Sri Lanka under spotlight again at UNHRC

Tuesday, 9 September 2014 02:04 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Prince Zeid ‘alarmed’ at threats against HR Community in Lanka
  • Hails Navi Pillay’s contribution to promoting human rights
  • Claims he is attaching ‘great importance’ to Lanka probe
  • Govt. announces presentation of Witness Protection Bill in Parliament today
  • Ravinatha reiterates rejection of UN probe as intrusive and challenge to sovereignty
  • US thanks Pillay for role in encouraging accountability in SL; British delegation urges Lanka to cooperate with the probe
By Dharisha Bastians The new UN human rights chief set the tone at the latest session of the Human Rights Council yesterday, urging Sri Lanka to cooperate with the investigation by his office and strongly criticising threats against rights activists and religious minorities in the island. “I am alarmed at threats currently being levelled against the human rights community in Sri Lanka, as well as prospective victims and witnesses. I also deplore recent incitement and violence against the country’s Muslim and Christian minorities,” Prince Zeid Al Hussein said at the Palais des Nations in Geneva yesterday, as he opened the 27th session of the UN Human Rights Council. The High Commissioner for Human Rights for the UN, Zeid said he was attaching “great importance” to the investigation on Sri Lanka. He said the OHCHR would report on the investigation later during the September sessions. “I encourage the Sri Lankan authorities to cooperate with this process in the interests of justice and reconciliation,” Zeid told the Council. The Sri Lankan Government rejected Zeid’s assertions about threats against the human rights community and religious minorities, and reiterated its rejection of the UN probe, calling it an intrusive process that challenges the sovereignty and independence of a member state. “Sri Lanka rejects assertions regarding threats levelled against the human rights community in Sri Lanka. Steps will be taken at all times to investigate into complaints. Sri Lanka also regrets attempts being made to portray the country as intolerant of religious minorities. For centuries, people in Sri Lanka practising different faiths and practices have coexisted peacefully and in harmony. However, like in all countries in the world composed of multi-cultural and multi-religious communities, unfortunate isolated incidents can occur,” Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha told the Council. Wherever such incidents of attacks involving religious places of worship have taken place or individual has been targeted on the basis of religion or faith, the legal process has been set in motion in respect of reported incidents and investigations have been launched, he said. Aryasinha announced that the Government would be presenting draft legislation on Witness Protection to Parliament today.

 New UN rights boss urges world to protect civilians in Iraq, Syria

Reuters: The new U.N. human rights chief called on Monday for the world to protect women and religious and ethnic minorities targeted by Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria which he said were “increasingly conjoined conflicts”. Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, Jordan’s former U.N. ambassador, in a hard-hitting maiden speech to the U.N. Human Rights Council, warned that any state run by Islamic State, also known as ISIL, “would be a harsh, mean-spirited, house of blood.” “In particular, dedicated efforts are urgently needed to protect religious and ethnic groups, children – who are at risk of forcible recruitment and sexual violence – and women, who have been the targets of severe restrictions,” Zeid told the Geneva forum. He also called on Iraq’s new government and prime minister to consider joining the International Criminal Court (ICC) to ensure accountability for crimes committed there.
Making Sri Lanka’s national statement at the Human Rights Council at its opening session, Aryasinha said the mandate of the Presidential Commission on disappearances had been enhanced to inquire into several issues of international humanitarian law. “The Commission itself was strengthened, at the request of its Chairman, through the appointment of a five-member Advisory Council which includes internationally recognised legal experts who will advise the Commission on matters pertaining to their work including legal aspects,” the Sri Lankan Envoy said in Geneva. TNA “impediment” to political solution The Government also blamed the TNA for being an impediment to finding a permanent political solution through multi-party consensus. “Despite calling for a political solution, the persistent refusal of the Tamil National Alliance to participate in the PSC process has been a serious impediment to achieving this objective,” Ambassador Aryasinha noted. Sri Lanka would continue to engage with the UN and continue to domestic processes of accountability, justice, reconciliation and nation building, Aryasinha added. The UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was back in session yesterday, with Jordanian Prince Zeid Al Hussein taking over the reins as the UN’s top envoy on human rights, after Navi Pillay retired in August. The oral report about the OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka is due to be presented to the Council on 24 September.

 Mahinda says ready to talk with new UNHRC Chief

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has expressed his government’s willingness to conduct high-level dialogues with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the invitation extended to him to visit Sri Lanka during 2014. “President Rajapaksa reiterated his Government’s ongoing engagement with the international community and the United Nations system,” the joint statement stated, which was released to the media soon after the end of bi-lateral talks between visiting Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and President Rajapaksa in Colombo on Sunday. “Prime Minister Abe welcomed the continuing engagement of the Government of Sri Lanka, in particular with the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and its willingness to conduct high-level dialogues with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the invitation extended to him to visit Sri Lanka during 2014,” the statement said.  See also Page 13
The Sri Lankan Government had expressed hope of fresh engagement with the UN human rights body, after the end of Pillay’s tenure in office. The Government accused Navi Pillay of being biased in its approach to the Sri Lanka issue, since the war ended in May 2009. Zeid had high praise for his predecessor, telling the 47 member Council at its opening session yesterday that Pillay was one of the greatest senior officials the UN has ever had and pledged to emulate her example. “That she could annoy many Governments – and she did – was clear; but she believed deeply and movingly in the centrality of victims, and of those who are discriminated against. They needed her vocal chords, her lungs and her pen, and she made everyone listen. I pledge to continue along the same path: to be as firm, yet always fair; critical of states when necessary, and full of praise when they deserve it,” Zeid said in reference to the 73 year old South African judge. Meanwhile, the United States echoed Zeid’s call for Sri Lanka to support the UN probe and thanked High Commissioner Pillay for her role in addressing the Sri Lankan issue. The United States and Britain today urged the Sri Lankan Government to support the probe on the war by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). US Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Keith Harper said the US looked forward to the OHCHR report on the Sri Lanka investigation. “We also extend thanks to outgoing High Commissioner Pillay for her stewardship of OHCHR, especially the leadership she showed in focusing the world’s attention on violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and encouraging meaningful accountability and respect for human rights in Sri Lanka,” Harper told the Council yesterday. The British delegation also urged Sri Lanka to cooperate with the probe.