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“In the coming months I very much look forward to country visits to both Sri Lanka and Afghanistan” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mme. Louise Arbour in her closing remarks at the 6th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council held at the Palais de Nations, Geneva, on 13th and 14th September 2007.
Responding to her statement, and the one paragraph references to Sri Lanka in the Statement of the European Union read out by the Ambassador of Portugal (the current president of the EU) during the general debate, Dr. Dayan Jayatilleka, Ambassador and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva said that the visit of the High Commissioner was one of a number of initiatives taken by the Govt of Sri Lanka including visits by two UN Special Rapporteurs and a high level delegation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). He said that Sri Lanka has proven its willingness to have an open and constructive dialogue with the international community and UN Human Rights mechanisms at a difficult time when a ruthless and continuing terrorist war was being waged against it by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
In their remarks several countries including India, South Africa, Indonesia, Thailand and Bangladesh commended the positive action taken by Sri Lanka and hoped that the visit of the High Commissioner at Sri Lanka’s invitation would help to clear up any human rights concerns. The Permanent Representatives of Australia, Canada and Switzerland said that they were looking forward to the High Commissioner’s visit to Sri Lanka.
The full text of the speech by Ambassador Jayatilleka follows:
Thank you Mr. President, Madame High Commissioner,
The government and people of Sri Lanka greatly esteem the Human Rights Council and the office of the High Commissioner. It is in that spirit that the President of Sri Lanka readily met Madame Louise Arbour during his visit to Geneva. It is also in that spirit that Sri Lanka invited Madame Arbour to visit in October. We did not defer, we did not dither, we did not delay.
The visit of Madame Arbour was only one of a number of visits and a whole policy of constructive engagement with the United Nations Human Rights mechanisms.
We have two Special Rapporteurs visiting Sri Lanka in October and December respectively. Outside of the UN framework, a high level delegation of the Inter-Parliamentary Union is due to visit in late September.
Mr. President, this policy of openness and constructive engagement, takes place at a time which is not easy for Sri Lanka. The statement made by our friend, the President of the EU refers to the “resumption of hostilities” in our country. That’s a bland reference, Mr. President. Hostilities were resumed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, two weeks after the election of the new President. Hostilities were similarly resumed in 1995, when a new president, Chandrika Kumaratunga, was elected, just a few months before. The same thing happened in 1990, when President Ranasinghe Premadasa was elected. And indeed, in 1987 October, when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi had, only months before ,drawn up the Indo-Sri Lanka peace agreement and sent seventy thousand peace-keepers to enforce that agreement. On every single occasion, the Tamil Tigers have unilaterally gone back to war. On almost every single occasion, they have murdered the leaders who have negotiated with them. I say ‘almost’ because President Kumaratunga escaped with a blinding of one eye. But she escaped with her life.
In this situation, it is very difficult for any democratic government to maintain a policy of openness and constructive engagement with the international community and the Human Rights community in particular. But, Sri Lanka has consistently done this. And we continue to expand that cooperation. We continue to broaden the spaces.
Now, Mr. President, I think we must be watchful, we must guard against anything that could disturb this atmosphere of cooperation, that could derail this policy of constructive engagement. What might do that? I can think of two or three things quite readily, Mr. President. One would be ill-timed, ill-advised and lop-sided criticism of a democratic government that is fighting a ferocious terrorist enemy which has fielded far more suicide bombers than any group of religious provenance. Such criticism could spoil the atmosphere and rouse suspicions in the mind of the Sri Lankan public. This is something that we must guard against. It would also be seized upon by the Tamil Tigers and used as propaganda.
The second thing we must guard against Mr. President, is dogmatism and sloganizing. I refer to the repeated incantation for the establishment of a field presence of the office of the High Commission. Sri Lanka is open to reasonable persuasion, and nothing is off the table. Sri Lanka is not open to pressure.
Finally Mr. President, I think we must guard against well-heeled lobbyists parading as Non-Governmental Organizations. We must guard against the pressure put by such entities on the Human Rights Council, The Office, and Sri Lanka as a whole.