Interested parties are awaiting UN reaction
By Wilson Gnanadass
It was not a shock, for the Sri Lankan delegation currently participating at the 17th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council when the controversial video footages depicting scenes of human rights violations allegedly committed by government soldiers was shown.
The screening of the video was done Friday (3) evening in the presence of ambassadors, foreign dignitaries, ministers and high commissioners including the Sri Lankan delegation.
According to a story on website the Sri Lankan officials attending the screening have reacted with anger, describing the disturbing footages as fake and further condemning Channel 4 that exclusively put out these footage.
It is believed that a documentary based on this is to be aired in Britain on June 14 that would include pictures of alleged execution of Tamil prisoners.
Following the screening UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Christof Heyns had remarked saying; “What is reflected in the extended video are crimes of the highest order.”
Saman Zia-Zarifi, the Amnesty International Asia Programme director has said in the discussion following the video presentation that it was now clear that Sri Lanka’s actions likely constituted war crimes.
However, deputy solicitor general A.M.D. Nawaz had been quick to counter this saying that this video was not authentic.
He had argued that it was unfair for the HRC to screen such a faked video and then come to conclusions without giving time for Sri Lanka to carry out its own domestic process, noting that the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) has been established for this purpose.
This has been followed by a statement made by the US ambassador Eileen Donahoe who has said that Sri Lanka must quickly and credibly address allegations of violations of human rights.
Be that as it may, the 17th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council that is underway right now has conveyed several messages to Sri Lanka.
The sessions that take place at the Palais des Nations in Geneva commenced on May 30 and will conclude on June 17.
As anticipated the controversial video has also been presented and now all interested parties are awaiting UN reaction over this.
Media reports have already indicated that Special Rapporteur Christof Heyns had conducted a technical assessment to establish the authenticity of the video and the forensic reports of the assessment will also be made available at the sessions.
The countering mechanism adopted by Sri Lanka has so far been satisfactory but questions are raised as to whether Sri Lanka will be able to counter it from a technical point of view.
The LLRC’s request to a Moratuwa university expert to comment on the authenticity of the video is also not out in the public domain to ascertain whether Sri Lanka is on a strong foothold as against the technical assessment established by Christof Heyns.
However, all indications are that the video is fabricated and would hold no water at the end of the day to put Sri Lanka on the mat – an act that would make the west content, given their animosity against the present Rajapaksa regime.
The principal grudge the west has against the Rajapaksa regime is that President Rajapaksa never was willing to succumb to the western pressure put on him to give LTTE one more chance in the last fight against the Tigers.
Rajapaksa, not only defeated the LTTE but also cremated terrorism in the country, thereby setting an example to the entire world.
However, infuriated by Rajapaksa’s attitudes towards the west, the west is now trying to take revenge on the present regime by introducing the controversial video to the HRC.
The 47-member council is still on and the West, it is clear, is continuing to lobby around the other nations to muster support to vote against Sri Lanka.
According to the accepted norm, of the 47 countries that are at present deliberating on several issues, at least the support of 30 countries are needed to push if this particular matter had to be moved in as a special resolution.
According to some ex-diplomats the chances of getting the support of the 30 nations against Sri Lanka may be possible but at the same time tough.
As of today, there had been mixed signals from these countries and one wonders what would happen at the end of the day.
Sri Lanka confident
Sri Lanka’s point of view is that the controversial video is a fake and that there had been a concerted effort by those with vested interests to tarnish the image of the country.
In his column to one of the daily newspapers, Prof. Rajiva Wijesinghe MP has clearly stated that what the west was trying to do was simply to bully small nations.
With reference to the video he has asked as to why Prof. Alston who was the predecessor of Christof Heyns in his technical note fails to reveal where he got his copy of the video from.
He further says that one of Alston’s experts, Spivack letting the cat out of the bag has said that Prof. Alston looked at a ‘recording provided by Sarah Knuckey, acting on behalf of Prof. Alston, originally provided to her by a group identified as ‘Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka’.
Prof. Wijesinghe has further asked in his column as to why Alston has not explained why he did not approach Channel 4, with whom had been in contact earlier but instead went to a source that it had explained to him was tainted.
If proper and sensible answers could be furnished to the questions raised by Prof. Wijesinghe then, it is believed there could be some seriousness of the issue. Otherwise, Sri Lanka’s position that the video is not only a fake but an effort by the West to blemish the image of the country would further be established.
The HRC session itself commenced with the keynote address by its chief Navi Pillay making a scathing attack on Sri Lanka.
