An open letter to Ms. Navi Pillay, UNHRC

| by Mahinda Gunasekera

( September 19, 2013, Toronto, Sri Lanka Guardian) In your statement to the Sri Lankan Media on August 31, 2013, you have been highly critical in the UNHRC reviews of the actions of the Sri Lankan authorities tasked with the responsibility of safeguarding the most prized human right of her twenty one million citizens, i.e. ‘the right to life’, which was constantly threatened by the vicious and violent attacks carried out by the Tamil Tigers over a period in excess of 32 years in their attempts to carve out a separate mono-ethnic Tamil ruled racist state by force of arms. It was a pleasant surprise to have you classify the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) as a murderous and ruthless organization for the first time, which struck a favorable chord with the general public even though it took you so long to arrive at this assessment of the internationally designated terrorist movement.

You complained that many had accused you of bias on account of your Indian Tamil background, whereas you considered yourself a proud South African called upon to function as a civil servant attached to the United Nations made up of 193 countries. However, it must be stated that South Africans of Tamil descent were known to have funded the LTTE and even joined the ranks of the Tamil Tigers having undergone military training in South Africa itself. In fact, the late Honorable Lakshman Kadirgamar, former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Sri Lanka paid a special visit to South Africa to meet with His Excellency, Nelson Mandela, to have the military training camps dismantled. The involvement of South African Tamils was probably due to the cry of the Tamil separatists, that there were Tamils in every country but there was no country for the Tamils, which was a way to appeal to their Tamil heritage to call on the world'sTamils to join in the battle to break up the tiny island nation of Sri Lanka and create a second Tamil country in addition to the State of Tamilnadu in southern India..

Yet another surprise was your studied silence on the question of civilian deaths in the latter stages of the military action taken against the Tamil Tiger terrorists from January to May 18, 2009. Earlier on, you always harped on the highly exaggerated guesstimate of tens of thousands of civilians being killed by the Sri Lankan forces said to be in the range of around 40,000 based on reports prepared by the rights groups such as the ICG and HRW located in Brussels and New York respectively, which data was lifted verbatim and included by the UNSG’s Panel of Experts in their report according to Japanese diplomat Yashushi Akashi. These inflated guesstimates were arrived at by the rights groups and UNSG’s Panel after a lapse of almost two years based on hearsay evidence coming from one side of the conflict which is obviously prejudiced, and without any of these parties visiting the country. The UNSG’s Panel members whose writings and statements showed a clear bias against Sri Lanka also required the evidence presented to them to be locked away for a period of twenty years.

In your capacity as the High Commissioner for Human Rights, you took action to table the UNSG’s Panel report which is not a UN authorized report at the UNHRC sessions in Geneva, and even endorsed it despite its many shortcomings per your statement which is quoted below: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay issued a statement on 26 April 2011 welcoming the publication of the report and supporting the report's call for further international investigation. The statement went on to say: "The way this conflict was conducted, under the guise of fighting terrorism, challenged the very foundations of the rules of war and cost the lives of tens of thousands of civilians...I hope the disturbing new information contained in this report will shock the conscience of the international community into finally taking serious action...this report demand a full, impartial, independent and transparent investigation...Unless there is a sea-change in the Government’s response, which has so far been one of total denial and blanket impunity, a full-fledged international inquiry will clearly be needed"

Sri Lanka on her part established a special Commission of Inquiry known as the LLRC which held open sittings and published their report after 18 months in November 2011, the bulk of whose recommendations are being acted on by the Government of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka also carried out a census in the war affected areas of the north and east using school teachers and other such ranks from within the Tamil community as enumerators to determine the number of war related deaths in the final stages for the period from January 1 to May 18, 2009. According to the census count, the total number of war related deaths was 7432 of which the cause of 584 deaths remained unknown. If one were to adjust for 4,000 LTTE combatants who would have died in battle which is about the same number that the Sri Lankan Army lost, the balance comprising civilians and LTTE fighters in civilian dress will be 3432 which is a far cry from the much hyped 40,000 deaths. The UN Resident Representative in Colombo estimated a total of 7721 deaths apparently based on information collected from their local staff who remained in the area as they were prevented from leaving by the LTTE, all of whom survived unharmed and took refuge in the welfare camps set up in Vavunia. Even the Tamilnet which was a propaganda arm of the LTTE reported a total of only 7398 deaths for the same period.

You as the High Commissioner for Human Rights has not shown the same degree of energy and determination to challenge human rights violations and contravention of humanitarian law in other theatres such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya, Kashmir, etc., where the offending party is a global power or a regional power. Just like the UN and UNHRC, the major powers and the western funded INGO/NGO too have been selective in their focus on human rights and contravention of humanitarian law. It is therefore not too difficult to see through the prevailing bias and double standards that exist in the international community and the international fora where these issues are discussed.