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Speech made by Hon.Mahinda Samarasinghe - M/Disaster Managment & Human Rights in Sri Lanka at the launch of "Humanitarian Appeal 2007: Mid-Year Review" organised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva

 

MahindaSamarasinghe-17July2007

 

Sri Lanka is a country with an established tradition of democratic government. Fundamental rights are guaranteed in our Constitution and every organ of State is under a duty to respect, secure and advance these rights and freedoms said Hon.Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe addressing the meeting held in the UN Office in Geneva on 17 July to launch the "Humanitarian Appeal 2007: Mid-Year Review" organised by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Geneva. Hon. Minister was present at the occasion on the invitation by Mr. John Holms, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator. The Mid-Year Review of the 2007 Common Humanitarian Action Plan of the UN requests the international donor community to contribute US$ 98 million towards humanitarian operations in Sri Lanka.

Here is the full text of Hon. Minister’s speech.



Mr. Chairman,
Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

On behalf of Sri Lanka – a country affected both by conflict and the unprecedented natural disaster of the tsunami of 2004 – I must begin by thanking the international community for its unwavering support. I have personally committed to appearing at this forum to convey our support an appreciation for the United Nations humanitarian system, which is charged with extending humanitarian relief world-wide.

The CHAP platform exists to address established and evolving emergency humanitarian needs. It highlights the need for transparent consultation and coordination between the UN and international organizations and the Government of Sri Lanka. The whole process from planning, coordination and implementation, to on-going monitoring, provides us with the opportunity to develop a strategic approach to humanitarian action. The Government of Sri Lanka is fully committed to this methodology, the objective being that of assisting people caught up in complex emergencies, as well as building national capacity towards a long-term sustainable approach to disaster management

For nearly three decades, Sri Lanka has been engaged in confronting a ruthless terrorist organization - the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). The EU, US, UK, India and Canada have proscribed the group for its past illegal acts, its intent to perpetuate further acts of terrorism as well as for serious human rights violations, including recruitment of child soldiers.

The Government of Sri Lanka, while combating terrorism, has, at the same time, endeavoured to promote and protect human rights. It is also faced with the task of addressing a multitude of humanitarian concerns. In 2002, the Government entered into a Ceasefire Agreement facilitated by the Government of Norway – this brought great hope of an end to the hostilities. Unfortunately, the LTTE has used the Ceasefire to rebuild its military strength and is now in open conflict with the security forces. The shocking assassination of Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, a moderate Tamil intellectual – held in high esteem both nationally and internationally – as well as other acts grossly violating the CFA, plunged our nation back into conflict.

It was against this backdrop that we were dealt another blow: the Indian Ocean tsunami that struck our island in December 2004, left devastation and destruction in its wake. As you are aware, we are well on the way to completing post-tsunami reconstruction and have undertaken prevention and mitigation initiatives. We could not have done this without the support of the international community. I admit that things have not been perfect. Indeed, our efforts have been hampered by the on-going conflict. However, I can assure you that the lessons learned from the humanitarian response to the tsunami are being incorporated in our response to provide much needed emergency assistance to conflict-affected communities in the north and east of Sri Lanka.


As my Ministry’s portfolio includes both human rights and disaster management, I am acutely aware of the challenges the Government of Sri Lanka is presented with. We have the duty to ensure the protection and promotion of human rights in our response to disasters – be they man-made or natural. At the same time we must ensure that our security concerns do not lead to a trade-off in human rights. In fact, the Ministry of Disaster Management and Human Rights, is tasked with the job of making sure that rights-based approaches are incorporated into the management of disaster response, mitigation and recovery.
The Government of Sri Lanka is mindful of the nexus between peace and security, humanitarian affairs and human rights. I am of the firm conviction that the protection and promotion of human rights is a precondition for human security in our country; only then can sustainable peace be achieved. The Government is fully committed to a politically negotiated settlement to the conflict. His Excellency the President has reiterated this recently when he addressed the International Labour Conference in Geneva, where he stated, “we do not believe in a military solution”. The President further stated that the All Party Representative Committee that is currently considering political parties’ recommendations, is “in the process of examining an array of proposals that have been submitted”, and that he was sure that a satisfactory outcome can be achieved.


