UN COMMISSION ON HUMAN RIGHTS
43RD SESSIONS: FEBRUARY 1987
- Resolution by UN Commission on Human Rights – 12 March 1987
- Original Revised Draft Resolution
- Statement by Mr.Virendra, leader of the Indian delegation – 2 March 1987 “…In the beginning of February, the Government’s security forces carried out several operations, especially in the eastern province, ostensibly against the militants but with civilians as the main victims. In one such operation alone over 150 Tamil civilians are reported to have died. Even the Sri Lankan press has confirmed the massacre of 23 unarmed employees of a foreign managed seafood firm by the Special Task Force…”
- Appeal made by Mr. D.Von Der Weid on behalf of twelve Non-Governmental Organisations, 24 February, 1987 “…The situation is so grave that it warrants exceptional and urgent consideration by this distinguished Commission…We believe most fervently that the most appropriate course of action to adopt in this situation is for the International Committee of the Red Cross and other similar Organisations to undertake a programme of work in order to provide necessary assistance and protection to the people in the affected areas…”
- Statement by Mr. Martin Ennals, Secretary General of International Alert “….there can be no doubt that the security forces of the government of Sri Lanka have committedserious offences against civilians caught up in the internal conflict, that innocent civilians have been killed, not in the cross fire between factions but in the course of the day to day existence of family life…”
- Intervention by the Indian Ambassador, Mr J.S.Teja, 4 March 1987 “…The imposition of economic and communications blockade is not only an action against Tamil militants but against the entire civilian population. This unprecedented blockade is already in its third month. More than 200,000 people have been affected….”
- Intervention by Miss Tamara Kunanayakam, World Student Christian Federation “…Another new but reprehensible development reported during1986 has been the use of detainees as hostages and/or human shields during military operations by security forces….”
- Intervention by Ms.Karen Parker, International Human Rights Advocates “…In Sri Lanka where armed conflict governed by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions continues, serious unjustified abrogations of the rights of civilian detainees occur especially in regard to persons arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act No.46 of 1979 directed mostly at the Tamil population, and the Emergency Regulations…”
- Statement by the United States Delegation “…With regard to the difficult situation in Sri Lanka, the Special Rapporteur mentions a ‘spiral of violence’ which includes allegations of torture. My delegation is aware of Sri Lanka’s constitutional guarantees against torture and its public statement in opposition to the use of torture in its unilateral declaration to the United Nations, and we hope that any necessary preventive and remedial measures have already been taken by the Government of Sri Lanka…”
- Statement by United Kingdom Delegation “We are concerned by the situation in Sri Lanka. we have consistently pressed on all those concerned the need for a political solution rather than a military solution to the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka. We will continue to do so. Only an end to the conflict and a peaceful negotiated settlement which takes into account the needs and wishes of all communities can end human rights abuses. We will continue to urge on the Sri Lankan government the urgent need to take firm action to prevent human rights abuses by the security forces; we continue to deplore the atrocities committed by Tamil terrorist organisations.”
- Background to Passing of Commission Resolution 1987/61 by Special Correspondent, Tamil Times, March 1987
- Implications of Commission Resolution, Susantha Dias in Sinhala owned Sri Lanka Guardian, 1 April 1987
- co-sponsored by Argentina, Canada* and Norway and adopted unanimously on 12 March 1987
The Commission on Human Rights
guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the universally accepted rules of international humanitarian law,
Recalling its decision 1984/11 of 14 March 1984
Taking note of the Report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances,
1.Calls upon all parties and groups to respect fully the universally accepted rules of humanitarian law,
2.Calls upon all parties and groups to renounce the use of force and acts of violence and to pursue a negotiated political solution, based on principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,
3.Invites the Government of Sri Lanka to intensify its cooperation with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the field of dissemination and promotion of international humanitarian law and invites the Government of Sri Lanka to consider favourably the offer of the services of the International Committee of the Red Cross to fulfill its functions of protection of humanitarian standards, including the provision of assistance and protection to victims of all affected parties, and
4.Expresses the hope that the Government of Sri Lanka will continue to provide information to the Commission on Human Rights on this question.”
Agenda item 12 – Question of the Violation of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms in any part of the world, with particular reference to colonial and other dependent countries and territories.
Argentina, Canada* and Norway: revised draft resolution
The Commission on Human Rights,
Guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the universally accepted rules of international humanitarian law,
Recalling Its decision 1984/111 of 14 March 1984.
Noting that the Special Rapporteur on torture has described the situation, in which Sri Lanka finds itself caught in a spiral of violence and where civilians are allegedly tortured in order to extract information from them about planned acts of violence by the insurgents. as one of great concern,
Noting also that more than a hundred new cases of alleged disappearances in Sri Lanka have been transmitted to the Government by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, as well as the responses transmitted to the Working Group by the Government of Sri Lanka,
1. Calls upon all parties and groups to respect fully the universally accepted rules of humanitarian law,
2. Calls upon all parties and groups to renounce the use of force and acts of violence and to pursue a negotiated political solution, based on principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms,
3. Appeals to the Government of Sri Lanka to intensify its co-operation with the International Committee of the Red Cross in the fields of dissemination and promotion of international humanitarian law and invites the Government of Sri Lanka to consider favourably the offer of the services of the International Committee of the Red Cross to fulfill its functions of protection of humanitarian standards, including the provision of assistance and protection to victims of all affected parties,
4. Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to continue its co-operation with the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances,
S. Invites the Government of Sri Lanka to present a report to the Commission on Human Rights at its forty-fourth session on the implementation of the present resolution.
*In accordance with rule 69, paragraph 3, of the rules of procedure of the functional commissions of the Economic and Social Council.
The Commission on Human Rights meets once again at a time when both the situation of the Tamil minorities in Sri Lanka as well as the progress towards a satisfactory solution to the ethnic problem leave little room for optimism. In deliberations in this Commission in the past few years most delegates and observers including those from India and Sri Lanka had expressed hopes for an improvement in the situation and an early settlement. Unfortunately the violation of the human rights of the Tamil minorities continues and our sincere hopes for a settlement have remained unfulfilled.
If we recall the discussion on this question in the past three years we find that the deliberations of the Commission seem to have acquired a recurrent and tragic refrain. Attention was drawn it previous years to arbitrary arrests, disappearances, killings and denial of human rights to the Tamil minority. The actions of the Sri Lankan military and security agencies against civilians and non combatants came in for especially severe comment. The Sri Lankan Government sought to justify these events as the legitimate response of law and order agencies to the actions of if those it perceived as terrorists bent only on separation and destabilisation. Civilian losses, however major, were portrayed as inevitable and even acceptable in this process. At the same time the Sri Lankan Government repeatedly assured the Commission of its commitment to a political solution.
