Sri Lanka’s 22nd UNHRC Presentation: A Regurgitation Of Old Undelivered Promises – OpEd


Is the proposed UNHRC resolution heading nowhere? Would the rehashing of old undelivered promises and the continued defiance of the military, still maintaining its claim of zero civilian casualties be enough for Sri Lanka to go home celebrating: Are countries preparing for the long haul, giving Sri Lanka the luxury of time, at the expense of justice for the victims? Or is the noose tightening on the Rajapaksas?

By Usha S Sri-Skanda-Rajah Chair, TGTE Senate


Listening to Mahinda Samarasinghe making his presentation for Sri Lanka at the 22nd session of the UN Human Rights Council was painful. There was no substance in his report. Period! It was merely a regurgitation of the Sri Lankan government’s past presentations, characterized by the usual lack of any substantive action. It was a complete rehash of past promises that to this day has yet to materialise. It was an insult to the intelligence of those listening! Whether the members of the UNHRC would swallow it hook line and sinker as on previous occasions will be known in a few days. The world awaits in anticipation but there is little hope that any concrete steps will be taken by the members of the UNHRC to move to the next phase of investigating Sri Lanka’s conduct of the war and its mass killing of civilians through an independent international body; thereby putting an end to the continuing culture of government impunity and the defiance of the army that still maintains it followed a policy of “zero civilian casualties” in the war, putting the blame on civilian casualties on LTTE as per its “new plan of action” to implement the LLRC “observations”.

The next phase should include an international human rights field presence, an international protective mechanism, in the Tamil heartland of the NorthEast to prevent military and government abuses and intransigencies now happening in the occupied Tamil heartland. Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) is putting this initiative front and centre in its engagement this session in addition to an international independent inquiry.

I would call Sri Lanka’s Minister for Plantation Industries and Special Envoy to President Rajapaksa, Mr. Samarasinghe’s speech the biggest bluff that has been foisted on the world, a presentation devoid of integrity and delivered with no compunction; hopefully not on a gullible and unsuspecting audience.

Sri Lanka couldn’t have fooled those of us who keep a close watch on the ground situation.

Tamil MP appeals to IC to “Save Country from this Government”

Earlier Mathiapranam Sumanthiran, Tamil National Alliance MP, was scathing in his remarks about the Sri Lankan government’s gross inaction and appealed to the international community to save the country from the Sri Lankan government: “Not one recommendation of the LLRC has been implemented, not one item in the National Action Plan has been touched,” he said as he cried out to the world to “save the country from this government.”

Government’s 5 Rs Refuted

Referring to the 5 Rs i.e. Reconstruction Resettlement Rehabilitation, Reintegration and Reconciliation Mr. Samarasinhe, proudly claimed all of the Rs have been achieved. Dr Paul Newman, from the Bangalore University vigorously refuted such claims in his article: Lies Retold – The Annual Sri Lankan Ritual at the UNHRC:

“More than 93,000 people are estimated to still be displaced as of late December 2012, living in camps in Vavuniya, Jaffna and Trincomalee districts, in transit sites or with host communities. Source: Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (January 24, 2013)….In Jaffna alone 70,000 Tamils are yet to return home as their land is occupied as High Security Zones. The entire village of Mullikulam is displaced into the jungles and a naval complex is coming up the area. In Jaffna the Talsevana military resort has come up in the place of land occupied from Tamils,” he writes.

Misleading claims

At a glance my own observations on the pronouncements made by Mr. Samarasinghe centered round subtle but serious misrepresentations. The 27% growth in the GDP in the North was misleading. The 27% growth rate in the North does not reflect any improvement in quality of life of ordinary Tamil people but is due to the unbridled expansion of the Military in the NorthEast and the huge expenses including salaries that comes with it.

Question to address: were measure taken in self defence legal?

The court of inquiry by the army commander on civilian casualties has been mentioned before and is mentioned again. There is already a report out in the public domain which the Army Board prepared on the implementations of the LLRC observations that was handed to Gotabaya Rajapaksa. It found that Sri Lanka “as a sovereign state has an inherent right to self defence” and that the Sri Lankan army’s actions were essentially to destroy a terrorist organization in defense of the land: “Sri Lanka having the “absolute right to take all legal measure necessary to restore law and order arising…(among other) out of terrorism,” it concluded. The focus here should be on “legal measures” whether the measures taken were legal in accordance with international law. If the Sri Lankan army has only taken “legal measure” it need not hesitate in the least to submit to an international inquiry.

