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Ramifications of UNHRC chief’s visit

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(August 23, 2013, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) This piece is rather a lengthy one intended for those observing UNHRC Chief Navi Pillai’s schedule in Sri Lanka for five days starting Sunday, August 25,1013.

Her visit should not be taken lightly. Whether the government likes it or not, she is after all the last word on what the future holds for the Rajapaksa Government and would sift through with a fine tooth-comb on what went on during the last stages of the war in 2008/2009.

She comes armed with enough tangible evidence of government soldiers committing rape, murder and torture on Tamil civilians fleeing for their lives caught between the advancing army and the stubborn LTTE which was using them as human shields. She would take the accusations of  the majority Sinhala government’s unleashing so much horror on Tamil civilians akin to Nazi Germany’s treatment of Jews and the following holocaust on par with ethnic cleansing of the Tamil population.

Then there is the complicated situation where the LTTE were said to be shooting fleeing civilians point-blank on the back according to eye-witness accounts of those who managed to enter army controlled areas and NGOs present. Would the government who is succouring active LTTE members now and rehabilitating them allow Ms Pillai unfettered access to these witnesses?

Could Ms Pillai garner evidence from former army chief  Sarath  Fonseka and the other military chiefs who conducted the dastardly operation from the frontline which killed 40,000 or more innocent Tamils?

The government would argue it conducted humanitarian relief for the fleeing Tamil civilians from the clutches of the LTTE. It has yet to prove this was the case. Even Bell Pottinger, an upbeat advertising firm engaged by the government at an enormous expense could not stop the salvos thrown in the direction of the government by international NGOS and media that the government was bent on eugenics annihilating Tamils to carve an exclusive conclave of a Sinhala Buddhist island.

Love Sama of the Gypsies is old hat when the island is bleeding even after the war ended. Now it is the Christian churches and the Muslims and their mosques which come under attack from a new ugly Sinhala chauvinistic Buddhist clergy and its cohorts who do not hesitate to unleash violence despite Lord Buddha’s percept of tolerance and non-violence.

There were token Tamils such as the much touted Lakshman Kadirgamar, the ex FM assassinated by the LTTE, whose second wife Suganthini was president of Seva Vanitha Unit, aka a government funded charity looking into the welfare of wives of government soldiers, who went on intimidating and killing Tamils in War Zones. Why should we blame Sinhalese when selfish, materialistic and greedy Tamils are ready to sell their own people to get perks from the government? What did Kadirgamar ever do to the cause of the Tamils and seek to address their grievances. The fellow would not utter a word in Tamil if one were to shove bamboo-shoots under his finger nails.  He was luxuriating in the government provided swimming pool when he met his tragic end.  
Killing Fields video of Channel 4 passed muster by OFCOM, the independent regulator and competent authority for the UK communications industries. Eye witness accounts of independent international media and NGOs which managed to penetrate the war zone and give first-hand accounts of atrocities committed against non-combatant civilians who survived and sought refuge in foreign countries are proved to be bona fide they have been tortured, raped and murdered by government soldiers.
They received direct command from the disgraced army commander Sarath Fonseka and defence secretary and sibling of the President, Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. Even the toothless LLRC (Lessons Learn and Reconciliation Commission) set up in the aftermath of international outcry Sri Lanka should be hauled up before the UNHRC for war crimes, rather unwillingly admitted that there are unanswered questions which the government is reluctant to respond to are some matters the UNHRC chief will scrutinise.
That the government soldiers were instructed to shoot surrendering Tamil civilians including LTTE combatants by the highest command is common knowledge.
For the purpose of streamlining the thought processes of the media, academics and analysts I reproduce here the US draft resoluion.
Human Rights Council
Twenty-second session
Agenda item 2
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner
for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the
High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
                         United States of America: draft resolution
               22/… Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka
       The Human Rights Council,
Guided by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other relevant instruments,
Recalling Human Rights Council resolution 19/2 of 22 March 2012 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka,
Reaffirming that it is the responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of its entire population,
Reaffirming also that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, as applicable,
Taking note of the national plan of action to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of the Government of Sri Lanka and its commitments as set forth in response to the findings and recommendations of the Commission,
Noting with concern that the national plan of action does not adequately address all of the findings and constructive recommendations of the Commission,
Recalling the constructive recommendations contained in the Commission’s report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms,
Noting with concern that the National Plan of Action and the Commission’s report do not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law,
Expressing concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, and threats to judicial independence and the rule of law,
Noting with concern the failure of the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments, including on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population,
Expressing appreciation for the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka in facilitating the visit of a technical mission from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and encouraging the Government to increase its dialogue and cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner,
1.     Welcomes the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on advice and technical assistance for the Government of Sri Lanka on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka and the recommendations and conclusions contained therein, in particular on the establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism as an integral part of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to transitional justice, and notes the call of the High Commissioner for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law;
2.     Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner;
3.     Reiterates its call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement expeditiously and effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity and accountability, including investigations of violations of international law, and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans;
4.     Urges the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to their outstanding requests, including by providing unfettered access to the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, the Independent Expert on minority issues, the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women in law and in practice;
5.     Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps;
6.     Requests the Office of the High Commissioner, with input from relevant special procedures mandate holders, as appropriate, to present an interim report to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-fourth session, and a report in an interactive dialogue at the twenty-fifth session, on the implementation of the present resolution.
Statements of other member states

