict and in the post conflict periods (2007-2012), only 11 incidents (involving 17 security forces personnel) can be attributed to the security forces.

In her oral update, Pillay noted that during her recent visit to Sri Lanka she had detected no new or comprehensive effort to independently, or credibly, investigate the allegations which have been of concern to the Human Rights Council.

She also said she received little new information about the Courts of Inquiry appointed by the army and navy to further investigate the allegations of civilian casualties and summary executions that were raised in the LLRC report and Channel Four documentaries. Pillay urged that these reports be made public to allow them to be evaluated.

The High Commissioner stressed that appointing the armed forces to investigate itself does not inspire confidence in a country where so many past investigations and commissions of inquiry have foundered.

She also said that the Human Rights Council endorsed her recommendation for “the establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism as an integral part of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to transitional justice”, but the government has so far not responded positively to her offer of assistance.

As the 24th session of the Council drew to a close last week, the EU made the strongest statement on Sri Lanka in response to Pillay’s oral update.

Lithuanian Ambassador Rytis Paulauskas, speaking on behalf of the EU, said that the EU is concerned that senior figures in Sri Lanka, rather than building on the potential of cooperating with Pillay’s office, have attempted to undermine its work.

“We are dismayed at the reports that, having facilitated a wide reaching visit for the High Commissioner last month, some government officials in Sri Lanka and other commentators appear to be coordinating a campaign of disinformation in an attempt to discredit the High Commissioner or to distract from the core messages of her visit.

The EU renews its support to the High Commissioner and calls on Sri Lanka to make use of the extensive assistance offered by the Office to ensure accountability for past and ongoing human rights violations and to cooperate in further improving the human rights situation in the country,” the EU said.

Canada followed with similar concerns. The Canadian delegation said that its government expects the Government of Sri Lanka to respond constructively to the observations and constructive recommendations made in Pillay’s report, and to foster public trust through the assistance offered to it.
“Concrete and genuine action, including through implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC report, is needed. Canada is particularly disturbed by reports of surveillance and intimidation of those who met, or planned to meet with, the High Commissioner.

These kinds of reprisals are on the rise and unacceptable, and further threaten freedom of expression in Sri Lanka. Canada is discouraged that Sri Lanka continues to ignore calls for it to establish a credible and independent investigation into widespread allegations of humanitarian law and human rights violations by both sides during the nearly 30-year civil conflict.

This is a key issue that the Government of Sri Lanka must address to enhance the prospects for long term stability and prosperity. While Sri Lanka’s achievements in physical reconstruction of the Northern parts of the country are commendable, these projects alone will not ensure reconciliation and national stability,” Canada said.

The Canadians went further by requesting the High Commissioner to comment on specific activities her office plans to undertake to monitor the human rights situation in Sri Lanka ahead of her written report to the Council in March 2014.

Pillay has already said that she will submit a comprehensive report to the Council in March 2014 and analysts are of the view that the report will lead the way to another resolution on Sri Lanka which will have the backing of the Unites States.

At last week’s session, the US echoed the High Commissioner’s concerns, in particular regarding restrictions on freedom of expression, attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, and interference with the judiciary in Sri Lanka.

“We also share the High Commissioner’s concerns regarding increasing violence and discrimination against religious minorities, a climate of impunity for human rights and humanitarian law violations, and restrictions on peaceful assembly and association, including the shootings of unarmed protesters in Weliweriya,” the US delegation said.

However, attempts to put Sri Lanka on the agenda of the Human Rights Council at the March 2014 session will have strong opposition from China and Russia while India, Sri Lanka’s closest neighbor, will most likely take a neutral stand.

Speaking at last week’s session, India welcomed the successful culmination of elections to three Provincial Councils, including the Northern Provincial Council, saying the high voter turnout and the enthusiastic participation of various political parties demonstrate the continuing commitment of the people of Sri Lanka to democratic values and elections, including for the Provincial Councils.

“The Government of Sri Lanka has honored its commitment to the international community to hold elections to the Northern Provincial Council. Similarly, we look forward to the implementation by the Government of Sri Lanka of other important commitments made to the international community, including the full implementation of the 13th Amendment and going beyond it,” the Indian delegation said.

Japan was one of the countries that put its weight behind Sri Lanka to hold elections in the North despite pressure from within the government.

In a statement to the Council the Japanese said that national reconciliation continues to be an important and challenging issue in Sri Lanka and Japan appreciates the important progress to this end with the holding of the Northern Provincial Council election.

“At the same time, many outstanding issues remain. We strongly hope that the government will implement the LLRC Action Plan and make efforts toward recovery. It would be beneficial for Sri Lanka to make use of the support of the Office of the High Commissioner in this process,” the Japanese delegation said.

The government will now start lobbying support ahead of the March 2014 Human Rights Council session and will look to use the Commonwealth summit in November to cement its case that Sri Lanka is finally at peace.

