The government cannot bury its head in the sand

Showtime is over

| by Pearl Thevanayagam

(March 19 2012, London, Sri Lank Guardian) A lot of hot air and dissections on the current UNHRC (United Nations Human Rights Council) sittings and their relevance to Sri Lanka have been bandied about in the media. Websites even tried to present Q &A explanations as to what becomes of the resolution if it passes muster by this week but have failed to come up with a focussed reply. Even the UNHRC website does not offer any indications as to what happens next.
In this context one can only surmise examples of the UNHRC’s follow-up actions on other countries which were found guilty of violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights abuses. Cases in point are Khmer Rouge, Belarus, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of Congo and severl others.
The funding of UNHRC by powerful nations such as the US does not exonerate Sri Lanka from its alleged conduct of the war. Hence Ms Kunanayakam’s rebuttal does no favours for the government. She is mixing apples and oranges.
Both the opposition Labour party and the ruling Conservative – Liberal coalition government of UK are strongly backing the US resolution and has put forward before the UNHRC its position that the government must be accountable for its alleged war crimes.
An email sent to this writer by Harrow MP for Labour three days ago reiterates the position UK is taking vis-a-vis Sri Lanka’s conduct of the war.
Dear Friend,
As you have previously contacted me regarding Sri Lanka, I thought you may be interested in the update on the work I’ve been doing in relation to Sri Lanka.
The Channel 4 documentaries about the scale of war crimes in Sri Lanka, the second of which was shown last night, have been truly shocking and breathtaking.
There can be little doubt left that a full and independent investigation into human rights abuses now and during the recent conflict is overdue.
David Cameron’s Government simply hasn’t done enough to demand a full and proper investigation by the United Nations. It’s time he and William Hague stopped standing on the sidelines and got involved in the fight for justice for all those victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka.
I have recently tabled a number of Parliamentary Questions to the British Government about why they aren’t acting with more speed and courage to demand international action after the Channel 4 documentaries.
In addition I attended a debate on Sri Lanka (Human Rights) on Wednesday 22nd February 2012 and was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to speak. You can read the debate here or watch the debate here.
I hope you find this helpful; I can assure you that I will continue to closely monitor the situation in Sri Lanka and if I can be of any further assistance with this, or any other matter, please do not hesitate to contact me.
Yours sincerely
Gareth Thomas MP
Harrow West
The Special Rapporteur of the UNHRC Manfred Nowak presented the following statement to the government of Sri Lanka by letter dated November 22, 2011 after his visit from October 1-8, 2007 at the UNHRC on March 01, 2012 during its current sessions:
127. By letter dated 22 November 2011, the Special Rapporteur tabled the following Government of Sri Lanka, requesting information and comments on the follow-up measures taken with regard to the implementation of his predecessor‘s recommendations. He expresses his gratitude to the Government for providing detailed information on steps taken during the reporting period.
128. The Special Rapporteur takes note of the Government‘s efforts to expedite criminal proceedings relating to torture cases by establishing various ad hoc commissions of inquiry, including the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate serious cases of human rights violations that occurred since 1 August 2005, as well as the establishment of Lessons Learnt Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and the Inter-Agency Advisory Committee (IAAC).56
129. The Special Rapporteur echoes the concern raised by the Committee against Torture regarding the prevailing climate of impunity for acts of torture and ill-treatment and the failure to investigate promptly and impartially wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed. 57
130. He calls upon the Government to take steps to address the outstanding concerns raised by the Committee over the LLRC‘s limited mandate and its alleged lack of independence, and promptly launch impartial and effective investigations into all allegations of torture, rape, enforced disappearances and other forms of ill-treatment, occurred during the last stages of the conflict and in the post-conflict phase.58 He looks forward to receiving information on the investigations undertaken into allegations of torture and ill-treatment and steps taken to hold accountable those responsible.
131. The Special Rapporteur takes note of the steps taken to monitor the implementation of the Presidential directions of 7 July 2006 (reissued in 2007) and the Rules with regard to Persons in Custody of the Police (Code of Departmental Order No. A 20). He expresses concern that, as also noted by the Committee against Torture, the suspects held in custody are not afforded statutory rights to inform a family member and are not given access to legal counsel at the moment of arrest.