As we look back today at the course of events after the tragic July 1983 disturbances we find the same pattern repeated. with the promise of negotiations being followed by unrestrained military action. The situation this year is no different. I need not go into individual instances of violation of human rights as these have been widely reported and well documented by international groups. I shall recall only some of the more recent of such instances.
On the first day of this year the Sri Lankan Government took the unprecedented and extraordinary step of imposing an economic and communications blockadeagainst its own citizens in Jaffna. In the north, the flow of fuel, firewood and, in many cases, even essential supplies, was cut off causing immense suffering to tie civilian population in the north. This has been recounted in appeals made by the Citizens Committee to international organisations, including the International Committee of the Red Cross. Whatever the reasons that may be put forward to justify such a step, large scale suffering inflicted by the Government on the entire Tamil minority can only antagonise the community further and make progress towards a negotiated settlement that much more difficult.
In the beginning of February, the Government’s security forces carried out several operations, especially in the eastern province, ostensibly against the militants but with civilians as the main victims. In one such operation alone over 150 Tamil civilians are reported to have died. Even the Sri Lankan press has confirmed the massacre of 23 unarmed employees of a foreign managed seafood firm by the Special Task Force. Recent reports indicate ominous troop movements towards Jaffna in the north. There are reports that the loss of civilian lives in 1986 alone exceeds 2000. The overwhelming majority of them are Tamil civilians. It is even more unfortunate, though this is not the first time it has happened, that these actions by the Sri Lankan Government and its security forces took place at a time when the negotiating process seemed to he making some headway.
India believes that only a negotiated political settlement can resolve the problem in Sri Lanka. India has continued to offer its good offices for this purpose. What is still lacking is the political will and a firm conviction on the part of the Sri Lankan Government that a solution can and will be found only through political means and not through military action. Over the past three years we have too frequently seen a resort to force, often when hopes for a political settlement had been rising. This causes a setback to peace efforts, adds to the list of grievances of the Tamil minority and makes the negotiating process even more difficult.
Repeated human rights violations result in lasting resentment and bitterness. These become a major obstacle to a political solution. It h only by ending such violations and by restoring the human rights and aspirations of the Tamil minority that a lasting solution to the problem can be found. We believe that the Commission of Human Rights can play a very important role in encouraging the move towards a political solution to this tragic problem by highlighting the humanitarian concerns involved and by helping to ameliorate the distressing human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
I take the floor to make a solemn appeal to this distinguished Commission on behalf of our organisation, Anti-Slavery Society, as well as the following Organisations: International Commission of Jurists, International Federation of Human Rights, Human Rights Advocates; League for the Rights and Liberation of Peoples,’ World Student Christian Federation, Centre Europe Tiers Monde; Pax Christi International; Pax Romana; World Conference on Religion and Peace/International Disabled Peoples’ International, International Youth and Student Movement of the U.N.
A country, once described as a Paradise Island is today rocked and wrecked by armed conflict. Three Special Rapporteurs of this Commission have in their reports made reference to serious allegations of Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka. I do not propose to list the systematic and persistent patterns of violations that have been documented in detail by various Human Rights Organisations. The situation in Sri Lanka is so grave that Governments as well as Non-Governmental Organisations share extreme anxiety about the physical insecurity and suffering to which the civilian population of that country is subjected today.
The situation is so grave that it warrants exceptional and urgent consideration by this distinguished Commission. We appeal to the conscience of distinguished delegates and the Governments they represent to ensure that all essential steps are undertaken in terms of International Human Rights and Humanitarian Law.
We believe most fervently that the most appropriate course of action to adopt in this situation is for the International Committee of the Red Cross and other similar Organisations to undertake a programme of work in order to provide necessary assistance and protection to the people in the affected areas. We also appeal to the Sri Lankan Government to invite the ICRC into the country so that it may perform its humanitarian mandate.
Mr. Chairman, this appeal is exceptional by reason of the urgency of the situation. It is also exceptional because of the number of NGO’s who joined in making this appeal.
Mr. Chairman, may I conclude in the confident hope that this distinguished Commission share our sentiments and rise to the occasion in acceding to this appeal.”
- made on behalf of the Minority Rights Group
The Minority Rights Group has long been concerned by the problems of the Tamil minority in Sri Lanka. International Alert of which I am the Secretary General was established to work on ethnic conflicts and mass killings leading to genocide. The escalation of violence in the past twelve months has led manifold allegations of human rights by all parties to the conflict. These allegations are based on eyewitness testimonies, evidence in courts of law, reports by international and national organisations, and UN bodies such as the Working Party on Disappearances. The brutalities of the conflict affect civilians of all ethnic groups, creates a massive dispersion of population, the growth of internal and external refugee camps and the overflow of the Sri Lanka conflict into the courts and prisons of other countries.
Human rights do not depend on the rights and wrongs of any political conflict and affect the lives of many far removed from the actual scenes of war. The growing body of international human rights standards and humanitarian laws and institutions must be invoked on behalf of all victims of the present internal conflict in Sri Lanka. No body is more appropriate that the UN Human Rights Commission to express its concern and recommend measures which will contribute to the cessation of hostilities and respect for the human rights of the Sri Lankan peoples under the terms of the Universal Declaration and the Covenants.
As indicated by the distinguished delegate from India, there can be no doubt that the security forces of the government of Sri Lanka have committed serious offencesagainst civilians caught up in the internal conflict, that innocent civilians have been killed, not in the cross fire between factions but in the course of the day to day existence of family life. Similarly Tamil militant groups have been guilty of deliberate assaults on civilian targets resulting in death, mutilation and fear. The refugees are an automatic product of these violations of human rights. Tamil refugees are now facing deprivation of their liberty in third countries, many of them in Europe.
It is regrettable that there is at present no resolution before the Human Rights Commission on the situation in Sri Lanka, but it is not too late. No one wishes to make matters worse or to prejudice the chances of the peace initiative which has been launched and the talks which continue between parties to the dispute. The good offices role played by the Indian government is appreciated and central to any long term settlement. But none of these political steps can be allowed to seem to justify the suffering being inflicted upon civilians and the Commission on Human Rights may wish to make reference in its deliberations to possible international steps which could be taken to increase protection of human rights without taking sides in negotiations which at this stage appear deadlocked while rni1itary operations continue and indeed are reportedly being intensified in the north which will endanger lives arid create more refugees.
