by Namini Wijedasa
A senior minister has rejected any inference that Navi Pillay, the UN human rights chief, had deliberately assigned three countries that voted for a resolution against Sri Lanka to oversee a review of our rights situation due later this year.
In fact, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has no influence over the choice of countries selected to be members of the troika. They are chosen by the drawing of lots.
It was reported last week that the government was “perturbed” over Pillay’s decision to task India, Spain and Benin with assessing Sri Lanka’s human rights performance at the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November. It said that all three had voted for a US-sponsored resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council in March.
Two different processes
“The UPR and resolution are two different processes,” said Mahinda Samarasinghe, minister of Plantations Industries, and the likely head of Sri Lanka’s delegation to the HRC in November. “UPR is a constructive engagement of countries, both members and non members of the Human Rights Council. It’s a peer review, whereas the resolution process is more a political one.”
“One only has to look at the resolution that established the UPR process to be informed that the troika doesn’t have anything beyond the coordination role that they have been given,” he elaborated. “They also prepare the final report in consultation with the country concerned. Any information that representatives from these countries are coming to Sri Lanka and have been assigned by the high commissioner to do so is also utter rubbish.”
In June 2007, members of the new Human Rights Council adopted resolution A/HRC/RES/5/1 to define how its future activities would be conducted. A key component of this was defining the modalities of UPR process. It described the troika as “a group of three rapporteurs” and said they would be selected by the drawing of lots among the members of the council.
The duties of the troika are to facilitate each review and to prepare the report, with assistance and expertise from the OHCHR. The resolution says the country under review may request that one of the rapporteurs be from its own regional group (in this case, Asia).
Merit in doing things traditionally
It is learnt that Sri Lanka did avail itself of this opportunity. “We had one choice of whether or not we wanted someone from Asia,” Samarasinghe said in a recent interview with LAKBIMAnEWS. “We couldn’t name the country but we did say we wanted someone from the Asian region. Lots were picked and it was by chance that India was selected.”
Asked whether he thought India was a good choice, Samarasinghe replied in the affirmative. “I think it’s good because India is in a better position than most others to assess objectively the ground situation in Sri Lanka,” he explained. “However, just because India is one of the troika doesn’t necessarily mean they can influence the report. But, of course, the India delegation will no doubt take the floor and participate in the interactive sessions.”
While nobody from the troika will visit Sri Lanka, experts from the HRC are expected to arrive to offer advice and technical assistance to the government as defined in the US-led resolution.
The initiative, passed in March 2012 amidst loud opposition from the Sri Lankan government, encouraged the OHCHR to provide, “in consultation with, and with the concurrence of, the Government of Sri Lanka,” advice and technical assistance in implementing the provisions of the resolution.
After initially turning down Pillay’s request for a visit by an expert delegation, the government changed its mind. Observers say this falls in line with the Rajapaksa regime’s new “quiet diplomacy” approach. Considerable work has been done since the passing of the resolution in March to avert any further action against Sri Lanka. “I think the government now accepts that there is merit in doing things the traditional way, quietly and efficiently,” said a Sri Lankan diplomat, on condition of anonymity.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka’s country report – prepared in the run-up to its UPR in November – is expected to be posted on the HRC website within the next two weeks. It shows what Sri Lanka has done between 2008 (when the last period review took place) and the end of July 2012. The National Human Rights Action Plan and the National Action to Implement the Recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission form part of Sri Lanka’s submissions; these show what Sri Lanka will do in future.
It is anticipated that the country report will once again criticize attempts in the HRC to pass resolutions against Sri Lanka, showing they did not help the country in any way. It is also likely to praise the UPR process which Sri Lanka has cooperated with from its inception.
In most probability, the country report will again try and dispel the notion that the government caused civilians to be trapped in shrinking terrain as the fighting grew worse; it will firmly blame the Tigers for using civilians as a ‘human shield.’ And it is likely to emphasize that the LTTE’s international connections and other backers are continuing a campaign of disinformation against Sri Lanka.
Pillay’s biting account
In a report to the UN Secretary General released on Monday, high commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has given a biting account of how human rights defenders in Sri Lanka were victimized during and after the passing of the US-led resolution in March.
The report on ‘Cooperation with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights’ is available on the website of the UN Human Rights Council. It contains “a compilation and analysis of any available information, from all appropriate sources, on alleged reprisals against the persons referred to in paragraph 1 of the resolution, as well as recommendations on how to address the issues of intimidation and reprisals.”
The said paragraph 1 alludes to “individuals and groups who seek to cooperate or have cooperated with the United Nations, its representatives and mechanisms in the field of human rights.”
Last week’s report contains information gathered from June 15, 2011 to July 15, 2012. Other countries mentioned are Algeria, Bahrain, Belarus, China, Colombia, Iran, Kazakhstan, Lebanon, Malawi, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Pillay points out that her previous reports have referred to “the climate of fear human rights defenders face in Sri Lanka.” The adoption of the resolution on reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka in March 2012 “resulted in significant escalation of hostile and defamatory media reporting in Sri Lanka, which primarily focused on human rights defenders in Geneva,” Pillay says.
Her report states that human rights defenders described an environment of intimidation and hostility at the 19th session of the council. It says Sunila Abeysekera, Nimalka Fernando and Sandya Ekneligoda were questioned or harassed in Geneva either by members of the Sri Lanka embassy or by members of the Sri Lanka delegation.
Pillay observes that, between March 14 and 17, 2012 several articles appeared in the Sri Lankan press relating to human rights defenders, accusing them of working with the LTTE. Some of these were reproduced in official government sites.
“A number of programmes depicting the Human Rights Council session were broadcast on national television in Sri Lanka during the same period, reportedly portraying human rights defenders in a negative light,” Pillay says.
Her submission makes special reference to Mervyn Silva, minister of Public Relations. She says he reportedly named several activists as “traitors” and threatened to break the limbs of any exiled journalists who dared to return to Sri Lanka after making statements against the country abroad. He spoke at a public demonstration in Kiribathgoda. She specified however that External Affairs minister G.L. Peiris later condemned him for making public threats of violence while adding that such remarks could neither be condoned nor justified.
Pillay says she addressed these issues in a press briefing by her spokesperson on March 23. She warned that “there must be no reprisals against Sri Lankan human rights defenders in the aftermath of yesterday’s adoption by the Human Rights Council of a resolution on Sri Lanka.” She also observed that “during this Human Rights Council session, there has been an unprecedented and totally unacceptable level of threats, harassment and intimidation directed at Sri Lankan activists who had travelled to Geneva to engage in the debate, including by members of the 71-member official Sri Lankan Government delegation.”
Newspapers, news websites, TV and radio stations in Sri Lanka have since January been running “a continuous campaign of vilification, including naming and in many cases picturing activists, describing them as an ‘NGO gang’ and repeatedly accusing them of treason, mercenary activities and association with terrorism,” it was pointed out at the press conference. “Some of these reports have contained barely veiled incitement and threats of retaliation.”
The high commissioner also noted that “some of the attacks on human rights defenders were carried in Sri Lankan state media and government websites or were filed by journalists who had been officially accredited to the Human Rights Council session by the Sri Lankan Permanent Mission.” courtesy: Lakbima News