14 Comments for “The Clock Starts Ticking”

  1. “According to Metropole Haiti, the alleged assault occurred off National Highway #2 on Sat., Sep. 7, when the 18-year old woman was approached by a Sri Lankan UN military officer. A Justice of the Peace, conducting a preliminary investigation, visited the site of the alleged assault on Sunday and found a used condom. Further tests are being conducted, according to the report. The accused has been moved to a different MINUSTAH base in another part of the country as the investigation unfolds. As of Jul. 30, Sri Lanka had over 860 troops stationed in Haiti, making it the third largest troop contributing country to the nine year-old mission.
    This is but the latest in a string of sexual abuse scandals that have plagued the UN mission in Haiti. And it’s not the first time Sri Lankan troops have been involved; in 2007 over 100 Sri Lankan members of MINUSTAH were repatriated after allegations of “transactional sex with underage girls.” In fact, according to the UN Conduct and Discipline Unit, there have been 78 allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by members of MINUSTAH reported in just the last seven years.”
    This report was published on sept 22 2013 by the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)

    If they can behave like this and tarnish the image of Sri lanka i am finding it amusing when Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Ravinatha Aryasinghe justifying the numbers (2007-2012), only 11 incidents (involving 17 security forces personnel does he he not know it is Zero tolerance in the UN

    Trying to justify the low number will cut it with the UN

    Peri Nathen

    • Robert croos

      If you read the account of Robert Knox, an english prisoner during Kandian Kindom times which states about sinhalese people as follows:
      ” They are very hospitable people, but when it comes to lying they have no shame. If caught telling lies red handed they would smile and shake it away as nothing has happened”.
      This will summarise what you have stated, Sinhalese nation will be respected only if they learn to be honest and fair to others and themselves. My sinhalese wife also agree with this comment.

    • Sellam

      Hi Peri Nathen!
      There is no image for Sri Lanka. Hope you understand that. Mr.President and the foreign Minister will deny everything. In the North of Sri Lanka where hundreds of thousands of Army personnel are stationed sexual abuse is going on at random and the victims are afraid to complain. What do you say to that.

  2. Malin

    Economic sanctions which will pave the way to stop development is the only way for these bafoons to wake up

    • Collin

      Soldiers getting involved in such acts in everywhere are very common. Its unfair to accuse on Sri Lankan soldiers alone. Act of rape between a man and a woman is hard to believe! Unless with the consent of the 2 a sexual act cannot happen.

  3. sinniah

    Nothing new can be expected until sombody try to TAME SL through some other means.
    We tamils have had more than enough through the past 60 odd years .
    It is high time those who are interested to go through the history of our FREDOM FIGHT non violent for 30 years too.
    Nobody- india or even tamilnaadu was not in a position to support our freedom struggle in Ghandian way being crushed uphandedly tvia utter VIOLANCE and heavy POGROMS.
    Even after all such tragedies TAMILS have shown their solidarity in therir sole ASPIRATIONS through all acepting democratic way- the ELECTION.
    Then What?—–

    • Senaka

      Why don’t you have an independent country in Tamil Nadu with a population of 72 million Tamils? In Sri Lanka it’s 3 million? Isn’t it a simpler solution? The 15 million Sinhalese have no other place other than Sri Lanka. The Tamils have Tamil Nadu, maybe Malaysia and why not Canada who seem to be very keen to fight for their rights. For 30 years on avg of 10 people died in this nation because of war. Today none die by the bullet.
      Why, why can’t you just leave us alone and mind your own business?

  4. Anslam

    We have been watching your discrimination against to Sinhalese and to the Sri Lanka in many years and now our patience on is going to be end. Don’t force Sinhalese to wear the suicide jackets, if you not respect our culture and the past before addressing solution.

  5. Raja

    It is quite clear, Navi Pillai is blindly repeating the allegations made by the very people that tried to destroy the nation through barbaric terrorism. I find it utterly strange why the EU nations and USA are not clever enough to notice this quality in Navi Pillai. Her remarks are not only furthest from the truth, but they are heavily slanted to favour Tamil separatists either wilfully or foolishly.

    • Cren

      We are putting ourselves in shackles, seeing and hearing rotten comments made by certain filthy MP’s that stink miles. We have won battles united never a war, reason is when a battle is won everybody on the top fights for individual glory. Examples; Independence and the terrorist conflict. We are 75% who understands the gallery language, after all what can we expect with the cost of leaving rising and the pockets drying one can afford only the gallery ticket. In the well these MP’s are in a world of their own. Out of their well or in the international forum they look a bunch of jackass (s). We should know how to encounter issues diplomatically rather than gallery talk which doesn’t bear fruit. If we don’t practice pancil, why wear the tag and live in hypocrisy. If sincere and genuine efforts are made no one can tell us what to do, but can learn from us.

  6. Raju

    We have had enough. Now we can live peacefully as Tamils as never before. This government has established rights of everybody. The citizens can walk about anywhere in the country without fear of death.
    The UNP should take the full responsibility to this situation. They are the people along with TNA supplied lies to HR against Sri Lanka. We expected better brains to prevail of Mrs. Pillai without being bias to her roots.
    What are time lines HR gave to Israel on the Palestinian issue. What inquiry they are doing in Iraq of the invasion and the jungle law applied to hand Sadam Husain. What is the inquiry they are doing about Military government to have removed a democratically government in Egypt. What are they doing about killing of Gadhafi in the streets of Tripoli aided by the US. Her demands are only on small nations.

  7. Sri

    It is all a matter of trust: Pillay or Ravinatha Ariyasinha? Any day, the former!

  8. Pillay is the latest tamil tigers leader.She talk only about tamil people.what has happened to singhalise who died last 30years?she did not mentioned any of her interviews.During her visit to srilanka she did not talk to the tamils who lives in colombo.they do not have any problems with forces or with srilankan we do have tamils all over the srilanka not only north part of srilaka. Srilanka has sufferd last 30years under world thless terrorists call tamil tigers.since 4years we all srilankan enjoing our freedom and the peace.Therefore please Mrs. Pillay whhy do not go to Irak.Libia,Egipt,afgahanistan and find out how they live after the USA and Western invationed?Please do something behalf of those poor people.Not for the terrorists who killed so many srilankan and Indian prime Minister Rajiv Gahandi.

  9. CW

    Has she ever mentioned the rapes carried out by the US, UK et al in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya? This is not to say SL forces are above the law if they have committed any crime.

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