The Commission could, for example recommend to all the parties to the conflict to observe basic international human rights standards and humanitarian laws in regard to the treatment of civilians. The government of Sri Lanka could be encouraged to take the initiative of inviting the International Committee of the Red Cross to exercise its protective role by visiting all places of detention and the areas of conflict. The government Sri Lanka may also feel itself able to invite the U. N. Working Party on Disappearances to visit Sri Lanka in furtherance of its study on the allegations of involuntary disappearances.
‘The Tamil militant movements, recognised terms of their involvement in the peace negotiations, could also be urged to act as responsible parties to an internal conflict and recognise the rules of war and refrain from attacks on civilian populations.
None of these steps would remote the fears of those facing the violation of their rights, but a statement by the Commission would be seen as an expression of international concern about a conflict which has long since overflowed the frontiers of Sri Lanka and would serve to reinforce the peace process without which no permanent state of tranquility can be restored.
Mr.Chairman, my delegation wishes to exercise its right of reply to the statement made by the distinguished representative of Sri Lanka last night. Had there been an opportunity to speak yesterday, my delegation would have done that immediately.
Mr. Chairman, let me say straightaway that we share the sentiment that India and Sri Lanka are friendly countries with many common values and aspirations and with a common stake in peace, stability, progress and development in the world, particularly our region.
We have repeatedly said that we would like a peaceful, negotiated solution of the ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka within the integrity and unity of Sri Lanka. India has been doing all it can to bring the two sides to this ethnic conflict together to resolve the issue through negotiations. It was therefore painful to hear the unfounded, unsubstantiated and unwarranted utterances of the representative of Sri Lanka yesterday.
The representative of Sri Lanka said yesterday something to the effect that India has destroyed its credibility with the Sri Lanka Government and that India has no capacity to play the role of an honest broker because of what he called having no control over the militants. He also quoted with approval from some newspapers.
I do not know what the representative of Sri Lanka means by ‘control’. The militants are not Indian nationals; they are Sri Lankan. if they were active, that activity too would be on Sri Lankan soil. How can India exercise control over citizens of another country in that country itself?
As for credibility and capacity as a mediator, our clear impression is that the Government of Sri Lanka would like India to continue its mediatory role. That is what the President of Sri Lanka has said in public and through official channels. We would prefer to go by his statements and that of the Government of Sri Lanka. For example. lust before leaving for Maldives, President Jayawardene told the High Commissioner of India on 2nd March this year that he considers India’s good offfices important. As late as 12th February, the President gave formal indication to India that if the LTTE is prepared to attend the talks with the representatives of the Government of Sri Lanka towards a peaceful solution of the ethnic problem, appropriate talks may be held in New Delhi with the assistance of the representatives of the Indian Government. The Government of Sri Lanka expects the Government to underwrite implementation of any agreement so reached. In all these proceedings, the mediatory role and the good offices of the Government of India are relevant.
On 22nd February, President Jayawardene sent another letter to the Prime Minister of India which was handed over to the Prime Minister on 2nd March. The letter was along the same lines. It is precisely the sort of remarks made yesterday and which are at variance with what we are told officially which cause serious impediments to the negotiating process because they send conflicting signals. The problem is not between India and Sri Lanka but between two sections of its citizens. It is disingenuous to drag India into it.
Mr. Chairman, this is not the forum for discussing political matters hut permit inc to say briefly that if violence continues unabated, if recourse is taken to the military option, if civilians get killed by hundreds, if no adequate response is made to proposals designed to bring about a political settlement, how can the peace process be restored? The Sri Lankan representative said yesterday something to the effect – I do not have the text of his remarks because they have not been made available- that only one question remained to be resolved in the negotiations. It is precisely on that point that India made certain proposals on 9 February and asked for an adequate and more positive response which has not come so far. Meanwhile military operations continue in the north. These facts speak for themselves!
The Human Rights Commission is concerned with human rights directly and we would prefer to keep the discussion within its four corners.
The representative of Sri Lanka stated that security operations in the Northern and Eastern provinces were intended to restore not only law and order but to maintain supplies and services~’ etc. The facts on the ground however speak otherwise.
There has been a massive military build-up on the Jaffna peninsula where several thousand troops have been deployed in an area with an extremely high density of population. If the anticipated military offensive takes place, there are bound to be very high civilian casualties, thereby adding to bitterness and seriously complicating the efforts towards a negotiated settlement.
The imposition of economic and communications blockade is not only an action against Tamil militants but against the entire civilian population. This unprecedented blockade is already in its third month. More than 200,000 people have been affected. Schools and factories have been occupied by armed forces and hospitals starved of essential drugs. Telephone lines remain cut off and transportation severely disrupted. If the blockade continues, there are likely to be starvation deaths in the peninsula. Should the innocent Tamil civilians be made to suffer in the process of Government’s operations against any particular militant group?
The representative of Sri Lanka suggested in his statement that the outflow of refugees from Sri Lanka has been manipulated on the basis of false propaganda about a consistent pattern of gross human rights violations to justify what has been described by the Sri Lankan representative as “illegal immigration “. The main reasons for which refugees from Sri Lanka are leaving the country, have been well-documented and established by a number of Governments, international organisations and respectable human rights organisations. Refugees flee from their hearths and homes only in the face of violence visited upon them, not because they are looking for economic gains. There is a very clear difference in international law between refugees and immigrants whatever their legal status. The exodus of refugees has continued and there are now over 130,000 Tamil refugees from Sri Lanka in India, not to speak of more than 40,000 refugees who have sought shelter in distant countries. Economic blockade and military operations by security forces could well lead to an increase in that number.
The representative of Sri Lanka said in his written statement that the cause of human rights is not advanced by polemics because polemics serve propaganda purposes. We too do not wish to engage ourselves in polemics or propaganda. It is precisely for this reason that we have confined ourselves to stating the factual position only.
The authenticity of reports of human rights violations by the Sri Lankan security forces is quite transparent. Even from the Government’s accounts, the number of civilian casualties appears very high. Gross and systematic violations of human rights including arbitrary arrests, detentions, disappearances, torture and inhuman treatment, extra judicial killings, air attacks and shelling of civilian areas have been well-documented by reputable international organisations including the International Alert, Amnesty International and the international Commission of Jurists. We could cite specific instances but that would only take more of Commission’s time. It would he sufficient to say that more than 2,000 civilians are reported to have been killed in 1986 alone. Most of these were Tamils.
Mr. Chairman, in this forum, we are primarily concerned with human rights. It is a legitimate concern because these rights are independent of pros and cons of ethnic situations. They are not a luxury or prerogative for some countries. These rights must be observed. Negotiations must be pursued seriously if the ethnic conflict is to be settled peacefully.
