Melbourne, Tuesday –The UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Navi Pillay, says Sri Lanka has broken its promise to improve human rights in the island nation. Pillay said the Rajapaksa regime had failed to investigate atrocities, as it promised the UN a year ago, and that opposition leaders were still being killed or abducted.
In an interview with the Sri Lankan Sunday Times, Pillay said: “The Government has made little progress in pursuing true accountability and reconciliation measures… “…There is a long history of national inquiries in Sri Lanka that have led nowhere but to impunity…. There has to be justice, if there is to be lasting peace.”
Pillay has also issued a stern warning to the Sri Lankan Government not to repeat last year’s intimidation and threats against human rights defenders at next week’s UN Human Rights Council meeting to examine Sri Lanka’s progress on human rights and post-war reconciliation with Tamils.
The BBC reported last March that the Minister for Public Relations, Mervyn Silva, threatened to “break the limbs” of certain journalists and human rights workers whom he called “traitors.”
His comments came a day after the UNHRC passed a resolution that contained criticism of the country’s human rights record, as well as a call to initiate an independent investigation into allegations against the Sri Lankan military of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the final days of the civil war in 2009.
Pillay said the Sri Lankan Government had been reprimanded by the UNHRC president for its behaviour at the 2012 session. She said she had written to the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister to protest that some of the threats against various groups were carried on his own website.
Next Monday the UN Human Rights Council will begin debating the second US resolution on Sri Lanka in 12 months. It is expected to call on Sri Lanka to honour its promise to the UN last year to initiate the independent war crimes investigation and to:
• Credibly investigate widespread allegations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances.
• Demilitarize the north of Sri Lanka and re-evaluate detention policies.
• Implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms.
• Protect the right of freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms.
Campaign for Tamil Justice spokesperson, Trevor Grant, said the first US resolution, which was supported by Australia, the UK, Canada and India, among others, was so weak that it encouraged Sri Lanka to continue its program of ethnic-cleansing against the Tamils.
“It was the equivalent of a wink and nod to Sri Lanka to carry on persecuting Tamils. A draft of the second one looks about the same,” Grant said. “Until the UN faces the reality on the ground in Sri Lanka, that a genocide is taking place and it needs to act strongly, then nothing much will change.”
The International Crisis Group and Human Rights Watch have recently issued scathing reports on the Sri Lankan Government’s abuse of human rights. They have called on the countries meeting at the UNHRC next week to implement much stronger action this time.
A letter signed by 133 Roman Catholic, Anglican and Methodist pastors and nuns in Sri Lanka has asked the UNHRC to set up an independent war crimes’ investigation, claiming the Government does not have the political will to do it.
At least 40,000 Tamil civilians died after being herded into supposed “safe zones” in May, 2009. A 2011 UN report.
said there were credible allegations that these people were then shelled and bombed by the Sri Lankan military. The report said that there was evidence that the Tamil Tigers may have committed war crimes.
Pillay explained why she believed it was important for the independent investigation to go ahead. “Because tens of thousands of civilians were reportedly killed. Because there are very credible allegations and some strong pictorial evidence and witness accounts indicating that war crimes and other serious international crimes…took place on a large scale,” she said.
“There is a long history of national inquiries in Sri Lanka that have led nowhere but to impunity. This makes such an international investigation essential. Crimes like these cannot simply be ignored or pushed aside. There has to be justice, if there is to be lasting peace.”
In a speech to the London School of Economics recently, Pillay drew the comparison between UN reports on Sri Lanka and Rwanda, where a Government-orchestrated genocide against the minority Tutsu population in 1994 saw almost one million people die while the international community did virtually nothing.
The Petrie report on Sri Lanka was an admission that the UN had made a grave error by leaving the war zones towards the end of the war in 2009. It was a decision that cost the lives of thousands of innocent Tamils as the Sri Lankan military ruthlessly attacked civilians in what became known as the “war without witness.”
“Rwanda’s lessons were not implemented in Sri Lanka,” Pillay said. Campaign for Tamil Justice calls upon the UNHRC to:
• Immediately take the strongest action required to stop the persecution and the ethnic cleansing of Tamils in Sri Lanka by the Government. This includes Government-sponsored land theft, destruction of Tamil homes and transplanting of Sinhalese citizens into traditional Tamil regions, demolition of cultural icons such as Tamil shrines, and the massive military presence used to control of the daily lives of Tamils in the northern and eastern regions.
• Initiate immediately an independent international investigation into allegations by a UN panel of Sri Lankan military war crimes and crimes against humanity towards the end of the war.
• Stop the murder, torture, jailings, beatings and disappearances of Tamils and fully support the prosecution of those responsible.
• Demand an end to the murders and disappearances of Sri Lankan journalists. Demand full investigation and prosecution of those responsible for these crimes.
• Demand a sustainable solution to Tamil grievances. This includes giving Tamils political autonomy and empowering them by allowing self-determination in traditional Tamil regions.
For further information contact Campaign for Tamil Justice:
Trevor Grant 0400 597 351; Seran Sribalan O452 224 205.