Sri Lanka’s exercise in futility at human rights council to whitewash its decades of human rights violations

srilanka mines

Foreign Minister G.L. Pieris’s speech at  the 49th Session of UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is impeccably laced with web of lies and littered with hollow and empty promises and empty undertakings having been cleverly woven to cover up the truths and mislead the United Nations, UNHRC and International Community. Undoubtedly there will be few buyers of his labored delivery as the UNHRC, United Nations and International Community are fully aware of the facts and have fully experienced the cavalier treatment of Human Rights, Accountability and justice by the Sri Lankan Government particularly since 2006 during the war with Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and after the war inclusive of the Human Rights Resolutions passed since 2012.

G.L.Pieris’s statement  that “Sri Lanka is an active participant in the multilateral framework to realize the promotion and protection of human rights” is  simply hollow and without  substance in the face of UNHRC Resolutions passed against it [Sri Lanka] since 2012 which were focusing mainly with human rights violations committed by Sri Lanka particularly during the last 15 years. Their was neither promotion nor protection of human rights but only promotion of Security Officials and protection for them from prosecution and preservation of impunity.

G.L Peiris’s Statement of boasting of an independent judiciary also flies in the face of ground realities viewing the 20th Amendment to the Constitution which has bestowed the President with the exclusive powers to control the judiciary including absolute authority to make the Judicial appointments thereby creating a politicized Judiciary administered by an Executive President.

G.L. Pieris’s statement that Sri Lanka has put in place domestic investigations for accountability, justice  and reconciliations is just another concoction. On the contrary, those who were in jail convicted for war crimes have been released after pardoned by the President. This is how the domestic institutions are functioning to uphold accountability, justice and promote reconciliation.

This statement of “continuing to ensure human rights and social justice for all citizens irrespective of ethnic and religious identity and political affiliations”  is yet another blown up lie when the convicted and jailed Handana Hettiarachichi has been pardoned and released before serving the full term while a Muslim Lawyer Hijabullah and a Muslim poet Ahnab Jazeem who were arrested on flimsy grounds under the draconian PTA were later released  pending trials.

G.L Pieris seems to have conveniently forgotten the basics of accountability which involves gathering of evidences to substantiate and as proofs to be submitted in Courts. His statement that evidence collecting will create disharmony among citizens is simply ludicrous and shallow.

He has also ignored or pretends not to know accountability for crimes committed is the basics of a judicial system for dispensing justice and when this is discarded it will only fester the already simmering wounds causing more pains and anguish. If his statement is endorsed there is no need for any criminal laws or judiciary to punish the offenders. On the contrary,  if the victimized Tamils are left in the lurch without remedies this will only accelerate the already polarized Sri Lanka and lay a groundwork for revengeful acts by the victims against the offenders.

To say that “Our people are living safer, longer and more dignified lives” is just a distortion and fabrication of truth viewing the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act [PTA] which is causing fear and insecurity among all citizens particularly for Tamils and Muslims. It is to be noted that already there are about 200 suspects in jail arrested under the PTA. Democratic freedoms  of these people are almost sealed and shut down for more than 12 years depending on the discretion of the Attorney General and Magistrate as to the grant of bail. The Minister need not worry about the financial functions of the UNHRC or United Nations which are not his matters, but matters which UNHRC and UN can effectively handle and solve.

Sri Lanka government can legally ban anyone visiting Sri Lanka to collect evidences of war crimes but government should know the evidences of war victims and their relatives living abroad can be collected by UN Special Rapporteurs including Human Rights Commissioners most of which are available as stated by the HR Commissioner.

Furthermore,  the proposed counter-terrorism legislation is plainly farcical without any substantive changes to the original PTAof year 1979 and also without meeting the expected international standards.

Since Sri Lanka has rejected international mechanism and with any domestic mechanism which will neither be independent nor impartial, expecting Accountability and Justice from an internal mechanism is only a pipe dream for the victims of war. The dismal failure of government to fulfil its numerous promises, commitments and undertakings including its rejection of Human Rights Council’s Resolutions and Commissioner’s Recommendations have conclusively and permanently closed the doors of Justice forever and only the UN, UNHRC   or International Community can deliver the delayed Justice and right the wrongs including imposing comprehensive and appropriate sanctions against Sri Lanka to ensure its compliance with fundamental human rights, other obligations and commitments prescribed under the UN, HRC Charters and International Conventions acceded and accepted by Sri Lanka.

The recent statement of Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister G. L. Peiris ruling out any Human Right Council’s or UN’s involvement in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka is simply amateurish and devoid of any merits as Sri Lanka remains as a full-fledged member of UNHRC and UN as such Sri Lanka is bound to observe the provisions of those charters. The only alternative for Sri Lanka to free from UN, HRC etc. and their obligations is to resign the memberships in the UNHRC, UN and other UN Organizations.

The recent moves of Sri Lanka demonstrate its intention and policy to instill fear and insecurity among its citizens by proposing “To recruit youths as volunteers approximately 28,000 to work in 14,022 Grama Niladhari divisions in Sri Lanka. The youths will be entrusted to monitor political activities and report them to the Police and Ministry of Public Security which works in collaboration with Sri Lanka Police service. This “will be like a secret police service like Hitler’s Gestapo”. The volunteers will engage in “secret gatherings, spying and passing false information possibly to inflict personal revenge as well”. The Police service will thus become politicized which is “Un-Constitutional and a violation of Fundamental Rights” mostly targeting Tamils and Muslims who have become convenient scapegoats and sacrificial lambs. Besides, intimidation by security forces also have become a common method and practice. The recent incidents on March 01, 2022 in Kodikamam and Jaffna in the North and in Amparai in the East where soldiers were seen videoing locals who were signing the petition to repeal PTA are examples of open intimidation by security forces who acted without any fear of law or higher authorities.

The proposed amendments to the PTA have been aptly described by Amnesty International when it called it as “An attempt by Sri Lankan government to pacify both local and international calls for the repeal of draconian PTA”.

Human Right Commissioner’s oral statement on February 28, 2022, sums up the current situation in Sri Lanka when she called on the Member States “to pursue alternative strategies to advance accountability at the international level as successive Sri Lankan governments have demonstrated their unwillingness to pursue accountability”.

Therefore the UN, HRC and International Community are duty bound to rise to the occasion and initiate steps to remedy and redress the grievances of victims, to dispense appropriate punitive measures like economic, political and diplomatic sanctions against Sri Lanka purely to uphold the rule of law, accountability and justice and not to further delay this process which will only enable Sri Lanka to pursue its entrenched policy of impunity.

It has to be stated that in the current war going on between Russia and Ukraine, Russia has bombed hospitals killing patients and civilians which have been condemned by the International Community, UN and UNHRC as war crimes . Similarly the UN, UNHRC and the International Community including Security Council owe a duty to call the bombings of about seven hospitals in  Mullitivu District in the North of Sri Lanka in May 2009 by the Sri Lankan Air Force.during the war with LTTE as a war crime and refer Sri Lanka to Internatonal Criminal Court for investigation and imposing proper punitive measures like sanctions [Source OHCHR investigation and Report 2012, OISL Report .2009, Tamil Guardian March 09, 2022].

Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM London, Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo, Sri Lanka.


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