2ND LEAD (Adds details)

Journalists, NGOs unsettle Peiris's US visit

[TamilNet, Friday, 28 May 2010, 00:30 GMT]
While Tamil demonstrators plan to protest in front of the State Department during Sri Lanka's Minister of External Affairs Gamini Lakshman Peiris's meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton Friday, reports covering Peiris's US visit indicate an uncomfortable minister facing hostile press and questioners, and the resulting damage to the Minister's mission to block UN and US acting on the war-crimes call by several NGOs. Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, International Crisis Group and Elders this week, had called for an independent international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka. Minister Peiris has been taking pre-emptive steps, unprecedented for a visiting Minister, to avoid facing serious journalists who have been covering Sri Lanka's war and the conduct of the protagonists during the last months of the war.

Tejinder Singh, Chair of the National Press Club (NPC) Newsmakers Committee reported that "Minister Peiris left a scheduled meeting with journalists at the National Press Club Thursday morning without speaking.

"He [Minister Peiris] had been slated to address them [NPC] as a precursor to his Friday meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Peiris arrived at the building with a Secret Service security detail, but left without explanation after going to the 14th floor where he was to speak," Singh said in his report.

Daily Mirror quoted a Sri Lanka Foreign Ministry officials as saying, that he suspects “there may have been a last minute conflict of interest with the organizers of the event which forced the Minister to reconsider addressing the event. It’s anyway too early to speculate what may have taken place."

No reason for his departure was given by his spokesman, but the National Press Club recently awarded the organization's 2009 International Freedom of the Press Award to slain Sri Lankan journalist Lasantha Wickramatunga, editor of the Sunday Leader.

"At the UN, rather than hold an open press conference as the foreign ministers of such countries as Georgia and Iran and Indonesia do, the Sri Lankan Mission to the UN invited specific individual journalists, many of whom had never written about Sri Lanka, to meet and even wine and dine with Peiris," Matthew Lee of Inner City Press (ICP) who covers UN, said in his regular report.

ICP also said that Sri Lanka Mission refuses to answer questions posed to Peiris, about reports of war crimes by the Rajapaksa government he represents.

Commenting on the talk Mr Peiris gave at the Washington think-tank CSIS, Amnesty reported in Huffington Post, "Sri Lanka's commissions of inquiry are a guarantee that there will be no justice and accountability for serious human rights abuses. Since 1991, the Sri Lankan government has formed nine ad hoc commissions of inquiry to investigate enforced disappearances and a number of other human rights-related inquiries. These commissions of inquiry have lacked credibility and have delayed criminal investigations. While most, if not all, of these commissions of inquiry identified alleged perpetrators, very few prosecutions for human rights violations have resulted.

"[T]he minister stubbornly refused to answer my question about the human rights impact of the most recent presidential commission of inquiry (established in 2006) into several high level human rights cases, including the execution style murder of 17 aid workers of the French organization Action Contre la Faim (ACF). He had no answer to the question of how many individuals were actually tried as a consequence of the work of the commission, or why the findings that were sent to the President have not been made public to this day," Amnesty International said.

"We don't want Amnesty International telling us what to do. We will take it from the Security Council...," Minister reportedly retorted at the Amnesty questions.

The Amnesty report added, "US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will be the next high-level politician who will have an opportunity to raise these concerns, when she will meet her Sri Lankan counterpart in Washington this Friday. She will have the unique opportunity to reinforce the State Department's own efforts to shed light on the human rights abuses committed during the final stage of the conflict and to send a strong signal to the world that the United States is not willing to accept impunity for mass human rights abuses. We will follow very closely if indeed she does."

An American academic who attended the CSIS event said, while Prof. Peiris appeared quite reasonable during the early part of his presentation when he talked about "several initiatives that the GOSL planned, including a panel of experts that would investigate the violation of human rights by all sides, and that the panel would include several Tamils," the academic added, Peiris intentions were exposed when he said "it would be unfortunate if the international community pursued any kinds of investigation into the human rights violations on their own."

"Peiris became defensive and obnoxious during the question and answer session when he was asked probing questions on rights violations, and asked why "GOSL is ranked 4th worst on its democracy scale and one of the worst place for journalists."

When questioned on the ICG report which accused Colombo of alleged war crimes, "[t]he minister deflected the question initially saying that he had not seen the report (which he was then handed a copy by the person asking the question)... and that all the government had received was a letter from ICG saying there was evidence of atrocities and did it have a comment. He got defensive saying, as a lawyer, you can imagine such allegations without evidence... so we decided not to respond on purpose," the US academic told TamilNet.

Meanwhile, USTPAC, a US-based Political Action Grou, said in a media release Thursday that American Tamils "will rally at the US Department of State on Friday, May 27 from 9:30 to 12:30 am to protest the presence of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Pieris in the United States following on the heels of the war crimes and crimes against humanity his government has been committing against the Tamil community.

The "rally will be urging Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to persuade the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister of the imperative of holding an independent, international investigation of atrocities that occured at the end of the war between the armed forces and the rebel group, the LTTE," the release said.


External Links:
Rediff: Amnesty International can't dictate terms to us, says Lankan minister
ICP: Peiris of Sri Lanka Shows Not Ready for Prime Time
DM: Peiris walks out of briefing
Amnesty: Sri Lanka: UN must investigate human rights violations
Elders: Sri Lanka one year on from war
HRW: Sri Lanka: New Evidence of Wartime Abuses
ICG: War Crimes in Sri Lanka
HP: Sec. Clinton's shot at uncovering justice for Sri Lanka's war crimes
Channel4: Sri Lanka Tamil killings 'ordered from the top'
AHN: Sri Lankan Minister Leaves National Press Club Without Addressing Journalists
Amnesty: Tell the UN to investigate war crimes in Sri Lanka


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