132. The Special Rapporteur calls upon the Government to abolish unacknowledged custody and detention facilities allegedly run by the Sri Lankan military intelligence and paramilitary groups,59 make police station chiefs, investigating and operative officers criminally accountable for any unacknowledged detention, and make it a serious crime.
133. The Special Rapporteur expresses concern about the 18th Constitutional Amendment of 8 September 2010, which eliminates the Constitutional Council and empowers the President to make direct appointments of members to key Commissions, including the National Police Commissioner and the Chairman and members of the Human Rights Commission (NHRC). He calls upon the Government to ensure that all allegations of torture and ill-treatment are promptly and thoroughly investigated by an independent authority with no connection to the authority investigating or prosecuting the case against the alleged victim, and that the constitution and activities of the NHRC comply with the Paris Principles. The Special Rapporteur echoes the recommendation of the Committee against Torture about establishing an independent national system to effectively monitor and inspect all places of detention, including, inter alia, facilities holding LTTE suspects. 60
134. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the Government‘s decision to lift the long-standing state of emergency on 31 August 2011, and expresses concern about the new regulations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act No. 48 of 1979 (PTA), which unduly restrict legal safeguards for persons suspected or charged with a terrorist or related crime. This has also been pointed out by the Committee against Torture. 61
135. The Special Rapporteur expresses concern about the fact that the burden of proof lies on the prosecution to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that a confession or other evidence has not been obtained under any kind of duress, except for cases of confessions falling under the PTA. He calls on the Government to ensure that its anti-terrorism measures are compatible with the provisions of article 2, paragraph 2 of the Convention. The Special Rapporteur recalls that international customary law and treaty law require States to ensure that any statement that is established to have been made as a result of torture shall not be invoked as evidence in any proceedings, except against a person accused of torture as evidence that the statement was made. 62
136. The Special Rapporteur welcomes the proposed plan of the Minister for Prison Reforms and Rehabilitation to separate convicts from pre-trial detainees and minor offenders from criminals, and looks forward to receiving information on the steps undertaken with respect to implementing a comprehensive structural reform of the prison system, aimed at reducing the number of detainees, increasing prison capacities and reducing the overcrowding, separating juveniles and adult detainees as well as remand and convicted prisoners.
137. Finally, the Special Rapporteur wishes to reiterate the appeal to the Government to abolish capital punishment or, at a minimum, commute death sentences into prison sentences. In his view, the manner of imposition and execution of the death penalty in Sri Lanka inevitably involves the commission of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and, in some cases, torture. He regrets that no action was taken to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture (OPCAT) and calls upon the Government to take measures to ratify it and establish a National Preventive Mechanism.
On the US draft resolution currently before the UNHRC Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the UN, Ms Tamara Kunanayakam has this to say. She pointed out, “ 80 per cent of the UNHRC’s funding requirements are supplied by powerful nations such as the United States and its allies. Also, key positions in the UNHCR are mostly held by those who have served in the foreign services of such countries. Sri Lanka’s position is that this fact is significantly detrimental to the impartiality of the UNHRC activities, especially when dealing with the developing world. As a result, Sri Lanka, along with Cuba and Pakistan, will co-sponsor a resolution seeking transparency in funding and staffing the UNHRC, during its 19th session starting in February 2012. China, Russia and Algeria have agreed to back this resolution”.
The funding of UNHRC by powerful nations such as the US does not exonerate Sri Lanka from its alleged conduct of the war. Hence Ms Kunanayakam’s rebuttal does no favours for the government. She is mixing apples and oranges.
In light of mounting evidence against Sri Lanka the world is not in a position to ignore its horrendous human rights violations.
Sources excerpted from UNHRC website

 (The writer is Asia Pacific Journalism Fellow at UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism, California and a print journalist for 22 years. She can be reached at


Author: Sri Lanka Guardian

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