The violations of human rights in Sri Lanka are genuine and widespread. The fact that negotiations are going on, is not sufficient ground for tolerating these violations. Nor is the international concern for human rights a mere luxury reserved for certain parts of the world. That would be an unfortunate interpretation of one of the most positive achievements of the United Nations and the worldwide movement for the protection of human rights.
India’s position is very clear. There is an ethnic conflict in Sri Lanka which has taken heavy toil of life. It is a problem between two sections of the Sri Lankan population, not a dispute between Sri Lanka and India. We had offered our mediatory role to keep the process of negotiations going. This process had made sufficient progress till last year end but has come to a halt because of certain steps taken by the Sri Lanka Government. It is difficult for India to continue the process as long as violent conditions in Sri Lanka prevail. Violence must end. The Sri Lankan Government must show the will to negotiate.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, I would like to quote our Prime Ministers statement in the Lok Sabha yesterday, 3rd March, 1987:
“In South Sri Lanka. we have offered our good offices. Much progress has been made which culminated in the final clarifications of 19th December. The clarifications of 19th December relate to proposals which go back many months and are a consolidated lot of proposals. Unfortunately, certain steps that the Sri Lankan Government have taken have caused us great pain and they have brought this process to a halt. We find it difficult to continue the process as long as the violent conditions in Sri Lanka prevail. Violence must be brought to an end before we reopen the issue on our side. We have made this very clear to the Sri Lankan Government. We are clear that there can be no solution with violent means. Only non-violence and negotiations can bring about a solution. We have made this also very clear to the Sri Lankan Government. We hope that they will respond positively by reducing the level of violence and coming to the negotiating table.”
I speak on behalf of the World Student Christian Federation, a non-governmental organisation with movements in more than 90 countries throughout the world.
It is increasingly recognised in reports of the Commission ‘s monitoring bodies in respect of detention, torture, enforced disappearances and summary executions, that these violations are usually part of a systematic pattern, and such systematic violations of human rights usually betray structural root causes which need to be addressed before the violations will disappear. For example, the Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (E/CN. 4/1987/15/Add.], paragraph 43) stated with regard to Peru that “it is not feasible to divorce the issue of disappearance completely from related violations of human rig/Its or from the socio-political processes that have engendered them
He concludes that ‘only when the structural factors that contributed to the spiral of terror and counter-terror are properly dealt with, can there he any hope of preventing a recurrence of the excesses of the past. The report of the Special Rapporteur on Torture (E/CN.4/]987/13, para.5) states that ‘torture almost invariably takes place in a political context, ” and that ”victims of torture are very often opponents of the government in power.
These reports show that the inter-related violations such as torture, disappearances and summary executions are manifestations of deeper structural realities. Mr Chairman, it is within this wider context identified by the Special Rapporteurs that we wish to deal with tile violations of human rights that occur in Sri Lanka. Our case is that the government of Sri Lanka should address itself to the underlying causes if it is genuine/v commuted to the restoration of human rig/Its in that country.
The distinguished delegate of Norway yesterday (24/2/8 7) said “Enforced and involuntary disappearances and torture of persons seem to be used as convenient tactics for governments suppressing opponents and espousing a policy of stifling dissent often on the grounds of national security or with reference to the national integrity and sovereignty.” This is exactly the practice prevailing in Sri Lanka today, in the context of the government’s failure to address itself to the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people stemming from socio-economic and political causes.
There is incontrovertible evidence that compared to previous years, larger numbers of people have been arrested in 1986, very often on a mass scale, and detained for prolonged periods. A civil rights monitoring group in Sri Lanka estimates that the total number taken into custody during 1986 to be in the region of 14,000 persons. Those arrested are detained not in normal detention centres but in army camps located in various parts of the country under degrading conditions.
Most of the arrests, the victims of which, by and large, are Tamils, are effected under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations. It may he noted that the Prevention of Terrorism Act has been described by the International Commission of Jurists as an ugly blot on the statute hook of any civilised country. Sri Lanka has been ruled by the present government under a state of emergency for most of its life since 1977.
The Prevention of Terrorism Act authorises detention up to a period of 18 months and Emergency Regulations for an unlimited period. Yesterday (24/2/87) the Sri Lankan delegate sought to argue that unlimited detention is not possible under Emergency Regulations because orders under a State of Emergency can legally last only for a month.
The fact of the matter is that the State of Emergency has been renewed every month without interruption during the last several years thus enabling detention of persons for unlimited periods. The Committee for Monitoring Cessation of Hostilities appointed by the government itself in its report dated 17 January, 1986 stated that “Those held under the Prevention of Terrorism Act for more than 18 months are served with detention orders under Emergency Regulations which authorise unlimited detention.”
For all practical purposes there is no prospect of judicial review of detention of persons whether under the Prevention of Terrorism Act or Emergency Regulations. Mr Chairman, yesterday (24/2/87) the Sri Lankan delegate sought to impress this Commission about the remedy available by way of habeas corpus applications. This remedy in actual practice has proved ineffective and in most cases unavailable. In this connection the President of the Law Society Sri Lanka has said ”Since it is a tedious legal process which entails inordinate delays, a Habeas Corpus application does not serve the intended purpose. Quite a large number of applications in respect of persons about whom nothing is known after arrest, is still pending in the Appeal Court.” (Island, 20 January, 1986).
The Sri Lankan delegate also claimed yesterday, that detainees or their relatives have the right to make representations to an Advisory Board appointed by the President. A delegation of the UK Parliamentary Human Rights Group which visited Sri Lanka in February 1985 stated, “The problem is that it frequently takes several months for tile parent’s or mother’s letter requesting a review to reach the Advisory Board via the Ministry of Defence. And, once the Board has made its recommendation, it takes several more months before the Ministry of Defence acts upon it.”
The Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations have removed most of the legal safeguards prescribed under the International Covenants on Human Rights. Prolonged incommunicado detention without trial is the norm. The whereabouts of people arrested and detained are not made known to relatives. Lawyers and relatives have no access to detainees in most cases.
Mr Chairman, it is in this context that many substantiated cases of torture and deaths in custody have been reported, so much so that the Special Rapporteur on Torture has expressed great concern his report referring to Sri Lanka. The suspension of important legal safeguards under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and Emergency Regulations have created conditions conducive to the practice of torture.
Another new but reprehensible development reported during1986 has been the use of detainees as hostages and/or human shields during military operations by security forces.