In her inaugural address to the council on May 30 Pillay said the following;
“Let me also refer to the report of the Secretary-General’s Panel of Experts on accountability in Sri Lanka, which concludes that there are credible allegations of a wide range of serious violations of international law committed by both the Sri Lankan Government forces and Tamil Tigers in the final stages of the conflict.
“It is incumbent on the Government to investigate these allegations and I also urge it to implement the measures recommended by the Panel. I fully support the recommendation to establish an international mechanism to monitor national investigations and undertake its own as necessary. It would be important for the Human Rights Council to reflect on the new information contained in this important report, in light of its previous consideration of Sri Lanka and efforts to combat impunity worldwide.”
Countering this Sri Lanka’s permanent representative to the UN Kshenuka Seneviratne said that her delegation was ‘perplexed’ to note Pillay’s reference as stated to the report of the Secretary General’s panel of experts on accountability in Sri Lanka.
She has said further: “It is widely known that the said report was borne outside of an intergovernmental process. It is a report which was initiated solely by the UNSG to advise himself on the modalities, applicable international standards and comparative experience relevant to an accountability process in respect to the conflict in Sri Lanka. It is extremely unfortunate that the High Commissioner has thought fit to refer to it in her report to the 17th Session of the HRC, a document which was compiled by a Panel to advise the SG, that too at his own request, and well exceeding its mandate, thereby bringing into question her objectivity.
“In this context, the High Commissioner has resorted to drawing on recommendations culminating from a report of a non intergovernmental process, which also has no official status in the UN system. This Council would agree that at no point has it sought this so-called information referred to by the High Commissioner,” she has argued.
Pillay’s reference to the Darusman report despite UNSG admitting it was done for his personal purpose is a clear demonstration that the HRC led by the West is all out for a war against Sri Lanka.
It is in this context, Kshenuka’s statement is viewed as a strong and a solid counter attack to let the other nations know that though there could have been military excesses during the last stages of the war in 2009, there was no deliberate attempt by the government to wipe out the Tamil population as widely publicized by some of the groups with vested interests.It is a pity that these same groups have failed to also talk about the humanitarian assistance granted by the Sri Lanka armed forces to evacuate nearly 300,000 innocent civilians held back and used by the LTTE as human shield during the last stages of the war.
No major support
Though Sri Lanka is confident that it will not be pinned down this time by the HRC over the controversial video clippings that were shown on Channel 4, the fact is that there has not been any significant support shown to Sri Lanka by the member countries so far, is a matter of concern.
A known fact is that only Pakistan and Israel have spoken in defence of Sri Lanka while other neighbouring countries like even India, Bangladesh and the Maldives have maintained silence.
Nahida Sobhan of Bangladesh has said he believed in the indivisibility, non-selectivity and interdependence of all human rights but not uttered a word in support of Sri Lanka or said anything against the proposed investigation against Sri Lanka.
Meanwhile Tanja Vestergaard Jorgensen of Denmark in his speech noted the report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and summary executions and said that the use of lethal force was topical adding that Denmark noted the serious concerns that had been raised regarding Sri Lanka and accountability for human rights violations.
He has further said that Denmark was interested in learning about initiatives for judges and lawyers that would bring about accountability in Sri Lanka.
Gabriella Knaul, Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers in her concluding observations had agreed with the recommendations and findings of the panel of experts of the Secretary General on Sri Lanka and had said those required serious investigation of those responsible.
Space to fight back
As correctly put by the deputy solicitor general A. M. D. Nawaz it is only fair by all for the UNHRC to give time and space for Sri Lanka to clear its position.
Given the technological development and the LTTE’s capability in videoing every military operation in the past, the present controversial video could have been originated even by pro LTTE men or even by the LTTE.
Time will only tell precisely what has happened and who has done the videoing during the last stages of the war.
It is ridiculous to imagine Sri Lankan soldiers videoing the last stages of the war in this manner. Even if it was videoed for record purposes, it is unthinkable that incidents of this nature, even if it were true, could have been filmed by the soldiers and circulated, being aware of the consequences.
On the other hand it is logical to imagine pro LTTE groups making films of the last stages of the war but the question is whether they were present during that time.
The rational conclusion therefore is that this video could have been prepared by elements close to the LTTE to take revenge on the armed soldiers who fearlessly fought the battle and eliminated the notion that the LTTE was invincible.
17th session of the Human Rights Council – Agenda
Item 1. Organisational and procedural matters
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
Item 3. Promotion and protection of all human rights, civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development
Item 4. Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention
Item 5. Human rights bodies and mechanisms
Item 6. Universal Periodic Review
Item 7. Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories
Item 8. Follow-up and implementation of the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action
Item 9. Racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related forms of intolerance, follow-up and implementation of the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action
Item 10. Technical assistance and capacity-building