Army sticking to its claim that casualties caused by LTTE only

Further the “Plan of Action” proposed by the Army Board on implementation of the Recommendations of the LLRC that has been submitted at this session is a white wash in my opinion and points to civilian deaths committed by the LTTE only, the army still sticking to the claim that it maintained a policy of “zero civilian casualties”: “The so called civilian casualties are mainly consisted of LTTE cadres killed in combat, civilians killed by LTTE for political and other ends and civilians killed by the LTTE whilst attempting to flee LTTE held areas,” and that the “The S.L. Constitution and the existing legal framework are adequate to safeguard Human Rights,” the report concluded. In other words is the army saying Sri Lanka is not going to consider international law although it has to adhere to the UN Charter and United Nations Declaration on Human Rights and other treaties it has signed up to? I know Sri Lanka has not signed on to the Statute of Rome but it has ratified in 1959 the Geneva Conventions 1-1V (not protocols1-3) that govern many of the laws pertaining to war.

Will the roles of Senior Military and Political leaders including the President be inquired into in an Army Court of inquiry?

An inquiry into allegations of Sri Lankan army atrocities committed by the top brass both political and military by the Sri Lankan army would amount to nothing. Not only is the military investigating its own, the question that the TGTE would need answers to is whether the inquiry would go far enough; especially when it involves the whole sale massacre of innocent civilians and the government is defiant that it did not kill civilians. An inquiry that does not involve President Rajapaksa, Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sarath Fonseka, Palitha Kohone, Shavendra Silva and other commanders of various divisions including the Navy and Air Force would not serve the cause of justice for the tens of thousands who perished in what the Tamil people and the TGTE insist was genocide.

It’s important to bear in mind that the Sri Lankan army’s image now stands battered beyond repair under its Commander in Chief, President Rajapaksa and Defence Minister Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the latest allegations coming from Human Rights Watch which reported on 75 cases of sexual abuse including rape and torture committed by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces on Tamil detainees.

Slamming UN Officers doing their duty

Mr. Samarasinghe’s lambasting of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navi Pillay and the OHCHR was out of order and shows the Sri Lankan government’s edginess when it comes to objective criticism and illustrates what their future response would be to UN officers and UN mandate holders doing their duty. Will Sri Lanka willingly cooperate with UN experts monitoring Sri Lanka’s implementation of the LLRC recommendations? Although Mr. Samarasinghe touched on it, blaming the High Commissioner for sending emissaries only to obtain information for her report the question of further cooperation between the two on the implementation of the LLRC remains to be seen. Whether the intended resolution for a UN monitoring service to force Sri Lanka into action is something that Sri Lanka would agree to, also remain to be seen. This question was raised by Dinouk Colombage in his article: Is the US resolution on Sri Lanka justified?

Social Progress not true

The ‘Social Progress’ Mr. Samarasinghe mentioned, achieved through “strengthening of the civil administration” and by the “provision of livelihood support” is not true. There is still 1 army personnel to 5 civilians in the NorthEast. The Military Governor is now ruling the Tamil heartland with orders coming from the President and his brothers, namely Basil Rajapaksa from the Ministry of Economic development and Gotabaya Rajapaksa from the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development. The kind of military corporate culture that exists is not found in any other military in any part of the world; I am talking about the army selling its produce to the public on a corporate scale. The manipulation of the demographic composition by government sponsored colonization to bring in ethnic Sinhalese, the take over of private and state owned land including arable land for military purposes, not to mention the movement of a disproportionate number of Sinhala fishermen into the area, have all negatively impacted the livelihood opportunities of the indigenous ethnic Tamil population.

Zero progress on Trinco and ACF cases

The presentation lacked any fresh new initiatives or showed any progress made on earlier fronts. The same line, the same lies were repeated yet again. With regard to cases relating to the execution style murders of 5 Trinco students and 17 ACF aid workers, Mr. Samarasinge was regurgitating the steps the government promised to take in its previous reports. The government is still on the non summary proceedings stage with regard to the student murders. It is an outrage to keep listening to the same lies over and over again.

As to the LLRC recommendation to inquire into allegations contained in the Channel 4 documentary Killing Fields, Mr. Samrasinghe said that it would be the government’s next task – although these very words were repeated in the National Action Plan submitted at the UPR.

