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Sri Lanka: No Letup On UN Probe


[ Sinhala nationalist groups protest in front of UNHRC ]

By Easwaran Rutnam-

The swearing in of a new Government has not released the pressure on Sri Lanka for a UN led investigation over the war, with human rights groups insisting that it is the only way forward.

The Government had last week dispatched Jayantha Dhanapala, Senior Advisor on Foreign Affairs to President Maithripala Sirisena, to meet the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva, and briefed him on the policies of the newly elected Government.

However the meeting did not mean that the report on the investigations on the war conducted by a UN team, scheduled to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March, is going to be held back.

The Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office in Geneva said that Dhanapala’s visit to Geneva was an “exploratory visit” to brief officials in Geneva on the policies of the newly elected President Maithripala Sirisena and his Government.

The new Sri Lankan Government sought constructive engagement with the High Commissioner and the Human Rights Council in terms of the manifesto and the 100-Days Programme of the new Government.

Human Rights Watch (HRW), a leading human rights organisation in the US, which has been pushing for the international probe on Sri Lanka, said that it hopes the new Government will cooperate with the UN led inquiry, and then act on the recommendations.

“Unlike the Rajapaksa government that had denounced the Human Rights Council resolution, the new government has said that it will engage with the international community. We hope to see a real commitment to justice. At this point, considering the culture of entrenched impunity, the OHCHR investigation seems to be the only tangible mechanism. We hope that the new government will cooperate with the inquiry, and then act on the recommendations,” HRW South Asia Director, Meenakshi Ganguly told The Sunday Leader.

HRW had in fact released a report last week calling on the new government to order investigations into arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, and killings since the final military operations in 2009.

The 656-page world report where Human Rights Watch reviews human rights practices in more than 90 countries, notes that Sri Lanka’s new government, elected after the world report was finalised, has already taken important measures to improve free expression and other rights.

The report notes that the previous government denounced the UN rights council resolution last March which mandated the investigation on Sri Lanka, and several senior government members threatened to take action against anyone cooperating with the UN investigation.

“The UN investigation is the first real hope for justice for victims of atrocities on both sides during Sri Lanka’s long civil war,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Sri Lanka’s new government should cooperate with the UN investigation and act to end the previous hostility to justice.”

Adams says the Rajapaksa government’s resettlement and reconstruction of affected communities in the post-conflict years has been seriously marred by oppression of the Tamil population. He says the new government has the responsibility to set Sri Lanka on the long road to ensure justice and rights for everyone, particularly minorities and critics of the government.

The British Government had also last week noted the importance of the UN led investigation on the war despite a new Government taking office in Sri Lanka.

Speaking at the House of Commons, British Government MP David Lidington said that Britain is awaiting the publication of the report from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is due to be presented to the Human Rights Council in March.

“We will not ignore the challenges that Sri Lanka faces, including the challenges faced by Tamil communities in the north and east of the island. There are many challenges, including the settlement of internally displaced people,” he said.

Lidington said the challenges faced by the Tamil community include the settlement of internally displaced people, land issues, militarisation and the need for an overall and enduring political settlement.

The British MP noted that the new Prime Minister has committed himself in Parliament to implement the 13th amendment to devolve more powers to the provinces, including policing powers, and Britain welcome the new Government’s moves to reach out to the Tamil National Alliance to discuss Tamil issues.

“We also have very high on our list of priorities for our conversations with the new Sri Lankan Government the need for a lasting political settlement for the north, and a credible domestic reconciliation process, along with accountability for alleged violations and abuses of human rights during what was, as has been said in the debate, a long and bloody 30-year conflict,” he added.

Meanwhile the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) says it has no faith in a domestic probe on the war and wants the outcome of the UN investigations to be made public.

Cabinet spokesman Rajitha Senaratne had said that the Government will look at a domestic mechanism to investigate the war and obtain foreign expertise if required.

However TNA MP Suresh Premachandran said that past experiences had shown that a domestic probe had not gone far and so the Tamil community will await the outcome of the UN led investigation.

Premachandran said that there was an attempt to delay the report on the UN investigations on Sri Lanka from being submitted to the UN Human Rights Council in March.

He said that the United States and the United Nations must ensure the report of the UN-led investigations is made public.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office last week said the UN Chief hopes Sri Lanka will work with the UN on the investigations over the war despite launching a new domestic investigation.

Ban’s spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said that the UN is trying to verify how Sri Lanka will cooperate with the UN on the investigation. The Government had yesterday announced it will launch a domestic investigation into the war and obtain the assistance of foreign experts if required.

“We’ve seen those reports. Obviously, we’re trying to figure out what it means in terms of cooperation with the UN human rights investigation. And we hope that there is positive movement in the cooperation between Sri Lanka and the UN system on the investigation of what happened,” Stéphane Dujarric said when asked about the Government announcement.

The Government had said it is working towards changing the mindset of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) towards Sri Lanka by March this year.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ajith P. Perera said that the Government is well aware of the seriousness of the March UNHRC session where a report on the investigations conducted on Sri Lanka will be presented to the Council.

The Deputy Minister said that ahead of the March session the new Sri Lankan Government has obtained the advice of some senior, current and former Sri Lankan diplomats on the issue, and will be looking to try and convince the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to reconsider negative moves on the country.

“We see the March session as very critical towards our country. It is going to be a challenge and we are working towards that. We hope to receive a positive response to our efforts on the human rights issue from the UNHRC before the March session,” he said. He added that the new Government will look to submit a new programme to address the human rights concerns raised on Sri Lanka by the UN Human Rights Council and its members.
The Sunday Leader

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