Is Sri Lanka Qualified To Chair UN Committee On Human Rights Of Palestinians? – OpEd


Today, some who look at the Israeli-Hamas conflict consider it to be the worst in the world. Both parties are blamed without realising certain facts happening internationally,

It is undeniable that the Hamas attacks on Israelis on 7th October marked the beginning of the present conflict. But it was not the beginning of the conflict, which started with the creation of Israel in 1948 and has been getting worse and worse since then.

Rather than focusing right now on the root causes, history etc; I ask, so far how many have analysed the manipulations that have prolonged this conflict?

When we look at this internationally, there are many countries that are concerned and many investigations that have taken place during six decades or more. Israelis always claim that the United Nations – UN was established with the ashes of Jewish people. No doubt, the UN was established in 1945 soon after World War II. But a few other International organisations existed long before and some are still in existence – Inter-Parliamentary Union – IPU established in 1889; the League of Nations in 1919; The Hague Conferences held in 1899 (Permanent Court of Arbitration), the Conference for the Pacific Settlement of International Disputes and a few others.

When we consider UN proceedings regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, we see there have been several committees for investigations but none of these has brought peace and harmony to the Palestinians and Israelis.

Now let us briefly analyse the situation of the people in the North and East of Sri Lanka. What has been happening in the North and East, since independence in 1948, is no different to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 2001, we, the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR, compared the situation of the Palestinians and the Tamils in Sri Lanka. This comparison was accepted by many diplomats, academics, intellectuals and VIPs in the UN.

Sri Lanka and Israel

Since 1948, the relationship between Israel and Sri Lanka has had many ups and downs – it has been neither consistently stable nor cordial. However by the late 70s President J.R. Jayewardene re-established diplomatic ties with Israel. Their intelligence service Mossad advised Sri Lanka to speed up the Mahaweli development project, a strategy devised to settle Sinhalese farmers in important areas in the Eastern province and nearby areas. The intention was to change the demographic pattern in those areas.

In the meantime, Mossad worked internationally for funding for the Mahaweli settlements. This was done on the condition that various contracts connected to this project should be given to the largest construction and civil engineering company in Israel – the Solel Boneh.

In February 2020, Israel offered Sri Lanka projects including in technology, agriculture and IT. These were accepted by the chased-away President Gotabaya Rajapaksa whose brother Mahinda Rajapaksa was known as a supporter of the Palestinians. This shows that, after all, everything is politics.

In the present conflict between Israel and Hamas, the Sri Lankan Foreign Ministry expressed concern about the loss of life in both Israel and Gaza while President Ranil Wickremesinghe denounced Hamas attack on 7th October, saying that criticism of Israel is not a valid justification for the Hamas attacks.

On 7th November, Israel and Sri Lanka signed an agreement, exactly one month after the Hamas attacks on Israel. This will allow Israel to hire ten thousand (10,000) agricultural workers from Sri Lanka. It’s believed that the aim of this is to replace 20,000 Palestinian workers who were banned from Israel.

In the present conflict so far, the death toll stands at around 1,400 Israelis, and more than 12,000 Palestinians of whom over 40 percent are children and women, including pregnant women. Not forgetting the Israeli hostages’ crisis.

Hospitals bombed and civilians killed

When hospitals were bombed and civilians including pregnant mothers and children were killed during Mullivagzhal in the North of Sri Lanka, there was no outcry from the international community. The same Sri Lankan leaders who shelled and bombed Mullivagzhal are now demanding a ceasefire and to stop the war in Gaza. Is this ‘hypocrisy’?

When two Foreign Ministers – Bernard Kouchner of France (also co-founder of Médecins Sans Frontières – MSF) and David Miliband of the United Kingdom went to Sri Lanka and appealed to Mahinda Rajapaksa to have a ceasefire and find a negotiated settlement, Rajapaksa adamantly refused and continued the war.

During the war in Sri Lanka, Mahinda Rajapaksa recruited some diaspora Sinhalese. They were well paid and given good packages compared to career diplomats from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Some were appointed as Ambassadors in Geneva, New York and other places. These ambassadors worked internationally with a group of academics to spread false information about the war in Sri Lanka.

For example, Dayan Jayatila, Prof  Rajiva Wijesinghe, Mohan Pieiris, Rohan Perera and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe were given a free hand to slander and to counter the VIPs who spoke the truth about the war in Sri Lanka.

I remember that, Prof Wijesinghe said on one occasion that, “among the Tamil displaced people, there were babies with blue eyes which means NGOs have done a good job among the displaced people”! His first speech at any of the UN side events, should also not be forgotten. He said that the “armed culture in Sri Lanka was introduced by the Sinhala youths in the South”.

UN Special Committee

It is not surprising that the “UN Special Committee to Investigate Israeli Practices Affecting the Human Rights of the Palestinian People and Other Arabs of the Occupied Territories- SCIIP” has been chaired for the last couple of years by Sri Lankan representatives! They are Mohan Pieiris, Knishka Seneviratna and Amrith Rohan Perera.

If one reads their statements during the war in Sri Lanka, will understand that these Sri Lankan representatives are not fit to even be members of any committee which deals with armed conflict in any country.

Mr Mohan Pieris is greedy for positions whether in Sri Lanka or abroad. In Sri Lanka he held all the top positions except the post of Executive President and Prime Minister. When he was Attorney-general and Chief-Justice, he enjoyed everything on a par with the Executive President. Now in the UN in New York, it’s the same. Other than the position of UN Secretary-General, he has held several positions, and in the meantime tried and failed some.

The most important thing is that when Mohan Pieris was Chief-Justice there were protests by International NGOs as well by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute – (IBAHRI). They said that, “Mr Pieris had occupied a number of important posts over the previous five years, most recently those of Attorney-General and legal adviser to the cabinet. The fact that he also owes his new position to presidential patronage further jeopardises judicial independence within the country”.

Selective Pardon

Pieris was appointed Attorney General on 18 December 2008. He withdrew murder charges in a case against former deputy minister Chandana Kathriarachchi and served an indictment instead, on unlawful assembly for which the accused pleaded guilty. Furthermore, he withdrew the case against Government Party Parliamentarian Duminda Silva who was sentenced to death by the High Court of Sri Lanka for the murder of Sri Lankan politician Bharatha Lakshman Premachandra.

Mohan Pieris represented Sri Lanka in the UN Committee against Torture in 2011. He said that the Sri Lankan government had received intelligence information that missing LankaEnews cartoonist, Prageeth Ekneligoda was living in a foreign country. However later he concurred that he had lied, when he was summoned by a local court.

With such a record, Mohan Pieris is the Chairperson of the UN SCIIP! When people of such calibre and mentality are in a leading role, how can justice possibly be served by this committee?

The Sri Lankan representative who justified similar bombings, shellings and killings of innocent civilians including babies, cannot work for peace and justice, in the war between Israelis and Hamas.

We wonder how the President of the UN General Assembly found a Sri Lankan representative not only to be in the committee, but also to be its Chairperson. It is a real joke in the name of the United Nations.

S.V. Kirubaharan

S.V. Kirubaharan is the Founder General Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR.

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