Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

“Don’t Preach to us on Human Rights”

( Created date: 11-Dec-2007 )

11 December 07 - In a highly critical speech to the Human Rights Council on Tuesday (Dec. 11) the High Commissioner Louise Arbour, highlighted Sri Lanka’s failure to address a raft of human rights abuses. She is pushing to set up a UN human rights office on the island – a move that Sri Lanka has categorically rejected, as explains Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleka.

Carole Vann, Claire Doole/Infosud - Following her visit to Sri Lanka in October, the top UN human rights official, Louise Arbour has taken the government to task for failing to adequately investigate an “alarming” number of abductions and disappearances over the past two years, and for a lack of safeguards for those detained under emergency regulations. On Tuesday she also expressed her concern at human rights abuses committed by the Tamil Tigers. The Sri Lankan Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleka, rejected the allegations against the government, citing the mitigating circumstances of the civil war.

Louis Arbour says you have failed to adequately investigate an alarming number of abductions and disappearances over the past two years, is she correct?

When we invited her we did not expect a whitewash. We are not smug about the situation in Sri Lanka but I must stress this is taking place against the backdrop of a war. If there was no war there would be no human rights violations. It is a relative judgement because in most places of the world investigations like this happen after the war is finished through Truth and Reconciliation Commissions. We on the other hand are investigating while the conflict is raging and I don’t think we have not been given enough credit for that.

Why has the special Commission of Inquiry appointed by the President more than a year ago to investigate high profile killings and disappearances not yet completed any of its cases?

It has been almost a year but in comparative terms it is not too bad. Even in post conflict situations it takes Truth Commissions many years to get to the bottom of things, as we have seen in South Africa. Just look how many decades it took the British government to investigate “the bloody Sunday” killings in Northern Ireland. However we are not shutting the door. We do have a capacity problem and we have asked for international assistance.

So if there is a capacity problem, why do you not accept the establishment of a UN human rights office as proposed by the High Commissioner?

This is not about capacity. It is about substituting and supplanting national institutions with international ones. We want an expanded role for the senior human rights advisor attached to the UN country team in Sri Lanka with an expanded staff. We don’t want to go it alone but we are not going to permit institutions that have taken decades to set up to be supplanted by non Sri Lankan agencies. Allowing UN monitoring missions and an extended UN field presence to go wherever they like in the country is not in keeping with our laws. We don’t want to be preached at by countries whose own human rights records are far from perfect.

Is the creation of an office a non-starter then?

Well (smiles), my rhetorical question is which part of the word ‘no’ do you not understand? We don’t feel the need to prove anything to the UN Human Rights Commissioner or to the EU. Due to our colonial history we are very sensitive to any large international presence and frankly, we are not going to allow large numbers of mediocre foreigners, many of whom have dodgy connections with western intelligence agencies to fan out over our country. We will take such suggestions for a UN Human rights office more seriously when international bodies become far more representative of the world at large, have transparency of funding, and agendas are not donor driven.

How do you feel about the increased scrutiny that Sri Lanka has come under by the Human Rights Council this year?

We have only come under scrutiny by the EU and the office of the High Commissioner. Western governments need to put their houses in order before they criticise us. In fact at this Council we have the overwhelming support of the majority of members who believe that it is national governments not international institutions that are best placed to deal with human rights issues.
See online: BBC about the visit of Louise Arbour in Sri Lanka, Oct. 13 2007

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