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Is Navi Pillay biased?

| by Upul Joseph Fernando

What goes on in these net articles shed light on the assumption that Tiger sympathizers could not have any truck with Pillay. On the other hand, quite ironically, they also charge her of being biased against them; just as much as the government blames her.
( September 4, 2013, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) Reading between the lines of several media statements issued by the government, consequent to Navi Pillay's audience with the President, it appears that the government is leaving no stone unturned to paint the UN Human Rights Commissioner, Pillay, as biased against Sri Lanka. The accusation against her first surfaced at the last UNHRC sessions when Minister Samarasinghe, shouldering the burden of defending the government on human rights issues, remarked that she was prejudiced against Sri Lanka. Until the time her visit to the country became a reality, she drew flak from government apologists who critiqued her bona fides as the UN HR Chief.

Just before her arrival in the country, the much-publicized biased label pinned on her, quietly assumed much less prominence as against the very vociferous utterances made before. Therefore it stands to reason that, to believe the government at that stage felt, if Navi Pillay was afforded a warm welcome to the country, she could be made to change her mind about some of the misconceptions she had formed about the country. The government therefore extended a red carpet welcome to her, and provided unhindered access to persons and organizations she wished to meet during her visit. But her press conference on the final day of her visit raises doubts about a change of her views about several controversial issues. The bottom line is apparently that her meeting with the President had not produced the much-anticipated thawing of her opinion, vis-a-vis the Government of Sri Lanka. Government apologists had put much store on the personal charisma of the President to amicably settle contentious issues with a handshake and a photo op with the relevant party. However, it does not seem to have worked on this occasion, considering the press release issued by the government.

Contention based on ethnicity

The government's main charge against Pillay was that she is a Tamil Tiger sympathizer, a contention based on her ethnicity as an Indian Tamil.

Scrutinizing information available on the Tamil Tiger web during her visit could throw some light on this issue – that she is sympathetic to the cause of the Tamil Tigers.

Prior to her visit, the Tamil Tiger web on 23 August had recorded under the heading 'Navi Pillay signals balanced preliminary assessment as Rajapaksa continues LLRC farce' as follows:

"Informed diplomatic sources in Colombo said key foreign missions of the West were busy in behind-the-scene negotiations with the representatives of the Sri Lankan State and that Ms. Navi Pillay's interview was an expected gesture extended to the Sri Lankan State in order to create a 'conducive environment' for her visit to the island."

Tamil Net had recorded as follows about her trip to the North:

'Navy Pillay meeting Tamils in Jaffna ended in eyewash, say Tamil activists' (TamilNet, Wednesday, 28 August 2013, 01:04 GMT)

"The UN Human Rights Commissioner, Navanethem Pillay, met a group of 15 Tamil rights activists and civil society representatives at the UN office in Jaffna. While she spent more time with the Sri Lankan State officials, the independent Tamil activists were given just 90 seconds each to present their cases, under eight different themes that included the cases of missing persons, detention of prisoners, land grab, colonization and attacks on religious institutions.

Sufficient time not given

"The rights activists said they were not provided enough time to make their cases and complained that the entire tour had ended as an eye-wash, or even a farce.

"The mother of Dilruxon, a Tamil youth, who was slain inside the prison in Vavuniya following a protest, narrated to Navi Pillay what had happened to her son in the Sri Lankan detention centre.

"In the meantime, the Sri Lanka Military and the Colombo Establishment had brought Sinhala protesters to stage counter-protests in Jaffna.

"The Sinhala gangs were held as standby at some halls in the city to launch counter-strikes.

"But, as Navi Pillay didn't reach out to the Tamil victims who had gathered in front of the Jaffna Public Library, the Sinhalese 'protesters' didn't have an opportunity to stage any counter-protest, informed sources told TamilNet."

TamilNet had this to say about her final press conference in Colombo:

"While sympathizing with the spirit of the address of Ms. Pillay, who has been at the receiving end of vulgar verbal abuse from Sinhala nationalists, Tamil activists in the island expressed regret that she was still conferring legitimacy to the GoSL's genocidal blueprint called LLRC.

"The LLRC report contains a broad range of excellent recommendations regarding concrete improvements on human rights, and I was interested to receive a briefing on the extent of the implementation of some of those recommendations from the Permanent Secretary to the President. My office will closely examine that update and future development in the implementation of the LLRC, and I will of course make reference to any genuine progress in my reports to the Human Rights Council," Navi Pillay had said.

'But she also recognized that the LLRC 'side-stepped the much-needed, full, transparent, impartial investigation into the conduct of a conflict that saw numerous war crimes and other violations committed by both sides.'

No truck with Pillay

'Navi Pillay's visit to the island raised great expectations from the genocide-affected Eezham Tamil nation and for all those believing in fundamental human rights.'

What goes on in these net articles shed light on the assumption that Tiger sympathizers could not have any truck with Pillay. On the other hand, quite ironically, they also charge her of being biased against them; just as much as the government blames her.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner before Pillay was Louise Arbour. She held the post till August 2008, just before the final war got underway. Even at that time, she roundly condemned the military operation against the Tigers by the government, and strongly professed that the UN should directly intervene to prevent tens of thousands of potential civilian casualties in the war. That was in 2007. She not only encouraged UN intervention, but also prepared plans for such an eventuality. She had to leave her position as Human Rights Commissioner before the conclusion of the war, and Navi Pillay succeeded her. She did not interfere much in the then ongoing war as she was new in the office she held. Sri Lanka was able to successfully conclude the war during this period.

In hindsight, it becomes easy to understand if Louise Arbour was the HR Commissioner at that time, a successful prosecution of the war could have been hindered, at least to some extent. If the government expects any favourable treatment of Sri Lanaka's case from a future commissioner, that too could prove to be a hollow expectation.

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