Permanent solutions through domestic processes | Daily News
Sri Lanka to UNHRC:

Permanent solutions through domestic processes

UNHRC must act in fair and just manner with objectivity, non-selectivity and transparency: SL
The UN Human Rights Council
The UN Human Rights Council

Tomorrow, the world marks the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets in the United States, which opened the eyes of the global community about the ruthlessness of terrorism and the realization dawned on the need to eliminate all forms of terrorism. It is ironic that two days after the anniversary, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) opens its 48th Session in Geneva to commence discussions on alleged excesses during the offensive launched by Sri Lanka to free the country from the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world.

After the 9/11 attacks, the deadliest terrorist attacks on American soil in US history, causing extensive death and destruction, the US forces launched an enormous offensive to combat terrorism. When the terrorist suicide cadres piloted highjacked planes into civilian targets some 2,750 people were killed in New York, 184 at the Pentagon, and 40 in Pennsylvania (where one of the hijacked planes crashed after the passengers attempted to retake the plane).

In the 20-year-old war in Afghanistan, 47,245 Afghan civilians were killed by the US and Allied Forces. Around 2,450 American soldiers, 3,846 American contractors, 66,000 Afghan soldiers and policemen, 51,000 Taliban cadres and 72 journalists were also killed during the conflict.

This is in addition to the scores of civilians killed in numerous operations undertaken by US forces in Pakistan including the successful operation to kill Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin laden and his family. The civilian deaths in Afghanistan continued until last month up to the departure of American troops.

The Interim Report of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry for Appraisal of the Findings of Previous Commissions and Committees on Human Rights and the Way Forward being handed over to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa by Commission Chairman Supreme Court Judge A.H.M.D. Nawaz.

The US and European countries feel they have no obligation to explain the death of civilians and violations of human rights caused during the operations against Islamic terrorists. However, they insist on answers from Sri Lanka on alleged excesses in the 2009 offensive on the LTTE, the terror outfit that forcefully used 300,000 Tamil civilians as human shields. Washington has conveniently forgotten that the then US Defence Advisor Lt. Col. Lawrence Smith had vouched in 2011 that Sri Lankan Armed Forces did not perpetrate war crimes.

Next Monday’s (Sep 13) session of the UNHRC will begin with UN Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s oral update on her Report on Sri Lanka, which will be followed by an interactive debate on the Report. The discussion will take place on the proposed mechanism mandated by Resolution 46/1, “to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction.”


Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris has already submitted a 13-page response to UN Head in Sri Lanka Hanaa Singer-Hamdy. It deals with the accusations of non-implementation of key elements in the Resolution and points out that some of the main undertakings are either being implemented or nearing completion. Copies have also been delivered to the Colombo-based diplomatic community and to those based in Geneva.

Among the concrete steps taken are the establishment of Office of the Missing Persons (OMP), the Office of Reparation (OR), developing a comprehensive transitional justice strategy, accountability and repealing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA). “Notwithstanding the pandemic, Sri Lanka is determined and has made substantial progress on human rights issues through domestic processes and mechanisms,” the note says.

Foreign Minister
Prof. G.L. Peiris
Indian External Affair Minister
Dr. S. Jaishankar
UN Resident Coordinator
Hanaa Singer-Hamdy

“Sri Lanka rejects the establishment of an external evidence gathering mechanism when domestic remedies have not been exhausted and processes are ongoing,” the note emphasises. “The international community is well aware that without the consent and cooperation of the country concerned, such external accountability mechanisms and actions are subject to politicisation and therefore cannot achieve their stated human rights objectives.”

“Furthermore, at a time when scarce financial resources are desperately needed for constructive humanitarian processes, including the COVID-19 pandemic, financial resources spent on yet another politically motivated initiative in Geneva cannot be justified,” it states. “Sri Lanka does not believe that the situation in the country warrants such international attention when compared with many other situations around the world.”

On the recurring matter of accountability, the note maintains that Sri Lanka remains ready and willing to implement the recommendations of the Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into the Findings and Recommendations of the Preceding Commissions and Committees (appointed to investigate serious human rights violations of international humanitarian law and other such serious offences). Its interim report was presented to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa in July.

The Commission also held several hearings on the PTA, the note adds, with its report stating the law must be reformed in line with such provisions in other countries. A Cabinet subcommittee and an officials’ committee have been appointed to proceed in this regard. The response note assured that the Government will ensure a non-partisan approach in this endeavour.

The OMP will finish verifying the figures of the missing as soon as possible and that the database has already been shared with the OR, local law enforcement and the Department of Immigration and Emigration. The OR has continued to pay compensation to processed claims and, among other things, is formulating a national policy on reparations.

Reference is made, too, to the Office for National Unity and Reconciliation and its work, Sri Lanka’s progress on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), pardons to ex-LTTE prisoners, resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), release of private lands held by the military, engagement with civil society and observation of international human rights and other treaty obligations as well as cooperation with UN Special Procedures Mandate Holders.

Ironically, when the UNHRC Chief challenged the professionalism of the Sri Lankan Judiciary and called for an international judicial mechanism, a Presidential Commission appointed by a Sri Lankan President recommended the Attorney General to consider criminal proceedings against Government officials including the former Defence Secretary, former Inspector General of Police and several others over their failure to prevent the Easter attacks. It is clear evidence of the professional strength, impartiality and transparency of the Sri Lankan judiciary.

Despite these glaring facts, the UNHRC persists with its resolutions on Sri Lanka. During the last session, the then Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said, “We believe that the extent to which the resources and time of this Council has been utilized on Sri Lanka is unwarranted, and carries a discouraging message to the Sovereign States of the Global South.”

The best qualified nation to represent the Global South immediately came out with similar sentiments. Indian External Affairs Minister Dr. Subramaniam Jaishankar said that the violation of and gaps in implementation of human rights should be addressed in a fair and just manner with objectivity, non-selectivity, transparency and with due respect to the principles of non-interference in internal affairs and national sovereignty.

Jaishankar was articulating certain principles and he did not refer to Sri Lanka at all, but his words had a direct relevance to the issue. “India’s approach to the UNHRC is guided by a spirit of engagement, dialogue and consultation. Equal emphasis should be placed on the promotion and protection of human rights. They are best pursued via dialogue, consultation and cooperation among States and technical assistance and capacity building. Our Constitution has enshrined basic human rights as fundamental rights, guaranteeing civil and political rights, stipulating provisions for progressive realization of economic, social and cultural rights,” he said.

Last month, India presented to the UN an eight-point action plan to deal with the scourge of terrorism. “We will continue to work together with members of the UN Security Council and other States to ensure the implementation of our action plan,” he added. He said that the human rights agenda continues to face severe challenges, most of all from terrorism. “The perennial concerns remain equally strong, be it global inequities or armed conflicts,” the Indian Minister of External Affairs said.

The UNHRC must understand that the elimination of LTTE terrorism was as essential and justifiable as the American decision to kill Bin Laden and other terrorists. The human rights champions must also be aware that the LTTE is a banned terrorist group in many countries and the United Kingdom, the main co-sponsor of the Resolution on Sri Lanka has decided last week to further extend the proscription on the LTTE in Britain.


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