UNHRC must address allegations in two imminent reports

It is time the UNHCR officially looked into the findings of two eminent reports sponsored by the UN itself, namely the Expert Panel Report and the Internal Review Panel Report, both of which point to serious allegations that must be investigated by an independent commission. UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon’s failure to pass on the Expert Panel Report to the UNHCR, his failure to invoke article 99 of the UN Charter during and after the last stages of the war, are matters that require addressing .The Security Council’s failure to act to prevent the carnage and apply the principle of Responsibility To Protect, R2P and the serious matter of UN complicity in the bloodbath that occurred cannot be ignored.

TGTE wants Special Adviser’s report on genocide made public

The TGTE itself wants the report that the Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide prepared during the last stages of the war but never released to be made public, which was referred to in the Internal Review Panel Report. The TGTE Prime Minister Visuvanathan Rudrakumaran said the TGTE is focusing on two major issues at these sessions: “Firstly calling for an international independent investigation with a view to bringing justice for the victims of genocide; Secondly TGTE will focus on Tamil ethnocentric human rights violations rather than ethno neutral violations,” he explained.

A case for an international independent investigation has been made

The erosion of democratic values, the breakdown in the rule of law, the end of a functioning independent judiciary and the move to a fully fledged dictatorship all go to advance the arguments that there is no alternative to an international independent investigation, although 40,000 deaths (and possibly more) according Kenneth Roth of the HRW should “be reason enough” for such an inquiry.

It is shameful that Sri Lanka could stand up in this august body and report no progress since the last resolution during the 19th session that called for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. It is shameful that having made no progress what so ever Sri Lanka has the gall to appear before the Council without delivering the goods; at least to show some results.

Allow international media and INGOs free access

For an independent verification of the true ground situation, Sri Lanka must allow free access to the international media and free movement for major INGO’s. The veteran human rights defender and activist Dr Brian Senewiratne, Senator of the TGTE has vehemently stated that this is indeed a priority more than anything else in a country still operating under the dreaded PTA; where the people are muzzled and cannot speak unless in stage managed circumstances under the watchful eye of the military; where there is a concerted effort to destroy the Tamil identity, culture and language even religions in the name of integration: “Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and International Crisis Group must now be admitted to the Tamil North & East immediately. There cannot now be any reason to exclude internationally credible human rights organisations from the area,” the Senator stated.

Heed Clergy on ground situation

A group of concerned Christian clergy men and women in the NorthEast made an appeal to the High Commissioner, Ms Pillay to go beyond the last resolution: “We feel that the killing and disappearance of tens of thousands of Tamil people and actions that are suppressing the Tamil people and community, our culture, religions, language and, land in a systematic way before, during and after the war appears to be done with an intent to destroy us in whole or in part and thus, it is imperative that the international community addresses this seriously even at this late stage,” they stated in their letter.

A week resolution in the cards, justice delayed is justice denied

As the UNHRC debates, the rest of us know what to expect: another lukewarm resolution brought by the US.

Robert O’Blake, Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs was speaking to the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, Subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific: “I think there is good support thus far to have another vote this year to continue to urge Sri Lanka to implement its own report and that’s why we are pursuing that again this year,” he said sharing the “disappointment” that the US felt at “ Sri Lankas’s failure to address several issues including the implementation of the LLRC action plan, further stating that “the government has not proceeded so far with elections for the Northern Provincial Council, four years after the end of the war.”

Reading Esther Brimmer’s remarks that the “The United States hopes this resolution will be a cooperative effort with the Sri Lankan government,” pretty much indicated to me the contents of the resolution.

Indian External Affairs Minister Salman Kurshid’s refusal to disclose to Rajya Sabha members, the contents of the draft resolution and to state how India would vote, that elicited a walkout by all the Tamil parties in Tamil Nadu, AIDMK, DMK and leftist parties, again smacks of India’s duplicity in this matter and its leanings towards the Rajapaksas.

Issues of sovereignty seem to prevail over the need to catch and punish the perpetrators of mass atrocity crimes. Are countries then preparing for the long haul at the expense of justice for the victims? Or is this a way to pin the Sri Lankan government into a corner?

Sri Lanka ready to party until the next time? Or is the noose tightening on the Rajapaksas?

Is the UNHRC resolution heading nowhere? Is the Sri Lankan government of Mahinda Rajapaksa preparing to party yet again as it stands defiant about its conduct of the war and accountability for civilian casualties, where the diplomatic community would be invited to wine and dine and forget about their country’s legal and moral obligations towards justice and against impunity until the next time! Or is the noose tightening on the Rajapaksas?

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