By S. V. Kirubaharan
The 1st session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) was held in June 2006. Its 21st session took place last month. Even with its horrendous human rights record, Sri Lanka managed to be a member of the HRC for the first two years, but when it stood for re-election in 2008, it was not elected by the UN General Assembly.
This year the HRC completed its sixth year and has seen at least five Sri Lankan Ambassadors / Permanent Representatives. This is one of the many examples of Sri Lanka’s record breaking. The shortest period served and the most humiliated Ambassador/Permanent representative was a Tamil, Ms Tamara Kunanayakam. This shows in a minor way the racism and discrimination practiced by Rajapaksa’s regime towards Tamils in the island.
However, very happy to note that Tamara Kunanayakam has accepted her re-location to Cuba. This will open the eyes of the Cubans to see how strong the racism and discrimination is, in Sri Lanka.
EU resolution and birth of IIGEP
Sri Lanka is under frequent scrutiny of the HRC. On the very first day of the 2nd session, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mme Louise Arbour, spoke against the seriously violating countries and Sri Lanka was one of them. She suggested that a permanent International Human Rights Monitoring body be established in Sri Lanka. Following her speech, many Special Rapporteurs who spoke on thematic issues, covered Sri Lanka in their presentations. At the same time there were many parallel meetings on Sri Lanka and various INGOs strongly advocated for a permanent International human rights monitoring body in Sri Lanka.
During the course of the second week of the 2nd session, diplomats of the European Union took the initiative and then Finland as the holder of the EU presidency produced a text “draft decision 2006/….. Sri Lanka” (A/HRC/2/L.37). The saga started from then.
The Sri Lankan delegation had been instructed from Colombo that under no circumstances should any scrutiny by the HRC be accepted. The Sri Lankan delegation lobbied a few states, especially Asian and African ones not to accept the EU proposed draft decision. To be brief, as a result of its heavy lobbying, Sri Lanka avoided the EU resolution but agreed to an alternative solution to form an, “International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP)”.
The IIGEP was established by the Government of Sri Lanka in February 2007. It was intended to oversee the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (CoI), appointed to inquire into 16 cases of gross human rights violations, and was headed by India’s former chief justice P. N. Bhagwathi. The IIGEP issued three public statements raising serious concerns about the conduct of the premier prosecution body:
- IIGEP suggestions had been ignored or rejected by the government, whose correspondence with them was “characterised by a lack of respect and civility”.
- The Sri Lankan government probe into abuses did not meet even basic minimum standards and the Presidential Commission’s Public Inquiry process fell short of International norms and standards.
- Also the IIGEP reported that there was a “lack of political and institutional will to investigate and inquire into the cases before the (government) commission,”
On 6 March 2008, the IIGEP announced that they were quitting Sri Lanka, accusing the government of failing to tackle the issue – Sri Lankan authorities did not meet even the basic minimum standards in probing serious abuses.
18th & 19th sessions of the HRC
As the Sri Lankan government failed to take any meaningful steps on accountability regarding alleged violations of international humanitarian and human rights law during the final stages of the war, on 16 September 2010, the UN Secretary-General Ban-Ki Moon appointed a Panel of Experts and they handed over their report to the Secretary General on 12 April 2011.
On 13 September 2011 Mr Ban-Ki Moon transferred his, “UN expert panel report on Sri Lanka” to the President of the HRC, Mrs. Laura Dupuy Lasserre and the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Navaneetham Pillai. This was the first time in the history of the UN that the Secretary General appointed a Panel to look into a country situation and report to him on accusations of War Crimes.
During the 18th session, Canada being a non-member of the HRC wanted to table a resolution on Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka used its influence to the maximum, managing to avoid that too, as it had avoided the earlier EU resolution.
However the content of this resolution gave a signal to Sri Lanka that the International Community is no longer ready to trust Sri Lanka’s empty promises.
The Canadian proposed draft decision under Item 10 reads as follows – Interactive dialogue on the LLRC, decides to: “Request the OHCHR to convene, within existing resources at its 19th session, an interactive dialogue on Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and steps taken by the government of Sri Lanka towards reconciliation and sustainable peace, inviting the active participation of the government of Sri Lanka in briefing the Council on domestic processes and outcomes.”
The country which continuously cheats the international community could no longer deceive it during the 19th session of the HRC. Countries in favour of human rights, good governance and the rule of law, got together and supported a resolution tabled by the USA on Sri Lanka. It was passed overwhelmingly.
Ambassador Ms Tamara Kunanayakam being a Tamil was made a scapegoat by the government for the resolution. Without considering the human rights record of Sri Lanka, everyone put the blame on Tamara Kunanayakam. Confused Tamara tried to pass the blame aimed at her, onto an innocent Officer in the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights – OHCHR.