Russia said that Sri Lanka’s second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review had again confirmed its readiness and openness to engage in open dialogue. Sri Lanka had agreed to the majority of recommendations made and those accepted were truly constructive and non-politicised in nature. Russia appreciated Sri Lanka’s list of voluntary commitments on many aspects of human rights.

Sudan said that Sri Lanka had accepted a great number of recommendations, most of which were positive and constructive. Sudan welcomed the acceptance of two recommendations on consolidation of law enforcement and resettlement of internally displaced persons. It was important to create an environment that made it possible for citizens to enjoy their rights.

United Arab Emirates welcomed positive measures undertaken by the Government to implement the recommendations from the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review. The United Arab Emirates took note of Sri Lanka’s statement on giving new impetus to the human rights system and promoting human rights. It was fully confident that Sri Lanka would move forward and hoped it would be supported in this.

United Kingdom expressed serious concern about freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and asked why the recommendation to invite the Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion to visit the country was rejected. Sri Lanka gave no justification for the rejection of the recommendations relating to the independence of the judiciary. The impeachment of the Chief Justice ran contrary to the clear rulings of Sri Lanka’s highest courts and contravened principles of fairness, due process and respect for the independence of the judiciary.

United States welcomed the acceptance of recommendations to combat gender-based violence and investigate breaches of international humanitarian law and international human rights law. The United States was disappointed that Sri Lanka had rejected the implementation of the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and nearly all recommendations to engage with the United Nations Special Procedures mandate holders.

Venezuela welcomed the spirit of openness and cooperation that Sri Lanka had demonstrated in the second Universal Periodic Review process and urged it to implement the recommendations of its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. Venezuela recognized the efforts of Sri Lanka to implement recommendations from its first Review, notably those relating to the improvement of the enjoyment of human rights and those related to peace.

Viet Nam said that serious efforts had been made by Sri Lanka in relation to the national reconstruction and reconciliation process, and noted with satisfaction the ongoing implementation of 19 voluntary commitments made by Sri Lanka. Nevertheless, challenges and hardships remained to be overcome, for which an environment favourable to creating a stable and peaceful Sri Lanka was crucial.

Algeria said that Sri Lanka had actively shown it was willing to further advance human rights by intensifying the policies it was undertaking for the protection of the human rights of women and children in particular.

Belarus commended Sri Lanka on the adoption of a National Action Plan and the measures taken to reform and enhance national legislation, and said that Sri Lanka had shown strong commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.

China said that it appreciated Sri Lanka’s important achievements in advancing domestic reconciliation. China called on the international community to respect Sri Lanka’s sovereignty, objectively look at its advancements, provide constructive assistance, and avoid interfering in its domestic affairs. China supported the adoption of the outcome.

