UN Human Rights Council in Geneva
| by S. V. Kirubaharan in France
(October 16, Paris, Sri Lanka Guardian) As far as the UN Human Rights Council-HRC and Sri Lanka are concerned, the 18th session is historic. The President of this session is the Ambassador of Uruguay, Ms Laura Dupuy Lasserre.
|The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, in his speech said that he had lived in Sri Lanka and that he has friends from both Tamil and Singhalese communities. He is willing to help facilitate for both communities to live peacefully.|
Since the HRC was established in 2006, the Minister of Plantations of Sri Lanka has delivered the same speech each session, always on the very first day. This session was no exception. He was the second speaker on the first day. Anyone reading all his speeches will wonder why this gentleman keeps on delivering them when this country “looks after their citizens to the best of their abilities”! Those who know the history, politics, and rule of law in Sri Lanka will understand the reality.
The best part of the joke is that in this session the Minister made accusations against the High Commissioner for Human Rights – HCHR. While he was accusing her, she happened to be rubbing one of her eyes. Some new members of the government delegation saw this and immediately informed the Colombo media that the HCHR was crying in response to the Minister’s accusations! This news spread like wild-fire. Many phoned me to find out what really happened.
I told them that the HCHR was a Judge (elected by the UN General Assembly) of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and would anyone believe that she cried over this?
In fact the new delegation members wanted to show President Rajapaksa and others that their arrival in Geneva made a difference – even making the HCHR cry. “Mean people, mean thinking”.
Anyway, soon after the Minister spoke, the HCHR delivered her speech and was not reluctant to tell the truth about Sri Lanka. She said “…For three decades, not only has that country suffered the brutal effects of terrorist acts, but the response of successive governments over the years has undermined independent institutions, human rights and the rule of law. I note the President’s decision to allow some emergency measures to lapse, but strongly urge the Government to follow up with a comprehensive review of all security-related legistation and detentions”.
Meeting orgnised by Sri Lanka
On 12 September, Sri Lanka organized a parallel event in the UN building. This was another interesting and very hospitable event, helping many save their lunch money.
Even though there were nine seated on the podium, only the Minister of Plantations, the former Attorney-General and the Government Agent of Jaffna spoke.
At the start of the meeting each participant was given a heavy package of information in a bag, weighing a minimum of 5kg. The documents consist of ‘black propaganda’ and old-fashioned lies.
|“You are always the first person to ask questions!”.|
To explain this in brief, Kumar Ponnambalam, Joseph Pararajasingham, Ravi Raj, Fr Karunaratnam and many others were said to have been killed by the LTTE. This is an example of the fallacious contents of those documents. The way black propaganda (accusing another party of the very crimes it has itself committed) is spreading, one day we may read that Sunday Leader Editor Lasantha Wickrematunga was killed and Sarath Fonseka was sentenced to prison by the LTTE. It proves the desperation of the government.
In this meeting there were 3 government Ministers, 4 Ambassadors (including the present one), the former Attorney-General, many journalists, some staff from the Attorney General’s department and the Ministry of External affairs, and a few junior staff from the Mission. There were also invitees from Australia, UK and Switzerland. This makes a crowd of 30-35. However there were another 30 to 35 people present, mostly not Asian. Some of these were diplomats. Some others of course attended simply to have the hot snacks.
The Minister of Plantations presided over the meeting and to begin with, an edited version of the video produced by the Ministry of Defence, was shown.
Immediately afterwards, the Minister opened the floor for comments and questions. As initially no-one indicated they wanted to speak, I requested and the Minister generously gave me an opportunity with his usual remark: “You are always the first person to ask questions!”.
I thanked the Minister and said, “First of all, I would like to know who are these ‘Grease-men’ terrorising the North and East, especially the Tamils?” Then I went on to comment on the video and the documents. I said all these are allegations about the LTTE which people have seen many times in the past. By giving those documents they can’t counter the war crime accusation. Also I said that there are many contradictions between the UN Panel report and the Gotabaya-Peiris report regarding what happened in the last days of the War. I concluded “This is the reason an international independent inquiry is needed, paving the way for Sri Lanka to prove its honesty and dignity. Sri Lanka’s refusal to accept this opportunity, and producing propaganda materials instead will not work”.
When I finished my question and comment, the Minister said that the Government Agent of Jaffna would answer my question. The GA spoke about the IDPs and resettlement in Jaffna. So my question was ignored and the participants presumed that Grease-men are from the Sri Lanka military establishment.
Former Lake House Journalist Mr HLD Mahindapala from Australia also spoke in this meeting. He quoted certain incidents which happened during the Indian Peace Keeping Forces-IPKF period in Sri Lanka. The Minister rejected his comments saying they do not share those views. This was a real insult to a host who had trusted them earlier and who had travelled all the way from Australia. Sadly, we never saw him after he had eaten his hot snacks.
Then Diplomats from Pakistan, Cuba, Russia, and China uttered a few sentences in favour of Sri Lanka. Fr S J Emmanuel from Germany asked questions on the Emergency Regulations, the list of detainees, colonisation and singhalisation in the North and East. The same points were touched on by Gary from Canada, the son of Mr Ananthasangare. The former Attorney-General answered a few questions but his answers did not satisfy the participants.
At this point a group of people walked through a side door and all those on the podium got up. This surprised those present. The Minister announced that it was the President of the Maldives.
