Sri Lanka strives to strengthen
Human Rights whilst dealing with Terrorism
The Permanent Mission of
Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva
13th June 2008
Prof. Rajiva Wijesinha Secretary of the Ministry of Disaster
Management and Human Rights making the statement at the UPR on Sri Lanka
on 13th June 2008
Final Statement of the Sri Lankan delegation on the occasion of the
adoption of the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka by the United
Nations Human Rights Council June 13th 2008 (adapted from delivery)
This had been preceded first by the statement of the Minister of Disaster
Management and Human Rights, read by the Secretary, introducing the
Report of the UPR Process. Then followed statements by nine countries,
many of which commended Sri Lanka for its efforts to safeguard all human
rights despite the difficulties posed by terrorist threats. Unfortunately
there was no time for other countries, including those from the SAARC
Region, which had put themselves down to speak. Three countries, whilst
appreciating progress, and Sri Lankan responses to the UPR process,
suggested other areas in which further improvements could be made, while
one country expressed disappointment about responses to recommendations,
in particular the rejection about acceptance of a UN Monitoring Mission.
Seven statements by Non-Governmental Organizations followed, many of
them expressing disappointment about the rejection of this particular
recommendation, whilst raising other issues such as the rights of women
and children which they felt had not been adequately addressed by member
states during the UPR process.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management
and Human Rights, stated in the Sri Lankan response
Mr President, as you noted, this is not supposed to be an interactive
dialogue, so we will not respond to individual comments. We are grateful,
as we said before during the review, to all the countries that raised
issues, not only those that recognized progress made on various fronts
but also those that made constructive criticisms to help improve matters.
We are pleased that all but one of the countries that spoke today were
so positive, and we respect the queries raised by a couple of them and
will do our best to address them. However, we will use this time to
raise some general issues in order to clarify matters whilst taking
the general purpose of this process further. Let me then first ask my
colleague Mr Mohan Pieris to address some of the topics raised
Mr. Mohan Peiris, P.C (President's Counsel) Legal Advisor to the Ministry
I will deal first with some of the salient critiques made by distinguished
delegates on the questions of torture and extrajudicial executions.
Whilst appreciating recommendations in this respect, the Government
states categorically that it does not condone torture and extrajudicial
executions under any circumstances, and refutes any implicit suggestions
that it has been complicit in torture or extrajudicial executions. I
would ask the honourable delegates to appreciate that there is an absolute
constitutional guarantee against torture in article 11 of the constitution
of the Republic. It constitutes a criminal offense, with a seven year
minimum term of imprisonment. The Supreme Court is empowered to make
determinations regarding allegations of torture and about compensation.
All complaints of torture are impartially and comprehensively investigated
and perpetrators prosecuted in our courts. The civil legal system enables
victims to obtain damages additionally.
It also follows that disciplinary action may be taken against public
officials if found guilty of those offenses of perpetrated torture.
On the question of extrajudicial killing, I would want delegates to
appreciate that extrajudicial killings are also criminalized without
any exception. Comprehensive legal processes are available against those
responsible for such criminal activity. Sri Lanka will continue, as
it does at present, to implement and further develop safeguards against
occurrence of such criminal activity.
May I also take this opportunity of dealing with some other matters
raised by honourable delegates, such as the question of impunity? Mr.
President, let me assure them that every effort is being made to bring
to book perpetrators of offenses or violators of human rights. It is
not the case that the Government has no will, and I refute the allegation
that there is no will to deal with these issues. We have set up the
structures necessary and, as we have persistently asked from the Council,
we need technical assistance in capacity building to deal with matters
being raised in this august assembly from time to time. It might be
well to remember that we have a long history of a highly developed legal
system. We have a common law which is Roman-Dutch and we have also a
very strong influence of the English law. And between these two legal
systems we have developed, we have in place a very complex system of
laws and I don't think we need any assistance in terms of any legal
input to deal with the matters of human rights. In that respect it is
our fervent plea that this assembly appreciates the difficulties that
we have and why we seek assistance for capacity building.