There is also substantial evidence to indicate that over a thousand persons have disappeared or gone missing after being taken into custody. Besides the well documented Amnesty International Report on Disappearances, dated September 1986, the UN Working Group also has reported an in increasing number of disappearances.
The current report before this Commission by the Special Rapporteur refers to 321 outstanding cases of disappearances transmitted to the Sri Lanka government of which it was able to provide clarification in only 5 cases. By an standards this is unacceptable.
Mr.Chairman, while the violations of human rights to which we have adverted occur in the context of a continuing ethnic conflict, there is increasing evidence that wider sections of the whole Sri Lanka population, including those belonging to the Sinhala community, are becoming victims of similar violations. And very often the victims have been members of a wide range of opposition groups including members of some political parties, trade unions, women, student and human rights organisations.
Referring to the situation in south Sri Lanka, the Campaign for the Release of Political Prisoners (CROPP) an organisation based mainly in South Sri Lanka and whose leadership by and large belong to the Sinhala community, in recent statement said –
Reports coming in from those close to arrested persons reveal that tactics of arrest and detention long associated with repressive regimes in Latin America and in Asia. in the Philippines wider the Marcos government, have been put into practice in Sri Lanka:
* people are followed and picked up from the street. from public transport. in unmarked vehicles by persons in civil clothes;
* houses and boarding houses are raided at night:
* torches are flashed into the faces of suspects to blind’ them and prevent identification;
* private homes and offices are used as places of detention and interrogation
* families are never informed as to the cause of arrest; deliberate deception is also resorted to, to prevent families pursuing inquiries.”
The same organisation also expressed its concern that “powers of arbitrary arrest and detention arrogated by the State are being increasingly used to silence its political opponents and to stifle popular protest against the regime.”
Mr Chairman, it should thus be recognised that these violations in the South are also occurring in a broader socio-political context, denial of basic trade union and democratic rights. Pickets, demonstrations and strikes have often been banned under Emergency Regulations, and when they had taken place those workers who participated have been summarily dismissed from employment. For instance, when the Bank Employees decided to take industrial action in the form of a ‘work to rule’ campaign, Emergency Regulations were promulgated declaring banking and associated activities Essential Services, all industrial action made illegal, the entire leadership of the Bank Employees Union summarily dismissed and the Union’s assets made liable to confiscation. In addition, the civic rights of the leaders of the Bank Union were made liable to be deprived.
In the political arena, the right of the people to participate in the political processes by means of regular elections has been denied since 1977, by the extension of the life of parliament without a general election. In place of a general election, a referendum was held under a State of Emergency.
The Parliamentary Elections Commissioner in a recent report has catalogued substantial electoral malpractices as having taken place during this referendum. In the absence of an orderly democratic means of expression by the people or sections of the people, contradictions amid conflicts are bound to result leading to a repressive response from the State. And it is that response, accompanied by a process of miilitarisation, which has brought in its train the practice of arbitrary arrest, detention, torture, disappearances amid summary executions, not only in the areas affected by the armed ethnic conflict, but increasingly so in the South of the island.
Mr Chairman, the real situation is reflected by the fact that Sri Lanka bias figured prominently in the three reports of the Special Rapporteurs and by the fact that thousands have fled the country in search of physical security, and not by the abstract, technical and often theoretical arguments advanced by Sri Lanka before this Commission
Mr Chairman, no longer can the government of Sri Lanka divert the attention of those genuinely concerned by the human rights situation in that country by references to separatism and terrorism. It must, as we said earlier, address itself to the root causes that have given rise to violence and violations that characterise Sri Lankan society today.
“…In Sri Lanka where armed conflict governed by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions continues, serious unjustified abrogations of the rights of civilian detainees occur especially in regard to persons arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act No.46 of 1979 directed mostly at the Tamil population, and the Emergency Regulations.
Both acts allow the government to detain persons for lengthy periods (18 months under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and ‘for an unlimited period as determined by the Secretary” under the Emergency Regulation) with no judicial recourse. Although Article 4 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights does allow derogation of many procedural rights in situations of armed conflict, Common Article 3 of the Geneva conventions automatically invoked by the armed conflict requires judicial processes affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognised as indispensable by civilised peoples.
The government of Sri Lanka does not meet this minimum standard. Additionally, Sri Lanka has yet to conform to minimum standards of detention of prisoners-of-war….
Several other situations warrant attention under this item because, although the governments are able to justify some suspensions of rights because of actual armed conflict conditions. the suspensions have been excessive. In El Salvador. Guatemala and Sri Lanka, objective conditions for civil war governed by Common Article 3 and Protocol Additional II of the Geneva Conventions are clearly met. Nonetheless, the Governments violate the rights of both civilian detainees and prisoners-of-war.
The governments of both Sri Lanka and Guatemala have refused to apply the Geneva Conventions in the course of armed conflict raging in those countries. The refusal is egregious in the case of Guatemala in light of repeated Commission and General Assembly resolutions indicating application of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions to the armed conflict in Guatemala.
Objective conditions for the automatic application of internal armed conflict rules clearly are met in Sri Lanka – there are armed dissidents, controlling territory, engaged in military operations against government armed forces. Refusal of the governments of Guatemala and Sri Lanka to acknowledge the obvious does not impair the rights of civilians who have fled – they still are entitled to the right of non-refoulement as long as the civil strife continues.
The refusal of these governments to recognise their obligations under humanitarian law only serves to enhance rights of refugees. Countries that forcibly repatriate Sri Lankan or Guatemalan civilians commit grave breaches of humanitarian law. We particularly call on Switzerland to ensure compliance with its obligations under general principles of humanitarian law regarding Sri Lankans.”
Leandro Despouy was a victim of the former Military Junta and spent eight years in exile in France from where he conducted a relentless campaign against the human rights abuses in Argentina under the military regime. During his exile he had attended the U.N. Human Rights Commission as a representative of Pax Romana to plead the cause of human rights. The respect he earned then enabled him later to be elected as an Expert Member of the Sub-Commission on Human Rights.
An intellectual with a sharp and analytical mind and an orator who speaks with few or no notes to assist him, Leandro Despouy presently enjoys the elevated position of an Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary under the civilian democratic government of President Alfonsin. Neither his commitment to the cause of human rights nor his natural affinity to NonGovernmental Organisations concerned with human rights has in anyway suffered in consequence of his elevation. That such a person should take the lead in highlighting the gross abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka came as no surprise to those who knew him.
