UNHRC curtain raiser on Sri Lanka today

Tuesday, 10 June 2014 00:57 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Two experts leading Lanka probe to be announced today
  • Pillay to reference Lanka in her last opening speech to UNHRC
  • Ambassador Ravinatha to formally respond to appointment of OHCHR probe team
  • Composition of Lanka inquiry team to be fleshed out during HRC 26th Session
  • OHCHR to brief human rights activists, NGOs, on Lanka probe
By Dharisha Bastians After a brief three month respite, Sri Lanka’s rights record will be back in the spotlight in Geneva, when the UN Human Rights Council’s 26th Session opens at the Palais des Nations today. A formal announcement on the two senior pro bono experts that will be supervising the UN inquiry on Sri Lanka is also likely in Geneva today, Daily FT reliably learns. International judge on the Khmer Rouge War Crimes Tribunal Silvia Cartwright has already been named as the first of the two experts, Daily FT revealed yesterday, after multiple sources confirmed the appointment. There were two names still being considered for the second expert on the panel last weekend, an individual likely to be picked from an Asian or African country. The UNHRC 26th Session will be the last for outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay who retires from office in August after a six year term in office. Pillay will present an update of the activities of her office to the Council of 47 member states, in which she will reference Sri Lanka, and the pending UN inquiry into allegations of war crimes and major breaches of humanitarian law during the last seven years (2002-2009) of the war. According to an advanced copy of her speech to the Council today, High Commissioner Pillay will inform member states that her staff team is ready to commence the UNHRC resolution mandated probe. She will also urge the Government of Sri Lanka to “cooperate with the credible truth seeking process” that the investigation will launch. Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha will also address the UNHRC 26th Session late morning or early afternoon Geneva time today. He is expected to respond officially to a letter issued to the Sri Lankan Mission in Geneva from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, detailing the structure of the investigation and the roles assigned to staff members on the investigation team. The inquiry is expected to kick off next month. The 15 member team, will be led by two pro bono experts, one of them the former Khmer Rouge War Crimes Tribunal judge, Dame Silvia Cartwright. The OHCHR staff team will be led by senior UN staffer Sandra Beidas. The Government is likely to take issue with both appointments, citing Beidas’ expulsion from South Sudan in 2012 over what the Government there called an ‘unethical’ human rights investigation and repeated requests by defence lawyers for members of the Khmer Rouge that Cartwright step down as a judge in the trial chamber, Daily FT learns. The rest of the composition of Sri Lanka probe team is likely to be fleshed out once the Council’s 26th Session kicks off, sources said. Human Rights activists are also likely to be briefed on the modalities of the Sri Lanka investigation during the 26th Session, the sources added.

 Change of guard: Exit Navi, enter Zeid

UN Rights Chief Navi Pillay, with whom the Sri Lankan Government has had an increasingly uncomfortable relationship as international pressure grew on alleged war crimes, will retire in August and be succeeded by Jordanian Prince Zeid Ra’ad Zeid Al-Hussein. Last week, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon nominated Jordan’s envoy to the United Nations as successor to Pillay as human rights commissioner. His appointment will have to be approved by the UN General Assembly before he can be officially named. Prince Zeid, a member of Jordan’s royal family and the country’s former Ambassador to the UN, will become the seventh holder of the office. Zeid served as political affairs officer with the UN peacekeeping mission in the former Yugoslavia and was a candidate to succeed Kofi Annan as secretary-general in 2006. Jordan is currently a member of the UN Security Council Pillay, whose term will end in September this year, is widely believed to have fallen foul of the United States because of her criticism of Israel and was only approved for a half-term, or two years, when her first four-year term ended in September 2012.