Sri Lanka soothes UN with sincerity

Tuesday, 15 September 2015 01:25 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Foreign Minister unveils Govt. plans for transitional justice
  • Truth Commission, Office of Missing Persons, Office of Reparations, Special Counsel among promised measures
  • Mangala tells UNHRC: New Govt. is ‘different’; says don’t judge Sri Lanka on the broken promises of the past
  • Zeid says UN probe report contains findings of ‘most serious nature’
  • UN Human Rights Chief says ensuring results from Lankan accountability process important for Council’s own credibility
  • President, PM committed to the hilt to deliver justice to victims: Mangala
  • TNA wants int'l judges, independent prosecutors and int'l crimes incorporated into body of offences in SL
  • US to assist Lanka to address findings of UN report
  • UN Probe report out tomorrow, Zeid to present report to press in Geneva

Dharisha Bastians

Reporting from Geneva

Making a landmark statement before the 30th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva yesterday, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera articulated Government plans for justice and reconciliation, shortly after a top UN official underscored the importance of keeping international focus on the country to ensure a credible accountability process.

Delivering a 10 minute address, Minister Samaraweera made an impassioned plea to the international community and Sri Lanka›s sceptics for patience with assurances that the new Government was “different” and should not be judged by the mistakes and distortions of the past. The statement came two days before the public release of a report by a UN inquiry panel on allegations that major rights violations and even war crimes had been committed during the final stages of the war in Sri Lanka.

In his opening statement to the Human Rights Council, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra›ad Al Hussein, whose office conducted the probe, said the report contained “findings of a most serious nature.” Zeid said that despite the change of Government in Sri Lanka, the Council owed it to Sri Lankans and to its “own credibility” to ensure results in Sri Lanka's accountability process.


Foreign Minister Mangala Smaraweera addresses the UNHRC session in Geneva yesterday. Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe, Eastern Province Governor Austin Fernando and Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha are also present


“I welcome the vision shown by President Maithripala Sirisena since his election in January, and the commitments made by the new Government under his leadership. But this Council owes it to Sri Lankans and to its own credibility, to ensure an accountability process that produces results decisiveness, moves beyond the failures of the past and brings the deep institutional changes needed to guarantee non recurrence.”

Minister Samaraweera who led the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNHRC outlined the new administration›s plans to deliver justice to thousands of victims of alleged wartime abuses and decades of political isolation and inequality before the Council.

In an interview at the Palais des Nations with Daily FT minutes after he delivered his speech to the Council, Minister Samaraweera said he was “committed to the hilt” to deliver justice to victims in Sri Lanka.

“More important is the commitment of the President and the Prime Minister. I know them to be committed to the hilt and fully supportive of this process. That is good news for Sri Lanka. We have a Government that is committed to this not only through words but action, and in this short period we have proven it. We have done many things other governments were not even willing to touch before. And there is a lot more to do,” the Minister told Daily FT.

In his speech to the Council, Minister Samaraweera said the Government was proposing a three-tier structure to deal with accountability, including a Commission for Truth, Justice, Reconciliation and Non-recurrence, styled along South African lines and an Office on Missing Persons with expertise from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), a judicial mechanism with a Special Counsel or prosecutor to address the problem of impunity for human rights and violations suffered by all communities and an Office for Reparations to implement recommendations by the Truth Commission and the Office of Missing Persons.

The mechanisms would be granted the freedom to apply for ‘financial, material and technical’ assistance from Sri Lanka’s international partners including the OHCHR, the Foreign Minister said.

He said the Government recognised that that the process of reconciliation involves addressing the broad areas of truth seeking, justice, reparations and non-recurrence; the four pillars of a credible mechanism for transitional justice.

"And for non-recurrence to become truly meaningful the necessity of reaching a political settlement that addresses the grievances of the Tamil people," the Minister noted in his speech.

Highlighting the difficulties the new Government was facing as it strives to live up to its international obligations and prevent a domestic backlash for granting too many concessions on human rights issues, Minister Samaraweera insisted that the Government proposals were not motivated by international pressure. His speech to the Council appeared to have been carefully drafted to appeal to both the international community and audiences back home.

For some, the Minister said, the process was not moving as fast they may want. "And for some, we may have already gone too far,” he said, in a frankacknowledgement of the complexity of Sri Lanka's human rights issues.

He vowed that the new administration was not seeking to ‹take cover› by distorting concepts such as sovereignty, but remained ‹open to dialogue› and committed to address deficiencies with international help when required.

