The GOSL strongly repudiates the High Commissioner’s assertion that if certain concerns are not comprehensively addressed, she believes “the international community will have a duty to establish its own inquiry mechanisms”. We also note that the HC has no mandate to make such a claim. Multiple mechanisms to address accountability have been put in place and are in motion as a continuous progression from the LLRC process.”
Criticising several other allegations levelled against Sri Lanka, Mr. Aryasinha said, “The Sri Lankan government strongly refutes the HC’s view that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains critically important”. As pointed out many times in this Council by my delegation, the disproportionate attention paid to Sri Lanka, largely at the behest of parties with vested interests, considerably complicates the on-going delicate process of reconciliation. Sri Lanka is not a situation that requires the urgent and immediate attention of the Council. Sri Lanka needs to be encouraged, not impeded.”
Statement by Sri Lanka as concerned for the Oral update of the High Commissioner- Agenda Item
Mr. President, I have already lodged a protest with you, that contrary to the rules of procedure which casts a duty on the OHCHR that acts as the Secretariat to the HRC to prepare and circulate documents in an “early and timely manner”, that the advance copy of the HC’s oral update to the Council on Sri Lanka was received at only at 1830 yesterday, leaving us only a night to prepare our response.
GOSL reply and the 22/1 resolution
It is recalled that the Oral Update of the High Commissioner which is presented today originates from Council resolution 22/1 which was rejected by GOSL. The resolution under reference was adopted with a vote in Council. Our position is that this resolution is not the result of an objective assessment of the ground situation in Sri Lanka, but the outcome of a politicised process, premised on a report which exceeded the mandate granted by previous resolution 19/2. The GOSL also submitted that the resolution 22/1 was in contravention of GA resolution 60/251 as well as the Council resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 that should guide the work and method of engagement of the Council.
However, notwithstanding our rejection of resolution 22/1, the Government has continued with its genuine and credible commitment to the reconciliation process within the framework of the National Plan of Action on the implementation of the recommendations of the LLRC and kept the Council informed in this regard.
Provincial Council Elections
I take the floor today, not only in the aftermath of a visit to Sri Lanka by the High Commissioner from 25 to 31 August 2013 pursuant to an invitation extended to her in April 2011, but also as the Government and the people of Sri Lanka last Saturday (21 September) completed elections to 3 of the 9 provincial councils, which by all accounts have been free and fair – the ultimate ‘litmus test’ of any democracy. In it, two’ of the most populous multi-ethnic, multi-racial of provinces – the North Western and the Central, overwhelmingly returned the ruling UPFA coalition to office, with popular votes of 66.43% and 60.16% respectively, while in the Northern Province, where elections were held for the first time since the introduction of the Provincial Council system in Sri Lanka in 1987, the ruling coalition received 18.38%, the leading opposition United National Party (UNP) 0.68 %, while the ethnic Tamil party the Ilankai Tamil Arasu Kadchi (ITAK) secured 78.48%. As President Mahinda Rajapaksa stated earlier this week, “holding an election to provide the people in the North who were under terrorist control for three decades the right to elect their own administration, is a victory for the government”.
I want to assure the High Commissioner that GOSL will continue to work with all Provincial Councils in the country, which includes the new Northern Provincial Council. Therefore, the High Commissioner’s “recommendation” to work with the Northern Provincial Council is a misnomer and has hallmarks of prejudgment on the delivery of a sovereign government’s responsibilities.
We must however remember that sections of the Tamil diaspora had strongly opposed Tamil parties participating in this election. It pertinent that the High Commissioner in her press statement at the end of her visit to Sri Lanka High Commissioner conveyed a strong and clear message to sections of the Tamil diaspora affiliated with the former LTTE, by declaring that “the LTTE was a murderous organization that committed numerous crimes and destroyed many lives” and that “those in the diaspora who continue to revere the memory of the LTTE must recognize that there should be no place for the glorification of such a ruthless organisation”. We consider this assertion by the High
Commissioner to be important given that much of the action against Sri Lanka in the Council is emanating from a politicized process led by countries whose interests and compulsions are driven and influenced by certain extreme elements of the diaspora, offering electoral favours.
High Commissioner’s visit
There is no doubt that there remains work to be done to complete the ongoing reconciliation process in Sri Lanka. However, given the High
Commissioner’s own admission while in Colombo that her visit was her “longest visit”, and that she was able to “go anywhere and see anything” that she “wished to see”, there was legitimate expectation in Sri Lanka that she would adopt an objective and unbiased approach to the country in her Oral Update to the Council. It is unfortunate that this is not the case.
Many of the issues flagged in the High Commissioner’s report have already been comprehensively responded to in our statement under
Agenda Item as well as the numerous other interventions made during the course of this session as has been the past practice. However, for purposes of record, the full text of my statement that is being circulated reiterates the main points.
