ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday September 9, 2007
Vol. 42 - No 15

Lanka ready to face HR charges in Geneva

By Tharangani Perera

Sri Lanka is defending its Human Rights record at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions due to open tomorrow in Geneva as some member-nations of the European Union (EU) and international human rights organisations are stepping up their campaign to call for the protection of human rights.

Issues of unlawful killings, abductions and disappearances are expected to come up during sessions which include discussions on the Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights and other reports on September 13 followed by other sessions such as Human Rights Situations that require the Council’s attention, on September 24.

This week a high-powered delegation from the Government headed by Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and Attorney General C.R. De Silva argued against allegations that there was ‘an increasing deterioration’ of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

The Sri Lankan side produced a report from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which said there was a 50 per cent reduction in abductions, and therefore the human rights situation had improved, not deteriorated.

Government sources said that attempts by some’ member-states of the EU to bring about a resolution against Sri Lanka for human rights violations had no support ‘even within some of the EU members’, and would be defeated if put to a vote.

As an alternate measure, these EU member-states that were vociferously opposing Sri Lanka, had wanted an adverse statement made by the UNHRC chairman, but even that seemed remote, according to these sources.

Defending Sri Lanka at the UNHRC will be Ambassador Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Head of the Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process (SCOPP), SCOPP Legal Director Shirani Goonatilake, Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights Assistant Secretary A.H. L. de Zoysa, Criminal Investigation Department representative Nimal Kulatunga and Deputy Solicitor General Shavindra Fernando.

Several human rights groups and non- governmental organisations have made representations to the UNHCR ahead of the sessions while some of them will be present during the sessions. In a related development, Amnesty International (AI) has made representations about enforced disappearances and unlawful killings in the first six months of 2007.

AI declared the Government’s failure to protect civilians, recent attacks on journalists, emergency regulations that restrict freedom of expression and the present climate of impunity as four areas where Sri Lanka has failed to respect human rights in the recent past.

In view of these events, AI appealed to the UNHRC to call on the Sri Lankan Government to invite an international human rights monitoring presence to independently investigate human rights abuses, facilitate its operation and consider its recommendations.

The Government’s campaign to defend its human rights record started on September 3, when the delegation headed by Disaster Management and Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe set out to assure foreign governments and NGOs that the human rights situation in the country was positive and did not warrant excessive attention at the Human Rights Council. The meetings that were held from September 3-6 were an attempt to remind the UNHRC as well as foreign governments of Sri Lanka’s ‘long-standing constructive partnership with UN human rights mechanisms,’ a Government official told The Sunday Times.

“The Government of Sri Lanka is expected to adopt its position that the incidence of disappearances has decreased, those who have disappeared have left the country and that Government forces are not responsible for unlawful killings,” he said. In the meantime, it was agreed that UNHRC head Louise Arbour will visit Sri Lanka shortly.

The Sri Lanka delegation to the preliminary round of talks at the Geneva based UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) refused to meet a delegation from the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) saying it would not do so until an apology was tendered by the ICJ for the public slur on the country over the inquiry into the slaying of 17 aid workers at Mutur in August last year.

Dr. Malcolm Dodd

A delegation from the ICJ headed by its Secretary General Nick Howen had wanted to meet the Sri Lanka delegation headed by Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe and Attorney General C.R. De Silva, on the sidelines of the preliminary rounds of the UNHRC sessions, but the request was emphatically refused.

Sri Lanka has asked ICJ for a public apology for stating in a publicly released media statement that the Government had interfered into the murder probe by substituting the bullets that were found in the aid workers who were killed. It had insinuated that the killings were executed by Sri Lanka's security forces and that the Government was covering it up.

The ICJ report came after a report submitted by Dr. Malcolm Dodd, an Australian forensic pathologist raised questions about the calibre of the projectiles found in the bodies of the dead aid workers.

Later, Dr. Dodd had conceded that he was not a ballistics expert, and that he was wrong in his findings. He had apologised for his erroneous report.

The ICJ however, has not rectified its public statement charging the Government of inteference. It has suggested that the Sri Lanka Government was trying to ‘trivialise’ issues by demanding an apology, and that a third party should now go into the forensic aspects of the Mutur murders, which is now under investigation by the Udalagama Commission on unsolved murders.

The Government has rejected both suggestions, and asked the ICJ to accept its mistake in discrediting Sri Lanka.

Top to the page

Copyright 2007 Wijeya Newspapers Ltd.Colombo. Sri Lanka.