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Ground facts, Rights lobby cause Sri Lanka's UN debacle

[TamilNet, Thursday, 22 May 2008, 00:27 GMT]
Despite determined lobbying by Colombo during and prior to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) session at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the stark history of gross rights violations by Sri Lanka Security forces, the unfolding ground situation including the exit of International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) from rights monitoring from the island, and intense lobbying by several Rights organization including three Peace Nobel laureates, have led to the ignominous defeat of Sri Lanka Wednesday in securing the sought after coveted spot in the Human Rights Council of the UN.

Sri Lanka's Minister for Disaster Management and Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, and a large delegation attended the session in Geneva, and spent considerable effort, along with Sri Lanka's representative in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilleke, persuading members of the Human Rights Council that Sri Lanka has made positive strides towards improving human rights.

But, serious human rights problems brought up by the Human Rights Council, the departure of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons which the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights had brought together to help Sri Lanka investigate some serious recent abuses, the many recent visits by Special Rapporteurs of the HRC and the abuses they uncovered, a concerted effort by numerous NGOs involved in the UN, and statements by three Nobel Peace Prize winners that Sri Lanka's record made it unfit to serve, had an impact on the members of the General Assembly to vote against Sri Lanka.

Two changes in the prevoting procedures have made difficult for human rights abusers to gain access to membership. Members of the Council must first participate in the UPR process during which their human rights situation is closely scrutinized by other members of the Council. Second, full General Assembly participates in the election, the size of which makes it more difficult for behind-the-scenes deals to be effective.

Canada in its comments on Sri Lanka's report said that the "human rights situation in Sri Lanka continues to deteriorate," "Sri Lanka must protect civilians," and "Sri Lanka should investigate all allegations of extrajudicial, arbitary and summary executions," noting in particular, the killing of ACF employees and five students in Trincomalee.

India called Sri Lanka a "close and friendly neighbor," but would like to know more about initiatives to encourage the study of languages of other communities from the primary level and the respect for human dignity regardless of ethnicity, caste, gender, etc.

The WFP noted, among other concerns, that with the GoSL shutting the A9, the WFP has only been able to deliver 20% of the food needs to Jaffna.

The summary report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, for the UPR said: "Amnesty International (AI) noted that civil and political rights were further restricted following the reintroduction of Emergency Regulations in August 2005. The new Regulations allow the Government to deploy cordon-and-search operations and to detain without charge anyone suspected of terrorist activities...There have been reports of discriminatory application of these regulations against Tamils. AI recommended the Government to abolish all emergency legislations currently in force or bring it into line with international human rights law and standards."

The same report added: "IDMC [International Displacement Monitoring Centre of the Norwegian Refugee Council] noted fears among minority communites of state-sponsored programmes aimed at chnging the ethnic demography of Eastern Province.

"Examples of this were provided to IDMC by Tamil and Muslim residents in the eastern province. These include the Government-sponsored movement of Sinhalese settlers into Tamil and Muslim areas, the movement of administrative boundaries seeking to reduce the size of minority populations in certain areas, as well as the declaration of minorities' land as sacred for construction of Buddhist temples."

UNICEF's submission quoted from the UN Common Country Assessment in 2006: "In the course of twenty years of conflict, ther has been a progressive militarisation of social and political life, especially in the northeast that has heightened violence and closed democratic space. While Sri Lanka has a sufficient legal and institutional framework to protect human rights, too often there is an implementation and enforcement gap...."

Sri Lanka's defeat was welcomed by human rights campaigners who criticized its record during a 25-year civil war with Tamil rebels, citing torture, attacks on aid workers and other violations of international human rights standards, according to a Reuters report.

Steve Crawshaw of Human Rights Watch welcomed Sri Lanka's defeat, saying that of the 19 countries vying for the 15 vacant seats, it was the one with the worst human rights record, Reuters report said.

"It will be important for the future because I hope that authoritarian regimes with poor records will be much more wary of putting themselves forward," said Crawshaw, whose group led a campaign by rights organizations against Sri Lanka, Reuters report added.

Sri Lanka's Human Rights and Disaster Management Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe presented a brave face inspite of the debacle as he told Reuters that Colombo was pleased to have won 101 votes despite an "intense campaign" against it. "They have done a very subjective campaign, they were only putting forward one side of the story," Reuters quoted Samarasinghe as saying.


Related Articles:
21.05.08   Asian rights offenders fight for UN seats
20.05.08   Third nobel laureate opposes Sri Lanka's bid to UN Rights Co..
19.05.08   Carter Center urges U.N. Assembly not to re-elect Sri Lanka ..
15.05.08   Sri Lanka not fit to be in UN Rights Council- Tutu
10.05.08   AG's role in investigations, main concern of IIGEP- Prof. Sh..
15.03.08   Ganesan assails Sri Lanka's rights record

External Links:
HRW: Sri Lanka's Record of Abuses
Nobel: Archbishop Tutu: Nobel lecture
Nobel: Adolfo Pérez Esquivel: Nobel Lecture
Nobel: Carter: Nobel Lecture
HRW: Nobel Prize Winners tell UN: Vote Sri Lanka off Human Rights Council
US: Carter Center
CNS: Free Nations Expected to Remain in Minority on UN Rights Council
ML: D-day for Lanka at the UN
AHRC: SRI LANKA: UN: Vote Sri Lanka off Human Rights Council
FH: Freedom House
BBCSinhala: Sri Lanka loses UN vote
UN: What is Universal Periodic Review (UPR)?


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