Sri Lanka reiterating its firm commitment to work with the United Nations system told the visiting UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanetham Pillay that the country expects an objective approach and equal treatment from the global body.
External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L. Peiris conveyed the High Commissioner that there is a perception in the country about the lack of objectivity and fairness in the treatment meted out to Sri Lanka, when he welcomed the UN official at the Ministry Thursday.
The Minister added that Sri Lanka accepts constructive and justified criticism but resents vicious and baseless positions which are incessantly repeated.
Pillay is on a weeklong visit to Sri Lanka on an invitation extended by the government in April 2011.
Briefing the visiting UN official on matters relating to post-conflict development, Prof. Peiris apprised Pillay of the measures taken by the government and law enforcement authorities to address the accountability issue.
He informed the UN Rights Chief that action has been taken to indict some members of the Special Task Force in relation to the killing of five students in Trincomalee and apprised her on the status of investigations with regard to the Muttur incident involving the killing of 17 local workers of a French NGO ACF.
Drawing parallel with the case of the assassination of the former Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar, where conviction has not been possible due to the lack of evidence, the Minister explained the difficulties encountered in identifying the perpetrators due to the conditions prevailing at the time of incidence, with regard to the ACF case.
He told Ms. Pillay that there is no culture of impunity in the country and when evidence is available action to conduct legal proceedings have been instituted irrespective of the status of those accused.
Addressing allegations of disappearances, Prof Peiris highlighted that over 3,000 members of the armed forces have also gone missing and explained the difficulties in identifying the missing due to possible migration to other countries.
The Minister addressing the issue of reconciliation, asked the UN official to consider the challenges Sri Lanka faces and the brief period of time since the end of the conflict.
He noted that economic contentment of the people is equally important in order for the reconciliation process to be viable and sustainable and explained that the government has channeled enormous resources to the North resulting in a 27% growth rate in that region compared to the national average of 7%.
Minister Peiris expressed regret that the major Tamil party, Tamil National Alliance (TNA) continues to seek support from overseas rather than participating in local processes including the Parliamentary Select Committee where they can derive more benefit for the people in their own constituencies.
Regarding de-militarization of high-security zones in the North, the Minister said while serving the national security interests of the country, plans are underway to relocate troops to other identified government lands.
Referring to Pillay's concerns over taking the Police under the new Ministry of Law and Order instead of the Ministry of Justice, the Minister stressed that her stated position is fundamentally unacceptable and does not move in accordance with the established procedures of Sri Lanka.
The Minister also inter alia discussed the implementation of the LLRC Recommendations, the UN official's concerns on religious minorities and the Prevention of terrorism Act (PTA).
Stressing that many allegations made against Sri Lanka were without basis, the Minister regretted the legitimization of the UN Secretary-General's Panel of Experts report and the Petrie report by including them in the recent report by the High Commissioner submitted to the Human Rights Council.
He noted that many countries have been taken aback by the disproportionate focus on Sri Lanka. "There has been prejudgment and we are disappointed," the Minister said.
Minister Peiris also informed Pillay that following her visit, the visits of UN Special Procedure mandate holders will be scheduled and invitations have already been extended to the Special Rapporteurs on the human rights of IDPs and on the right to education for country visits in December 2013 and January 2014, respectively.
The Minister, while recalling the already established framework for cooperation between Sri Lanka and the UN, assured that the Government of Sri Lanka will continue to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
Minister Peiris regretted that the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) continues to conduct its activities from abroad rather than participating in local processes including the refusal to join the Parliamentary Select Committee where they can derive morebenefit for the people in their own constituencies. He also pointed out that the aims of the diaspora are at variance to the needs of those in Sri Lanka.
Regarding de-militarization, it was underlined that since the end of the conflict, all High Security Zones have been dismantled with the troops being re-located to military cantonments and bases. Further, he said that while rationalization of this presence would be considered in line with the national security interests of Sri Lanka, efforts are also underway to explore possibilities to relocate troops to other identified Government lands. He explained that there is only one High Security Zone in Palaly which is essential for the security of the air field and the KKS Harbour. Regarding the attitude and the judgment of the general public in the areas of military presence, the Minister drew the attention of the UN High Commissioner to a report compiled by the Sri Lanka Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, according to which, ninety five percent of the people who had been interviewed had expressed their satisfaction for the salutary role of the military and acknowledged the need for their presence in the vicinity due to safety reasons.
