Government clarifies misrepresentations of Human Rights in Sri Lanka
Geneva: A presentation titled "Misrepresentations of Sri Lanka: A
Briefing on Human Rights", was held last Thursday at the office of the
Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations at Geneva chaired
by Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Ambassador to the United Nations. Over 60
representatives of mainly civil society organisations attended.
The speakers were: Professor Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General of
the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process, Shirani
Goonetilleke, Director Legal, Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace
Process and Shavindra Fernando, Deputy Solicitor General, Attorney
General's Department. Each speaker made a statement of about 10 minutes.
Professor Rajiva Wijesinha said that the issues of Internally
Displaced Persons and cases of abductions and disappearances had been
misrepresented and highlighted by certain parties both in Sri Lanka and
abroad. While admitting that there were real issues of concern, he
insisted on the fact that a number of allegations made against the
government were not well founded.
The almost exemplary conduct of the Sri Lankan Army during the
recapture of the Eastern Province and its continuously improving human
rights record are cases in point.
Drawing particular attention to the need for objective criticism,
Prof. Wijesinha invited the NGOs not to unfairly tarnish Sri Lanka's
image but to cooperate with it genuinely in improving its human rights
He described the role and the function of the Peace Secretariat in
both rectifying misrepresentations and in requesting for information for
the clarification of alleged and potential human rights violations.
Professor Rajiva Wijesinha said that Sri Lanka faced both a political
and a terrorist problem and that they required new and imaginative
solutions. Shirani Goonetilleke, Director Legal of the Peace Secretariat
(SCOPP) described the role of the All Party Representative Committee as
well as the progress made in establishing a witness protection and
victim assistance programme.
She explained that four officials were in Australia undergoing
practical training so that they can become trainers once they return to
Sri Lanka. She said that the trainers had been drawn for their wide and
varied experience and contacts in all parts of the criminal justice
She also drew attention to certain difficulties that the Sri Lankan
State has to face when trying to reach its goals: lack of funds and the
absence of legislature, etc. Moreover, delicate and complex issues such
as those that Sri Lanka has been facing need careful analysis, thus,
Referring to the Northern Ireland peace process, she noted how the
parties involved needed 2 years to find an acceptable solution. In the
case of the Sri Lankan APRC, it is now on the verge of coming out with a
solution after intense deliberations during the past 12 months.
Goonetilleke also spoke about the SCOPP's engagement in child soldier
rehabilitation (with the assistance of UNICEF), the obstacles they face
in this respect and the achievements they have made so far. She stated
that the SCOPP's objective is to help these children be integrated into
the society by giving them proper education, vocational training, etc.
She described the steps taken by the Peace Secretariat along with
UNICEF to rehabilitate child soldiers.
The Deputy Solicitor General Shavindra Fernando described in detail
the role of the Attorney General and his Department in Sri Lanka which
he said was not a political office and did not initiate or lead
He was responding to a recent public statement issued by The
International Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) in which it had expressed
its concern regarding four areas of the work of the Commission of
Inquiry: slowness of the process, the Attorney General's involvement in
the process, the lack of a Victim and Witness protection programme and
the inadequate disclosure of information.
Evoking the second cause of concern, Fernando explained in detail the
Attorney General's role in the Sri Lankan judicial system and the COI.
He noted the importance of understanding the Attorney General's role in
the local context before commenting on it from the point of view of the
The Attorney General does not intervene in the COI unless his support
was asked for, and if requested, he could even withdraw his staff and
services from the COI.
Fernando said that the third cause of concern of the IIGEP, i.e., the
establishment of a Victim and Witness Protection Programme, has already
been addressed. The statements by the panellists were followed by a
question and answer session.