The webinar conference titled ‘Responding to the Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka (A / HRC / 46 / 20),’ which took place on Sunday 21 February, attracted an international audience and was heavily oversubscribed.
The Right Honourable Lord Naseby from the House of Lords, United Kingdom dropped a bombshell on the human rights allegations made by Michelle Bachelet Jeria, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Council in Geneva. The event went viral and the organisers had to use several media platforms including Facebook live to broadcast the event which highlighted the inconsistencies, weaknesses and misinformation by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Council.
Ranjiv Goonawardena, Chairman of International Consultants, which is a consultancy, brokering hybrid of private equity, and corporate finance group, facilitated and organised the event. This was achieved in collaboration with London Initiative and the Ontario Centre for Policy Research.
The speakers for the event were: The Rt. Hon. the Lord Naseby PC from the House of Lords, United Kingdom; the current Ambassador to China, Dr. Palitha T. B. Kohona, who was the former Sri Lankan Foreign Secretary and Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York, USA; and Dr. Mohan Peiris, the current Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York, USA, he was the former Chief Justice and Attorney General. The Moderator for the webinar was Jayaraj Palihawadana, from the London Initiative. He is a practicing solicitor in the United Kingdom.
By Ranjiv Goonawardena
It was expected from the Human Rights Council to diligently investigate every piece of evidence in order to validate impartiality. To seek authentication, leaving no stone unturned.
The revelation highlighted by Lord Naseby showing the inconsistences of the Human Rights Council’s inability to carry out a proper, impartial type of investigation and showed that they failed to ask for vital attestation from Her Majesty’s Government in the UK pertaining to the classified report written by Lieutenant Colonel Gash, which has been redacted by the British Government.
Her Majesty’s representative in the House of Lords is Lord Ahmed of Wimbledon. The Minister of State for the Commonwealth, United Nations at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, provided the following answer to Lord Naseby’s written parliamentary question:
Lord Naseby’s question: “To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have supplied to the UN Human Rights Council any (1) redacted, and (2) unredacted, copies of despatches written by Lieutenant Colonel Gash, the former Defence Attaché of the British High Commission in Sri Lanka about events in that country relating to the civil war.”
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon answered: “The UK Government has not received any request from the UN Human Rights Council for copies of despatches written by the former Defence Attaché at the British High Commission in Sri Lanka, Lieutenant Colonel Gash, about events in Sri Lanka related to the civil war, and has not provided any.”
This is completely biased that the UNHRC by Michelle Bachelet Jeria did not ask for corroboration from the UK Government. Neither did Her Majesty’s Government provide information to the Human Rights Council. The UK Government sponsored the motion against Sri Lanka. They failed to provide the information which has been deemed classified and as a consequence hindered the whole process which is injudicious. This brings the matter into disrepute by not having provided accurate credible information required to be unclassified for justice and equanimity to prevail.
It became very evident during the webinar conference that the human rights allegations made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights is absolutely onesided, very prejudiced against Sri Lanka, not independent nor balanced.
Based on the webinar the objectives of the Human Rights Council are questionable, due to the prejudice demonstrated against Sri Lanka by undermining its efforts and achievements. The consensus was evident in accordance with the participants present; this is according to a number of politicians and aficionado who participated in the webinar from Sweden, Norway, the European Commission, Switzerland, Germany France Italy, Russia, the United States of America and Canada.
Throughout the proceedings it became clear that there could be a hidden agenda which might have nothing to do with human rights but rather perhaps as a means to leverage unwarranted pressure on Sri Lanka and its administration on erroneous conjecture.
A licence to kill without any fear of any litigation, no international accountability and scrutiny
UNHRC proceedings have been sponsored by the UK Government which can be deemed as hypocritical. They are about to bring new legislation, called the Overseas Operations (Service Personnel and Veterans) Bill, which was introduced to UK Parliament in March 2020. This includes a series of proposals that would exonerate the British Army from any war crime claims of any misconduct, violations of any Human Rights or any extrajudicial killings.
The UK Government is a major donor to the Human Rights Council, the sum of $ 1,709,532 has been donated according to the annual report voluntary contribution 2021.
The Human Rights Council is supposed to be totally impartial and unbiased, unfortunately in this instance they have failed on the basic principles for justice for all, not for the chosen few.
The Human Rights Council is not meant to be a weapon to terrorise small and emerging nations of the world as they have evidently done in this case with Sri Lanka, rather be a beacon of light and justice.
