“Sri Lanka needs to be encouraged, not impeded”: Ambassador Aryasinha

Saturday, 28 September 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Contd. from Page 13 With regard to concerns expressed by the High Commissioner, it is emphasised that all reported cases of disappearances are being comprehensively investigated by the Police, whether “white van” or otherwise. Information on this process was provided in the National Report of Sri Lanka to the UPR in 2012. In addition, as informed to the Council previously, the GOSL in 2012 established an inter-ministerial working group to respond to the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID). Increased focus has been placed by the GOSL to address cases brought to its attention by the WGEID. The GOSL continues to clear the backlog of these cases and an Inter-Agency team has been appointed headed by Deputy Inspector General of Police to conduct ground verifications to ascertain present facts. Such endeavours clearly indicate the GOSL’s deep concern and profound commitment to address cases of alleged disappearances. As a result of the continuing work of this team, details of persons who were alleged as disappeared but have been found alive, will be made available to the WGEID shortly. These individuals include some LTTE cadres and a few who have illegally migrated overseas. The non-summary inquiry on charges of murder against all suspects in the case of the killing of five students in Trincomalee commenced on 9 September 2013. Examination in chief and cross examination of three prosecution witnesses were concluded and the Attorney General has moved for summons on the first 30 witnesses for 29 October 2013 in order to ensure an expeditious conclusion of the non summary inquiry. All 13 suspects have since been interdicted from service and the concerns of any likelihood of interference with witnesses or tampering with evidence by using their official position have thus been addressed. A team of officers from the Attorney General’s Department have reviewed material on the case of 17 ACF aid workers, including the records of the Commission of Inquiry as well as archived material. The Attorney General has given directions to the Police for further investigating the case following which the possibility of prosecution will be considered if the perpetrators can be identified. The Court of Inquiry appointed by the Army is now investigating the second part of their mandate i.e. to investigate the Channel 4 allegations, which commenced in March 2013. The identification of potential witnesses is currently in progress and once identified they would be formally called as witnesses. As for custodial deaths of prisoners, with respect to Welikada, all steps are being taken to ensure a comprehensive and speedy investigation. The complexity and the magnitude of the investigation require a reasonable time to cover all aspects. With respect to Vauniya, investigations conducted up to now do not disclose sufficient material to attach criminal responsibility to any particular person. The draft legislative framework ‘Protection of Victims of Crimes and Witnesses Bill’ for an effective and efficient witness and victim protection scheme has been re-submitted to Cabinet following amendments to the text, by the Attorney General’s Department. The Government is mindful of the need to strike a balance between the accused person’s right to a fair trial and the need to protect victims and witnesses. It has to be asserted that with the termination of military operations and the gradual restoration of normalcy, the presence and strength of the military in the north has been reduced considerably. This is a process and further rationalisation of their presence would be considered in line with national security interests. The high security zones have ceased to exist. The full responsibility for law and order has been handed over to the Police with the establishment of more police stations (16 new stations and three new posts) and the recruitment of more Tamil speaking Police personnel (1,447) to serve in these areas. The acquisition of private land, if any, could be challenged in courts, and compensatory relief could be ordered by courts in the case of unlawful acquisitions. Civil administration continues to be strengthened in the Northern and Eastern Provinces and its functioning remains unimpeded. It is recalled that the High Commissioner herself was witness to this during her field visit to these provinces and was also provided with comprehensive briefings on the development process by the respective civil administration. With regard to the vulnerability of women and girls to sexual harassment and abuse in the north as referred to in the Update, it may be noted that Sri Lanka already has a zero tolerance policy on sexual harassment and on abuse of women and children. The Court of Appeal recently affirmed the conviction and sentence entered by the High Court of Vavuniya on a Police Officer for committing rape on a girl of Tamil ethnicity. The convicted Police Officer was sentenced to 12 years of imprisonment and was ordered to pay compensation to the victim. There have been repeated attempts to draw a non-existent correlation between the presence of the military in the north and insecurity of women and girls in that region. A comprehensive study undertaken of incidents of sexual offences which have occurred in the North has revealed that out of a total of 375 reported incidents during the conflict and in the post conflict periods (2007-2012), only 11 incidents (involving 17 security forces personnel) can be attributed to the security forces. Therefore, the inference that the presence of the military contributes to insecurity of women and girls in the former conflict affected areas is baseless and disingenuous. Legal action has been taken by the Government in all of the above cases in which the Sri Lankan security forces personnel have been involved. The military has taken strict action to either discharge or award other punishments to these personnel. Furthermore, cases have also been filed in civil courts, some of which are pending in Courts and with the AG’s department. In a majority of the aforementioned cases, the perpetrators have been close relatives or neighbours of the victim. The GOSL deplores all such acts of violence against women and girls and has taken concrete action against reported cases and will continue to do so. With regards addressing the need for counselling and psychosocial support for those who have been affected by the prolonged conflict, pursuant to the LLRC NPoA, special counselling programmes have been planned by the Ministry of Child Development and Women’s Affairs, and Psychosocial and