A member of the delegation of Sri Lanka, in response to a statement made by the United Kingdom with reference to the impeachment of the Chief Justice, stated that the Constitution and procedural matrix involved in the impeachment of judges of the Superior Court was not some process invented on a person-centric, ad hoc manner. In that context it was correct to state that the invocation of that procedure to meet requirements that emerged consequent to facts to the case concerned was justifiable. However, the entire process and a ruling by a division by the Supreme Court on the matter had now been brought under the judicial review.

Human Rights Watch said that Sri Lanka had rejected the recommendations to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. As further evidence of its lack of commitment to accountability, the Government had turned down basic recommendations focusing on the need to end impunity and investigate serious allegations of human rights violations.

World Evangelical Alliance welcomed the acceptance of recommendations to promote reconciliation and inter-religious dialogue, but was puzzled that religious freedom was still an issue in Sri Lanka. In the words of the United Nations Secretary-General, the rule of law was fostered by a strong civil society, practiced tolerance and celebrated diversity. Pluralism was not a problem, it was the solution.

Amnesty International presented the case of Mr. Ragihar Monaharan, one of five university students murdered by Sri Lankan security forces on 2 January in 2006; his family had been forced to flee the country when their lives had been threatened because they sought justice for their son’s murder.

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, in a joint statement, said that it was extremely disappointed that Sri Lanka’s recommendations had been amended so that they focused on the National Action Plan, which included only a fraction of the recommendations originally made. The rejection of a large number of recommendations by Sri Lanka, for example to investigate enforced disappearances, demonstrated Sri Lanka’s limited commitment to the reconciliation process.

United Nations Watch said that forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence against women, and restrictions on freedom of expression remained prevalent in Sri Lanka. It was regrettable therefore that Sri Lanka had rejected many valuable recommendations made in that respect. Moreover, attacks on the independence of the judiciary and reported cases of child rape and violence against women were particularly alarming.

International Commission of Jurists said that Sri Lanka had failed to uphold its pledge to conduct an independent investigation into allegations of gross human rights violations during the war. Furthermore, the recent removal of the legal Chief Justice of Sri Lanka through an impeachment process declared unconstitutional by the country’s Supreme Court was particularly alarming. This was the latest in a long series of attacks against the independence of the judiciary.

Action Canada for Population and Development said that it was disappointed with Sri Lanka’s lack of engagement or acceptance of recommendations on non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity. It was also concerned about the lack of response on recommendation 128.24 on decriminalizing homosexual relationships between consenting adults.

Jubilee Campaign expressed grave concern that the period since the end of the war in Sri Lanka had been marked by State-sponsored Sinhala Buddhist triumphalism, the weakening of democratic institutions and the rule of law, the constriction of civil and political rights, abductions and forcible disappearances, and a widespread climate of fear among human rights defenders and journalists.

CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that the rejection and delayed implementation of crucial recommendations had shown a lack of commitment to addressing serious human rights concerns. Several prominent human rights activists had been subject to slanderous campaigns instigated by the Sri Lankan Government portraying them as traitors for raising concerns about human rights violations.

Liberation said that the refusal of Sri Lanka to ratify a number of international instruments such as the Rome Statute spoke loudly about its commitment to address accountability and torture in the country. The Human Rights Council should take measures to address accountability and impunity in Sri Lanka, given the evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the lack of will of the Government to address them.

MAHINDA SAMARASINGHE, Minister of Plantation Industries and Special Envoy of the President of Sri Lanka on Human Rights, in his closing remarks, thanked the delegations expressing their support to Sri Lanka and stressed that the conflict was 30 years long and involved ruthless terrorists, causing the suffering of many thousands of people. During this period, many civilians had been murdered by the Tamil Tigers; thousands and thousands of Muslims had been forced out of their homes and Buddhist places of warship had been targeted. All the talk about killings and atrocities must be balanced and include also those committed by the Tamil Tigers. Sri Lanka was diverse society in which freedom of religion or belief was guaranteed and the Government did not condone any attacks on places of worship. The investigation into the death of five university students had commenced; Sri Lanka needed time and space to deal with such gruesome events and with the challenges ahead and had not absolved itself from responsibility. Sri Lanka was committed to achieving national reconciliation impartial.

