|Sri Lanka responds to INGO campaign|
|Friday, 09 May 2008|
The Government of Sri Lanka’s response to the joint INGO letter on Sri Lanka’s re-election to the UNHRC
The Government of Sri Lanka has issued the following response, stating its position with reference to a letter that has been circulated by a group of NGOs titled “NGOs for an Effective Human Rights Council”, urging States to refrain from voting for Sri Lanka in the forthcoming Human Rights Council election to be held at the UN General Assembly in New York on 21st May 2008:
Sri Lanka was elected as a member of the Human Rights Council in 2006 for a period of two years, and Sri Lanka seeks re-election for a second term. The letter referred to above, states that the Government of Sri Lanka has used its membership of the Council to protect itself from scrutiny. The Government finds this proposition not only outlandish, but contradictory. Council members are, by virtue of membership, required by GA resolution 60/251 to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate” with the Council. The Government of Sri Lanka has taken its membership of the Council very seriously and in fact, Sri Lanka has been at the forefront of discussions to establish the Council. As a member who has also been the Chair of the Asian Group of the Council in 2007, and now represents the Asian Group as one of the four vice-presidents, Sri Lanka has fully cooperated with the Council and has consistently maintained a policy of open and constructive engagement with the international human rights system. Sri Lanka has opened itself to international scrutiny in the belief that this will strengthen national efforts to protect and promote human rights. Moreover, the Government has voluntarily agreed to international scrutiny of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka through the Universal Periodic Review process, which, for Sri Lanka, will take place on 13 May 2008. The Government of Sri Lanka has entered into the Universal Review Process in good faith, as it is a transparent constructive process based on genuine dialogue.
The Government is of the view that the Review will allow Sri Lanka to turn the spotlight inwards, to examine its human rights situation – challenges as well as human rights gains – and inform Council members of the complexities in which the Government operates. In Sri Lanka’s case, the country is dealing with the forces of terrorism, secessionism and hatred. This conflict has dominated Sri Lanka’s political and social landscape for nearly 25 years and has taken its toll on its people. Direct fallouts of the conflict include death and destruction of personal and collective property, internal displacement of persons and refugees, impeded economic development and strain on limited economic resources, psycho-social trauma, the need for rehabilitation and reintegration of ex-combatants including child soldiers, and a climate of insecurity and fear due to threats posed by terrorist activity such as the targeting of civilians, including the deliberate killing of members of the Government of Sri Lanka and other perceived political opponents and moderate Tamils. While dealing with the scourge of terrorism, the Government of Sri Lanka has had to ensure that security concerns do not lead to a trade-off in human rights. The Government admits that there are shortfalls, but is keen to address, not ignore them.
The Government has identified a number of national priorities aimed at ensuring constitutionally enshrined human rights guarantees, and giving greater domestic effect to Sri Lanka’s international human rights obligations. The Government hopes that through the Universal Period Review process, and as a member of the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka will be further assisted by the international community through constructive dialogue, leading to solid recommendations based on ground realities, and the provision of much needed technical and capacity-building support in order to realise these recommendations. The Government’s ultimate aim is to implement a National Action Plan on Human Rights which will be a country-wide initiative spearheaded and to be coordinated by the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights. It will include a national mapping exercise on human rights, which will identify challenges constraints and gaps in human rights protection and promotion.
The Action Plan will also focus on implementing recommendations of the UN Special Procedures, pledges made for election to Human Rights Council, as well as recommendations that emanate from the Universal Periodic Review process. Sri Lanka’s National Report for the Universal Periodic Review is available on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website. It was prepared in accordance with the General Guidelines for the Preparation of Information under the Universal Periodic Review and was based on broad based consultations and discussions with a wide-range of stakeholders, including representatives of civil society. The Government, from the onset, viewed the National Report, and the process around its drafting, as an opportunity to make an objective assessment of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka; reference is made not only to areas where the Government has made progress in protecting and promoting human rights but genuine attempts have been made to identify shortcomings and human rights challenges. In responding to some of the charges levelled in the letter titled “NGOs for an Effective Human Rights Council”, the Government of Sri Lanka would like to draw your attention to the fact that this letter is based on information purported to come from human rights organisations operating in Sri Lanka. Over a thousand organisations are registered in Sri Lanka. Therefore, it is clear that the views expressed in this letter stem from a group of NGOs that are politically affiliated and have an anti-government agenda that they are pursing with vigour in the international arena.
Sri Lanka is a democracy: people are free to express a whole range of political viewpoints and the Government encourages this plurality of views – indeed Sri Lanka’s history is based on people challenging the status quo ante. What the Government requests from members of the international community is that in order to make an objective assessment of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, States need to take on board a number of viewpoints and not rely on sources clearly adamant in pursing a partisan political agenda. The letter states that the Government of Sri Lanka has failed to ensure investigations of those allegedly responsible for serious abuses of human rights. The Government is committed to bringing to justice all perpetrators of human rights violations and views alleged acts of torture, extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances with the utmost concern. Where such allegations are levelled at the armed services or the police, impartial investigations have been initiated and all necessary punitive measures taken within the bounds of the law. During the past decade, the Attorney- General has instituted criminal proceedings against 623 members of the security forces and the police with regard to their alleged involvement over a period of two decades, in the abduction of persons, their unlawful detention and the extra-judicial elimination of persons in custody. The Government’s efforts have, however, been impeded by a number of factors, for example when alleged perpetrators victims and/or witnesses have fled to or live in uncleared areas. Having found that victims or witnesses are afraid to come forward and give evidence that would facilitate inquiries, because of the fear of reprisal and threats to personal safety and the safety of their families, the Government has drafted legislation for the protection of victims of and witnesses to crime.