Minister Peiris outlined the difficulties associated with land issues, as the LTTE dispossessed private land for distribution to so called Mahaveer families, by destroying title deeds, and now the Government is faced with the identification of rightful owners in view of the competing claims. The Land Commissioner General has initiated a new programme to resolve land disputes of the people, he said, which is envisaged to be resolved within two years.
On implementation of the LLRC Recommendations, the Minister pointed out that in July 2013, the Cabinet of Ministers approved the inclusion of an additional 53 recommendations of the LLRC in the National Plan of Action. These new recommendations include international humanitarian law issues, human rights, treatment of detainees, vulnerable groups, disabled persons, internally displaced persons, concerns relating to the Muslim community in the North and East, return and resettlement, restitution/compensatory relief, reconciliation and language policy.
With regard to High Commissioner Pillay’s reference to the last days of the armed conflict, Prof. Peiris stated that the Sri Lanka military was involved in the largest hostage rescue operation in contemporary history. It is factually known that the LTTE ruthlessly annihilated people trying to escape from their clutches. While noting that Ms. Pillay too had called on Sri Lanka to end military operations, the Minister stated that if Sri Lanka had acceded to that call the present ground realities would have been different as a responsible government steps had to be undertaken to safeguard the Sri Lankan people not heeding to calls of some external elements.
The Minister also referred to the High Commissioner’s concern over the inclusion of the police under the newly created Ministry of Law and Order, instead of the Ministry of Justice. He indicated that her stated position is fundamentally unacceptable and does not move in accordance with the established procedures of Sri Lanka. The Minister pointed out that the Police Department has consistently been under the Ministry of Defence and only briefly, 2002-2004, under an Interior Ministry. It has to be noted that most countries too have Police under Ministries other than Justice, and further, he indicated that the creation of the new Ministry of Law and Order under which the Police Department is now placed is in line with a LLRC recommendation.
Regarding comments made by the High Commissioner on the PTA, the Minister stated that some of the countries that criticize, have provisions in their domestic legislation far beyond those of the Sri Lankan PTA. Given the situation that prevailed in the country for three decades, the revised PTA in Sri Lanka is used only as a precautionary measure and not abused.
High Commissioner Pillay’s concern on religious minorities the Minister said that at Grandpass all communities came together to resolve the issues, while forces with vested interests are only interested in exacerbating any situation. The Minister also explained that the Government is bringing about legislation to criminalize hate speech. Further, with regard to the incident in Rathupaswala investigations are underway and will bring to book those who are found to have transgressed the law.
The Minister stressed that many allegations made against Sri Lanka were without basis and in this context, referred to the allegation that the Government of Sri Lanka starved its own people in the North, during the conflict. He elaborated that persons familiar with Sri Lanka, which included the members of the diplomatic community and UN Officials were well aware of the actions taken by the Coordinating Committee for Humanitarian Assistance (CCHA) and that the food sent to the North was more than sufficient.
The Minister regretted the legitimization of the Panel of Experts report and the Petrie report by including them in the recent report by the High Commissioner submitted to the Human Rights Council. Prof. Peiris opined that the Panel of Experts report, which was only an internal document borne out not as an inter-governmental process is exclusively for the UN Secretary General, is incurably flawed. Moreover, he said the Petrie report is dishonest because it has a number of redaction.
He also emphasized the fact that many countries have been taken aback by the disproportionate focus on Sri Lanka. “There has been prejudgment and we are disappointed,” the Minister said.
The Minister also stated that in keeping with the position of the Sri Lankan Government, the visits of UN Special Procedure mandate holders will be scheduled following her visit and in this context, invitations have already been extended to the Special Rapporteurs on the human rights of IDPs and on the right to education for country visits in December 2013 and January 2014, respectively.
In conclusion, the Minister, while recalling the already established framework for cooperation between Sri Lanka and the UN, conveyed his appreciation to High Commissioner Pillay for accepting the invitation and visiting Sri Lanka. He stated that the Government of Sri Lanka will continue to work with the OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights). The High Commissioner too expressed her appreciation for the opportunity given to her to visit Sri Lanka and the facilitation provided by the Government of Sri Lanka.