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 (UNHCR) June 13th 2008(adapted from delivery) - 16 June 2008
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, Legal Advisor to the Ministry of Defence
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 end.
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 country.
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.