UN Rights Committee reviews Sri Lanka

UN (OHCHR)The UN Human Rights Committee, on Tuesday 07 October  began reviewing Sri Lanka’s adherence  for rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),  and questioned the Government on the steps it has taken to address several concerns. The UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) in Geneva, will  be reviewing Sri Lanka’s respect for rights enshrined in the key human rights treaty ICCPR on 7 and 8 October 2014 at the Palais Wilson in Geneva. This is the first such assessment since 2003.

Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) and civil society met the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva for a private meeting before the committee began to review Sri Lanka.

Sir Nigel Rodley. Chairperson of the UN Human Rights Committee, speaking in response to concerns raised on Sri Lanka, said that attacks and intimidation of human rights defenders cooperating with the Human Rights Commission will not be tolerated.

Eight NGOs from Sri Lanka presented oral statements to the UN Human Rights Committee covering issues over enforced disappearances, torture, accountability and impunity.  Attacks on minorities, LGBT rights and land issues were also discussed.

Concerns were raised  with the UN Human Rights Committee over the alleged threats, intimidation and attacks on human rights defenders in Sri Lanka.

Committee member Yuji Iwasawa focused on the legal framework under which the covenant is implemented, expressed disappointment with the Sri Lankan Government’s lack of cooperation on individual communications procedures, particularly follow-up action. The professor of international law said the committee was very concerned about Sri Lanka’s adherence to the treaty, asking the government to provide an explanation for reports which indicate that ex-cadres remain in detention and are subject to lengthy interrogations, while surveillance restricted their movements, contrary to Sri Lanka’s claim that 97% of around 12,000 former cadres had been rehabilitated and released. He also noted that the Sri Lanka national action plan promised action on right to privacy and right to information and so asked for an update on what Sri Lanka has done to realize these promises.

Yuval Shany, in his statement noted that there are alleged chronic problems of accountability in Sri Lanka and questioned the Government on action taken, if any, to respond to allegations raised in the Channel 4 documentary and the UN Experts Panel report on Sri Lanka.

Professor of human rights Cees Flinterman questioned Sri Lanka on equality and violence against women. Flinterman asked Sri Lanka to shed more light on reports that sexual violence against war widows has increased and the abuse of female ex-combatants continued.

Ms Anja Seibert-Fohr, the chair of international law at the University of Goettingen,in her statement, said that reports show that enforced disappearances continue  and that there are reports that the military, police and paramilitary are involved in ‘white van’ abductions and questioned the Government on the steps it is taking to address those concerns. Seibert-Pohr said there is prevalent information that extra-judicial killings and disappearances not only occurred in 2009 but have continued since then. She said there are allegations that people were abducted and taken by the Criminal Investigations Department, interrogated and tortured.

She asked what steps had been taken to stop the abductions and what procedures and mechanisms were in place to prevent these incidents. She also requested statistics on disappearances. and whether perpetrators had been sanctioned, or victims and families compensated.

The professor pointed out that the committee was aware of the presidential commission on disappearances but questioned whether it was competent. Dr Seibert-Pohr asked Sri Lanka to provide the committee with statistics on deaths in prisons and results of investigation into such deaths, specifically highlighting the deaths of Tamil inmates in Vavuniya prison.

Gerald Newman, professor of international, foreign, and comparative law at Harvard, spoke on counter terrorism measures employed by the government. Pointing out that the committee deplored all abuses committed during the conflict, he questioned how Sri Lanka  could justify the continuation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act  pointing out that the mere possibility of a terrorist threat did not justify for the measures employed by the PTA. Newman said Sri Lanka continually used  the PTA act to detain human rights defenders and not in case there is a future re-emergence of the LTTE.

Yuval Shany, the chair in public international law at the law faculty of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, raised the accountability issues with the Sri Lankan delegation.
Shany said that the issue was not only incidents in 2009, but chronic problems of law enforcements.

He asked the delegation whether it was true that the findings of the inquiry into the killings of 17 Action contre le Faim workers were never published and requested to know what the findings were. Shany also highlighted factual evidence gathered during investigations into the incidents of 2009, including facts gathered by the UN Panel of Experts and the Channel 4 documentaries. He asked why Sri Lanka called the factual findings of the PoE report “fundamentally flawed and biased”, and whether it had investigated the specific allegations of the shelling of Puthukudiyiruppu hospital.

With respect to the Channel 4 documentaries, Shany asked whether any steps were taken by an army court of inquiry into the evidence presented. including the shelling of “No Fire Zones”, extrajudicial executions and sexual assault.

Shany said the committee had not yet received any actual data on prosecutions that have resulted from investigations by the state. He also asked the delegation whether Sri Lanka would reconsider its refusal to cooperate with the OHCHR Investigation into Sri Lanka and questioned whether the government had taken any measures to deliver justice to the victims of war.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Ravinatha Aryasinha, in his opening statement said that Sri Lanka has utmost respect for human rights. He said that terrorism remains a major concern in Sri Lanka and so there was a need to continue with the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

The envoy compared the LTTE to Islamic State militants in Syria and Iraq, saying how Sri Lanka conducted a humanitarian operation to save almost 300,000 civilians and LTTE cadres and the end of the armed conflict. He claimed Sri Lanka continually provided medical assistance and food to the civilians trapped by the fighting.

Ariyasinghe said Sri Lanka is committed to all the rights outlined by the ICCPR and that the government restored the rights taken away by the LTTE, including establishing “civil administration” in large parts of the North-East.

Mr Ariyasinghe defending Sri Lanka on issues raised by the committee, said recent religious violence as “unfortunate incidents”, which may occur in a multi-religious state. He added that media pluralism is well established in the country and the state did not possess a monopoly on media. The representative warned that the threat of the LTTE had not abated and the continued separatist tendencies exhibited, including by some politicians and activists in the north, justified the continued provision of the Prevention of Terrorism Act.

Sashikala Premaratne, Assistant Secretary to the Defence Ministry, responding to questions regarding the PTA, said that a number of LTTE cadres who had evaded capture and did not undergo the government’s rehabilitation programme remained. She said there was evidence to suggest that there are attempts by the LTTE to regroup and establish contacts on the ground and highlighted several incidents, including the assassination of an EPDP member in 2012 and the case of Gopi, who was shot with two other Tamils by Sri Lankan security forces.

Premaratne said the funding for LTTE activities came from Europe and this was the reason behind the government’s banning of Diaspora groups as terrorist entities, and that  that the government was justified in keeping the PTA, in light of this evidence, and pointed out that the US and India also maintained the ban on the LTTE.

Eric Illayaparachchi of the Sri Lankan delegation, refuted the allegations that ex- female cadres are vulnerable to sexual violence and urged the committee to share the details of the instances reported as Sri Lanka takes all allegations seriously and maintains a zero-tolerance policy on the issue.

Making a submission before the UN Human Rights Committee which reviving the situation of Sri Lanka Attorney at Law Sudarshana Gunawardana said that ” The situation in the country requires immediate attention of the Committee, including in particular the persistent and systematic attacks and reprisals against human rights defenders.” further he raised the issue of disruption of a civil society meeting at  the Centre for Society and Religion by monks led mob on 24th August this yesr,  arrest of human rights defenders, Ms. Balendran Jeyakumari, Mr. Ruki Fernando and Father Praveen Mahesan who were arbitrary arrested this year under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA).

A further 13 issues will be raised by the Human Rights Committee from 10:00 CEST on Wednesday, with further opportunity for Sri Lanka to answer.

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