101 but out: Heavy lobbying comes to naught at UN
Months of canvassing at world capitals by ministers and diplomats and promises and assurances given to visiting human rights mandarins and also at various UN fora that Sri Lanka was taking steps to improve its human rights record came to naught as the country failed to retain its seat at Wednesday’s United Nations Human Rights Council elections.
Of the six countries which vied for the four Asian-continent seats, Sri Lanka was placed fifth, obtaining 101 votes. Japan received 155, Bahrain 142, South Korea 139 and Pakistan 114 were elected to the 47-member council while East Timor obtained 92 votes at the elections held at UN headquarters in New York.
Sri Lanka was elected to the council at its first ever election in 2006.
Much to hold his head about: Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addressing a news conference
in Colombo a day after the UN vote. Pic by M.A. Pushpa Kumara
Among the many ways in which the Sri Lanka government tried to convince the UN was by submitting a report to the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the HRC held in Geneva from May 5-16. The report dealt at length on the various measures the government had taken to strengthen human rights practices in the country.
On the day of the UN vote, Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addressing a news conference in Colombo said at the last HRC session in Geneva some of the concerns taken up by some of the member nations regarding Sri Lanka ranged from issues related to abductions, disappearances, alleged recruitment of children by the Pillayan group and the status of media freedom.
The day after the vote, the Government down played the defeat and said that the 101 votes they got had made the Government more determined to fully implement the pledges and commitments made to the UPR of the HRC. Meanwhile Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama said the 101 votes came despite hostile campaigns carried out against the country by interested parties. “They unfortunately chose the option of criticism over engaging Sri Lanka in dialogue and discussion aimed at addressing challenges in the human rights field,” the Minister said.
In the lead up to the crucial vote, Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN had written to the President of the General Assembly in April informing the Government’s decision to present its candidature for membership of the HRC for the term 2008-2011 while outlining several voluntary pledges and commitments.
The pledges--a copy of which was circulated among all member nations--made to the President of the General Assembly included taking steps to enable the reconstitution of the Constitutional Council which would facilitate the strengthening and effective functioning of national human rights mechanisms including the National Human Rights Council , speedy introduction of a Witness and Victim protection Bill as well as strengthening national mechanisms and procedures to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms of all citizens.
One such dealt with the directive issued by President Mahinda Rajapaksa in July, 2006 to the heads of the armed forces and the Police. The directive dealt with the arrest and detention of persons and the protection of their fundamental rights and humane treatment. These measures require the officer carrying out an arrest to identify himself and give reasons for the arrest as well as issue a receipt to the relatives of the individual arrested.
However, Minister Samarasinghe himself admitted last week that this procedure was not being followed by all law enforcement officers. The non compliance was illustrated by the fact that the 24 hour hotline set up by the Human Rights Ministry dealing with arrests, disappearances and abduction had received more than 145 complaints within a fortnight since it was set up and of those 15 ‘missing people’ had in fact been taken in by the Police or the armed forces but the relatives had not been issued receipts nor been informed of their arrests.
Human Rights groups that lobbied against Sri Lanka’s reelection to the HRC welcomed the defeat. ”We applaud UN members for rejecting an abusive state which has used its position on the Human Rights Council not to promote human rights, but to protect itself and other violator states from scrutiny,” Steve Crawshaw, UN Advocacy Director at Human Rights Watch and spokesman for the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council said in a statement.
The UNP said that losing the seat on the Council could affect the flow of foreign aid into Sri Lanka.
For the Government, its human rights woes will not end with losing the seat on the HRC. The 8th HRC session is scheduled to be held in Geneva from June 2-18 and the Sri Lanka Government will once again face more questions from member states on its rights record.
NRC concerned over missing driver
A driver attached to the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) Sebastian Partheepan has been reported missing in Colombo from May 16 and Police have been unable to ascertain his whereabouts so far.
According to NRC sources, Sebastian who is attached to the NRC office in Batticaloa had arrived in Colombo on the night of May 15 and had parked the vehicle at the NRC office in Horton Place around 7.45p.m. Sebastian’s wife had tried calling him around 5.30 a.m the next day but there had been no answer.
Initially there had been a ringing tone but afterwards the phone appeared to have been disconnected.
Sebastian, a father of two has been an employee of NRC since April 2005.
The NRC has reported the disappearance to the ICRC offices in Batticaloa and Colombo.
Meanwhile, Cinnamon Gardens Police said they had recorded a missing person’s complaint in this connection but had not been able to trace the whereabouts of Mr.Partheepan.
NRC Country Director Jørn Kristensen issuing a statement has voiced concern over the disappearance and has appealed for help to trace him.“The NRC has no information regarding the reasons behind this disappearance, and any speculation on what may have happened is not fruitful and may even be counter productive,” the Country Director said in a statement.