It has therefore become notably evident that powerful countries seem to have a different approach and mechanism, with regards to alleged Human Rights abuses by adopting a different way of mitigating and distancing themselves for instance:
International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor drops probe into UK war crimes in Iraq
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda’s office said she was dropping a preliminary probe into alleged war crimes by British troops in Iraq, even though she found a reasonable basis to believe they committed atrocities.
The ICC has been under fire by Washington for opening a full-fledged investigation into war crimes allegedly committed by US troops on the territory of ICC member Afghanistan. The former President Donald Trump of America last year-imposed sanctions on Bensouda because of the probe.
Sri Lankan Ambassador to China Dr. Palitha Kohona stated: “It simply defies explanation that the High Commissioner who is highly regarded in the UN system and as a former President of Chile, and as a UN Executive Director for Women’s Affairs should have lent her name to this document. It is meticulously detailed, painstakingly crafted and scrupulously structured. But it is based on a multi-tiered edifice of lies, innuendo and suggestions which go back to previously debunked reports. To an impartial observer its goal is obvious. It kindles hatred and stokes vengeance. It ignores that fact that Sri Lanka formally withdrew from the con-sponsorship of 30/1. At this point, I recall the words of our great sage, the Buddha, ‘Hatred ceaseth not hatred, love ceaseth hatred’ – ‘Nahi Verana Verani’.”
This is what amazes me. She contributes to the now familiar and orchestrated effort of some countries, influenced by a cabal of noisy lobby groups and NGOs to embarrass Sri Lanka, to denigrate Sri Lanka, and its leaders and diminish Sri Lanka’s achievement in eliminating a ruthless terrorist group. And they seek accountability.
Ambassador Dr. Kohona requested to know the answers to the following questions he posed to the conference webinar: “Let me ask the question, why? Why was the High Commissioner’s report compiled in this manner?”
Miliband, then UK Foreign Secretary and Kouchner, then Foreign Minister of France, visited Sri Lanka
Towards the end of the conflict Miliband, then the UK Foreign Secretary and Kouchner, then the Foreign Minister of France, visited Sri Lanka, under pressure from the Tamil expatriate groups and a noisy NGO community and almost demanded that Sri Lanka stop the military operation against the LTTE, a group that had terrorised the country for over 30 years causing widespread death and destruction.
The President refused to comply and, if I remember right, he told Miliband bluntly that Sri Lanka
be told what to do by its Foreign Secretary. We proceeded to defeat the LTTE and end the 30-year brutal conflict, with its terrorism.
As is abundantly clear from WikiLeaks, the UK and France were not alone. The US, Sweden and Norway had this common goal. The rushed visits of Eric Solheim to Washington are all documented in WikiLeaks. It is difficult to attribute a coherent reason for this affection for the LTTE by all these countries and their representatives. Given that it had been proscribed by these countries.
Let me take a few examples; I am not going to go through the entire report of the High Commissioner. I could, but it has been done in the Government’s response which has been all but ignored along with its withdrawal of the co-sponsorship of 30/1. The Report starts off by adverting to credible allegations of indiscriminate shelling and 250,000 people being interned for months; immediately a few questions arise. Credible? Credible in whose eyes? In the eyes of those making the allegations?
Eminent Persons’ Report
A number of contemporary reports have emerged, including by the military attaches of the UK and US. They do not speak of indiscriminate shelling. Has the High Commissioner even considered the views of the Eminent Persons’ Report? They dismiss the allegation of indiscriminate shelling.
Geoffrey Nice QC. Rodney Dixon QC, Desmond Silva QC, among others were in this group. The resident doctors’ statements? Have these been taken into account? In any event, the High Commissioner has not considered whether the retaliatory strikes by the military were necessary and proportionate. But her report highlights the allegation made by nondescript entities.
Millions who live in makeshift camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen or Libya
Then the statement states that the refugees were detained for months in camps. What would the High Commissioner have preferred? For them to live in humpies in the elephant-infested jungles? Like the millions who live in makeshift camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen or Libya?
You would have seen this on CNN reports in the last couple of days. Children with distended bellies and sunken eyes being thrown bottles of water from passing four-wheel drives of do-gooding NGOs. Is that what she would have preferred? Instead, those in our camps were fed, three times a day, given medical care, children had their schooling, and they had proper shelter.
Nazi Goebbles’ dictum, “Repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth”
In any event, over 1,000 sqkms of land had to be cleared of indiscriminately-laid landmines. The LTTE had removed the roofing material of the houses as they herded the people with them as they retreated before the advancing military.
The metal roofing sheets were melted to make pellets for their IEDs. The people had no houses to go back to. A quick inquiry from Miliband would have revealed this. He visited those so-called internment camps. Or is it more convenient to follow Nazi Goebbles’ dictum, “Repeat a lie often enough, it becomes the truth”?
