results of the United Nations human rights council and Sri Lanka's
The new UN Council shows an improvement over its predecessor Commission
given that countries with abysmal rights records such as Iran and
Venezuela have not succeeded in their bids for election.
Sri Lanka secured the lowest votes of 123 among
the other twelve South Asian countries vying for a seat on the UN
Council, securing even a lower percentage than Pakistan which obtained
149 votes and Bangladesh (160 votes). India secured the highest
votes with a 173 reading.
We are also ranked with the countries having the
lowest six percentages out of the total of 65 countries that competed
for seats on the Council. Our companions in that regard were some
of the Eastern European states, namely Poland (108 votes), Ukraine
(109 votes), Czech Republic (105 votes), Azerbaijan (103 votes)
and Romania (98 votes). Coming close to Sri Lanka on the higher
end of the scale was Saudi Arabia with 126 votes.
With candidate countries needing a majority of
96 votes from the 191-nation United Nations General Assembly to
get elected, Sri Lanka was able to obtain the coveted seat. The
voting results may not be taken as a conclusive reflection on the
democratic index of countries vying for seats, (given that countries
having long democratic records such as Canada and the Netherlands
have secured only moderate vote tallys).
Among regional and international rights groups
that raised concerns in regard to Sri Lanka's's rights record in
the pre election period were the New Delhi based Commonwealth Human
Rights Initiative, the Hong Kong based Asian Human Rights Commission
and Forum Asia in Bangkok. The primary attention of these groups
was centred on the non-implementation of the 17th Amendment to the
But an important task lies ahead. Justifying Sri
Lanka's seat on the Council is not going to be an easy task in the
future. In terms of paragraph eight of Resolution 60/251 adopted
by the General Assembly, the membership of any country which succeeds
in obtaining a seat on the Council may be suspended by a two thirds
majority of the Assembly if that country engages in gross and systematic
violations of human rights.
The pledges made by each new member to the General
Assembly when it bid for election will form the basis for scrutiny
of their human rights record. In the case of Sri Lanka, a number
of quite extravagant pledges have been made. These include its commitment
towards implementing recommendations made by UN treaty bodies after
considering periodic reports submitted in the past. A notable absentee
part of this pledge is, of course, the government's commitment to
implementing the recommendations of the treaty bodies in the individual
petition procedure, concerns in regard to which were articulated
last week. We have also pledged to build the capacity of the Human
Rights Commission and other independent statutory bodies established
as part of the national human rights protection system.
In addition, Sri Lanka has pledged to invite the
Special Rapportuers on Freedom of Expression and Freedom from Torture
would be invited to undertake visits to the country. These visits
would now be pressed for by advocacy groups working on issues relevant
to this country with renewed vigour.
It must not be forgotton that two visits in 2005
by the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary
Executions, Philip Alston and the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom
of Religion or Belief Asma Jahangir resulted in two important reports.
In the Report issued recently on Extrajudicial,
Summary or Arbitrary Executions, several outstanding issues affecting
basic rights of life and liberty in Sri Lanka are examined both
in the context of the conflict as well as generally. Insofar as
the protection of the human rights of civilians in the North_East
is concerned, a broader human rights framework and more comprehensive
international monitoring mechanism is recommended as imperative
to address the many human rights issues that go beyond the ceasefire.
Looking at the criminal justice system as a whole,
his assertion is that "There is a nationwide pattern of custodial
torture in Sri Lanka, and the Government has a legal responsibility
to take measures to bring that pattern to an end. The vast majority
of custodial deaths in Sri Lanka are caused not by rogue police
but by ordinary officers taking part in an established routine.
It is essential that government officials accept that disrupting
this pattern of custodial torture is a necessary step not only in
ensuring the human rights of those arrested but of retaining public
trust and confidence."
These have been concerns raised time and time
again by civil society groups in Sri Lanka who have buttressed their
call for effective action by well documented cases of torture and
ill treatment of persons at the mercy of aberrant custodial officers.
The Special Rapporteur's findings constitute a useful validation
of these studies.
His comment that though, independent oversight
bodies such the National Police Commission and the Human Rights
Commission) have rendered valuable service, they lack resources
and, even more importantly, political support is also relevant as
is his concern in regard to the non-implementation of the 17th Amendment
to the Constitution.
Meanwhile, the findings of the UN Special Rapporteur
on Freedom of Religion or Belief Concerns are also important. The
warning that imprecise allegations made against some groups have
resulted in generalised condemnation of religious groups is pertinent
as is the Special Rapportuer's caution against the introduction
of laws criminalising acts of conversion. Her call for an inter-religious
body vested with the task of maintaining constant dialogue between
all religious communities remains a priority.
Cumulatively, concerns emerging from these two
Reports of the Special Rapporteurs need to be effectively addressed
by the Sri Lanka Government. Past reports of missions of other UN
Special Rapporteurs to the country have not resulted in noticeable
differences in governmental commitment towards implementing their
recommendations. This pattern of indifference needs to change if
Sri Lanka wishes to retain its seat on the United Nations Human