When Leandro Despouy, in his capacity as Head of the Argentinian Delegation to the 43rd Sessions of the United Nations Human Rights Commission, deposited the resolution (L74) relating to the situation in Sri Lanka at three minutes to 6 on 5 March, 1987 (the dead line being 6 p.m.) only carrying his sole signature, the instant reaction of the Sri Lankan delegation was one of incredulity and shock. In spite of a number of detailed interventions by NGOs and some government delegates relating to human rights violations in Sri Lanka that preceded the submission of the draft resolution, the Sri Lankan delegation headed by H.W.Jayawardene was confident that, as in previous years, no draft resolution would find its way into the agenda. The lavish entertainment and a campaign of malevolent disinformation indulged in by Sri Lanka failed to do the trick this time.
Desperation and Anger
As the fact that a draft resolution had been placed on the agenda began to sink into the rather impenetrable heads of the Sri Lankan delegation, the initial shock gave way to sheer desperation and anger. “Blood will flow on the floor of this Commission” was one intemperate response from one of the Sri Lankan delegates, to which, I understand, a member belonging to the delegation of another Asian country had retorted, “Aren’t they satisfied with the blood-letting that is already taking place in their country?” Another Sri Lankan delegate was heard to say, “We will go down firing”. Still another young Sri Lankan junior diplomat who had flown in from Colombo agonised, “We have the feeling of a virgin woman having been raped”.
What this young man did not realise was that in the course of the dirty war that the Sri Lankan regime had launched against a section of its own people, not only large numbers of women had in fact been raped, but also thousands of persons, women, children, old and young men, mainly belonging to the Tamil community had been wantonly and cruelly killed.
Further, what this young diplomat did not learn was that, despite the elaborate efforts to present an outward appearance of a nice face, the true inner ugly image of Sri Lanka had become all too obvious to everybody in the context of the unmitigated gross abuses of human rights in that country.
The fact that Sri Lanka found itself in the unique position of being pilloried in Reports of three important U.N. Working Groups demonstrated the sheer scale and extent of human rights violations brought to the attention of the U.N. The Special Rapporteur on Torture had expressed ‘great concern’ at the practice of torture in Sri Lanka. The Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances listed several hundreds of cases of disappearance of persons taken into custody by the security forces, but unaccounted for by the government.
The Report of the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions also had several paragraphs relating to allegations of arbitrary killings in Sri Lanka. By its simultaneous appearance in these three reports, Sri Lanka had graduated into the notorious league of the worst violators of human rights in the world. And in this context, if Sri Lanka expected to avoid international scrutiny. then those at her helm were only deceiving themselves.
Following their initial shock and desperate, angry and agonising responses, the Sri Lankan delegates engaged in ridiculing the Argentinian delegate for his stupidity in presenting a draft resolution with his sole signature. They thoughtlessly inferred that the resolution did not attract the support of the other 42 member countries. As time passed, ridicule gave way to vituperation and abuse – that Argentina was taking revenge on Sri Lanka for having voted against it at the U.N. on the resolution relating to the Malvinas (Falklands). It is to be noted that Sri Lanka was one of only three countries to vote with the UK. the others being Belize and Oman on that occasion. The puny minds that governed the conduct of Sri Lankan affairs had not realised that Argentina had already had discussions with other countries which had assured her support for the resolution.
Call for Red Cross Intervention
Before the draft resolution was formally tabled, an initial draft had already been circulated among delegations deeply concerned with the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka and the developments in the ethnic conflict in which the government was resorting to a military solution. Two detailed well-prepared documents, one on Arrest, Detention and Torture in Sri Lanka, and the other on Extrajudicial and Arbitrary Killings had already been distributed among delegates and NGOs as background material. Thirteen Non-Governmental Organisations jointly made an open urgent appeal calling for immediate action by the Human Rights Commission and intervention of the International Committee of the Red Cross. NGO after NGO spoke describing in detail the various gross abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka. They attacked the military offensive launched by the government in the Tamil areas of the north and east of the country. With equal force, they denounced the use of foreign mercenaries by the government of Sri Lanka.
Martin Ennals, the Secretary General of International Alert and an English gentleman, was seen handing a copy of the initial draft resolution (it had until then been circulated only among a select group of countries) to Harry Jayawardene of the Sri Lankan
delegation, and discussing Sri Lanka’s reaction to the prospect of getting the Commission to adopt such a resolution. It would appear that the Sri Lankan delegation arrogantly refused to entertain the idea of even a single line resolution. They were all out on a ‘no resolution’ platform.
While some government delegations and NGOs were canvassing support for a resolution on Sri Lanka, the leader of the Indian delegation launched a vehement attack on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and the government’s action in resorting to military means in the ethnic conflict. He referred to the arbitrary killing of several hundreds of innocent civilian Tamils by the security forces. This intervention not only reflected a breakdown in Indo-Sri Lankan relations, but also signalled that India would bring to bear its immense international influence in support of a resolution against Sri Lanka.
On the following day, Harry Jayawardene responded. His intervention, by its tone and content, served only to alienate even those delegations which would have until then given the benefit of the doubt to Sri Lanka. His interventions were grossly negative. gratuitously offensive, openly abusive of NGOs, replete with falsehoods and distortions and abrasive and arrogant intone. The brutal and indiscriminate military force that was being employed within the country found ample reflection in the tenor and tone of his contribution.
Besides his familiar attacks on ‘Tamil terrorism’ and regurgitation of the theoretical but ineffective remedies available under the Sri Lankan Constitution in regard to human and fundamental rights abuses, he accused the NGOs and some states (no doubt meaning India and Argentina) of being politically motivated in their attitude to Sri Lanka. Referring to ‘NonGovernmental Organisations and self-styled human rights watchdogs’, Jayawardene said that they ‘masquerade as dedicated human rights workers behind the facade of well-meaning world figures” (no doubt a reference to Martin Ennals. the Secretary General of International Alert).
He engaged in patent falsehood when replying to the charge made by the indian delegate that 23 farm employees of a prawn farm had been killed by the Special Task Force on January 28. Jayawardene claimed, “Sadly 3 civilians were killed in the cross-fire”. He even went to the extent of misquoting the Managing Director of the prawn farm who had in a press statement asserted that 23 of his workers, including the Manager, had been deliberately killed by the forces in the eastern province.
The exchanges in reply that followed between the Sri Lankan and Indian delegations reflected the serious deterioration in relations between the two countries. The Indian delegate firmly reminded the Sri Lankan delegation that India’s mediation efforts in the ethnic conflict were at the invitation of President Jayawardene, but Brother Harry was playing a different tune in Geneva.