There were many exchanges of communications and interviews in the media. On the whole, the discrimination and racism practiced on Tamara Kunanayakam were clearly proven. Though as she is an obedient servant to the present racist regime in Sri Lanka, she may have her reservations.
In my article in September 2011 under the headline, “I am telling the Truth, and nothing but the Truth”, I predicted that Tamara Kunanayagam’s stay in Geneva would be difficult and would not last long. In April 2012, she left Geneva under a barrage of insults and humiliation.
First speech of Ariyasinha
While everyone was aware that Tamara Kunanyagam’s period ended sadly, the new ambassador to Geneva Mr Ravinatha P Ariyasinha was brought to Geneva from Brussels. On the first day of his first sitting in the HRC, Ariyasinha made it clear that he is the leader of the Sri Lanka delegation in the HRC, not anyone in Colombo.
There is a huge difference between the tasks in Brussels and Geneva. Any UN representative in Geneva may have many tasks, but one of the most important ones is to represent their county in the inter-governmental body, the HRC. A country with a horrendous human rights record should be able to practice their diplomatic skills. Since the arrival of the new ambassador, Sri Lanka has made statements on every agenda item – interactive dialogue as well as general debate. This is abnormal, because if all 193 states follow this pattern, the HRC would have to continue its sessions for months and months.
Ariyasinha made his virgin speech on 10th September in the HRC. His speech mirrors his future activities in this forum, letting everyone witness how he was briefing the Members of the European Parliament – MEPs and others in Brussels. Like his External Minister in the UN General Assembly, Ariyasinha’s speech was full of lies, exaggeration and hypocrisy.
Here I quote a few lines from his virgin speech in the HRC on 10 September 2012. He said almost the same on 2 October during the 63rd Session of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
- Of the 295,873 IDPs in May 2009, the numbers that remain to be re-settled reduced to 3,054.
- Of the 2061.53 sq.km contaminated with land minds and UXOs, less than 116 sq.km remain to be cleared.
- Of the approximately 12,000 ex-LTTE combatants who surrendered, only 1,034 remain to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society
- The former high security zones have ceased to exist.
- The military is no long involved in civil administration in the Northern and the Eastern provinces.
- The Security Forces presence in the Jaffna peninsula has been reduced from 50,000 at the height of the conflict, to 15,000 at present.
- Following on a growth rate of 22 per cent in 2010, the Northern province in 2011 once again recorded the highest growth rate among all provinces, of 27.1 per cent, and continued to increase its share of the national economy driven by an expansion in agriculture, fishing, construction, transportation and financial services.
- The Tringual Policy announced by the Government in January 2012 to further expand the Official Language Policy is being implemented vigorously.
- Sri Lanka’s democratic credentials were yet again re-asserted 2 days ago with the successful conduct of Provincial Council election, including the previously conflict effected Eastern Province. The ruling coalition UPFA returned the highest number seats in all three Provincials that went to the polls a clear endorsement by the Sri Lankan people of the policies of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa which has sought to meet the aspiration of all communities in the reconciliation process.
Further, in addition to completing the translation of the LLRC Report into the two official languages, Sinhala and Tamil, the Government in July 2012 also released its strategy for implementation of the recommendations contained in the Report of the Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission – LLRC in November 2011.” (Excerpt)
Now let me comment on what the new ambassador said in his virgin speech in the HRC on 10 September:
(A) Ariyasinha said, “Of the 295,873 IDPs in May 2009, the numbers that remain to be re-settled reduced to 3,054.”
Below I give facts and explanation; references are either quoted from one of the Ministries in Sri Lanka or a recognized global institution. This shows how the Sri Lankan Ambassador spins yarns concerning the situation in Sri Lanka.