We are living in difficult times, but the Government is of the firm belief that it is during such times that we must ensure – more than ever – that human rights are protected. Failure to do so would result in the destruction of the democratic foundations of our nation – the very values that our adversaries wish to destroy.

Sri Lanka is a country with an established tradition of democratic government. Fundamental rights are guaranteed in our Constitution and every organ of State is under a duty to respect, secure and advance these rights and freedoms. At international level, the Government has maintained a policy of open cooperation with all international human rights mechanisms and we are party to all seven major human rights Conventions and Treaties. Last month, His Excellency President Mahinda Rajapakse and I met with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Madame Louise Arbour, here in Geneva and an invitation has now been extended to her to visit Sri Lanka in October this year. The Special Rapporteur on the question of torture and the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons will also visit Sri Lanka this year. Mr. John Holmes, the Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs has requested for a visit to Sri Lanka this year and the Government of Sri Lanka welcomes the visit.

In order to effectively meet our human rights obligations, the Government has created the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Human Rights, which I chair, to coordinate among government line-ministries and other stakeholders to facilitate the effective investigation into alleged human rights violations. The Committee’s role was pivotal in establishing the Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate, inquire into, and report to H.E. the President on sixteen instances of alleged serious human rights violations. One of the primary objectives of establishing the Commission of Inquiry is to enable the eventual indictment of perpetrators, and to recommend measures to be taken to prevent such incidents occurring in the future. The work of the Commission is being observed by an International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP). The terms of reference for the IIGEP were finalized after several rounds of discussions with human rights organizations, civil society leaders, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and representatives of the countries that nominated experts.

This hybrid model is, as far as I am aware, the first of its kind. It has been designed to ensure impartiality and transparency and guarantee that all investigations are conducted in accordance with international standards. The Commission of Inquiry has established a witness protection unit to meet the immediate needs of victims and witnesses. The Government is currently in the process of finalising a draft Bill to enact a victim and witness protection programme. This is a pioneering initiative in our region.


The killing of 17 aid workers of ACF was a deplorable act, which the Government of Sri Lanka has strongly condemned. Humanitarian assistance is not possible without the dedication and commitment of people who put their own lives at risk by operating in extremely hazardous situations. Two Sri Lankan Red Cross workers also lost their lives when they were abducted and brutally killed. I can assure you that the Government of Sri Lanka is committed to ensuring the safety and security of humanitarian personnel and we are doing everything we can to bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice.

As you are all aware, many people have been displaced from their homes due to the prevailing situation in the North and East of our country. The issue of internally displaced persons (IDPs) is one of the most serious human rights issues we face in Sri Lanka today. I can assure you that the Government is making a concerted effort to resettle these IDPs. The Government of Sri Lanka is fully committed to providing humanitarian assistance and protection to people living in these areas. However, I must caution against the use of exaggerated figures with regard to the Sri Lankan situation. In terms of IDPs, it must be noted that the security forces have now completed the clearance of the East from LTTE activities thus enabling a planned resettlement programme. By the end of June, some 95,000 IDPs had been settled in the Batticaloa area. Moreover, the Government is committed to a policy of voluntary resettlement. UNHCR was fully involved in the return process and have publicly stated, and I quote: “the majority of people are eager to return home, the returns are voluntary and in line with international protection standards.”


In order to ensure the protection of IDPs, the Government has created regular coordination mechanisms to facilitate humanitarian and development assistance. One such mechanism, the IDP Coordination Meeting, brings together various stakeholders – both Government and non-Governmental to facilitate and consult on policy decisions at national and district levels.

