(Reuters) – The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday accused Sri Lanka of trying to “sabotage” a war crimes inquiry, creating a “wall of fear” to prevent witnesses from giving evidence.
“He who tries to defend everything, defends nothing”– Sun Tzu (‘The Art of War’)
With the arrests of an outspoken middle aged Tamil woman activist with no history of violence, her detention in Boossa under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, the handover of her 13 year old daughter to the child protection authorities, the detention without acknowledgement of two human rights activists, Ruki Fernando and Fr Praveen reportedly also under the PTA, the Sri Lankan authorities just torpedoed Sri Lanka’s chances at the ongoing crucial 25th sessions of the UNHRC.
This latest round of arrests in Kilinochchi-Vavuniya is not just outrageous, but also decidedly irrational. Apart from the ethics, the optics are all wrong. Detention under the harsh PTA of Tamil and Christian activists simply makes the case that the regime is targeting minorities. This impression is reinforced by the invective against the Sri Lanka Muslim Congress. When it takes place under the Geneva UNHRC searchlight, the impression is one of arrogant regime impunity masquerading as the defence of sovereignty; an impunity that invites a retaliatory response by Sri Lanka’s powerful and unfair critics while embarrassing and alienating potential friends. Thus the behaviour of elements of the regime actually makes Sri Lanka less defensible internationally. It jeopardises national sovereignty while rendering the security forces less secure.
When the timing is all very wrong because that vote pertains to so poisonous a clause as ‘a comprehensive investigation’ by the OHCHR, one cannot but notice that this is not Mahinda Rajapaksa’s usual style. Who decides? Is the Minister of Defence, who is also the President, really making the decisions? Or in the ultimate irony, has there been a dangerous degree of devolution of power?
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CPA’s Executive Director Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu on the draft resolution on Sri Lanka tabled at the UN HRC’s 25th session, and its implications for the country.
“This resolution as attested to by the draft also does point to continuing violations for example with regards to religious freedom, the impeachment of the chief justice, the continuing culture of impunity, land grabs, the lack of witness and victim protection, continuing disappearances, self-censorship in themedia, lack of right to information, legislation and host of other continuing violations. Perhaps the most controversial and the key part of the resolution with regard to the issue as to whether there should be a call for independent international commission of inquiry into allegations of war crimes…”
Listen to the short audio interview here –https://soundcloud.com/cpasrilanka/dr-paikiasothy-saravanamuttu-2
“Language in the draft resolution now before the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for an investigation into past and ongoing human rights abuses in Sri Lanka lacks teeth say critics. A resolution that establishes a weak investigating body will only render ineffectual what the international community says it is working for – strengthening human rights to promote reconciliation in a country recovering from war.”
“Sri Lanka should uphold democratic values in order to protect itself from international interference, the former President, Chandrika Bandaranaike Kumaratunga said.”
The Rajapakse Administration has deployed a key architect of its post war policy towards minorities and war affected communities in Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga, through his position as Chair of the Action plan to implement the LLRC, to be the chief defender of the Government’s case to the international community in general and the UNHRC stakeholders in Geneva in particular. Government ministers have also been given their briefs and are traversing the globe to lobby member nations of the UNHRC against a third US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka. There is little doubt, that like in 2012 and 2013, another resolution on Sri Lanka would be carried by the UNHRC, decrying Sri Lanka’s post war policy trajectory.
The realities facing the people of the north are way more complex. There is an acute need for jobs. With the rising cost of living, households — particularly those with women heading them — are struggling to make ends meet. Many public institutions, including those that lost land to the army’s high security zones in the Northern Province, are crying for attention and support. Fishermen of the north are badly hit. With the failure of successive monsoons, food security is emerging as a serious concern. The region is still heavily militarised.
The Sri Lankan government may not acknowledge these problems anytime soon, as the rhetoric, for both the government and those opposing it, seems to begin and end with war crimes — now an all-too-familiar game of allegations and denial. While allegations of war crimes and human rights violations keep surfacing from time to time — justifiably so after a brutal war that allegedly claimed several thousand civilian lives — it is important that we simultaneously shine the spotlight on some of these current challenges.
Even as the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) took up for discussion a U.S.-sponsored resolution on issues related to Sri Lanka, New Delhi on Wednesday said Colombo would have to fix accountability for the alleged violation of human rights and torture of Tamils and ensure a sustainable settlement of issues concerning them.
“There is no future [in Sri Lanka] unless there is reconciliation, there is no future unless there is accountability,” External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said, replying to a calling attention motion in the Rajya Sabha on the plight of Tamils in Sri Lanka.