In our search for improving the situation, and bearing in mind the
impact of terrorism on human rights, may I bring another point to your
attention regarding funding? This deeply concerns us. I would respectfully
and graciously plead with delegates here that every effort be made on
your part to stop the funding of terrorism, particularly in Sri Lanka.
I am sad to say that we find large money flows from other jurisdictions
to Sri Lanka in the funding of terrorism. And it is our fervent belief
that if the funding is curtailed, this fight against terrorism could
be far more successful and all conflicts could be brought to a peaceful
May I also deal with some of the matters raised by some other organizations,
when they raised the question of the sexual violence against women in
Akkaraipattu, and the critique made with regard to threats to journalists
by the Secretary of Defense? We have mechanisms both in our criminal
law and our civil law to deal with questions of sexual violence on women
be it in Akkaraipattu or in any other part of Sri Lanka. It is not something
that is new, it has been an issue that has been dealt with from time
immemorial. The structures are in place and the perpetrators of such
offenses are brought to book on a routine base. Indictments are sent
out by the Attorney General's office, whereby offenders are brought
to book, convicted, dealt with and punished in due course.
On the question of the threat to journalists, the Government is conscious
of the constitutional guarantee with regard to the freedom of expression.
We have written it down in our constitution and we respect that. Now
we are only asking that we be understood when we critique the press
openly with regard to some matters concerning national security. We
cannot compromise on national security whilst assuring the freedom of
press which we cherish and would like to protect. All we say is that
the press must be conscious of the requirements of national security
in the context of the crisis that the country faces. Let me assure you
that the Government is committed to the protection of a free press,
and this freedom will be assured to every journalist to get about their
work because it is the position of the Government that a free press
is of great assistance to the country in its process of governance.
Now to deal with another aspect of the matter, with regard to the IIGEP.
The IIGEP is still in existence in Sri Lanka, and the comment that the
IIGEP does not exist any more was an overstatement. The former members
of the IIGEP decided not to function as the members of the IIGEP any
more, but it is not the intention of Sri Lanka to derogate from that
position but it would invite member states to assist, in whatever way
possible, to enhancing the effectiveness of the Commission which is
investigating incidents such as the ACF incident and the incident in
Trincomalee. Thank you.
Prof Rajiva Wijesinha, Secretary to the Ministry of Disaster Management
and Human Rights
Mr President, in concluding I should point out that the comments made
about Sri Lanka fall into different areas which have to be addressed
in different ways. Several people raised questions about alleged impunity
and disappearances and extra-judicial killings and torture. Let me assure
you that we are as concerned as everyone about these, and believe they
have to be dealt with. That is why we are cooperating actively with
the Special Rapporteur on torture, as we do with the excellent Special
Rapporteur on IDPs, though there are fewer problems there as has clearly
now been understood. We would have liked to cooperate too with Philip
Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Killings, but he has failed
to answer our letters. I wrote to him earlier this year telling him
what we are trying to do and asking for his help in certain particulars
but there was no response. When we met, I asked why, and he said he
didn't have the time. While we appreciate the job is unpaid, as he said,
frankly I think you should not take on a job if you don't answer letters.
Those of you who have read his initial report in 2006 would have realized
what a very helpful report it was, because he drew attention to a lot
of problems, and suggested mechanisms of improving them.
I think both he, Sri Lanka, the Office of the High Commissioner, and
its Senior Advisor in Colombo were lax in not pursuing those recommendations
immediately. But we are determined to do so now at least. For instance
he had a lot of comments about the Police, and we did have a so-called
international police support group, but I'm afraid it did nothing much
except - and we are really extremely grateful to the Government of Sweden
for this - for a Project on Scene of Crime Investigation. We have written
now to Sweden, and to the United Kingdom which also provided some assistance,
and crucially to Japan, which had not participated but which I know
is very willing to assist us through the Task Force on Police Training.
