High Commissioner Pillay seeks to influence the OHCHR investigation process

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillai is attempting to influence the investigation on Sri Lanka and make it follow a preconceived trajectory. Her public pronouncements to the media when she is scheduled to leave office at the end of the month, on an investigation which has commenced only recently is clear indication of personal bias, the External Affairs Ministry stated in a release yesterday (August 14).

"It is evidence of an attempt to influence the investigation process and make it follow a preconceived trajectory," the ministry release stated. The release added: "She refers in her statement to a 'wealth of information outside Sri Lanka'. This is the same wealth of information that she has tended to refer to in the past, justifying it to be from credible sources, although their origins continue to remain undisclosed, and verification has not been facilitated, the release further stated.

Following is the full text of the release by the Ministry of External Affairs:

The Ministry of External Affairs regrets the comments made to the media by the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navanethem Pillay, relating to the investigation on Sri Lanka that has been undertaken by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) following the adoption by a vote of Resolution 25/1 in March 2014. In an e-mail interview to the Thomson Reuters Foundation, High Commissioner Pillay states that “the United Nations can conduct an effective investigation into reports of war crimes in Sri Lanka without visiting the country.”

The High Commissioner who is scheduled to leave office at the end of this month making public pronouncements to the media on an investigation which has commenced only recently is a clear indication of personal bias. It is evidence of an attempt to influence the investigation process and make it follow a preconceived trajectory. She refers in her statement to a “wealth of information outside Sri Lanka”. This is the same wealth of information that she has tended to refer to in the past, justifying it to be from credible sources, although their origins continue to remain undisclosed, and verification has not been facilitated. In fact the High Commissioner has desisted from acknowledging verifiable statistics of UN sources. Instead, she has sought to endorse exaggerated claims of former UN sources of spurious credentials by including such uncorroborated statistics in UN documentation. Utterances of this nature from an Officer who is expected to maintain the highest standards of objectivity is disappointing.

The prejudice and lack of objectivity on issues pertaining to Sri Lanka displayed by High Commissioner Pillay in the past are unfortunate. In fact, within a week after the conclusion of the conflict, on 26th May 2009, Ms. Pillay formally called for an international investigation into events in Sri Lanka, adducing a basis and in total disregard of the basic principle of international law, that national remedies must be exhausted before resorting to international mechanisms. This is a clear indication of the resolute determination with which the High Commissioner set out to pursue her objective of internationalizing issues pertaining to Sri Lanka, discounting and disregarding all internal processes even before they could be set in motion.

In order to advance this agenda, the High Commissioner has repeatedly sought, through her reports and oral presentations to the Council, to confer an official status through the Council and credibility on the Advisory Report to the UN Secretary General. The allegations against the Government in this Report, in flagrant violation of natural justice, were drawn from testimonies shrouded in secrecy in view of the twenty-year confidentiality granted to those who had given testimony.

In her statement to the UN Human Rights Council on 26th April 2011, the High Commissioner referred to Sri Lanka having conducted the conflict “under the guise of fighting terrorism” when it has been widely acknowledged that the conflict was against a separatist terrorist group proscribed by several countries. Such rhetoric by a senior UN official could place the credibility of the UN system at stake.

Exceeding the provisions of the Programme Budget Implications arising from Resolution 25/1 adopted by the Council, the Office of the High Commissioner has chosen to unilaterally proceed to appoint three “experts” instead of the prescribed two. Moreover, ignoring the provisions of Resolution 25/1 which calls for the OHCHR to undertake a comprehensive investigation “during the period covered by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission”, i.e. 21st February 2002 to 19th May 2009, the OHCHR has arbitrarily and unilaterally extended the period of its investigation to cover the period up to 15th November 2011.

By comparing in her comments, the situation in Sri Lanka with those elsewhere, that too situations of emergency, the High Commissioner attempts to create a distorted impression of the position in Sri Lanka. Ignoring completely, the socio-economic and infrastructural developments that have taken place since the conclusion of the conflict, the High Commissioner continues to invite the attention of the international community to Sri Lanka where there is no human rights or humanitarian emergency which merits such consideration, intrusive action or relentless pursuit.

Sri Lanka has consistently engaged with the United Nations system including the Human Rights Council, Treaty Bodies, Special Procedures and the wider international community in a spirit of goodwill and cooperation. The OHCHR should seek to work with Sri Lanka in a cooperative, collaborative, constructive and transparent manner to further strengthen the State’s capacity to promote and protect human rights, in accordance with its mandate. High Commissioner Pillay, instead, pays scant regard to the ongoing delicate process of reconciliation in Sri Lanka. Ignoring the cultural sensitivities and value systems of local populations, she advocates retributive justice and coercive processes “as an avenue to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation” which in fact would only serve to destabilize the intricate balance of the process of national reconciliation and militate against stability and peace in the country.

However, the Government of Sri Lanka is confident that the new High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid al-Hussein, would be guided at all times by the principles of objectivity, impartiality, non-selectivity and equal treatment while respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and domestic jurisdiction of States in carrying out his mandate and in guiding the work of the OHCHR. The Government of Sri Lanka will continue to engage constructively with the OHCHR.

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