The draft resolution tabled by Argentina had been deliberately couched in such a way as to allow for further discussions and compromise with other delegations with a view to maximising support. While the delegations of Argentina, Norway. Canada, Belgium. and Australia were discussing the draft resolution in private, the Sri Lankan delegation, either from arrogance or a mistaken calculation of the support they could muster against the resolution. flatly refused even to talk with the Argentinian delegation. In fact. Sri Lanka prevailed on the Pakistan delegation to move an amendment, which in effect was not an amendment but a counter-resolution extolling the efforts of the Sri Lankan government and condemning the Tamil groups. Such were the high hopes in which Sri Lanka was deluding itself!
The arguments advanced by the Sri Lankan delegation behind the scenes against the draft resolution were dishonest and self-contradictory. Having known that the draft was being sponsored by Argentina with the support of some Latin American and West European countries and India. the Sri Lankan delegation went about describing it as a Tamil sponsored resolution’. There wasnt a single Tamil delegate in any of the delegations of member or observer countries except Malaysia which had included a Tamil. Mr. N. Parameswaran. But. Malaysia did not involve itself in the resolution not being a member of the Commission on Human Rights.
Trump Card Fails
While publicly charging that the Tamil refugees in European countries had come over seeking ‘greener pastures’ and as economic refugees. and openly inviting the governments of these countries to send the Tamil refugees hack to Sri Lanka. the Sri Lankan delegates were telling some non-European delegations and NGOs that the reason for some European countries supporting the draft resolution was because they wanted the Tamils sent back to Sri Lanka.
In fact one senior member of the Sri Lankan delegation told this correspondent that the NGOs who had campaigned for the non-return of Tamil refugees to Sri Lanka had fallen into the trap set by the ‘Western moral imperialists’ whose only aim in supporting the draft resolution, which included the call for intervention by the International Committee of the Red Cross, was to send back the Tamils once the ICRC had been admitted into Sri Lanka. This correspondent suggested to him that Sri Lanka could not have it both ways – to accuse the Tamils as economic refugees and openly call for their deportation to Sri Lanka on the one hand, and on the other to express horror at the prospect of their return.
The fact of the matter is that the Sri Lankan delegation had been confident that so long as Tamil refugees in large numbers continued to remain in some European countries, the governments of these countries would not back any resolution, however horrendous the human rights situation might be in Sri Lanka, because such a resolution might be invoked in support of the claim for refugee status by the Tamils. In fact, a Sri Lankan diplomat told this correspondent that the presence of Tamil refugees was Sri Lanka’s trump card. But unfortunately this time the card had been trumped by the sheer scale of the carnage and violations that have taken place in Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lankan delegation also engaged in their usual attempt to mislead the Commission with brazen distortions. An NGO representative, in the course of her intervention, accused the Sri Lankan government of extending its term to twelve years through a referendum which, according to the recently published Election Commissioner’s Report, was characterised by several malpractices. In reply, a member of the delegation, Mr. Sunil de Silva, who also holds the post of Deputy Solicitor General in the Attorney General’s Department. and who excels in the art of scoring cheap technical debating points in true court room fashion, said that he had a copy of the Report of the Elections Commissioner and had gone through it from cover to cover and could not find a single allegation of violation of the electoral law, when in fact what the NGO alleged was true and what Sunil de Silva said was a total lie.
Again a representative of another NGO in her intervention alleged that persons had been kept in detention for unlimited periods under the Emergency Regulations. Sunil de Silva replied, “Detention orders issued under the emergency regulations were valid for one month only and detainees could not, therefore, be held indefinitely” (Summary Record, E/CN.4/1987/SR.34* Add.1, page 9). He suppressed the fact that Sri Lanka had been ruled under a State of Emergency uninterruptedly since May 1983. and there are in fact several hundreds, if not thousands, held in detention for unlimited periods.
Suggestion for Compromise
When the Non-Aligned bloc of countries of the Human Rights Commission met during the morning of 11 March, the question of the draft resolution on Sri Lanka was raised by the Chairman and it was suggested that Argentina and Sri Lanka being members of the same bloc should attempt to negotiate with a view to reaching a compromise. Following this suggestion and finding that support for the resolution was gradually building up. Sri Lanka climbed down from its previous high pedestal and initiated talks with the Argentinian delegation. One Sri Lankan delegate later confessed that they agreed to negotiate when those countries which had previously promised to support them were gradually moving in support of the draft resolution. He further added that they suspected that on the morning of 11 March the resolution would have attracted a majority of 12 votes.
During the negotiations which commenced during the afternoon of 11 March and lasted until midnight, the Sri Lankan delegation used every endeavour to remove all the important aspects of the resolution including the reference to the Working Group on Disappearances and TCRC intervention.
The countries that had by now agreed to co-sponsor the resolution, namely Norway, Canada and Argentina, gained the impression that Sri Lanka was trying to gain time by unnecessarily prolonging the negotiations. It was known that the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Shahul Hameed, had been despatched to London and Paris to canvass support for his country. Additionally, a Sri Lankan career diplomat flown in from New York and a son of Harry Jayawardene, also a junior diplomat, were pressed into service in addition to the five-member Sri Lankan delegation to lobby against the resolution.
When the delegations of the co-sponsoring countries found that Sri Lanka was not negotiating in good faith, they tabled an amended draft resolution (L.74/Rev.l) by 11p.m. on 11 March. The resolution on Sri Lanka which was to have been taken up for discussion that day was put back for the following day, the Chairman expressing the hope that there would be a consensus resolution.
On the following day, 12 March, at about 12 noon, all other resolutions had been voted upon and the only one remaining was the one relating to Sri Lanka. At the request of the Senegal delegation, the Chairman adjourned proceedings for further negotiations. When the Commission was reconvened at 4 p.m., it was found that no agreement had been reached, and by now Senegal was acting as the mediator to bring about a consensus. The sessions were again adjourned, but all the delegates, observers, representatives of NGOs and pressmen, numbering over 500, were glued to their seats watching the public display of the ‘negotiations’ taking place in small groups. An exasperated Belgian delegate was heard to say, “We now know how Sri Lanka has been conducting negotiations with the Tamils on the ethnic problem”.
The public “negotiations” continued for nearly two hours in full view of all those present and with Senegal playing the lead role as a go-between.
Sri Lanka was exposed as an intransigent, unreasonable and difficult customer during the negotiations. At one stage. the cosponsors threatened to abandon all negotiations and to move the original draft resolution (L74). Eventually, when the Commission reconvened about 6 p.m., Argentina, on behalf of the cosponsoring countries, moved the resolution and announced that they had agreed to certain amendments to be proposed b~’ Senegal. The Senegalese delegate moved the agreed amendments and finally the resolution was adopted unanimously. Faced with an inevitable defeat by an overwhelming majority. Sri Lanka had abjectly surrendered to a consensus resolution.