Child Protection Assistants have been recruited for this purpose. Several counselling and psycho social support programs are conducted in the North and East. These programs reached 45,991 people (including 3224 in 2013) in the two provinces. This number also included 2208 ex-combatants during 2012 and 2013. To date, 29 special counselling programmes have been conducted for ex-combatants, with programmes planned to reach 500 more ex-combatants in 2013. The 10-year National Plan for a Trilingual Sri Lanka was launched in 2012 under the implementation of the Trilingual Policy. The Government is in the process of recruiting/ training the civil service as well as the police to work in the Tamil language under this program. The Northern Province has recorded a Provincial GDP (PGDP) growth rate of 25.9% for 2012 (the highest growth in any province) contributing 4.0% to the national economy up from 3.7% in 2011 while the Eastern Province registered the second highest growth of 25% in the PGDP with an increase in its GDP share to 6.3% in 2012 from 5.8% in 2011. As per the recommendations of the LLRC, the Government has initiated a program to pay compensation to residents of the Northern Province affected by the conflict. An amount of Rs. 85 million has been allocated for this purpose utilising funds allocated for 2013. The Commissioner General of Land has initiated a new program to resolve land issues of people resettling in the Northern and Eastern Provinces in the two-year period 2013-2014. A new Land Circular has been issued on 31 January 2013 to facilitate the work of those people wishing to lodge complaints regarding their land. Under this scheme 85,166 applications have been received so far, and a database is under formulation. The draft mandate for the appointment of a Presidential Land Commission to address issues relating to lands in the country, especially in the north and east, has been submitted to the Presidential Secretariat by the Ministry of Lands and Land Development recently. In view of the fact that funds secured by NGOs were being channelled for money laundering and financing of terrorist activity, it became necessary to locate the registration of NGOs under the Ministry of Defence to ensure proper supervision and monitoring of their activities. This process has not posed any impediments to any individual or organisation that seeks registration, and no unfair or arbitrary restrictions have been imposed on any NGO in the conduct of their activities. Since 2010, 95 NGOs have been registered under the Ministry of Defence, and the total number of NGOs registered in Sri Lanka stands at 1419. GOSL rejects the assertion of excessive use of force by the security forces against peaceful protestors. As was evidenced in the recent incident in Weliweriya, it has been established that the protest was not peaceful as claimed. At present a Magisterial inquiry is ongoing and an internal inquiry by the Sri Lanka Army has been held and four persons from the Army have been suspended from duty pending possible disciplinary action. With regard to the incident in Chilaw in February 2012, the IGP immediately ordered the CID to take over the investigation. Statements of more than 60 witnesses had been recorded and medico-legal reports relating to three injured and the post-mortem reports on the deceased have been obtained. During the investigation it was revealed that the conduct of the uncontrollable crowd of about 5,000 persons posed a serious threat to peace. Evidence of nearly 20 witnesses had been already led at the inquest proceedings and the verdict is due on 7 October 2013. As regard the incident in Katunayake in May 2011, the Criminal Investigation Department of Sri Lanka after investigation forwarded the dossier to the Attorney General’s Department, who having considered all material submitted by the CID had advised to initiate non-summary proceedings against two suspect Police officers on charges of murder. GOSL has at no time ‘downplayed’ allegations of attacks against religious minorities, and strongly rejects accusations of “State patronage or protection given to extremist groups”. Such generalisations lack credibility. It is for this reason that the GoSL has requested specific information on such allegations. We note that the information on such incidents contained in the Update is yet to be transmitted to GoSL by the OHCHR. All people living in Sri Lanka enjoy freedom of religion, which is a constitutionally guaranteed right. While existing provisions in the Penal Code (sections 120, 291A and 291B) and the ICCPR Act (section 3) criminalise ‘hate speech’, steps are underway to further strengthen the law against hate speech through a new amendment. Under the proposed amendment, any person who by words either spoken or intended to be read or by signs or by visible representations or otherwise causes or intends to cause commission of acts of violence or religious, racial or communal disharmony or feelings of ill-will or hostility between different communities or racial or religious groups will be guilty of an offence. Any person guilty of an offence specified above shall on conviction be liable to imprisonment of either description for a period not less than five years but not exceeding twenty years. We would welcome any technical assistance on the scope of such legislation. The issue of intimidation and harassment of human rights defenders was comprehensively addressed in our statement under Agenda Item 2 – General Debate on the first day of the Council. The GoSL is fully committed to the protection of human rights defenders and have requested the OHCHR to provide us with specific information with regard to the allegations. We are still awaiting the receipt of such information so that we could verify the credibility of such allegations. The wide range of interactions that the High Commissioner had with civil society during her visit, as well as the active engagement of civil society from Sri Lanka in successive Council sessions is testimony to the vibrant nature of Sri Lanka’s civil society and the freedoms they enjoy. Sri Lanka has been consistent in its stance that it does not condone any attacks on freedom of speech. Investigative authorities have always taken all measures to conduct effective investigations relating to any complaints regarding harassment and or assassination of journalists, Whenever, credible evidence is available, steps have been taken to prosecute the offenders. It is also open for affected journalists to obtain redress from judicial authorities by way of applications for writs of Habeas Corpus and in applications alleging violations of fundamental rights. While the Update refers to the abolition of the Constitutional