Emotive expression “majoritarianism” employed by the High Commissioner
The report is critical of military officers who have been assigned responsibilities in Government departments and institutions. Sri Lanka is not unique in employing retired soldiers in high positions. Other countries have had presidents who were retired soldiers. In any event, our retirement age for senior officers is 55, an age when a man is not considered to be old anymore. It is difficult to imagine for a poor country like Sri Lanka to waste the talent, experience and skills of a military officer retiring at age 55.
I find it difficult to understand the emotive expression “majoritarianism” employed by the High Commissioner. In a democracy, it is the majority that elects a president or a government. It would be self-destructive for a leader of a government, so elected, not to reflect the views of the majority.
Even the protection of antiquities is not spared in the report. This is like saying that the protection of Egyptian antiquities would offend the Muslim population, or the protection of the Parthenon would offend the Orthodox Greeks. The antiquities being protected are part of the entire nation’s patrimony.
The LTTE strategy appears to have been simply to keep the civilians as a human shield. This provided the context for most of what happened in the final stages of the war. In the first instance, it was assumed that the human shield would slow the progress of the military.
Secondly, a few civilians’ deaths would force the international community to intervene and save the LTTE. Tamil Selvan has said so on record. Failing all else, it would provide the basis for war crimes allegations once the conflict ended. This would have been particularly useful, if the plan to airlift the LTTE leadership out of Pudumatthalan had succeeded.
The LTTE and now the High Commissioner’s Report ignores the fact that the UN Secretary-General, the US Secretary of State and many others had called on the LTTE repeatedly to let the people go. They refused to heed this call.
Against this background, it is difficult not to come to the conclusion that the High Commissioner, in her report simply did not wish to assist a state member of the UN to improve its performance consistent with her mandate, but was determined to embarrass Sri Lanka and push it into a difficult corner. Her task is to work with member states to advance human rights not to act as prosecutor and judge.
It is difficult for a country to defend itself against unsubstantiated allegations and insinuations. No domestic legal system would permit that.
The High Commissioner has no authority to enforce Council resolutions
It was said by Ambassador Dr. Kohona that the High Commissioner’s office appears to have, over the years, misunderstood its role. The Council was never established to isolate countries and chastise them individually. It was designed to help countries to improve their human rights performance.
The Council’s job is to assist and to encourage, not to punish. This was the objective of those who created the Council in the first place, having terminated its predecessor. The High Commissioner has no authority to enforce Council resolutions. Now she turns to help countries to enforce principles that have never been endorsed by the international community as a whole.
The High Commissioner’s report even suggests punitive measures, in other fora, perhaps to bring Sri Lanka to heel, or to make it an example. Again, it would seem that the Report mistakes her role, and plays into the hands of those wishing to punish Sri Lanka. As to whether this is consistent with the High Commissioner’s role is hugely doubtful. This reek of vengeance-seeking hatred.
Sri Lanka’s culture
It is also important to remember that our culture, Sri Lanka’s culture, is not based on the values of an eye for an eye or tooth for a tooth principle. Our culture is based on the principles of forgiveness and forgetting not confessional atonement and the justice of the inquisition.
It may be difficult for those imbued with these age-old Western concepts to understand this, but let’s remember that the world consists of a range and multiplicity of cultural traditions and principles. That is why the Sri Lankan Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) adopted a restorative justice approach rather than a punitive justice approach even for those who may have violated basic norms.
Restorative justice takes time. It is not without reason that 12,000 former combatants were rehabilitated to their families. For us, meting out justice does not necessarily mean meting out punishment. History is replete with situations where punitive justice did not succeed in achieving reconciliation, while restorative justice has produced results in almost every instance, for example in South Africa and Uganda.
Since the end of the conflict
In closing remarks, Ambassador Dr. Kohona stated: “Since the end of the conflict, the Sri Lankan Government has adopted extensive measures to achieve reconciliation. Most land occupied by the military has been returned to the original owners, most infrastructure destroyed during conflict including railway lines, roads, schools, fisheries harbours, temples, and community facilities have been restored. The railway tracks and the sleepers had been used by the LTTE to construct bunkers. Hundreds of missing persons have been accounted for. Much more needs to be done, but we are a poor country. It will take time. There are other parts of the country, in addition to the north and the east which need to be developed as well. Our resources are limited and fresh funds are required. I wish the High Commissioner’s report had also spared some thought for these aspects as well, instead of purely searching feverishly for guilty parties to punish.”