Also reproduced here is an article this writer contributed to SLG in December 2011.

LLRC ignored rape victims in its report

by Pearl Thevanayagam 

(December 22, London, Sri Lanka Guardian) One glaring omission in the LLRC report is the rape and murder of a significant number of detainees in camps by government security forces. No woman would have ever come forward and told the Commission that she had been raped. Sri Lankan culture does not permit a woman to come out with the fact she was raped since there is a heavy stigma attached to a raped woman.
Apart from a clergyman's submission which states“As a priest moving with the people I notice that we have nearly 81 widows in our district. Either they have lost their husbands or their husbands are in the detention camps. These women headed families face many difficulties, as the Tamil society is a very traditional society. When a man goes in to help a widow's family undue suspicion could arise and social and moral issues could also come up. They do not have anybody to help”, there is absolutely no mention of rape on Chapter 5 Paragraphs 104 to 117.
Around June this year I wrote a piece to Sri Lanka Guardian titled `The Vanquished People' in which I was witness to an 18 year old asylum seeker with a low IQ who was examined and interviewed by a psychologist and saw with my own eyes the injuries she sustained in her private parts when she was dragged out of her cell along with four other girls and repeatedly raped by several soldiers almost on a daily basis for 18 months. She bore a female child as a result who is now almost three years old.
The psychologist who had been treating her for almost two years told me she was telling the truth and the fact that she ran for her dear life when spotted a uniformed porter confirmed that she was indeed traumatised and it would take many more years for her deep psychological wounds to heal.
Evidence is also surfacing of young boys being raped and tortured in detention camps during asylum claims and human rights groups could do well to interview immigration solicitors and foreign government ministries dealing with asylum claims.
If the LTTE had committed many atrocities rape had never been one of them. Channel 4's Killing Fields' video, evidence given by many female asylum seekers for obtaining refugee status despite many bogus claims, recent UNCAT (United Nations Convention Against Torture) disclosure of rape, torture and murder and UK based human rights group report on the same put these rape victims is reminiscent of South Korea's `Comfort Women' during World War 11 in detention camps who were systematically raped  by Japanese soldiers and who needed sexual gratification to keep their morale high. Some seven decades later Japan is still paying compensation to these women who are now well into their nineties.
Despite all this, the UK High Commissioner Dr Chris Nonis ceremoniously handed over the LLRC report - a puerile effort of a few government servants to exonerate the government from the atrocities of its security forces - to UK parliamentarians with pomp and pageant at the House of Commons. The premature release of  the LLRC  report before the government announced deadline of  December 21 smacks of Prof. G.L.Peiris's fingerprints to placate the international community into thwarting war crime investigations and is seen by critics as a damage-control exercise before international war crimes investigations proper begins next year.
UN's choice words that `it welcomes the report' in no way suggest that it accepts the LLRC report as the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Sri Lanka is fast losing its credibility from day one after the war ended when it announced that no civilians were killed by the security forces and later went on to admit some civilians may have been caught up in the offensive against the LTTE.
The reason the refugees abroad are campaigning to bring the government before the international war crimes tribunal is that almost every one of them had either lost at least one member of their family or relatives or seriously affected. Their fight is a just fight and the world is listening at last. It its futile and foolhardy to accuse them of re-awakening LTTE terrorism.
The LLRC report has taken a lassaiz-faire attitude towards the annihilation of a good proportion of civilians and this alone merits international intervention and making the government accountable for war crimes committed. The war victims deserve immediate reprieve if the government sincerely wishes to mend fences with its minorities which include a good proportion of innocent Muslims. 

(The writer has been a journalist for 24 years and worked in national newspapers as sub-editor, news reporter and news editor. She was Colombo Correspondent for Times of India and has contributed to Wall Street Journal; where she was on work experience from The Graduate School of Journalism, UC Berkeley, California. Currently residing in UK she is also co-founder of EJN (Exiled Journalists Network) UK in 2005 the membership of which is 200 from 40 countries. She can be reached at pearltheva@hotmail.com)  
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