Sinhala  Tamil    Seperate    
Governtment of Sri Lanka

Sixty years after the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

( Created date: 15-Dec-2008 )

Secretary General of the Peace Secretariat Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha participated in a Commemorative Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva on December 12th. It marked the occasion of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

He made the following remarks on behalf of Sri Lanka:
“Sri Lanka is honoured to contribute to this celebration of the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Under your leadership of this Council, Mr President, and with the guidance of the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, we have no doubt that the Universality of the Declaration will be even more productively affirmed in the coming years than during the past six decades in which we have benefited from that momentous affirmation on December 10th 1948.

The interview of Ms. Navanethem Pillai in the UN Special Magazine on Human Rights laid out clearly the aims and modalities that will help to ensure that more people in more places have access to and are ensured the Rights that the United Nations has recognized over the years. In this context, it is important to affirm the need to promote all Rights, not just those connected with SG Addresses the meeting particular predilections, in particular places, at particular times. Thus, we much welcome the discussion on Education for Minorities that will be held next week. Sri Lanka has over the years provided free education and health facilities to all our citizens, and has succeeded even in areas temporarily under terrorist control. Last week, we managed to conduct the annual school leaving examination in such areas in spite of attempts to disrupt it, which were resisted by parents who continue to appreciate our adherence to Social and Economic rights.

In this regard, we welcome interventions, such as that of the Non-Aligned Movement, which draw attention to certain lacunae in the original Declaration. We believe that the policy of making up for such omissions was implicit in the spirit of the Declaration, but we need to exercise continuing vigilance to fulfil that spirit.

In particular, Mr. President, we need to pay continuing attention to the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights that are sometimes ignored in particular interventions in this Council. And when we consider the needs of the poor, the deprived, the downtrodden, we should think not only of countries that are poor and deprived and downtrodden, but of those who suffer in countries that pride themselves, because of their relative affluence, on their apparent adherence to Human Rights norms. The plight of the homeless in such countries, vividly brought home to me landing yesterday in a freezing Switzerland, should not be subject to such gimmicks as designer coats stuffed with newspaper, but may merit the attention of this Council, and the establishment of Special Mechanisms to alleviate the situation, if countries are unable to deal with such problems on their own.

At the same time, we are also committed to Civil and Political Rights, and will do our best to uphold them throughout the country, despite the difficulties of dealing with totalitarian terrorism. The universality of Human Rights is best exemplified perhaps with regard to terrorism, and we hope that we will no longer have to put up with selective critiques that privilege particular terrorists. Apart from its cavalier dismissal of the right to life, terrorism also leads to special measures that lead to other abuses of human rights and a disregard for civilian life. Though the record of our own armed forces has been exemplary in this regard, we will refrain from drawing attention to the particular sufferings of civilians elsewhere, because we would not wish to seem sympathetic to terrorism in itself. But we would urge all countries engaged in the struggle against terror to treat everyone in areas in which they operate as their own citizens, and not to see people of other cultures and backgrounds as alien.
In this regard, we should perhaps note a debate that has affected the understanding of the universality of human rights. On the one hand, there are claims that some cultures preclude adherence to particular rights, while on the other hand, there are those who see their cultures as the interpreters of all rights, and engage in judgments and definitions that do not conform to the simple rule of thumb asserted sixty years ago, that universal rights should be self-evident. Of course, there will always be grey areas, but whether we go with Aristotle or with Kant, we need what is universally readily comprehensible, rather than with a Platonic concept of elite guardians, accountable to no one but themselves, and even then, not consistently.

As a corollary of this, we need to confirm too our adherence to democracy. Though democracy may have flaws, entitling it to just two cheers, there is no substitute for it, especially when accompanied by safeguards against majoritarianism, a constitutionalist approach that is based on Universal Human Rights. In our struggle in Sri Lanka then to restore pluralist democracy to areas SG Addresses the meetingdeprived of it for many years, we would welcome the assistance of this distinguished body since, in restoring civil administration to previously war affected areas, care and concentrated concern are vital.
But we also need precision about the violations that we all abhor. Genocide and ethnic cleansing are ugly actions, but we need to guard against using them merely as words to pursue particular, unrelated aims. Recently one of the many indices that have sprung up in recent times, in what are termed international media centres, produced an alert about possible genocide in several countries. It transpired however that amongst the criteria used to judge the possibility of genocide was openness to trade. Such attempts to politicize human rights, to attack particular countries on the basis of economic predilections, must be resisted, if values we respect are not to become tools in the hands of international interventionist manipulators.

There has been too much of this in recent times, double standards based it seems, not on principles but on self-interest and personal predilections. And we must never allow the victims of egregious human rights violations to become violators in turn, examples of which have become all too common. We must also be wary of using yardsticks to promote attacks on the very principles of the United Nations, including the sovereignty of its member states.

It is double standards based on particular political agendas, Mr. President, that worry those of us trying to seek principled solutions to the problems all of us face. We should therefore eschew simplistic solutions and half-baked arguments designed to achieve particular political goals. Rather, we need to deal in specifics, to address particular problems with the assistance of those genuinely committed to Human Rights, with the advice and support of international instruments that belong to all of us.

In this respect, we in Sri Lanka are particularly pleased that the Office of the High Commissioner will assist us next month with a trainer training programme for our police force. This is the first of a series that we have been requesting for some time, to help in ensuring better adherence to Human Rights amongst significant stakeholders. Meanwhile, our National Human Rights Commission too looks forward to a renewal of assistance to build up its local offices, to better serve the large numbers now seeking its assistance.

Our commitment to the Universal Declaration will continue, and we look forward, Mr. President, to enhancing its impact in our country, our region, and the world.”

Communications Division
Secretariat for Coordinating the Peace Process


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