We also had a lot of criticism with regard to the National Human Rights
Commission. And I would like to place on record here our request that
you and this Council investigate why the UNDP Stocktaking Report on
our National Human Rights Commission, prepared in April 2007 was suppressed
for so long. It was not given to the Head of Capacity Building in Geneva,
the new UNDP Head in Colombo had not seen it last year. Now he is working
on its recommendations, as we have done in suggesting an MoU between
our Ministry and the Commission, but the question is why this has taken
so long. We hope very much that assistance that was earlier pledged,
and then it seems reneged on, is restored, and that we can ensure the
development of Regional Centres, using UN Volunteers, for whom indeed
at least one friendly country contributed funding that lay unused.
There are other issues that seem to us less serious. Thankfully we
no longer hear allegations that our security forces, in their struggle
against terror, indiscriminately target civilians. That is a canard
that has been disposed of. Not so the allegations about child soldiers
that seek also to incriminate the Sri Lankan forces, in a vain attempt
to draw attention away from the continuing malpractices of the LTTE.
With regard to general allegations about others accused of child recruitment,
I refer you to the report I presented to the Human Rights Committee
of Liberal International, and which was distributed to all countries
that raised the question during the UPR. I fear it has not been read,
but this canard too will soon die down. Meanwhile I should note that
the last time I responded to the International Educational Development
Inc., it was to condemn their pitiful attempt to justify the LTTE use
of children over 15, on the to us utterly spurious grounds that international
law permitted this.
The consequences of that type of indulgence can be seen in the tragic
story of the 17 year old girl rescued in combat last week from the LTTE
by Sri Lankan forces. Note that perhaps even more culpable than partisan
NGOs in perpetuating such horrors was the carelessness of particular
UN officials in Sri Lanka who argued that the LTTE needed to amend legislation
to stop using children between 17 and 18. I am thankful that the UN
Special Rapporteur, a Sri Lankan herself, and the current head of UNICEF
in Sri Lanka, have made it clear that this is intolerable.
Finally we come to the question of a UN Monitoring Mission, which was
raised in 12 of the recommendations we rejected, 11 of them from Europe.
Mr President, last week we had very fruitful discussions with the European
Commission, which reasserted its very friendly attitude to Sri Lanka.
We believe this, but with insistent recommendations such as this, we
are reminded rather of the affection of an elder sister. I have an elder
sister, Mr President, as I am sure many people here do, and one tends
to get tired of relentless finger wagging, done with love doubtless
but nevertheless irritating. We have explained why we will not accept
a UN Monitoring Mission, which is why we found upsetting the claim of
the Danish Ambassador that, because we did not accept this recommendation,
the whole UPR process seemed nugatory.
However, we believe our Human Rights situation can improve, and we
welcome assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for this
purpose. The website of the OHCRC talks about technical support, but
this is not forthcoming, and in particular with building up our national
institutions. That, Mr President, is what we must do, and we will welcome
criticism of current shortcomings, but not on the assumption that we
need to be nannied for ever.
But we make all these efforts, Mr President, in the midst of combating
terrorism, and in that respect, as my colleague mentioned, we are disappointed
at the reaction of some European countries to our pleas to stop terrorist
funding. When I mentioned this to Commissioner Fratini last year, he
noted that there were inconsistencies. We do not think this is deliberate
but, while we are most grateful to the efforts made by for instance
France, we would hope others would be the same. I was told by his office
that funds were limited, and that funding tended to be used against
what was seen as Islamic terrorism. But, just as no man is an island,
terrorism is not an isolated phenomenon, and we must all work together
to stop it.
We understand there can be legal delays, we understand that tragedies
such as the events of yesterday in Pakistan, can occur, but we expect
understanding for our progress not being as fast as required, just as
we extend understanding for deficiencies in others. But, confident in
the understanding and support of our friends and those unequivocally
opposed to terrorism, we will continue with our struggle, Mr President,
and not be daunted.
Finally, may I take this opportunity, as you give up this august office,
to present you with a book we have issued, entitled 'Pursuing Peace,
Fighting Falsehood'. Strengthening Human Rights, Eliminating Terrorism,
Pursuing Peace and Fighting Falsehoods that distract us are all essential
in our determination to restore pluralistic democracy throughout our
Just as all member states have shown their willingness during this
Review to help us in the first of these, we hope we will have your support
for the other three too.