Did Navi Pillai’s Office work for UN Resolution against Sri Lanka in Geneva?

Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré - UN

Ambassador Kunanayakam Seeks Clarification

Given below is the complete text of a letter sent by the Permanent Representative of the United Nations in Geneva, Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam, to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, regarding an email communication circulated by the Chief of the Asia Pacific Dvision of her Office, Mr. Rory Mungoven, soon after the adoption of the US-led resolution against Sri Lanka at the recent Human Rights Council session. Mr. Mungoven was previously posted in Colombo as Human Rights Advisor.

Mr. Mungoven’s communication reveals the significant role played by the High Commissioner and her staff in triggering the adoption of the resolution on Sri Lanka, in violation of the mandate granted to her by the General Assembly in its resolution 48/141.

The letter sent to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms. Navanethem Pillai by Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam is as follows –

“I am writing to you in connection with an email communication dated 22 March 2012 addressed to the staff of your Office by Mr. Rory Mungoven, Head of the Asia-Pacific Division of OHCHR, triumphantly announcing the adoption that morning of the resolution on Sri Lanka by the Human Rights Council, describing it as “the culmination of the sustained and determined work by many in the team and other parts of the house over the past few years.”

I am attaching a copy of the email for ease of reference.

In his communication, Mr. Mungoven pays special tribute to:

a) Cynthia Veliko, the OHCHR representative in Colombo, and her team “who have had a difficult task of working through all of this on the ground;”

(b) “Richard and the colleagues” who supported the Secretary-General’s Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka “without which this would not have been possible,” thus establishing a link between the adoption of the resolution and the report of the Panel, despite the Council’s rejection of official status to the report at its 18th Session;

(c) the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and staff of the Special Procedures Branch “who added a powerful dimension to our advocacy; and,

(d) others involved in your Office’s “own internal documentation exercise.”

In paying tribute to his colleagues, Mr. Mungoven says that the adoption of such a resolution “seemed unthinkable” in the “the dark days of the conflict or the special session in May 2009.”

On your own role and the role of your Office, Mr. Mungoven boasts that it makes him “very proud of the special role this Office can play in not giving up on impunity issues and the strong, personal leadership of the High Commissioner.”

The email further reveals that your staff is now being mobilized, in the same spirit, for the coming months. Mr. Mungoven calls on your staff to prepare “a good follow on strategy” to make most of “new opportunities “ opened by the resolution, “and “to pursue this agenda further.” According to the email, your Office is will also be participating in the implementation of the recommendation made by the Secretary-General’s Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka to conduct “a comprehensive review of actions by the UN system during the war in Sri Lanka and the aftermath, regarding the implementation of its humanitarian and protection mandates.”

It appears from the communication that your Office played a significant role in triggering the adoption of the resolution on Sri Lanka, contrary to the mandate granted to the High Commissioner and the Office by the General Assembly in its resolution 48/141. It also appears that your Office, instead of implementing the resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council at its Special Session on Sri Lanka in 2009, was playing the political agenda of the USA and other Western powers.

The communication raises serious doubts about the impartiality, objectivity, and non-selectivity of the work conducted by the staff of OHCHR and their respect for decisions of the Human Rights Council. As members of the United Nations Secretariat, the staff of your Office are bound by the Charter requirement to refrain from any action which might reflect on their position as international officials responsible only to the Organisation.

They are also bound to uphold the highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity, which includes probity, impartiality, fairness, honesty and truthfulness in all matters affecting their work and status; Mr. Mungoven does not have the right to cast aspersions or make negative remarks or draw negative implications from decisions taken by the United Nations organs or bodies.

I wish therefore to seek clarification on the developments that appear to be contrary to the mandate granted to the High Commissioner and her Office by General Assembly resolution 48/141.

I will to reiterate that we are deeply attached to the independent, non-partisan and multilateral character of your Office, which is crucial not only for its own credibility, but also for the credibility of the Human Rights Council and the decisions that it adopts.”

(Text of a press communique issued by the Sri Lankan mission to the UN in Geneva)