A senior UN woman official who was expelled by South Sudan for allegedly conducting an unethical probe into human rights violations in the country has now been appointed as the senior coordinator of the probe into Sri Lanka by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
It is reliably learnt that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham Pillay has finalised the appointment of UN Official Ms. Sandra Beidas as the senior coordinator of the forthcoming investigation into human rights violations, crimes against humanity and war crimes that allegedly occurred in Sri Lanka during the seven year period from 2002 to 2009.
It is expectd that Ms. Sandra Beidas will formally call on Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha , Sri Lanka’s envoy to the UN In Geneva in the next few days as a matter of courtesy.
According to informed sources the UN Human Rights Commissioner Ms. Navi Pillay has now assembled together a team of officials to engage in the probe on Sri Lanka a required by the resolution passed at the UN Human rights Council in March this year.Ms. Pillay who is retiring as Human Rights Commissioner in August this year will officially inform the 47 member state UN Human rights council this week of the finalisation of a team of investigating officials on Sri Lanka.
“My office has now put in place a staff team that will be supported by several experts and Special Procedures mandate holders to conduct the comprehensive investigation mandated by this Council in order to advance accountability and thus reconciliation,” outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will tell the Council when its 26th Session opens on Tuesday (10 June) in Geneva.
An exclusive report filed last week by Ms. Dharisha Bastians for the “Daily Financial Times”published in Colombo outlined the composition of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) investigative team that will probe allegations of major human rights violations by both sides in the Sri Lankan conflict.
The team would be drawn largely from the OHCHR but also include two senior experts of international stature and consult with three special rapporteurs – on extrajudicial and arbitrary killing, torture and enforced disappearances, the “Daily FT” report revealed. The investigators will travel to Sri Lanka – if access is granted – and also North America, Europe and the Asia Pacific region to gather evidence and witness testimony.
While the initial outlay of budget and staff is not final, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights has earmarked three human rights investigators, one legal advisor, a senior coordinator, an administrator and a Sinhala and Tamil translator to be part of the investigation panel. One of the human rights investigators will specialise in gender issues, according to the preliminary staffing outline, the DailyFT report said
Informed sources from the External affairs ministry revealed that Ms. Navi Pillay has informed Sri Lanka that the senior coordinator of the investigation team would be Ms. Sandra Beidas who has had many years of experience in the field of human rights and possesses much expertise on human rights issues.Ms. Beidas is a senior UN official who has worked earlier with the human rights watchdog –Amnesty International.She would be in charge of all administrative aspects of the probe on Sri Lanka.
Knowledgeable sources in Colombo said that while the entire investigation process was by itself unacceptable to Sri Lanka,the appointment of Ms. Sandra Beidas as chief coordinator was a matter of grave concern.
The sources said that South Sudan had expelled Sandra Beidas when the UN official was carrying out an investigation into the human rights situation there.A South Sudan government spokesman charged then that the investigator had published “unethical” reports which had no truth in them.
“I urge the Government of South Sudan to reverse its expulsion order and find a solution to this unfortunate episode, which contradicts the Government’s publicly stated commitment to human rights,” the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, had stated then in a press release.
According to news reports published then ,the staff member, named as Sandra Beidas, who works with the UN Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS), was last transferred two weeks ago to the UN Regional Service Centre in Entebbe, Uganda, pending a decision on her future status. She was given 48 hours to leave the country by South Sudan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
“In the two weeks since she was expelled, the authorities have so far not provided the UN with any satisfactory evidence of serious misconduct by the staff member,” said Ms. Pillay in the press release. “The Government therefore appears to be in breach of its legal obligations under the UN Charter and under the 2011 Status of Forces Agreement between the Government of South Sudan and the UN concerning UNMISS.”
According to a news report in the “Sudan Tribune”Beidas’ expulsion, may have been linked to a UN report published in August, which accused the South Sudan army (SPLA) of incidents of torture, rape, killings and abducting civilians during the civilian disarmament campaign in South Sudan’s Jonglei State.
Ms. Pillay noted then that the authorities, when they ordered the staff member Ms. Sandra Beidas to leave the country, accused her of misinforming the international community about human rights abuses. This was “utterly unsatisfactory and unacceptable,” she stated.
“If the Government has issues with the contents of a report, or with the manner in which the information is collected, they should be raised with UNMISS and with my office,” said the High Commissioner Navi Pillay.
“The regular activities of a UN human rights officer cannot and should not be considered as serious misconduct or a criminal activity,” she emphasised. “The promotion and protection of human rights is an essential element in a country’s development and the establishment of rule of law.”
Ms. Pillay called on the new South Sudan state “to take urgent steps to ensure that the authorities at all levels respect their international obligations, both in terms of their treatment of UN staff and in their application of international laws and standards.”
Although Sri Lankan External Affairs ministry sources expressed concern about the appointment of Ms. Sandra Beidas as chief coordinator of the Sri Lankan probe, Human rights activists welcomed the decision saying Ms. Beidas was the “ideal choice possessing unimpeachable integrity,objectivity and efficiency”
Ms. Sandra Beidas who was earlier working for Amnesty International joined the UN more than fifteen years ago.She has worked in the Haiti Human Rights mission for eight years.Later she had been chief of child protection as part of the UN peacekeeping mission in Congo.In 2006 Ms. Beidas oined the UNOHCHR office in Nepal as head of protection and reporting section.She was also acting for a while as the representative of the UN High Commissioner for Human rights in Nepal.
When Ms.Sandra Beidas was expelled from South Sudan the incident resulted in widespread condemnation.A mass petition signed by thousands was submitted to the South Sudan president then.The petition stated as follows-
Dear President Salva Kirr Mayardit,
“The recent expulsion of United Nations officer Sandra Beidas for investigating human rights abuses in South Sudan has raised troubling questions. While your government maintains that Ms. Beidas’ accusations are unfounded and “unethical,” her report corresponds with human rights violations documented by a recent Amnesty International publication. These violations include rape, killings, abductions, and torture of citizens at the hands of security personnel.
It is essential that these human rights abuses be thoroughly investigated. The expulsion of a UN official and an ongoing refusal to discuss the accusations begs the question of how serious South Sudan is about upholding human rights. As a relatively new country, it is paramount that South Sudan works to build strong institutions, infrastructure, and accountability.
I ask that you reconsider the expulsion of Ms. Beidas and work to rectify these human rights abuses”.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at email@example.com