Moreover, the Government, in cooperation with the international community, including UN agencies, the ICRC the EU and the Co-Chairs, through the Consultative Committee on Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA), is making every effort to facilitate humanitarian and development assistance to conflict-affected areas. The CCHA, which I chair, was a response by the Government to a Co-Chair proposal to set up a high-level coordinating and policy-making forum. At this forum, Government stakeholders and international community representatives discuss issues in relation to humanitarian and development assistance such as, access for humanitarian agencies, delivery of essential goods and services and security concerns on the ground.

The CCHA has been instrumental in facilitating access for humanitarian organisations to uncleared areas, for 21 international NGOs, based on a list of preferential partners submitted by the UN. The CCHA has also agreed on a system of approval and clearance for essential items, and has clarified the role of different Government agencies in delivering assistance to IDPs.

In order to facilitate the work of the CCHA, five sub-committees have been formed under the apex body of the CCHA. These the sub-committees, which are co-chaired by a representative of the Government and a UN agency, allow for broader consultation with Specialised Agencies. The sub-committees address the crucial areas of logistics and essential services, resettlement and welfare of IDPs, livelihoods, health and education. These sub-committees discuss and resolve all operational issues that fall within their respective area and forward policy recommendations to the CCHA. The sub-committees have also been given the mandate to address post-resettlement challenges.


A further development resulting from the CCHA was the launch of an initiative to develop a clear operational framework for humanitarian and development assistance in Sri Lanka. The Government is committed to drafting a Mode of Operations for all stakeholders involved in this work. The intention is to facilitate the work of all stakeholders, through improving good governance, transparency, accountability, clarity, coordination and mutual understanding. A working group, co-chaired by the Head of ECHO in Sri Lanka has been established to oversee the drafting of the Mode of Operations.

I am pleased to see that major donor Governments recently endorsed the Guiding Principles for Humanitarian and Development Assistance in Sri Lanka. The signatories to these 10 Guiding Principles have reaffirmed their commitment to implementing effective humanitarian and development assistance in Sri Lanka. My hope is that these Principles can be developed on, and be incorporated into the Mode of Operations – a document, which I view as laying down the operational framework for humanitarian and development assistance in our country.

Other initiatives the Government is pursuing, includes working in collaboration with UNHCR to formulate an action plan to operationalise Confidence-Building and Stabilisation Measures (CBSM) for Internally Displaced Persons in the North and East. Based on specific recommendations – from both Government and non-Government stakeholders – a national plan of action is currently being finalised to implement these measures.

Despite the fact that the conflict has put huge financial pressure on the Government, we have been able to allocate a larger share of resources for the care of IDPs in 2007. Assistance received from initiatives such as CHAP will complement these efforts. Infrastructure projects and rehabilitation work is already underway and we are currently in the process of formulating development and livelihood projects to inject confidence and stability in areas that have been secured. In particular we, together with our international partners, are focused on implementing a holistic and consolidated plan to develop the East. I can state that the ‘humanitarian space’ is indeed improving to enable us to deliver assistance and improve the quality of life of all affected persons especially those in the North and East.
The situation in Sri Lanka has presented us with a number of challenges; the separatist conflict that has dominated our socio-political discourse for the last 30 years. The conflict has wreaked misery, death and destruction. Despite this bleak picture, I wish to reassure the international donor community that Sri Lanka is committed to a peaceful resolution to the conflict. As His Excellency the President has stated, there are expectations of a framework proposal emanating soon from the All Party Conference that addresses the socio-economic, political and cultural aspirations of the people. We want to achieve sustainable peace and prosperity for all our people – regardless of the ethnic group they belong to, the religion they profess, their geographical origin or the language they speak. Sri Lanka is a multi-cultural-lingual-ethnic and religious society. It is only through respect for and preservation of this diversity that unity amongst all the people of Sri Lanka can be cultivated, resulting in a truly Sri Lankan identity. With the continued assistance and support of the international community, particularly at this critical juncture, I truly believe that this vision can become a reality.


Thank you.

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