| by Ted Orlin and Paul Newman reporting from the 25th UNHRC Geneva
( March 18, 2014, Geneva, Sri Lanka Guardian) Addressing the Non Government Organisations (NGOs), on the 17th March, Ms.Navi Pillai thanked the NGOs for their Human Rights advocacy, monitoring and protection she credited civil society with improving the human rights mechanism to a new high.
As her term comes to an end by the 31st of August she promised that she would be a ‘handful’ as she is set to resume her work as a human rights defender. She will use what she learned to further the human rights agenda beyond the tenure of her office.
She stated that among the priorities of her office were to widen the democratic space globally consistent with protecting the entire human rights agenda.
Speaking about the challenges she faces, many had questioned whether she was an International lawyer arguing cases on behalf of victims. To a fully packed audience her answer was “I am an International Judge!”; this evoked loud laughter in Hall no. XXIV.
She spoke of various issues that she faced, including the human rights issues of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgenders (LGBT), which her office has protected from abuse and their denial of rights.
She stressed in the proceedings her concerns over harassment and detention of human rights defenders, stating that this was a critical issue for the protection of human rights. Later during the question answer session there was a specific question on the recent detention of Mr. Ruki Fernando and Fr. Pravin OMI of Sri Lanka, taken into custody by the TID.
She stated with emphasis that when she began the session expressing concern over harassment and detention of human rights defenders, she was specifically speaking of Mr. Ruki and Fr. Pravin whom she had met earlier.
She said she was disturbed by the turn of events especially in circumstances when Sri Lanka was facing a resolution critical of human rights and humanitarian law violations. She emphatically denounced the use of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts globally and questioned Sri Lanka’s policies and behavior.
In the questions specific to Sri Lanka as to whether her office could order an Independent Investigations, she said that her office enjoyed a mandate to order for an International Investigation. This question was specifically asked as Sri Lanka and some other countries have repeatedly argued that the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights does not enjoy the mandate to order an International Investigation.
She explained that states are first given a fair chance to explore the possibilities of a credible domestic mechanism to investigate human rights violations. When countries fail to provide justice to the victims, her office has intervened and initiated International Investigations. It is not just her office but the Secretary General (SG) of the UN who has the mandate and it is possible for the SG to set up a panel to investigate.
She gave the example of the African Union which spoke of accountability and were against impunity in the case of Southern Sudan. Her office assisted Southern Sudan.
She ended her address stating that over the last years her office had expanded the mandate to serve the promotion and protection of human rights.
At the conclusion of the session, the NGOs, a number that filled the room, spontaneously stood up and gave her a standing ovation lasting nearly five minutes. This tribute, given to a devoted international civil servant dedicated to the cause of the promotion and protection of human rights, reflected the admiration of those who tirelessly work for the human rights cause. It was clear that these human rights defenders credit this great lady with giving new legitimacy to the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.