Sri Lanka Reiterates Rejection of US Sponsored Resolution and Categorically Refuses to Cooperate with UNHRC Investigation.


Dharisha Bastians

Sri Lanka yesterday categorically refused to cooperate with the UN investigation into alleged war crimes and major rights abuses in the last seven years of the war, and called into question the credibility of senior UN staff that will be leading the probe.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ravinatha Aryasinha told the UN Human Rights Council’s 26th Session that opened in Geneva yesterday that the US-led resolution adopted by the Council in March this year violated the principles of international law.

“I reiterate Sri Lanka’s categorical rejection of Resolution 25/1 and our non-cooperation with the OHCHR driven ‘comprehensive investigation’ emanating from it,” Ambassador Aryasinha emphasised.

He said the resolution that calls for a “comprehensive investigation” to allegations of major human rights violations by both sides to the conflict was based on “profoundly flawed premises, inimical to the interests of the Sri Lankan people”.

Last Friday, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) informed Sri Lanka’s Permanent Mission to the UN in Geneva about the broad structure of the investigation and naming senior officials leading the UN staff team, a spokesperson for Pillay’s office told the Daily FT.

Senior UN staffer Sandra Beidas has been named ‘senior coordinator’ of the Sri Lanka investigation, which will be supervised by two senior independent experts who will work pro bono with the team.

Beidas was expelled by the South Sudanese Government after the UN Mission in South Sudan released a report accusing Government troops of atrocities.

The Sri Lankan Government is citing the controversy in South Sudan involving Beidas to call her credibility into question.

“The prejudice and bias concerning Sri Lanka repeatedly displayed by the High Commissioner and the OHCHR remain of deep concern, while reports which question the credibility of the coordinator appointed for the investigation have already emerged,” Ambassador Aryasinha told the Council in his official remarks.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, who delivered her last report to the 47-member Council yesterday, urged the Sri Lankan Government to cooperate with the probe.

“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,” the UN Rights Chief, who retires this August, told the Council yesterday.

The 15-member investigation team is tipped to commence work in July 2014, the OHCHR Spokesperson said.

The investigators will travel to North America, Europe and through the Asia Pacific and Sri Lanka – if access is granted – to gather evidence and witness testimony, according to a preliminary staffing guideline document.

UNHRC representatives for the US, UK and Montenegro also urged the Sri Lankan Government to cooperate with the OHCHR probe.

Referencing Sri Lanka twice in his statement to the Council yesterday, US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Keith Harper said the investigation signalled the importance of promoting justice, accountability and reconciliation.

“We urge the Sri Lankan Government to cooperate fully with the investigation, including granting access to investigators and preventing retaliation against those who provide information to the High Commissioner’s Office,” Ambassador Harper noted.

UK’s Representative to the Human Rights Council also encouraged the Sri Lankan Government to facilitate access and ensure those cooperating with the investigation can do so without fear of intimidation of reprisals.

Aryasinha said the March resolution’s lack of clarity set a dangerous precedent and would destabilize the intricate balance in the homegrown process of national reconciliation.

In its national statement to the Human Rights Council, the Government highlighted the activities of the LTTE’s overseas networks, including trained cadre and funding by sections of the Tamil community, despite its military defeat in 2009.

The Government said in the statement to the Council that in 2012, LTTE cadres operating on instructions of LTTE operatives in France carried out an assassination of a member of a political party (EPDP) in Trincomalee. “This was the initial indication that the LTTE was regrouping to carry out acts of violence in the country,” the statement said.

Aryasinha said the operations continue to pose a security challenge to Sri Lanka and the region.

Navi Pillay’s Swansong after Six Years as UN Human Rights Commissioner

Outgoing UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay delivered a final poignant report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday, with many member states in the 47-member body hailing her contribution and rights advocacy in her six years in office.

“It has been an honour to serve,” the 72-year-old former South African Judge told the Council, following a broad critique of the human rights situation world over, including in the US, EU, Israel and many other parts of the world.

“Dalit or Brahmin, Peul or Pole, gay or heterosexual, tycoon or pauper, woman, child or man – regardless of our ethnicity, our age, our form of disability, our beliefs, or our economic might, all human beings are equal in dignity,” Navi Pillay told the world human rights body, in an impassioned appeal to the international community to keep fighting to safeguard the rights of all humankind.

Pillay said the reporting and analysis by her Office and calls for investigations have frequently been greeted with stone-walling and denial.

“Is this because we have criticised governments? Surely that is the nature of human rights advocacy – to speak truth to power; to confront privilege and entrenched hierarchy with an unshakeable belief in human dignity, equality and freedom,” she noted.

US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva Keith Harper thanked High Commissioner Pillay for her outstanding leadership of the OHCHR.

“The OHCHR achieved numerous breakthroughs on critical human rights issues – from the Commissions of Inquiry on the DPRK (North Korea) and Syria to the human rights violations and abuses in Sri Lanka,” Harper noted.

Parliament to decide on access for UN investigators says President Rajapaksa

The decision on whether to allow UN investigators access into the country will be made by Sri Lanka’s Parliament, President Mahinda Rajapaksa said yesterday, breaking his Government’s silence on the access issue.

“These people are asking our permission to investigate, go here and there and dig up things, to check if we have committed war crimes,” President Rajapaksa told a function in Polonnaruwa yesterday.

The President said the responsibility to make that decision had to be borne by Parliament, because it was in the legislature that the peoples’ will is represented.

“We will put it before Parliament and allow the MPs to decide whether to allow these investigators in or not,” he said.