Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

An Expanded Version of the Sri Lankan Reply to Concerns Raised in the Debate

( Created date: 11-Dec-2007 )

An expanded version of the Sri Lankan reply  by Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary General of the  Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process to concerns raised in the debate at the United Nations Human Rights Council following the report of Ms Louise Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Sri Lanka welcomes the interventions of so many countries and organizations, which suggest a deep concern for the welfare of the citizens of Sri Lanka. Some expressions of this however are reminiscent of a character in a novel of Trollope, a lady who was deeply in love with a gentleman, and would have done anything on his behalf. However, as the novelist put it in a vivid account that is relevant to many relationships, never once did it occur to her to think deeply about what he himself might want or need.

Thus, Mr Chairman, everyone prescribes for Sri Lanka, while not everyone studies our situation deeply. We are as you know in the throes of dealing with a very violent terrorist movement. Other countries, dealing with proportionately less dangerous, proportionately less murderous, organizations, have had to make adjustments with regard to the rights they have striven to uphold, and we are no exception. However, we continue aware of the importance of human rights, and welcome all assistance to maintain these, whilst we continue with our struggle against terrorism that is so destructive of perhaps the most fundamental right of all, the right to life.

We have requested assistance in a number of areas, but so far the response has been disappointing. Sometimes this is due to our own incapacity, sometimes to incapacity or unwillingness on the part of others. Thus, our National Human Rights Commission, currently treated with contumely by some members of the international community, was supposed some time back to have the services of United Nations Volunteers in its branch offices. When the former Senior Human Rights Adviser of the High Commissioner was remonstrated with, for there being a shortfall in this regard during his watch, he noted that donors had been unwilling to contribute. There may have been good reasons for this, but the result is what seems a self fulfilling prophecy.

Again the UN Special Rapporteur, Phillip Alston, produced a very helpful report in 2006 which made clear the need for better police training. Though undoubtedly the Sri Lankan government should also have been more efficient in pursuing his recommendations, it is a pity that the SHRA had not been able to facilitate this, or indeed draw attention to shortcomings in this regard in regular reports to the relatively recently appointed Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights. Not perhaps coincidentally, a national committee appointed by the Minister has recently produced recommendations on similar lines (expanding also on Mr Alston's concern for bilingualism amongst those responsible for security). We hope that even now the High Commissioner's office will assist, along with those members of the international community most concerned about our situation, in expediting the necessary training.

Another example of misplaced concern may be seen in the assertion, undoubtedly in good faith, of the honourable delegate from the Netherlands, who said that the International Group of Eminent Persons, asked by the Sri Lankan government to assist in an important Commission of Inquiry, has resigned. Last month there were very different rumours to the effect that HE our President, who appointed both, was not going to renew their mandates. He has now done this, but the IIGEP has indicated that it will not continue beyond next March.#

Certainly there have been problems, and many of us believe that the inquiries should have been conducted more expeditiously. But it must be remembered that, unlike in many other countries, we are inquiring into such cases before the conflict has concluded. Certainly progress has been much quicker, in the year since the Commission was appointed, than in many similar situations elsewhere. To suggest therefore that the IIGEP has resigned already in despair is unfortunate, and we hope that, in the four months left, the Commission will be able to resolve some of the cases. Incidentally, with regard to one case - since regular investigations continue - the police have already handed over documentation for an indictment to be issued to the legal authorities.

It is important also to note some other misleading claims. There are suggestions that the climate for aid workers is increasingly dangerous. The actual figures however indicate that the situation is much better than last year, when there was one particularly bad incident. That however occurred to 17 aid workers sent, contrary to elementary safety precautions being practised at the time by all other aid agencies, into an area in which the LTTE had launched a full scale attack. This was the first large scale breach of the Ceasefire Agreement (as opposed to its 3000 odd small scale breaches, in comparison with a few hundred by the government as ruled by the Scandinavian manned Sri Lanka Monitoring Mission) and aggressors as well as defenders were under severe pressure until hostilities stopped. The investigation continues and, though assistance from the UN was not readily forthcoming with regard to Witness Protection in this regard, the Australian government has recently proved extremely helpful in this regard.

Again, reference has been made to increasing attacks on civilians. Statistics have been cited with regard to incidents in the last couple of weeks, but specific responsibilities have not been attributed in the blanket assertion that both sides are responsible. As our Permanent Representative made clear, there were three deliberate targetings by the LTTE of civilians, leading to over 30 deaths, the vast majority of those adduced here. Of the rest, the Sri Lankan government stands by its right to deal with institutions devoting themselves to militaristic propaganda. We are sorry in this regard that, whilst the Norwegian government has remonstrated with the LTTE Peace Secretariat, which it helped to fund, for highlighting pictures of suicide cadres about to set off on a mission of destruction, this has not been done by UNDP, which also funded this institution (in good faith and with the acquiescence of the Sri Lankan government, albeit required procedures were not always followed).

Of the civilian deaths in LTTE controlled territory, it should be noted that the Jaffna University Teachers for Human Rights, in a report which is certainly critical of the government in some respects, asserts that the incident in which there were 11 casualties was not the work of the Sri Lankan army. It attributes this to Tamils under the brutal control of the LTTE who resent this, a segment of the population who are ignored by many of the agencies who are otherwise concerned about Sri Lanka.

Finally, attention should be paid to the enduring commitment of the Sri Lankan government, despite all the difficulties it encounters, both with regard to its own capacity and technical competence, as well as with regard to terrorist threats, to abide by its commitments to its citizenry. A recent report by the office in Sri Lanka of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees highlights the continuing provision of advanced educational facilities for instance to almost all the children in Jaffna Welfare Centres. In a context in which the government and Sri Lankan forces are demonized, it should be recorded that there are hardly any problems with regard to what are characterized as 'Protection Incidents'. Just 12 incidents of torture over 18 months may be 12 incidents too much, but it is a record of which many countries would be proud. Incidents with regard to security checks, essential given the terrorist methods Sri Lanka has to combat, came to 134, but the only other type of incident in double figures was Domestic Violence at 62, regrettable but not something to lay at the door of the government or the armed forces.

The government provides IDP rations to 97% of the centres, work is available for 100%, and basic foodstuffs are not only readily available but also affordable. Mr Chairman, this type of monitoring, by a respected UN agency, should be taken note of by our interlocutors. It will make clear that, while we have problems, and welcome aid and assistance to overcome them, as a nation we can be trusted to look after our own.



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