Maldivian President and US Ambassador
The representative of Amnesty International raised certain points and this ended in confrontation. Then the American Ambassador, Ms Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe gave the shortist speech with the strongest message. She said, “Sri Lanka should have a full and credible investigation and should come up with reasonable reconciliation at the earliest. If you fail do so, Sri Lanka will face more international pressure through different methods”. You could have heard a pin drop!
In fact, the first time I met her I was confused and asked her if, by any chance, she was Hilary Clinton’s sister? She laughed and told me I was not the first person who had asked her that. She closely resembles Hilary Clinton.
The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, in his speech said that he had lived in Sri Lanka and that he has friends from both Tamil and Singhalese communities. He is willing to help facilitate for both communities to live peacefully.
As soon as the meeting was over, the Maldivian President came from the podium to us and had a friendly chat. This surprised everyone. Like Mahinda Rajapaksa, we are good with them, especially in the UN Human Rights forum in Geneva.
Then a few Tamils who came with the Sri Lankan delegation had casual discussions with us. This was noticed by extreme members of the delegation. That was the last time we saw those Tamils in the UN building. In fact, every Tamil who came with this delegation or who works in the Mission in Geneva was kept away from meeting fellow Tamils. This shows the divide and rule policy of the government.
A doctor who came from London spoke to the Sri Lankan Ambassador to India. This doctor asked the Ambassador whether he is a career diplomat. The Ambassador said ‘yes’ he was, and went on to make remarks about Tamara Kunanayagam. He said she is not even a career diplomat but enjoys many benefits and facilities.
Last Friday, 23 September, between 2.30pm to 3.00pm (Swiss time), a man seated next to me in the internet area in the Serpentine bar within the UN building in Geneva had a mobile phone conversation in Singhalese. It was obvious that he was talking to someone in Colombo presumably in the Ministry of External Affairs. I personally overheard what he was saying and I gathered that Tamara Kunanayagam’s stay in Geneva will be difficult and not durable. I am a God-fearing person. If I am telling a lie, let Almighty God punish me.
Has the government, by spending millions of rupees on hot food, kilos of documents, hotel accommodation and meals, travelling locally and internationally, managed to gain anything? No, all these are counterproductive and seen by others as evidence of guilt.
Everyone was aware that the UN Panel report on Sri Lanka was transferred to the President of the HRC. This was the first time in UN history that the UN Secretary General transferred a report on a country accused of War Crimes, directly to the HCHR and the President of the HCR.
Only 8 countries objected to this, in a letter to the President of the HRC. This initiative was made by Pakistan and signed by Cuba, Algeria, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Philippines, Russia and China. Out of these 8 countries, Pakistan and Algeria are not members of the HRC. In other words, out of the 47 members of the HRC, only 6 countries were in favour of Sri Lanka, whereas Prof G L Peiris has claimed that 39 countries support Sri Lanka in the HRC.
On Thursday 14 September, there was a sudden change in the Canadian position. Canada also, is not a member of the HRC. Tabling a resolution by a non member of the HRC is not a problem, but they cannot participate in the voting.
Has anyone asked why Canada took this initiative and then withdrew? It was the outcome of, on the one hand, Robert Blake’s visit to Sri Lanka, and on the other hand, Rajapaksa’s presence in New York along with many other world leaders including the Prime Minister of India.
However the content of this resolution proves that the International Community is no longer ready to trust Sri Lanka. Canada’s withdrawn resolution reads as follows:
Proposed draft decision under Item 10 – 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.”
On the afternoon of Wednesday 21 September, Canada organised a consultation meeting on this resolution. Many diplomats, the Sri Lankan delegation headed by former Attorney General and many NGO representatives attended this meeting. The noted absentee was Sri Lankan Ambassador Ms Tamara Kunanayagam.
The former Attorney-General of Sri Lanka pleaded Canada not to table this resolution. The usual pied pipers of Sri Lanka in the UN – China, Russia, Cuba and Pakistan took the floor and objected to the Canadian resolution. All the other countries who spoke in this meeting were seen as either supportive towards the resolution or neutral. Also, the representatives of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Canadian Lawyers Rights Watch, the President of IMADAR Ms Nimalka Fernando and self spoke.
Brave human rights activist Nimalka Fernando said that the UN Human Rights Council was formed to discuss and take action on any country violating human rights, and that the speakers should not forget the ‘people’s sovereignty’. Therefore if there are violations in any country, they should be discussed in the Council.
In my deliberation, I explained how Sri Lanka prevented a resolution which was about to be tabled by the European Union during the 1st session of the HRC, accepting the International Group of Eminent Persons-IIGEP and acknowledging its fate. When I said that ‘I have been attending these sessions for more than two decades’; some individuals get allergic to this and attempt to undermine with false accusations and lies.
The outcome of this meeting proves that the Canadian resolution was not withdrawn due to lack of support. I must presume that some serious deal has been done by someone, on the suffering of the people in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan government demands that any questions concerning their country should be addressed only during their next Universal Periodic Review-UPR, due in October 2012. This is like after the bombing of Hiroshima, one person going with a shovel to clean up that area. The UPR is not the right mechanism to discuss any country accused of War crimes.
The Tamil lobby in the HRC is moving without a rudder. There are many groups and each one creates bogus claims, censoring news items that are in favour of others. I wonder whether there are any government plants in the Tamil lobby! The HRC is not the right place for gossip and testing muscle-power. These groups are known as After Mullivaighzal (AM) and Pre-Mullivaighzal (PM). It is a pity that these people also play with the suffering of their kith and kin. End