Statistics of the UNHCR – as of January 2012
Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) (5) – 138,401 and Returned IDPs (6) – 144,577 http://www.unhcr.org/pages/49e4878e6.html
Refworld, Tuesday, 16 October 2012 – “…………. At the end of the war, there were significant numbers of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs), including many who were living in IDP camps (20 years or more). While many of the refugees and IDPs were Muslims and Sinhalese, the majority were Tamils. Most of these Tamils were placed in detention centers; after the war in 2009, there were a total of 300,000 Tamils in these centers. At the start of 2012, the UNHCR considered 295,720 Sri Lankans as a “population of concern,” down from 589,639 a year earlier. According to UNHCR, the “population of concern” includes internally displaced people and refugees, both in formal camps or living with relatives. Almost all of the “population of concern” is Tamil, and constitutes about 25 percent of Sri Lanka’s total Tamil population. In September 2011, of those seized at the end of the war, 9,000 IDPs remained in the notorious Menik Farm “Welfare Camp,” 57,000 were living in host communities, and 142,000, displaced before 2008, were still unable to return to their homes. Another 200,000 displaced Tamils have been “returned” to their homes but either did not receive back their land or faced other difficulties maintaining a normal life. ………. Finally, 3,000 Tamils accused of being LTTE fighters were still held in “rehabilitation camps” as of September 1, 2011. International pleas for a resolution of problems faced by displaced communities have been ignored by the government. (Excerpt)
UN OCHA – 26 January 2012
More than 6,700 ‘new’ IDPs were staying in the Menik Farm temporary camp. In addition, more than 34,000 were living with host families. As a result, over 41,000 “new” IDPs remained in displacement. More than 223,000 had returned to their homes, where many remained in need of protection and assistance (UN OCHA, 26 January 2012, p.1; UN OCHA, 22 November 2011, p.1). (Excerpts)
(B) Then he claims that, “Of the 2061.53 sq.km contaminated with land minds and UXOs, less than 116 sq.km remain to be cleared.”
Here, the ambassador’s lies and exaggerations are proven with statistics and references from the Ministry of Economic Development and the Ministry of Defence.
To be Clearance – 118,079,962
Ministry of Economic Development, Sri Lanka
as at 30 June 2012
Area cleared (sqm) – As at 30 June 2012 (since 2002)
Battle Area Clearance (BAC0 – 801,914,143
Mine Filed Clearance (MF) – 67,414,942
Survey/None Technical Survey Clearance (NTS) – 1,074,266,552
Total Clearance – 1,943,595,638
To be Clearance – 118,079,962
Courtesy – Nation Mine Action Programme, Sri Lanka – http://slnmac.gov.lk/faq
Further I quote what Ministry of Defence says about the area cleared of land minds
Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Sri Lanka
Mine Action – Sri Lanka’s success story – Last modified on: 4/4/2012
Accordingly, total area cleared since the inception to end February 2012 is 1,936,796,051m2 and the remaining CHA to be cleared is 124,731,470 m2 (124.73km2).
Now, can Mr. Ariyasinha explain whose figures and statistics? Which are wrong and which are to be taken seriously?
(C) He further says that, “Of the approximately 12,000 ex-LTTE combatants who surrendered, only 1,034 remain to be rehabilitated and reintegrated into society”.
Every diplomat of Sri Lanka says that Sri Lanka is a democratic country which conducts free and fair elections. First of all conducting frequent elections doesn’t mean that there is democracy in that country. Secondly, are those elections, in fact, conducted freely and fairly? Has any independent body declared that they were so?
Everyone is aware that Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe also conducts elections and his party always wins.
When Ariyasinha says that approximately 12,000 ex-LTTE combatants surrendered, it shows that even after 3 years, the Sri Lanka government does not know exactly how many surrendered, who is alive, in detention, etc.
Here he says only 1,034 remain to rehabilitated and integrated into Society. Well and good. Have you got the list of those remaining people?
Do make a note, all ex-combatants also known as rehabilitees were taught only carpentry, masonry, hair dressing, etc. Is this called meaningful rehabilitation? Have those carrying out the “Rehabilitation” ever considered the educational qualifications and backgrounds of those who surrendered?
(D) “The former high security zones have ceased to exist.”
“The military is no longer involved in civil administration in the Northern and the Eastern provinces.”
“The Security Forces presence in the Jaffna peninsula has been reduced from 50,000 at the height of the conflict, to 15,000 at present.”
When the ambassador says ‘’Security zones ceased to exist” and “Jaffna peninsula has been reduced from 50,000 at the height of the conflict, to 15,000 at present”, this can be considered the joke of the century.
If such misinformation is given in one to one discussions with MEPs in Brussels, it will have an impact. But in Geneva, even if said in one to one discussion, the ultimate action will be collective and the lies and exaggeration will come to light with serious consequences.
The presence of security forces remaining in the Jaffna peninsula would have been witnessed by the officials of the ‘Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights’ OHCHR who visited Jaffna peninsula on 17 September 2012 and other foreign delegations. They will tell you whether your figure is exaggerated or not.
Ministry of Defence and Urban Development, Sri Lanka – 6/7/2012
“With the dismantling initiative of High Security Zones in Northern Province the government has released 3741.09 acres, from the land area, earlier declared as the Jaffna High Security Zone (HSZ). According to latest statistics available, an area of 6381 acres has been renounced as cantonment areas as similarly to what exists in other provinces of Sri Lanka. “ (Excerpt)
HSZ in Jaffna – Asian Tribune is not an anti-government website
Whoever is interested to know about the High Security Zones in the Jaffna peninsula should read the article written by Dr. Laksiri Fernando, appearing under the title, “People in the North Should Have the Same Rights”, in ‘the Island’ of 24 June 2012.
