Lobbying Begins

Attempts to lobby support against Sri Lanka ahead of the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva is underway, though the attempt is very likely to prove futile.

Some diaspora groups are determined to block moves by Sri Lanka to get UNHRC backing for more time to show progress on the accountability issue related to the war.

S. V. Kirubaharan, General Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights told The Sunday Leader that some diaspora groups and civil society, including his organisation, have arranged meetings with diplomats in Geneva ahead of the 34th session of UNHRC which begins later this month.

Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera is to address the UNHRC during the 34th session and he will look to brief the council on the latest developments in Sri Lanka.

Samaraweera will brief the UNHRC on Tuesday February 28 and will also have meetings with Foreign Ministers from several UBHRC member countries.

The government is expected to gather support for another pro-Sri Lanka resolution at the UN Human Rights Council.

The resolution is to back giving the government more time to implement the systems needed to be in place to take the reconciliation process forward.

An interactive dialogue will be held on Sri Lanka on March 22 during the 34th session.

The discussion will be based on the report on Sri Lanka submitted to the UN Human Rights Council last year by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Al Ra’ad Al Hussein.

The Special Rapporteur on minority issues and the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment will also be submitting reports on Sri Lanka at the session.

The Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Méndez, in his report, which has already been made public, found that while the practice of torture is less prevalent today than during the conflict and the methods used are at times less severe, a “culture of torture” persists; physical and mental coercion is used against suspects being interviewed, by both the Criminal Investigations Department in regular criminal investigations and by the Terrorism Investigation Division in investigations under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. In the latter case, he says a causal link seems to exist between the level of real or perceived threat to national security and the severity of the physical suffering inflicted by agents of the Division during detention and interrogation.

The report by Méndez is based on his visit to Sri Lanka last year and he says in the report that during the visit he received credible reports that suspects, particularly detainees under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, are often first detained for interrogation without being registered during the initial hours, days or sometimes weeks of investigation and not brought before a judge. This practice facilitates the use of torture and other ill-treatment and can in itself constitute such treatment.

The report by the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms (CTF) is also likely to be taken note of during the session.

The report had noted the need for an international presence in the accountability process, including foreign judges, but the government has said the idea of foreign judges will not be entertained.

The report had also been handed over to President Maithripala Sirisena and the President was reported to have said that Constitutional reforms is to be give priority over transitional justice.

“There was a frank discussion of the CTF report and the challenges and opportunities with respect to Transitional Justice in Sri Lanka,” CTF said.

CTF said that the President had clearly stated the prioritisation of Constitutional reforms over transitional justice. He had also noted the need to foster support for transitional justice amongst all communities.

Some members of the Northern Provincial Council and the Tamil National Alliance are also expected to take wing to Geneva to urge the UNHRC to maintain pressure on Sri Lanka.

It was reported last week that the Chief Minister of the Northern Province C V Wigneswaran has suggested that the Northern Provincial Council explore the legal possibility of instituting its own independent war crimes accountability mechanism in the absence of an international judicial mechanism recommended by the UNHRC.

The Chief Minister asked the Leader of the Opposition in the NPC, Sinnadurai Thavarajah, who is also a lawyer, to look into the legal aspect of his proposal and report.

Thavarajah has said that going by the lack of interest in pursuing cases such as the Vattakandaal school massacre case, there is little or no hope that an impartial accountability mechanism will be set up. Hence the demand for a Provincial Council initiative.

General Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights, Kirubaharan says Sri Lanka has misused the time it was given last year to address the accountability issue.

“The President is seeking the help of the newly elected US President and the new UN Secretary-general, to free Sri Lanka from fulfilling its commitment to the Human Rights Council resolution of September 2015, (A/HRC/RES/30/1), which Sri Lanka volunteered to co-sponsor. It was a surprise to the human rights community when Sri Lanka agreed to co-sponsor a resolution which was calling them to hold a war crimes inquiry with international judges, lawyers and prosecutors. While Sri Lanka gives excuses and buys time, trying to hoodwink the international community yet again, the ground reality is changing every day. People in the North and East are devastated” he said.

He says the governments in power in Sri Lanka have given empty promises to the people and also to the international community.

“So far, Sri Lanka  has not shown any positive approach to the ethnic conflict. On the other hand, the recommendations of the UN, especially those of the UN Secretary General, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the mandate holders and treaty bodies, have been swept under the carpet by all governments in power, year after year,” he said.

He says it is imperative that the International Community continue its scrutiny of Sri Lanka’s human rights record and intensify and sharpen its efforts. (Sunday Leader)

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