US Ambassador Michele J. Sison, released a statement on 28 March 2014 stating that the United States led resolution adopted at the United Nations Human Rights Council Thursday was tabled with the benefit of the Sri Lankan people in mind.
Ambassador Sison addressing a media briefing with Colombo based journalist at the American Center in Colombo said:
The message from the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva is clear: the international community has spoken, and urges the Government of Sri Lanka to take meaningful, concrete steps on reconciliation and accountability.
I have heard criticism that this resolution is “against” Sir Lanka. It is not.
This resolution was undertaken in support of the Sri Lankan people, in recognition of the resilience they have shown after years of war and their yearning for democracy and prosperity.
This resolution builds on two previous resolutions.
It affirms the belief of the international community that continued effort is needed to help Sri Lanka take meaningful action on reconciliation, justice, and accountability.
The resolution asks the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, the last phase of the conflict.
All three of the resolutions have acknowledged progress made in certain areas since 2009 in rebuilding infrastructure, demining, and resettling the majority of internally displaced persons.
For years the United States has strongly supported a Sri Lankan-led process to resolve outstanding concerns from the conflict. The United States Government has been vocal in our support of the report by the LLRC and its recommendations for addressing longstanding issues of reconciliation, justice, and accountability.
However, not enough has been done to move forward on these recommendations.
Furthermore, the human rights situation in Sri Lanka is deteriorating.
We are concerned about continued attacks against human rights defenders, religious minorities, and journalists, as well as the weakening of the rule of law and increasing impunity for illegal actions. Even in these last weeks, we saw the detention of human rights defenders in Sri Lanka, and the harassment and intimidation of many other members of civil society, including lawyers.
We continue to call for an end to such acts of intimidation and for all those detained to be provided due process and granted immediate access to legal counsel. We urge the Sri Lankan government to allow human rights defenders to be allowed to carry out their work without harassment or intimidation; their duty is to ensure human rights for all. We have also noted with concern reprisals against those human rights defenders and activists who meet with visiting diplomats and UN officials.
Civil society’s work is an essential part of a democracy.
Furthermore, we are deeply concerned regarding the targeting and violence against members of religious minorities, and attacks on and actions against places of worship — Hindu, Muslim, and Christian. Violent rhetoric and the encouragement of violent actions only serve to create further disharmony, and hinder reconciliation. The police should in fact prevent such acts, and individuals who attack places of worship or threaten minority-owned businesses should be brought to justice in a court of law.
We have also echoed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ concerns regarding the increase of sexual harassment and violence against women in the former conflict zones.
Meanwhile, the erosion of rule of law remains worrisome. Examples include the attacks against several prominent journalists and the numerous attacks on newspaper staff — no one has been prosecuted, much less brought to justice. There continues to be arbitrary blocking of news websites. There have been continued delays in the trial of the disappearance of Prageeth Ekneligoda.
Rule of Law needs to be strengthened, impunity ended, and basic legislation, including the Victim and Witness Protection and Right to Information bills, both called for by the LLRC, need to be enacted. Failure to act on these matters undermines Sri Lanka’s proud democratic traditions.
That is why the United States, together with its international partners, has called in this Human Rights Council resolution upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its longstanding public commitments to its own people to address these vital issues of reconciliation and accountability, and to ensure protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms for all Sri Lankans.
The text was discussed at length with UNHRC member and observer states, as well as with other stakeholders. Our goal in doing so is to support the Sri Lankan people.
The United States values the friendship that Americans and Sri Lankans share. Even as Sri Lanka witnessed the terrible 27-year conflict, the United States strongly supported the people of this country. The United States has consistently expressed concern about human rights issues and abuses committed by both sides during the conflict.
We were the first nation to proscribe the LTTE as a terrorist organization and it remains a designated organization in the United States. We know the horror that this conflict brought on the lives of all Sri Lankan communities. We were encouraged to see the end of that long and terrible conflict and we support the Sri Lankan people and their desire to see a unified, peaceful country. Respect for human rights, transparency, and democratic governance are all essential to flourish in this global economy. Without justice, reconciliation, and accountability, there can be no sustained peace and prosperity for the people of Sri Lanka.
Of course there has been a great deal of interest on the portion of the resolution that calls upon the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka and continue to assess progress on relevant national processes.
It also calls on that Office to “undertake a comprehensive independent 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, and establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with relevant experts and special procedures.”
The UN Human Rights Council members also asked the High Commissioner to present an oral update at its twenty-seventh session next year and provide a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-eighth session.
I also want to point out that the Unites States has welcomed the Government of Sri Lanka’s cooperation in facilitating recent visits by High Commissioner Pillay and the Special Rapporteur for IDPs.
We and the High Commissioner have encouraged the government to prioritize the visits of the special procedures mandate holders on enforced or involuntary disappearances and on minority issues. We have also encouraged the government to respond positively to the offer of technical assistance made by the High Commissioner and requests for visits by special mandate holders.
In closing, let me reiterate that this resolution was tabled with the benefit of the Sri Lankan people in mind. For generations, this country has known too much violence. Sri Lankans deserve better and should be able to live in dignity in a prosperous, united and peaceful country. That is the aim of this latest resolution and that will be the goal of our U.S. policy moving forward. The United States has noted several times that we stand ready to assist the people of Sri Lanka and the Sri Lankan government in these efforts.
I look forward to continuing our engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka and strengthening our friendship with the Sri Lankan people.
Questioned as to why the resolution did not refer to atrocities committed by the LTTE while demanding accountability from the Sri Lankan Government and Sri Lankan Security Forces, Sison said, the resolution referred to a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka, claiming there was no attempt at exclusions from liability. “However, it is also about State obligations to its own people. Allegations have to be investigated.”
When questioned what measures would be taken in the event of non-compliance by the Sri Lankan Government, the ambassador said, the process to follow in establishing an investigation was clearly stated in the resolution and the US encouraged Sri Lanka to co-operate with the Office of the High Commissioner.