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UNHRC 2014: War Of Words Begin

  • Top official in Obama administration to make a statement tomorrow
  • Hague, Baird replaced by Swire and Yelich

| by Easwaran Rutnam
Courtesy: Sunday Leader

Prof. G L Peiris, Samantha Power and Hugo Swire

( March 2, 2014, Colombo, Sri Lanka Guardian) The stage is set and the battle lines have been drawn. The 25th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) begins in Geneva tomorrow with a major part of the spotlight placed on Sri Lanka.

The opening day of the session tomorrow will see the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the United States, Britain and Canada making references to Sri Lanka in their statements during the High Level segment.

Britain was to be represented at the High Level segment by Foreign Secretary William Hague but will instead be represented by State Minister Hugo Swire, while Canadian Foreign Minister John Baird will also be absent despite being scheduled to speak. Baird will be replaced by his Minister of State Lynne Yelich.

With the United States set to present a resolution on Sri Lanka at the 25th session, all eyes and ears will be on Samantha Power, a top official in the Obama administration, as she is expected to comment on the position taken by the US Government on Sri Lanka.
Power serves as the US Ambassador to the UN and is also a member of President Barack Obama’s Cabinet.

Sri Lanka’s response and position on calls for an international probe will be spelt out by External Affairs Minister Professor G. L. Peiris on Wednesday (5).

Human rights groups are calling on members of the UNHRC to back an international independent investigation in Sri Lanka.

Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had, last week, issued statements on Sri Lanka urging support for an international probe. Amnesty International has also issued a written statement on Sri Lanka to the Council, while Human Rights Watch has organized a side event in Geneva on March 20 to discuss Sri Lanka as the main session is underway.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay had, last week, made public her draft report on Sri Lanka, the final text of which she will be formally submitting to the UN Human Rights Council on March 26.

Human Rights Watch said that, going by Pillay’s report on Sri Lanka, which includes a call for an international independent investigation in Sri Lanka, there now needs to be commission of inquiry on Sri Lanka.

“We expect HRC members to support Pillay’s call for an independent international investigation. This should be done by a Commission of Inquiry led by experts in justice and accountability. Anything less would betray the tens of thousands of victims killed in the final months of the war,” the Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Brad Adams told The Sunday Leader.

Meanwhile, South Asia Director for Human Rights Watch Meenakshi Ganguly said that a proposed independent investigation will lead to proper accountability and justice.

“Navi Pillay will be submitting her final report under the 2013 resolution. If her findings reflect a lack of political will to implement the LLRC recommendations, we hope that member states will support a resolution to initiate an independent investigation into violations by both the LTTE and government forces that will lead to proper accountability and justice,” she told The Sunday Leader.

Amnesty International, meanwhile, said that the international community must act on Pillay’s report which calls for an international investigation into alleged human rights violations and war crimes in Sri Lanka.

“It is utterly shameful that, five years after Sri Lanka’s armed conflict ended, the victims and family members have yet to see justice. Navi Pillay’s latest report is another urgent and poignant reminder that an international investigation into alleged human rights violations and war crimes cannot wait,” Amnesty International’s Deputy Asia-Pacific Director Polly Truscott said.

“Sri Lanka has so far done all it can to throw sand in the eyes of the international community and to block attempts to bring genuine accountability for past human rights violations. This report has to be an eye-opener, and we urge the UN Human Rights Council in March to pass a strong resolution establishing an international investigation. Navi Pillay’s findings echo our own. We are still receiving new eyewitness accounts and other allegations of gruesome violations by both government forces and the Tamil Tigers during the armed conflict,” Truscott added.

The Government, however, disagrees with Pillay and others who are demanding for an international investigation. The Government said it will not leave room for such an investigation and it has the backing of its allies both locally and internationally.

With the Government standing its ground, there are fears that the United States will eventually push for economic sanctions or a travel ban on Government officials.

The Government, however, said that it is ready to face sanctions and is not worried about the economy taking a hit.

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva said the Government has taken measures to ensure economic stability in the country following the end of the war.

He said that the Government will ensure that the economy remains stable even if there is pressure from other countries.
“We have brought peace to this country and we will not allow terrorism to raise its head again,” the Minister said.

The Minister noted that Sri Lanka will face several challenges in future as some among the international community do not like to see a leader who refuses to tow the Western line.

“If a leader does not tow the Western line, then those countries try their best to remove him,” the Minister said, adding that the moves on Sri Lanka in Geneva are part of that attempt.

Minister Silva was part of a delegation which visited South Africa recently to learn about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the TRC is now expected to be proposed as the next step in addressing the issue of accountability over the war.

But the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), which had, last week, backed Pillay’s report, said that, for there to be real reconciliation, those responsible for committing human rights abuses during the final stages of the war must be held accountable.

The TNA had also decided to brief diplomats on its stand over the accountability issue. TNA leader R Sampanthan, meanwhile, said that the Government must put forward a final political solution acceptable to all communities.

He said that the solution should include reconciliation which ensures the perpetrators of war crimes are punished.