“The protests were mainly by the families of Valikaamam North, who have been displaced by the High Security Zone in the area since around 1990, who are now eager to get back to their original private land. Instead of giving them back their own land, the military is reported to be using the land to build permanent structures including Buddhist temples, the Asian Tribune reported (21 June 2012) quoting Mavai Senathirajah, TNA MP for Jaffna. Nearly 12,000 families have applied for resettlement to the Divisional Secretariat.
The Asian Tribune (AT) is not an anti-government website. Its editor, K. T. Rajasingham, is one of the living senior most SLFP members in the country. The AT reported that the matter will be brought before the UN, seeking redress, as the government seems to be quite oblivious to the demands of the people of Jaffna.” (Excerpts) http://www.island.lk/index.php?page_cat=article-details&page=article-details&code_title=55220
(E) “Following on a growth rate of 22 per cent in 2010, the Northern province in 2011 once again recorded the highest growth rate among all provinces, of 27.1 per cent, and continued to increase its share of the national economy driven by an expansion in agriculture, fishing, construction, transportation and financial services.”
I put forward to the new ambassador the same question I asked in my last article, “G. L. Peiris and his sermon in the UNGA”. Are you willing to ask your government to allow a few independent Economists to go through your claim to see whether the growth rate of the 22% is genuine?
Thank you for admitting the fact
However we must thank you for being the first Sri Lankan representative to admit, that at least in the past, the ‘Military was involved in the civil administration in the Northern and Eastern province’.
For your information, both present governors of the North and Eastern provincial council are ex-security personnel. According to the culture/tradition of the security forces any officials are part of their forces, unless they have been court-martialled or removed under disciplinary action.
Therefore Ariyasinha’s claim that the military is no long involved in civil administration in the Northern and the Eastern province, is categorically untrue.
(F) “The Tringual Policy announced by the Government in January 2012 to further expand the Official Language Policy is being implemented vigorously.”
I agree with you on this point because the Singhalese language is being well taught and the North and Eastern provinces are being vigorously Singhalised. But Tamils in those provinces have ‘no say whatsoever’. Doesn’t Ariyasinha know anything about the “national anthem” being sung only in Singhalese language? Presently Tamils in the North and East live like ‘slaves of old’.
(G) “Sri Lanka’s democratic credentials were yet again re-asserted 2 days ago with the successful conduct of Provincial Council election, including the previously conflict effected Eastern Province. The ruling coalition UPFA returned the highest number seats in all three Provincials that went to the polls a clear endorsement by the Sri Lankan people of the policies of the government of President Mahinda Rajapaksa which has sought to meet the aspiration of all communities in the reconciliation process.”
Let us be frank! Is Ariysinha’s claim here reasonable? If so, why, soon after the election result of the Eastern Provincial council was declared, did President Rajapaksa’s political party – UPFA, make a coalition with Sri Lanka Muslim Congress – SLMC?
His reference to a reconciliation process is laughable. He should go through the latest statements made by his Defence Secretary which has been well published in the local media.
BBC interview in June 1997
In conclusion, I remember listening to Mr. Ariyasinha’s interview with the BBC World Service on 14 June 1997. When the BBC asked him about employing “spin doctors”, he admitted that the Sri Lankan government had just appointed “Communications experts” to work with the “opinion makers” in major capitals – London, Paris, Bonn, Canberra, Washington, Ottawa, Stockholm, Delhi and Bangkok. Now it seems that he himself is a “spin doctor”.
By the way, there is a question I could not ask a few predecessors of Ariyasinha, but I presume that I can ask him, – whether he believes in the “Mahavamsa”? If so, does he really believe any political solution to the ethnic conflict in the island will be found by a Sinhala Buddhist government? The Mahavamsa says that the island belongs to the ‘Sinhala Buddhists’ only.
Everyone in Geneva is well aware of the new lie being trotted out – that the resolution on Sri Lanka voted in the 19th session of the HRC, is an obstacle to negotiation with the Tamil National Alliance – TNA. This is not the reality. If what the Sri Lankan Ambassador says in the HRC is true, then Sri Lanka would be one of the best governments in the World!
Most of the diplomats in Geneva know the 65 years of history and what is presently happening in Sri Lanka. Therefore I don’t think Ariyasinha’s ‘Spinning yarns’ is going to work.
The views expressed are the author’s own.