"Today, we have a Government in place which acknowledges the suffering of victims across Sri Lanka’s communities; a Government which recognises the mistakes of the past; and is all too aware of the weaknesses of our institutions," Samaraweera told the 47-Member Council last afternoon.

The Minister’s poignant appeals seemed to resonate with member states at the Council whose delegates congratulated him on the speech soon after. But among representatives of the Tamil community, the speech did little to stem the calls for a continued international role in Sri Lanka’s accountability process.

TNA Lawmaker M.A. Sumanthiran who is heading the party’s legal team for the UNHRC sessions in Geneva told Daily FT that Minister Samaraweera had been ‘brave’ to concede the Government’s failure to deliver on reconciliation in the past, but the admission underscored the need for international participation in the accountability process.

“Having conceded that he went on to say ‘now things are different, please trust us, we will do this properly this time’. As representatives of the victim community, all that is well and good but the people simply will not trust for the very reasons that the Minister himself outlined. Unless they see results,” he said.

Sumanthiran said the Government’s proposed mechanism to deal with the thorny issue of war crimes would have to include the full participation of the international community to win the confidence of victims from the Tamil community.

“Yes we would want international judges in special courts that they set up, independent prosecutors and importantly laws to incorporate crimes into the body of offences in Sri Lanka with retrospective effect. This is possible even within the present constitution in Sri Lanka, which in turn will inspire confidence in the people,” Sumanthiran said, soon after the Sri Lankan Minister addressed the Council.

The UN Human Rights Council has adopted three resolutions on Sri Lanka, pushing the Government to address major post-war concerns, finally setting up an UN probe to investigate allegations of war crimes during the final stages of the civil war. See Page 17 for the full speech of Minister Samaraweera.


Govt. to get first draft of resolution today?

The first draft of the US resolution on Sri Lanka may be seen by the Government as early as today, Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera told Daily FT after his speech at the UN Human Rights Council last afternoon.

“I was told we may get a draft of it to Delhi. They have to first discuss it with their core group before they draft the resolution. If they send it us in Delhi we can also get an idea. On 24 September they hope to table it at the Council,” Minister Samaraweera said.

Asked if the Government would be amenable should the language of the resolution suggest greater international participation in the proposed accountability process, Minister Samaraweera responded that the Government of Sri Lanka was open to all ideas. “But finally all of it has to be done within the contours of the Constitution and it must get Parliamentary approval. We will talk with them to find a point of convergence if there is a difference in our approaches,” he explained.

Minister Samaraweera told Daily FT that the Government hoped that the accountability mechanism would take shape within a year or 18 months.

“Again it is in Sri Lanka’s interest that we put these institutions and all these mechanisms in place as soon as possible,” he said.


US to engage GoSL on fresh resolution

The main protagonist of three resolutions on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC since 2012, the United States, yesterday told the UN Human Rights Council that it would engage with the Government to develop a consensus resolution that would get the support of the Council and assist the country to address findings of the UN probe.

US Deputy Secretary at the Bureau of International Organization Affairs Erin Barclay said that the US was “eagerly anticipating” the release of the UN report on Sri Lanka.

“The United States will engage with the Government of Sri Lanka with the objective to develop a resolution that will gain the consensus support of this Council and will assist Sri Lanka in achieving meaningful and credible accountability as well as address the important findings of the OHCHR investigation report,” Barclay said at the opening session of the UNHRC yesterday.


UN report on Sri Lanka out tomorrow: OHCHR

The report of the UN Human Rights Council-mandated investigation on Sri Lanka will be made publicly available on Wednesday, 16 September, at 10h30 Geneva time, the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights said yesterday. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein will hold a press conference to discuss the findings of the report, including recommendations for the way forward, at the same time at the Palais des nations, OHCHR said in a media release. The report has already been seen by the Government of Sri Lanka, which was sent two copies of the document last Friday (11).

The OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka was mandated by the Human Rights Council in Resolution 25/1 in March 2014. The resolution requested the High Commissioner to “undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders.”


UK encouraged by Lanka’s ‘willingness to engage’

UK Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth office Hugo Swire yesterday said Britain was encouraged by Sri Lanka’s willingness to engage with the international community in an address before the UN Human Rights Council’s 30th session yesterday.

Swire also offered the Government assistance to implement the recommendations of the UN investigation on Sri Lanka.

“We commend the newly-elected Government for beginning to address post-conflict accountability and reconciliation,” the UK minister said.

The European Union in a statement to the Council delivered by Luxembourg also pledged to continue to promote reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.