UNHRC chief Zeid Al Hussein
Posted on October 3rd, 2015

By A Special Correspondent Courtesy Island


• Zeid Al Hussein in broadside against Sri Lanka
• Ravinatha registers timid and cowed response
• Pakistan, Russia say what SL should have said
• Maxwell Paranagama Commission specifically targeted
• Former Khemer Rouge war crimes prosecutor coming to SL

The report on Sri Lanka by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) was taken up for discussion by the UN Human Rights Council on Wednesday the 30th September. In introducing the OHCHR report on Sri Lanka to the Council, the Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Al Hussein was unrelenting in his criticism of Sri Lanka. Even though he did say that this report on SL was being released in circumstances very different to that in which it was mandated, he engaged in an overall condemnation of Sri Lanka which applies to the present government almost in the same measure as to the previous one. The overall tenor of his speech was interventionist. No respect was shown for the new government.

Hussein said that there are reasonable grounds to believe that the Sri Lankan security forces and armed paramilitary forces associated with them were implicated in widespread and wilful killings of civilians and other protected persons and that Tamil politicians, humanitarian workers and journalists were particularly targeted. He also stated that identified LTTE cadres and unidentified individuals may have been killed extra judicially around 18th of May 2009 after surrendering to the Sri Lankan military and made reference to ‘long standing patterns’ of arbitrary arrest and detention by government security forces and abductions by paramilitary organisations in unmarked white vans. He also referred to ‘widespread’ torture by the Sri Lankan security forces of LTTE members and civilians detained en masse in the immediate aftermath of the conflict and said that there were reports of the widespread use of rape and other forms of sexual violence by security forces against both male and female detainees. The Human Rights Commissioner also said that there were reasonable grounds to believe that repeated shelling by the government forces on hospitals and humanitarian facilities in the densely populated no fire zones which the government itself had announced. (However in this instance, Hussein was charitable enough to acknowledge that “The presence of LTTE cadres directly participating in hostilities and operating within the predominantly civilian population, launching attacks in close proximity to these locations and the LTTE policy of forcing civilians to remain within the area of hostilities may also have violated international humanitarian law.”) Hussein also said that the OHCHR investigation had also found that the government had placed considerable restrictions on humanitarian access and may have deliberately blocked the delivery of sufficient food and medical supplies essential to the survival of the civilian population and that this may amount to the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.

Referring to the manner in which screening processes were carried out at the end of the war to separate civilians from LTTE combatants, Hussein said that almost 300,000 IDPs were deprived of their liberty in camps far beyond what is permissible under international law and that there are also reasonable grounds to believe that the IDPs were treated as suspects and detained because of their Tamil ethnicity which may amount to discrimination and to the crime against humanity of persecution.

To this our Ambassador in Geneva Ravinatha Ariyasinghe basically gave a timid and capitulationist response referring to an ‘epoch making event in January this year when people voted decisively for change’ and that the culture of impunity where the rights of the individual had been violated for almost a decade had ended. He further stated that the new government was committed to the freedom of expression, the rule of law, good governance and the protection and promotion of all human rights. He said that the government of Sri Lanka will “take note of the OHCHR report and will ensure that its contents and recommendations receive due attention.”

However the changed situation in Sri Lanka does not seem to have impressed Al Hussein to the extent that the government would have wished. In referring to the present situation in the country, Hussein described the total failure of domestic mechanisms to conduct credible investigations. He further insisted that the Maxwell Parananagema Commission (on enforced disappearances) should be disbanded and its cases transferred to a credible investigating body established in consultation with the families of the disappeared.

(The reason why Zeid Al Hussein singled out the Maxwell Paranagama Commission for condemnation is quite clear. Some of the world’s foremost experts on the international law of armed conflict including the Sir Desmond de Silva QC, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, David Crane, Paul Newton and Rodney Dixon provided legal opinions to this commission on the law of armed conflict and Desmond de Silva had further provided to the Paranagama Commission a comprehensive analysis of the law of armed conflict in relation to the allegations against Sri Lanka. These legal opinions by experts who have long years of experience within international war crimes courts basically takes the bottom out of the case that the OHCHR was trying to make against Sri Lanka. That is obviously why Hussein wants the Maxwell Paranagama Commission out of the way completely.)

Be that as it may, Al Hussein was also reluctant to admit that any significant ‘improvement’ had taken place in the situation in Sri Lanka. He charged that intimidation and harassment by the military and intelligence services is still going on in the North and East and that this “This demonstrates the pervasiveness of the structures and institutional culture that created the repressive environment of the past and highlights the importance of much more fundamental security sector reforms.” This is the purge of the armed forces that the OHCHR report and the American sponsored resolution continue to demand from the Sri Lankan government.

To bolster his contention that Sri Lanka is unable to look after its own affairs Hussein further said that reports have continued to suggest the existence of secret and unacknowledged places of detention’ which require urgent investigation and that from January to August, 19 people were arrested under the PTA, and 12 of them continue to be in detention and 14 cases of torture have been reported by credible sources since January 2015. Hussein stresses that “In our previous reports to the Human Rights Council we had described the total failure of domestic mechanisms to conduct credible investigations into past events and provide redress to victims. He further stated that the state security system and justice system have been distorted and corrupted by decades of impunity. The independence and integrity if key institutions such as the attorney general’s office and the human rights commission remain compromised which is why he recommends the establishment of a hybrid special court integrating international judges, prosecutors, lawyers and investigators mandated to try war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The only challenge to what Zeid Al Hussen was saying did not come from Sri Lanka but from two steadfast friends of Sri Lanka in the UNHRC, Pakistan and Russia. They were not in a position to oppose the report as Sri Lanka herself had all but accepted it. Given Al Hussein’s aggressive pitch for intervention, Russia stressed that Sri Lanka should itself without influence from outside define what help it needs and on what issues. Colombo itself should decide what advise it would follow in national reconciliation and investigating past crimes and the process should take place exclusively by the Sri Lankans themselves. (One would think that it should be Ravinatha Ariyasinghe who should have said that and not the Russian Ambassador.) The Pakistani Ambassador said that those who have been critical of Sri Lanka’s efforts to overcome separatism and terrorism would do well to look at their own track record in the so called war on terror. The High Commissioner on Human Rights should demonstrate the same alacrity that he has demonstrated regarding Sri Lanka to other cases of violence and torture in the cause of countering terrorism by several major powers. The Japanese Ambassador said that Japan will be sending Moto Noguchi a former international judge of the Extraordinary Chamber in the Courts of Cambodia to Sri Lanka next month. However the government of Sri Lanka has not said that they have sought Japanese help to set up a hybrid war crimes court. Furthermore Ambassador Ariyasinghe made no mention of any special Japanese help either.

So, it looks as if Sri Lanka were being frog marched to establishing a war crimes court by her ‘international partners’. Truly this is the lowest point we have reached as a sovereign nation!

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