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These blog postings do not necessarily represent the views of all members of the Advisory Council.

13/02/2013

The Government’s response to the UN High Commissioner’s report

In accordance with the resolution (19/2) passed at last March’s Human Rights Council the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report yesterday. The High Commissioner also published the Government of Sri Lanka’s response to that report.

The response reflects once again the combative and unconstructive attitude which so often characterises the Government in its interactions with UN bodies. It further demonstrates that to be successful, engagement with Sri Lanka must be backed up with firm consequences for non-compliance.

The response further misses the point of the report, and is inaccurate in several key places. Below, we go through the Government of Sri Lanka’s response highlighting these shortcomings:

The Government claims:
1 & 2 The report makes numerous references to the UN Panel of Experts report: this report was not referred to in the HRC resolution and is not an official UN document.
But:

The resolution called for the High Commissioner to – among other things - investigate Sri Lanka’s accountability process. It is only natural that she should therefore refer to the most comprehensive and substantive UN study currently available on that process.

The UN Panel of Experts report was a report prepared at the request of the UN Secretary General – it was given a formal mandate by Ban ki-Moon himself. The Government of Sri Lanka’s continued refusal to accept the report as valid is not only churlish but is an insult to the internationally renowned experts on transitional justice (the majority from the global south) who compiled it.

The Government claims:
3 &4 The report fails to make mention of a meeting that took place: and mentions various formal responses once when they could have been mentioned in two separate contexts.
But:

The report is not intended to be an exhaustive list of meetings. This section of the report is intended to detail the technical assistance offered by the High Commissioner and the Government of Sri Lanka’s response – which has been overwhelmingly negative.

The Government claims:
5 fears around the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) are unfounded: PTA detainees are just held by the army for a little while and then passed on to the police
But:

The students arrested at the Jaffna University demonstration have just been released having been held for 2 months under PTA powers despite having committed no crime. More than 1,900 people already arrested and detained under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) remain in custody pending investigations, according to the last relevant official statements from May 2010.

The Government claims:
6-8 there are no extrajudicial killings in Sri Lanka: and there is no evidence that the Channel 4 footage of executions is genuine
But:

This footage has been authenticated by numerous independent experts including the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings Christof Heyns.

The Government claims:
9 excessive force was not used in putting down the Vavuniya prison riot.
But:

29 people died in that riot.

The Government claims:
10-20 concerns about disappearances in Sri Lanka are unfounded.
But:

We are still seeing a disappearance every five days according to the latest research and Sri Lanka has more outstanding cases before the UN Working Group on Disappearances than any country except Iraq. The working group has been asking to visit for over six years and Sri Lanka still won’t let them in.

The Government claims:
21-28 concerns about detention in Sri Lanka are unfounded: there are no secret prisons, there is a comprehensive database of the detained, the rehabilitation process is completely transparent, and released rehabilitated Tamil Tiger (LTTE) fighters don’t have to register with the army.
But:

This simply isn’t true.
  • The UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) is one of many bodies to have expressed concern about secret prisons operating in Sri Lanka. 
  • No outside source has seen the database of the detained and families of the missing still struggle to find out if, and where, their loved ones are detained. 
  • The rehabilitation centres were closed to all outsiders – even the Red Cross (ICRC) for many years and are still off-limits to journalists. Allegations of rape and torture within these centres abound. 
  • And numerous sources inside and outside Sri Lanka to the fact that released “rehabilitated” Tamil Tiger (LTTE) fighters do have to register with the army
The Government claims:
29-30 internally displaced people in the north are well looked after
But:

The report clearly states that the Government’s efforts in this regard (which they list again in their response) have not been enough – and that significant needs remain unmet for the 94,000 that remain displaced. The response ignores the point of the report’s observation.

The Government claims:
31-37 concerns of increased militarisation in Sri Lanka are unfounded: the military plays no role in the civil administration of the north, the military is not involved in economic activity, and the claim that Tamil women are subjected to stigma following contact with the military is without basis.
But:

These are barefaced lies.

The military is much larger now than it has been at any time in its history – and far larger than it was when the war ended. Since the end of the war defence spending has risen by 29.8% and is due to rise a further 26% this year.

The military is deeply involved in the civil administration of the north as this report, and an International Crisis Group study (Sri Lanka’s North I: The Denial of Minority Rights Asia Report N°219) show. Even birthday parties in the north need the military’s approval to proceed.

The Ministry of Defence’s own website lists the many different economic projects the military is involved in. These include running a 180 acre farm near Jaffna and multiple forays into the tourist industry. The military owns many hotels, resorts and attractions including the entire “Laya” group.

The view that Tamil women are not subjected to stigma following contact with the military cannot be honestly held by anybody who has spent time in the north of Sri Lanka.

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