Council via the 18th Amendment, one has to bear in mind that given the inherent weaknesses in the 17th Amendment that impinged on the operationalisation of bodies such as the Election Commission, the legislature enacted the 18th Amendment to address the infirmities that had rendered the Constitutional Council non-operable. The fact that several Commissions and high offices have been operationalised since the 18th Amendment and their robust functioning today, demonstrate its efficacy. All constitutional stipulations inclusive of due process rights were followed in relation to the impeachment proceedings of the former Chief Justice. Sri Lanka reiterates that similar provisions exist in other countries in relation to the removal of higher judiciary, and the impeachment process was in keeping with the constitutional imperatives. In the above context, we strongly reject the unsubstantiated claims in the Update that the rule of law and democratic institutions are being undermined and eroded. Cooperation with the Council Over the years, Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to be constructive and proactive engagement with the mechanisms of the Council including special procedures, treaty bodies and the UPR. With regard to special procedures, GOSL has continued to constructively engage with special procedures mandate holders, and has consistently and comprehensively responded to their queries and communications. As part of its constructive engagement with special procedures mandate holders, and in accordance with the reiterated GOSL position that the visits of special procedures mandate holders will be scheduled following the visit of the High Commissioner, the Government has already scheduled a visit by the Special Rapporteur on IDPs in December this year, and extended an invitation to the Special Rapporteur on Education to visit in January 2014. The GOSL will continue to schedule visits of special procedures mandate holders in the future following a consultative process. Similarly, Sri Lanka has conducted regular meetings with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances including senior representation from the Attorney General’s Department, and in 2013 alone transmitted responses on 204 cases to the Working Group. In line with its treaty body commitments, Sri Lanka is working towards submitting its periodic reports to the respective treaty bodies. Sri Lanka submitted its fifth report under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in October 2012 and earlier this month, its response to the Concluding Observations of the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Currently, the Government is in the process of finalising its fifth report under the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and will be submitting it shortly. With regard to the UPR, it may be recalled that Sri Lanka during its UPR second cycle in November last year briefed the Council in detail on progress on the different aspects of the reconciliation process. At the UPR, as previously committed to by the Government, Sri Lanka accepted to implement recommendations of the LLRC in line with the National Plan of Action (NPoA), and to also make available the financial and other resources for such implementation. The Government has since honoured these commitments made at the UPR, and has made the requisite financial provision through budgetary allocation for 2013 for the implementation of the National Plan of Action of the LLRC. Additionally, Sri Lanka made 19 voluntary commitments in relation to the UPR. Technical cooperation GOSL welcomes consideration of technical cooperation in its process of reconciliation. The new UN Development Assistance Framework (UNDAF) 2013 – 2017 signed between the Government and the UN provides a strategic direction to implement UN supported projects and programmes in line with the development policy framework of the Government, including in the case of human rights. We also support capacity enhancement of the National Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, and in this context, appreciate the ongoing support for capacity enhancement of the NHRC provided by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the UN. Sri Lanka also views its ongoing engagement with special procedures mandate holders in the context of possible technical cooperation including capacity enhancement, provision of expert advice and the sharing of best practices. To this end, my delegation continues, among others, to maintain a constructive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees of Non-recurrence with a view to learning from the comparative experiences of other post-conflict states that have engaged in reconciliation. Sri Lanka notes that the recently concluded UPR is an appropriate channel to explore avenues for technical cooperation. We believe that the accepted UPR recommendations, pledges and commitments could serve as a platform to develop and strengthen technical cooperation in order to support the implementation of human rights obligations. In this regard, we welcome the consideration of technical cooperation in areas deemed necessary in implementing the accepted recommendations of our UPR. We welcome technical cooperation in implementing the voluntary commitment to enhance national capacities in relation to the promotion and protection of human rights made during our UPR. Sri Lanka however notes that technical cooperation provided in full cooperation and consultation with the Government of Sri Lanka must complement the ongoing reconciliation process in a concrete and holistic manner, which as detailed above has already made significant progress. We also note that the unwarranted call for a truth seeking mechanism would only be tantamount to duplication and multiplication of existing institutions and initiatives. We highlight in this regard, the mandate of the Human Rights Council to promote advisory services, technical assistance and capacity building, in consultation with and with the consent of the state concerned, and in accordance with the provisions of Council resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 as well as 16/21. Conclusion In conclusion Mr. President, the GOSL strongly refutes the HC’s view that “the human rights situation in Sri Lanka remains critically important”. As pointed out many times in this Council by my delegation, the disproportionate attention paid to Sri Lanka, largely at the behest of parties with vested interests, considerably complicates the ongoing delicate process of reconciliation. Sri Lanka is not a situation that requires the urgent and immediate attention of the Council. Sri Lanka needs to be encouraged, not impeded. I thank you.