Saturday, 31 August 2013 00:10
Lankans perceive UN as biased organisation, President tells Pillay
Claims Lankans believe Pillay’s report will be full of prejudgments
UN Envoy hails investment in post-war reconstruction
Calls on President to build unity among communities alongside physical development
President assures religious violence just isolated incidents
Land rights, free expression, Weliweriya: Hot topics at Gota-Pillay talks
Attends events to commemorate missing soldiers and civilians
To hold media briefing prior to take off today; initial report in Sept.
Visit draws demonstrations for and against
By Dharisha Bastians
seemingly striking a heavy blow at the conclusion of a week-long fact finding mission by the UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay yesterday, President Mahinda Rajapaksa noted the international organisation as being one perceived as “biased” by most Sri Lankans.
Despite the smiles all around during the discussion at Temple Trees last afternoon, President Rajapaksa told the visiting UN Envoy that the prevailing perception was that her report to the UN Human Rights Council would be one of prejudgment, his Office said in a statement issued to the media last night.
“Sri Lankans believe your report will consist of prejudgments,” President Rajapaksa told the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights according to a Sinhalese language media release issued by the Presidential Spokesman and International Media Unit.
However the English version of the same release said the President had urged those expressing such concerns not to prejudge Pillay's report.
The President also informed High Commissioner Pillay that his Cabinet of Ministers was one of eclectic ideologies but assured her that he was capable of directing them towards a common agenda, the statement from his Office said.
Presidential media said.
Pillay had acknowledged visible post-war progress during her northern tour.
“This is a visit long overdue, but I felt that it’s much better that I came so that I’ll be in a position to report on the very many achievements that have been made. Firstly, it was very, very visible to me in the north how much you have invested in reconstruction,” the President’s Office quoted Pillay as saying during the meeting.
She urged the President to strive to build trust and unity between communities alongside the physical development. She also acknowledged “good cooperation” between her office and the Government in facilitating her visit.
With regard to the implementation of the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), she was pleased about the establishment of a commission to look into war-time disappearances, the President’s Office said.
Pillay also raised concerns about reports depicting Sri Lanka as a country of religious intolerance, but President Rajapaksa explained that those were “isolated incidents”, his office further stated.
“The majority of Sri Lankans continue to coexist peacefully in all parts of the island,” President Rajapaksa told the UN Envoy.
External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga and Secretary to the Ministry of External Affairs Karunathilake Amunugama also participated in the discussions at Temple Trees. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ravinatha Ariyasinha was also present.
Pillay ended discussions in Colombo as part of her Human Rights Council mandated fact finding mission to Sri Lanka with high level meetings with President Rajapaksa, Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa and key opposition groups yesterday.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner met with the Defence Secretary last morning, for a meeting that ran overtime, delaying her next engagement at Sri Lanka’s Youth Parliament in Maharagama where she was to deliver a keynote address. Pillay, who was supposed to be in Maharagama by 11 a.m., arrived past noon.
Defence Secretary Rajapaksa, who declined photo opportunities before going in for closed door discussions, informed the UN Human Rights Chief that the Government had taken action on the Weliweriya violence, with the news breaking that the Army had decided to relieve one Brigadier and Lieutenant Colonels from duty over the killing of three civilians.
Land issues and the freedom of expression were also heavily discussed during the Defence Secretary’s meeting with the visiting Envoy. On the issue of free expression, the Defence Official said media freedom was alive and well, as apparent in the newspaper reports deeply critical of the Government.
Prior to yesterday’s meeting, Secretary Rajapaksa had also indicated he would raise the confidentiality clause in the UN’s Panel of Experts Report with Pillay, asking the UN to waive confidentiality and allow
the Government to know its accusers.
The UN High Commissioner also met with a delegation of the Tamil National Alliance last morning, who briefed her on the military rule in the north, the ongoing state land acquisition projects and the lack of progress on investigations into alleged rights abuses and a political solution to the ethnic conflict.
A meeting with the main Opposition UNP centred on the erosion of democracy and the rule of law in the post-war phase, with UNP Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe calling for the urgent re-enactment of the 17th Amendment as a way out of the major problems facing Sri Lanka.
Press freedom, religious freedom and the Weliweriya violence also came up during the talks between Pillay and the UNP delegation. The main Opposition party also apologised to the UN High Commissioner on behalf of the Government for the insulting remarks made about her by senior Government politicians.
To mark the International Day of the Disappeared, High Commissioner Pillay attended two events to commemorate Sri Lanka’s missing, including a ceremony held at BMICH to remember missing soldiers in the war.
Massive protest during Pillay’s press meet today
The hard-line Sinhala Ravaya group is organising a massive demonstration outside the UN compound in Colombo today, to protest against interference by visiting UN Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay.
Pillay, who has been on a week-long fact finding mission in Colombo, is scheduled to meet the Sri Lankan press corps at 11 a.m. at the UN Headquarters at Bauddhaloka Mawatha. The main Bauddhaloka Mawatha will be closed to traffic during the demonstration.
Military Spokesman Brigadier Ruwan Wanigasooriya yesterday, in a special email sent out to local journalists, urged the press corps to secure invites to Pillay’s press briefing.