Pillay To Fire, Geneva Mission To Respond

By Easwaran Rutnam-Sunday, September 08, 2013 While the dust settles on what has now become a controversial visit to Sri Lanka by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay, the government is preparing to take her head on at the UN Human Rights Council which will be meeting for its 24th session in Geneva tomorrow. Pillay will be making an oral statement on Sri Lanka to the Council on September 25 on the implementation of resolution 22/1 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. The government has so far decided that its Mission in Geneva will respond to the oral update and other concerns over Sri Lanka that may arise at the council session. However the buildup to the session has seen the External Affairs Ministry on overdrive to counter the concerns Pillay raised at her press conference in Colombo. External Affairs Minister Professor G.L Peiris made critical comments on Pillay’s views, not once but twice last week: once in London and then at the Defence seminar in Colombo. The Ministry responded to an exclusive interview Pillay had given to The Sunday Leader where they rejected most of her observations and comments. Evident call for international investigation Sources at the External Affairs Ministry, familiar on the subject matter, who wished to remain anonymous, said that while Pillay had told the newspaper that she had not called for an international investigation of Sri Lanka after the government had setup the LLRC process, in reality, she continued to maintain calls for outside intervention. “It is more than evident that she has called for an international

investigation even after the setting up of the LLRC,” the sources said. The government recalled that at the 17th Session on May 30, 2011, she went a step further by fully supporting “the recommendation to establish an international mechanism to monitor national investigations” as recommended in the report of the Panel of Experts on Accountability in Sri Lanka (Darusman Report) established by the Secretary General, outside an intergovernmental process, solely to advise him on the subject. The interview to The Sunday Leader aside, during her press conference in Colombo, Pillay had lambasted the government on several fronts giving an indication that her oral report on September 25 will not be rosy. Among her concerns were reports that several people she spoke to have been threatened, an allegation the government said it will investigate if there is proof to back the claims. ‘Visits’ should be punished The New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the government should promptly investigate the allegations. “It’s outrageous for a government that is hosting the UN human rights chief to have their security forces harass the people who met with her,” Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch said. “The Sri Lankan government should announce that ‘visits’ or other forms of harassment of those who spoke to the high commissioner will be punished. And the government should make sure they punish officials who’ve already done so.” When in Sri Lanka, Pillay held extensive meetings with people in the formerly embattled North and East of the country, as well as with government officials, politicians, and activists. The Centre for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, based in Trincomalee in Eastern Sri Lanka, reported being harassed by military personnel a few hours after its staff met with Pillay. Father Yogeswaran, who runs the center, said that they had been visited at midnight and in the early morning, and was aware that others who had met with Pillay were similarly approached. Several other victims, witnesses and rights activists told a leading Colombo-based organization that they were visited by military personnel following meetings with Pillay. Pillay herself, in her statement, said that she had received disturbing reports about “the harassment and intimidation of a number of human rights defenders, at least two priests, journalists, and many ordinary citizens who met with me, or planned to meet with me. I have received reports that people in villages and settlements in the Mullaitivu area were visited by police or military officers both before and after I arrived there in Trincomalee, several people I met were subsequently questioned about the content of our conversation.” Human Rights Watch called on the authorities to take all necessary measures to end the harassment of all those who met with Pillay and ensure their security. Human Rights Watch reiterated its call, also made by Pillay, for a strong and effective victim and witness protection program in Sri Lanka. Pillay is due to deliver an oral report on her trip to the UN Human Rights Council later in September. Government doesn’t care enough Sri Lanka has a long history of silencing critics of the government, Human Rights Watch said. Members of activist, religious, and human rights groups, as well as media workers, have faced reprisals for reporting critically on government abuses. Risks are greatest for those working in former contested areas in the North and East, or away from major urban areas such as

Colombo. “Despite promises to Pillay of unfettered access, Sri Lankan authorities have gone about business as usual in harassing those courageous enough to come forward to talk about the country’s many human rights problems,” Adams said. “A government that doesn’t care enough to call off its security forces for a few days while the UN’s rights chief is visiting is a government that plainly doesn’t care about respecting basic human rights.” The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office meanwhile also reacted to the concerns raised on Sri Lanka by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay. Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt tweeted saying her concerns confirm that it is vital that Sri Lanka meets the declared intentions on reconciliation and human rights. The government accused Pillay of violating her mandate by making political statements at her press briefing in Colombo. In a formal response to the statement made by Pillay at the press briefing, the Department of Government Information in a statement said that the High Commissioner’s observation that Sri Lanka “is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction” is a political statement on her part, which clearly transgresses her mandate and the basic norms which should be observed by a discerning international civil servant. “It also runs contrary to the many assertions the High Commissioner made about the unfettered access she was provided, the freedom people presently enjoy in contrast to the last time she visited Sri Lanka in 2000, and the vibrant political debates and election campaigns of which evidence was seen by her and acknowledged, reflecting the political pluralism enjoyed by the people of Sri Lanka. The judgment on the leadership of the country is better left for the people of Sri Lanka to decide, than being caricatured by external entities influenced by vested interests,” the government said. UN & Amnesty back Pillay The United Nations (UN) headquarters in New York last week however said it backs the work carried out by Pillay while she was in Sri Lanka. Farhan Haq, Associate Spokesperson for UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, said that the UN also encourages respect for the work of all human rights defenders. “Certainly, we believe that no one should face intimidation for speaking to the United Nations. We also encourage respect for the work of all human rights defenders. And we, needless to say, we respect… we fully support the work that Navaneethem Pillay was doing while she was on the ground in Sri Lanka. We may have more to say on this down the line, but for now, those are the standard principles,” Farhan Haq said. Meanwhile Amnesty International noted that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group, responsible for addressing all instances of serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values, is expected to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka at its meeting this month. Amnesty said there is still every need for the UN to set up an independent international investigation into crimes under international law in Sri Lanka, as Pillay has called for in the past. The human rights group said the UN and Commonwealth must respond effectively to the latest concerns raised by Pillay.