Open letter to UNSG You did not treat all conflicts with equal concern
Posted on September 2nd, 2016

Dear Mr. Secretary General
Welcome to Sri Lanka.

We Sri Lankans are indeed gratified for your decision to visit our island for the second time during your term of office, drawing to a close at the end of the year.

According to your media spokesperson, the main focus during your previous visit to Sri Lanka in 2009 was on three critical areas; Humanitarian Relief, Reintegration & Reconstruction, and a sustainable and equitable political solution. During your visit to the North, you visited IDP camps including the Menik Farm, and toured war ravaged areas by helicopter. Despite “a sustainable and equitable political solution” being one of the three critical areas of focus, no visits were undertaken to any other parts in the country. Consequent to your visit in 2009, you appointed a Panel of Experts (POE) to advise you on the issue of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the final stages of the conflict. Many of us Sri Lankans have often wondered of your reasons for the limitation of the mandate to the ‘final stages of the conflict’ rather than the entire conflict period. The report by POE, prepared without visiting Sri Lanka (we are aware, the then government denied visas for POE members) resulted in the passage of an American sponsored resolution on ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ by the UNHRC in Geneva. Under threat of sanctions, the new government in Colombo co-sponsored the resolution.

Based on your itinerary during your current three days visit, we gather you are due to address a conference in Galle on ‘Reconciliation and Coexistence: Role of Youth’. It is a welcome departure from your previous Colombo and Jaffna centric visit in 2009. You are then scheduled to visit Jaffna for separate meetings with the Governor of the Northern Province land the TNA leadership who will be joined by the Chief Minister of the NPC, in addition to a visit to a refugee camp. The joint meeting with TNA leaders and NPC Chief Minister no doubt must be an attempt to impress upon them, especially the Chief Minister, of the need to work together in tandem rather than at cross purposes. Finally, time is to be spent in Colombo speaking on ‘Sustaining Peace – Achieving Sustainable Development Goals’ to a cross section of people, besides holding meetings with President Sirisena and Prime Minister Wickremesinghe. It would appear the main focus of this visit is to encourage unity and cooperation between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities in the country, and to promote ethnic reconciliation between the Sinhalese and Tamil communities for the equitable and sustained development of Sri Lanka.

You are on record expressing your ‘outrage’, ‘unhappiness’ and other forms of dissatisfaction over developments, often involving Human Rights issues in various UN member states.

Iraq, a UN member state was invaded by a joint US / British force in 2003 not sanctioned by the United Nations, in search of hidden WMDs which are yet to be found. It is now a virtual failed state. According to UK based NGO Iraqi Body Count, civilian deaths in Iraq between January 2003 and August 2016 is estimated at 182,134 which is higher than the number of lives lost during the 26-year ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. Thousands have disappeared without a trace from majority Shia and minority Sunni / Christian communities. Foreign forces and military contractors have committed heinous crimes during the last thirteen years. Iraq has not been able to prosecute foreign forces and contractors committing crimes, as they are above Iraqi law. During your term of office, you have visited Iraq on eight different occasions. Nevertheless, you have, let alone the appointment of a Panel of Experts, not even voiced a need for such a panel to inquire into “issues of accountability with regard to any alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law” in Iraq.

Kashmir has been in conflict since 1947. You are aware of the periodic unrest in Indian occupied Kashmir, draconian Indian laws to deprive Kashmiris of even some of their basic rights, laws protecting Indian Police and Armed Forces from prosecution, and the most recent unrest since early July. Kashmir for all practical purposes has been under siege for almost two months. A humanitarian crisis with shortages of food and medical supplies is in the brewing. Children have not been to school since their Eid holidays in early July. Since you have expressed ‘concern’ over the current situation in Kashmir, your current five nation visit would have been an ideal opportunity to visit India and Kashmir, for a round of discussions with Indian and Kashmiri political and civil society leaders to ascertain for yourself, the gravity of the current situation in Kashmir. Such a visit would have been doubly helpful since you have expressed “UN’s readiness to offer its services”.

It is indeed essential to treat all conflicts and violations of Human Rights on the same level and not on a selective basis, even if it is “difficult and painful”. That is only possible if one acts impartially with courage and moral conviction. It is hoped, your successor, who in your own words “should be a woman”, would adopt a different and more impartial approach when faced with similar difficult and painful situations.

It is believed in some quarters you intend contesting for the office of President in your own country, South Korea, after relinquishing your current post. If that be the case, we Sri Lankans wish you success in your future endeavors.

Rajeewa Jayaweera

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