Having brought normalcy to the lives of the civilian population, GOSL has also taken positive steps to address issues of accountability. The GOSL strongly repudiates the High Commissioner’s assertion that if certain concerns are not comprehensively addressed, she believes “the international community will have a duty to establish its own inquiry mechanisms”. We also note that the HC has no mandate to make such a claim. Multiple mechanisms to address accountability have been put in place and are in motion as a continuous progression from the LLRC process.
In this context, our comprehensive statement details action underway to probe alleged killings including the 5 students in Trinco where the case commenced earlier this month and 30 witnesses have summoned to appear on October 29th, the lines of investigation into the ACF case, the status on’ the Army Court of Inquiry into the Channel 4 allegations, investigation into custodial deaths of prisoners in Vavuniya and Welikada. It also provides details on the 3 member Commission appointed to Investigate Allegations of Abductions and Disappearances related to the conflict, cooperation with the ICRC on the missing persons and engagement with the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance (WGEID).
With regard to the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual harassment and abuse in the North as referred to in the Update, The
GOSL deplores all such acts of violence against women and girls and has taken concrete action against reported cases and will continue to do so. It is noteworthy that a comprehensive study undertaken of incidents of sexual offences which have occurred in the North has revealed that out of a total of 375 reported incidents during the conflict and in the post conflict periods (2007-2012), only 11 incidents (involving 17 security forces personnel) can be attributed to the security- forces. Therefore, the inference that the presence of the military contributes to insecurity of women and girls in the former conflict affected areas is baseless and disingenuous. Pursuant to the LLRC NPoA, the need for counseling and psychosocial support for those who have been affected by the prolonged conflict, counseling and psycho-social support programmes are conducted in the North and East have reached 45,991 persons in the two provinces.
GOSL has at no time ‘downplayed’ allegations of attacks against religious minorities, and strongly rejects accusations of “state patronage or protection given to extremist groups”. Such generalizations lack credibility. It is for this reason that the GoSL has requested specific information on such allegations. While existing provisions in the Penal Code and the ICCPR Act criminalise ‘hate speech’, steps are underway to further strengthen the law against hate speech through a new amendment, under which those found guilty will be liable to imprisonment for a period not less than five years and not exceeding twenty years. We would welcome any technical assistance on the scope of such legislation.
The issue of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders was comprehensively addressed in our statement under Agenda Item 2 – General Debate on the first day of the Council. The GoSL is fully committed to the protection of human rights defenders and have requested the OHCHR to provide us with specific information with regard to the allegations. Sri Lanka has been consistent in its stance that it does not condone any attacks on freedom of speech. Investigative authorities have always taken all measures to conduct effective investigations relating to any complaints regarding harassment and or assassination of journalists, whenever, credible evidence is available, steps have been taken to prosecute the offenders.
While the Update refers to the abolition of the Constitutional Council via the 18th Amendment, it must be remembered that the legislature, enacted the 18th amendment to address the infirmities that had rendered the Constitutional Council non-operable. The fact that several
Commissions and high offices have been operationalized since the 18th amendment and their robust functioning today, demonstrate its efficacy. Similarly, all constitutional stipulations inclusive of due process rights were followed in relation to the impeachment proceedings of the former Chief justice. Sri Lanka reiterates that similar provisions exist in other countries in relation to the removal of higher judiciary, and the impeachment process was in keeping with the constitutional imperatives.
In the above context, we strongly reject the unsubstantiated claims in the Update that the rule of law and democratic institutions are being undermined and eroded.
Over the years, Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to be constructive and proactive engagement with the mechanisms of the Council including special procedures, treaty bodies and the UPR. The
Government has already scheduled a visit by the SR on IDPs in
December this year, and extended an invitation to the SR on Education to visit in January 2014. We will continue to schedule visits of special procedures mandate holders in the future following a consultative process.
The GoSL welcomes consideration of technical cooperation in the process of reconciliation and possibilities in this regard have been detailed in our statement. Sri Lanka however notes that technical cooperation provided in full cooperation and consultation with the Government of Sri Lanka, must complement the ongoing reconciliation process. We also note that the unwarranted call for a truth seeking mechanism would only be tantamount to duplication and multiplication of existing institutions and initiatives.
In conclusion Mr. President, the GOSL strongly refutes the HC’s view that “the human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains critically important”. As pointed out many times in this Council by my delegation, the disproportionate attention paid to Sri Lanka, largely at the behest of parties with vested interests, considerably complicates the on-going delicate process of reconciliation. Sri Lanka is not a situation that requires the urgent and immediate attention of the Council. Sri Lanka needs to be encouraged, not impeded.
I thank you.