The Supreme Court has already forwarded its determination on the bill to Parliament and it is expected that the legislature will be able to take up the bill in early June. The Government hopes and believes that the passage of this bill will enhance public confidence in the law enforcement process and lead to greater participation by the general public in investigations and prosecutions, particularly in prosecutions of human rights violations including cases of torture, killings, abductions and disappearances which remain unresolved due to lack of evidence. Another initiative the Government has undertaken, is the establishment of a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to Investigate and Inquire into Alleged Human Rights Violations. Currently, the Commission is investigating 16 cases and is holding public inquiries in to two high profile cases – the death of five youths in Trincomalee, and the death of 17 humanitarian workers of French NGO Action Contre La Faim, a deplorable act which the Government has condemned in the strongest possible terms. The Government is confident that the Commission of Inquiry’s investigations will result in credible evidence that can then lead to further investigation and prosecutions by the appropriate authorities.
The aforementioned letter also refers to violations such as the alleged forcible return of internally displaced persons, unwarranted restriction on media freedom, widespread torture and complicity in the recruitment of child soldiers. In response to some of the charges levelled, the Government of Sri Lanka assures that these allegations are unfounded. For example, recently the Government, as part of its zero-tolerance policy on the recruitment of children for use in armed conflict, facilitated the release of 39 children involved in armed conflict in the east of Sri Lanka by paramilitary groups. UNICEF expressed their appreciation for the instrumental role played by the Government in securing the release of the children. The Government is committed to rehabilitating all children who have been illegally recruited for use in armed conflict. The charge of forcible return of IDPs is similarly baseless; during the returns programme in the east last year, the UNHCR publicly stated that “our staff monitoring the situation on the ground say the majority of people are eager to return home, the returns are voluntary and in line with international protection standards”. The Government is committed to protecting the internally displaced during all phases of displacement, including return, and has worked on facilitating humanitarian access to all conflict-affected communities and has set up a high-level policy and decision making forum to address any problems or issues that may arise. The Government will not go into further detail on the charges levelled at it in the above-mentioned letter as the appropriate forum to objectively assess Sri Lanka’s human rights situation is the Human Rights Council, particularly during Sri Lanka’s review under the Universal Periodic Review process. During Sri Lanka’s review the Government will answer questions raised by Council Members and together seek to find solutions to agreed human rights challenges.
The letter also accuses the Government of refusing to cooperate with the Human Rights Council and UN human rights mechanisms. As highlighted above, this could not be further from the truth. Moreover, the Government is committed to an open and constructive dialogue with the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and other agencies of the UN system in an effort to strengthen national capacities. Sri Lanka has invited a number of UN officials and Special Procedures/Mandate holders to visit Sri Lanka. In 2007 alone the Government welcomed and facilitated the visits of High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, Under Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sir John Holmes, the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Walter Kälin and the Special Rapporteur on Torture Manfred Nowak. The Government will continue this policy of open and constructive engagement – having endeavoured to acknowledge any human rights problems/shortcomings and taken steps to assess and implement recommendations on key issues. This is hardly the action of a government, which, according to the “NGOs for an Effective Human Rights Council” letter, has sought to “shield itself from constructive international scrutiny”.
The letter also points to “personal attacks” by officials of the Government of Sri Lanka that have allegedly been launched against visiting senior UN officials who have raised human rights concerns. The Government can assure members of the international community that any derogatory comments that may have been made in no way whatsoever reflect the official position of the Government of Sri Lanka. Indeed when such comments have been made the Government has issued official statements to the contrary, in an effort to clarify its position and ensure that it is widely publicised. The comments quoted in the letter seem to be extracted from sensationalist media reports which clearly fail to report the whole picture. In terms of Sri Lanka’s election to the Human Rights Council, the Government made a number of voluntary pledges when Sri Lanka was initially elected to the Council in 2006. The Government is pleased to report that Sri Lanka has successfully implemented nearly all these pledges, notably that Sri Lanka is a State party to the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the child on the sale of children, child prostitution, and child pornography; that the Government has established mechanisms tasked with reviewing and suggesting ways to implement treaty body recommendations; that the Government has convened a committee to draft a new constitutional bill of rights which will, once adopted, strengthen Sri Lanka’s human rights protection framework by protecting rights that the current chapter on Fundamental Rights in the Constitution does not cover – economic, social and cultural rights, group rights and environmental rights. The Government is in the final stages of preparing a number of reports as required under treaty obligations.
Moreover, Sri Lanka has been fully involved in the institutional building phase of the Human Rights Council. The Government believes that when it comes to its re-election to the Human Rights Council, its record in meeting pledges made for Sri Lanka’s initial candidacy should be taken into consideration. As a country committed to democracy, Sri Lanka welcomes criticism – it is only through constructive debate and exchange of ideas that Sri Lanka can strive for constant progress and development. What the Government objects to however, are human rights reports/ assessments that are clearly biased and fail to report on any improvements and gains made, focusing solely on criticism, which, as highlighted above, is in most cases unwarranted.
Sri Lanka is committed to a policy of open, transparent and constructive dialogue with the international human rights system. Sri Lanka’s membership of the Human Rights Council will serve to facilitate this policy; it is in this spirit that the Government seeks re-election for a second term. The Government of Sri Lanka hopes for the support of all States and nomination during the forthcoming election for membership of the Council.
Geneva, 9 May 2008
|Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 June 2008 )|
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