Attempts to tarnish unsullied image of SL Police | Daily News


UNHRC double standards:

Attempts to tarnish unsullied image of SL Police

A shocking video clips of public whipping of Singapore curfew violators and merciless beatings of Indian curfew violators sent shudders to many people across the world who detest such inhuman acts of violence. While Singaporean curfew violators were whipped until they bled, in India police used heavy sticks to cruelly beat curfew violators.

However, these countries were not in the list of violators of fundamental rights compiled by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. The UN human rights chief has warned some ‘countries flouting the rule of law in the name of fighting the novel coronavirus pandemic risk sparking a human rights disaster’. She charged that these countries violate fundamental rights “under the guise of exceptional or emergency measures”.

Although, Singapore, India and many others were not listed by Ms Bachelet, she has picked up Sri Lanka from nowhere to list as one of the violators of human rights. The Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which prepared the ‘black list’ conveniently ignored the fact that Sri Lanka was the only country which took immediate action to suspend a police officer who ordered few curfew violators to do push-ups as punishment.

“Emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” UNHRC Chief warned Sri Lanka and other countries. Her office has failed to notice that emergency rule has not been imposed in Sri Lanka.

Georgette Gagnon, UNHRC director of field operations said about 80 countries have declared emergencies due to the new coronavirus, including 15 where the allegations were deemed most troubling. They were: Nigeria, Kenya, South Africa, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Peru, Honduras, Jordan, Morocco, Cambodia, Uzbekistan, Iran and Hungary.

Gagnon added at a virtual briefing in Geneva “there are probably several dozen more we could have highlighted”.

“A main concern on exceptional emergency measures is what has been described as a toxic lockdown culture in some countries,” Gagnon said. “As the high commissioner highlighted, police and other security forces are using excessive and sometimes deadly force to enforce lockdowns and curfews.”

Apparently, the Bachlet’s OHCHR in Geneva had not felt it necessary to consult UN Office in Colombo to ascertain the correct position in Sri Lanka or simply ignored the reports.

According to UNHRC, some of those countries have arrested and detained tens of thousands of people for the violation of confinement measures linked to the pandemic, with the Philippines topping the list with 120,000 apprehended for curfew violations in the past 30 days. In the case of Kenya, Gagnon said, authorities were investigating 20 cases related to deaths linked to police conduct in implementing curfew measures.

In South Africa, the UN has received reports of police using rubber bullets, tear gas, water bombs and whips, to enforce social distancing, especially in poor neighbourhoods. Thirty-nine complaints about charges including murder, rape, use of firearms and corruption are being investigated, Gagnon said. In Nigeria, the UN has received reports that security forces killed 18 people in relation to COVID-19 enforcement measures. Nigerian authorities have attributed some deaths to prison violence. She also raised concerns about police extortion in Africa. “Those who cannot pay bribes, poor people, are taken to mandatory quarantine centres although there is no indication that they have come into contact with someone testing positive to COVID.”

When one reads these instances of horror stories in those countries, it is very clear to any impartial observer that it is very unfair to club Sri Lanka together with those countries that violated human rights in their campaigns to curb COVID19. The UN officials and other diplomats in Colombo must have – if they had reported truthfully – briefed their head offices and capitals about excellent measures taken by the police and security forces in the campaign to curb COVID19.

The UNHRC’s biased attitude, once again proves that Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw from the process of implementing UN Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, which was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka was a correct step. The resolution was adopted by the Human Rights Council in Geneva on the 1st of October 2015 and in February this year, Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa issued a statement announcing the withdrawal.

In his statement, the Prime Minister says “It is because of the historic betrayal committed by the Yahapalana government formed by the United National Party, the Tamil National Alliance and the JVP in co-sponsoring UN Human Rights Council Resolution 30/1 in 2015 that other countries are able to name members of our Armed Forces as violators of human rights.”

He adds, “Even though this collective punishment has been meted out on the grounds that the Army Commander Lt Gen Shavendra Silva had committed violations of human rights, no one knows what these allegations are”.

The Prime Minister says that whilst the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights says that until a person accused of a crime is proved guilty according to law, he should be deemed innocent, this principle does not seem to apply to Sri Lanka’s Army Commander or even to members of his family. Rajapaksa says the government’s displeasure has been communicated to the government of the United States in the “strongest possible terms”.

Human Rights Council resolution 30/1, which was led by the US and adopted on 1st October 2015, was co-sponsored by Sri Lanka along with the UK, Macedonia and Montenegro. Whilst nine primary commitments were included in the resolution a key point of contention domestically was the introduction of hybrid courts with foreign judges, lawyers, and investigators.

However, at the 40th session of the Human Rights Council, then Foreign Minister Thilak Marapana highlighted that the hybrid court structure cannot be implemented in Sri Lanka as it would violate the Constitution. Resolution 40/1 which was adopted at this session under British leadership and was again co-sponsored by Sri Lanka called for a commitment to implementing the entirety of resolution 30/1.

The Leader of the Sri Lanka delegation to the 43rd Session of the UNHRC, Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena met the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in February 2020 in Geneva and reiterated the Sri Lankan government’s decision to withdraw from co-sponsorship of resolution 40/1 and the basis for doing so, has recalled that, one year ago, his predecessor the former Minister of Foreign Affairs had also pointed out a number of areas in the resolution that were undeliverable. Gunawardena, however, assured the government’s continuing commitment to achieving accountability and human rights despite withdrawing from the UN resolutions.

Despite such cooperation from Sri Lanka, it is sad that UNHRC continues its biased policy towards this country.

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