ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday, December 17, 2006
Vol. 41 - No 29

UNESCO suspends Chandrika

Complaints of human rights violations

Former President Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga's appointment as a Consultant for the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) for South Asia has been suspended by the world body due to complaints over violations of human rights and press focus.

"This issue is now under review," Muriel de Pierrebourg, spokesperson for UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura confirmed to The Sunday Times last night. She made the comments from the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

A letter Mr Matsuura sent to Ms. Kumaratunga's London address states that these accusations against her "could undermine the objectives" of UNESCO. In that he asked her to change her arrangements concerning her plans to visit Asia. It had been sent from New York where he was attending the launch of Global Monitoring Report on EFA at the time.

He said her assignment on behalf of UNESCO, had come to the attention of various human rights watch groups and she had been the subject of "very harsh criticism and press focus."Ms Kumaratunga who ended her second term in November last year, soon after Mahinda Rajapaksa was sworn in as President, lobbied strongly for the UNESCO assignment. This was through United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan who relinquishes office on January 1 next year.

Press reports also stated that she sought and obtained the support of French President Jacques Chirac for this job. After the appointment was made, Ms Kumaratunga declared that she had expressly sought to leave out Sri Lanka and deal only with other South Asian countries.

"Given the sensitivity of your mission with its subject area," Director General Matsuura has said, "I am concerned that the perceptions held by these human rights groups could undermine the objectives of a future relationship and your generous desire to further the work of UNESCO in South Asia in a mutually beneficial way."

Mr. Matsuura has told Ms Kumaratunga, "In the light of these developments; I must also re-examine the proposed arrangement with you; however, I will revert to you as soon as possible on the outcome of this reconsideration."

He has apologised for the "inconvenience, which he has said is "beyond our control."

According to the Director General's spokesperson last night, the matter is still under review.

Mr. Matsuura has added: "I am very mindful of your continued commitment to education for all and your desire to assist the region of South Asia and so I ask your understanding of this unexpected development and the need to ensure that UNESCO's ability to advocate on behalf of these goals remains paramount."

Last week, Ms. Kumaratunga visited her former electorate of Attanagalla and told Sri Lanka Freedom Party workers there that astrologically it was good for her in April, and that she would return to active politics by then.

The former President’s office spokesman, Piyasena Dissanayake, denied any personal knowledge of the UNESCO intimation to Ms. Kumaratunga.

He provided to The Sunday Times the contact details of Ms. Kumaratunga’s office. When the newspaper contacted officials in her office for a comment from Ms. Kumaratunga, they assured they would convey the message to her. However, there was no response from her.

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Copyright 2006 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.