After the resolution was adopted, India and Sri Lanka made statements followed by angry exchanges. Harry Jayawardene had disappeared from the scene for the entire sessions that day, and the hard-pressed and obviously broken-hearted Sri Lankan Ambassador, Jayantha Dhanapala, had been left to carry the can and to face an ignominous defeat. His statement following the adoption of the resolution reflected a mixture of bravado and personal defeat. After all he is the Resident Ambassador for Sri Lanka in Geneva attending mainly to U.N. functions. He had, to some extent, salvaged Sri Lanka from dire straits in the past by the application of his personal qualities and charisma. His warm and likeable personality has earned him much personal respect among his fellow Ambassadors. Even such a person could not defend the indefensible happenings in Sri Lanka with much hope of success.
The self-glorification in which those at the helm in Colombo indulge and the self-delusion they suffer from were reflected in the Sri Lankan press following the adoption of the resolution. The misrepresentation was unbelievably typical. It did not even mention the Pakistan counter-resolution mooted by Sri Lanka which was unceremoniously dumped by the Commission even without mention. The resolution adopted by the Commission was hailed as a glorious victory for Sri Lanka and as a crushing defeat for India and Argentina against whom there was a torrent of abuse.
The much respected President of Argentina was depicted as a puppet in cartoons. Before the resolution was adopted, ‘The Island’ crowed about a massive international support for the Sri Lankan government’s handling of the ethnic crisis had been committed to Sri Lanka according to firm indications received by the Sri Lankan delegation in Geneva The same paper on 13.3.87, under the heading “Indian Move to Condemn Sri Lanka Fails” reported, “All Indian efforts to condemn Sri Lanka for violating Human Rights at the United Nations Human Rights Commission failed last night . . . What was most significant at last night’s historic decision was that the whole Indian campaign failed . . . India could not muster a single Asian country or a single Arab country to support its resolution”.
One could note the deliberate omission of all the three co-sponsors, Canada, Norway and Argentina. from this report. (After the vote, a senior Sri Lankan delegate abusing the African countries, said. “Even those African pariahs like Mozambique let us down and turned sides”.) ‘The Island’ of 13.3.87 reported a tirade against Argentina and India by President Jayawardene under the heading, “Countries with Ailments Trying to Cure Others”. Speaking at a public meeting in Colombo, President Jayawardene was quoted as follows:
“The President said that a visit to either India or Argentina would manifest ‘ailments’ they suffer from. The problems in India and the jails in Argentina show the ‘sicknesses’ that exist in these countries. . these countries should first cure their own ‘ailments’ before attempting to heal the ‘sicknesses’ of others”.
What the President failed to mention was that the jails of Argentina are presently filled with those of the former Military Junta convicted for grave abuses of human rights during the ‘dirty war’ they conducted against the Argentinian people; and that in Sri Lanka the perpetrators of these crimes are not punished. instead the’ a1c promoted and hailed as national heroes, and even sent abroad as Ambassadors.
Triumph for Sri Lanka
The government owned ‘Daily News’ published a report datelined 14 March under the heading, “Lanka ‘hijacks’ Indian Resolution”. The report said. “Anti-Lankan Indian diplomacy suffered a further setback in Geneva on Thursday when Sri Lanka ‘hijacked’ what originated as an Indian inspired draft resolution tabled by Argentina and co-sponsored later by Canada and Norway, to turn it into what political observers described as a major diplomatic triumph for Sri Lanka”.
This type of self-congratulatory news management, while reflecting the self-deception those in authority in Colombo indulge in, also keeps the mass of the people from getting to know the reality of the depths to which Sri Lanka’s international standing and image had sunk. The people are being fed with an exaggerated version of the glories of the past and a caricature of the reality of the present.
The fact is that the resolution adopted on the situation in Sri Lanka is historic for more than one reason.
Firstly, never before in the history of the United Nations, a resolution submitted by a single country was eventually adopted unanimously. Secondly, Sri Lanka is the first new country to have been made the subject of a resolution for the last three years at the U.N. Human Rights Commission.
Thirdly, Sri Lanka can no longer parade its false image of innocent virtue, and it has joined the league of the worst violators of human rights in the world. Fourthly, as one senior delegate observed, the resolution on Sri Lanka was like a bomb placed in every bloc – Western, Eastern, Latin American, African and Asian bloc of countries. By attracting support from countries of every bloc, it broke the traditional voting pattern on a bloc basis.
The opportunist role hitherto played by Sri Lanka in the U.N. of running with the hare and hunting with the hound did not save it from certain defeat.
Fifthly, and most importantly, never before in the history of the U.N. Human Rights Commission had there been an instance when “negotiations” took place publicly in the presence of all members, observers, representatives etc. and that too, for nearly two hours. In other words, for the entirety of two hours, there was only one subject engaging the attention of all those present in the hail, although the Commission was not in sessions. That subject was the situation in Sri Lanka. It was more or less an educative process in itself.
Following extensive discussion on the situation in Sri Lanka during the 1986 sessions of U.N. Human Rights Commission. this correspondent concluded his commentary as follows: ‘Although no judgement was pronounced by the Human Rights Commission this year, there was no doubt that Sri Lanka was on trial. And those concerned with human rights and fundamental freedoms would appear to be determined to prosecute this trial to its logical conclusion in the coming period”. The verdict was delivered by the Human Rights Commission this year in the trial which commenced last year. And the verdict is unambiguous.
No longer can Sri Lanka escape international scrutiny for its persistent and gross violations of human rights. Sri Lanka is now placed on probation for good behaviour, failing which it will face stiffer penalties for its accumulation of villainy. Past conviction will no doubt he taken into account in any future proceedings.
The thrust of official propaganda on the subject has been that a covert Indian attempt to gain acceptance at the CHR for an Argentine sponsored Resolution which was political/v motivated and blatant/v one-sided and intended to blacken Sri Lanka’s name in a Human Rights context, was thwarted by Sri Lanka Government’s diplomacy. which brought about a watered-down Resolution accepted by consensus with SLG ‘s acquiescence. The political reality seems somewhat different.
1. Sponsorship of the Resolution was not by Argentina alone (and this is a democratic Argentina whose elected Government is taking action against human rights violations by its predecessor Junta) but also by Canada and Norway two donors whose goodwill we need.
2. The Resolution was set firmly within an human rights framework for, in its preamble the CHR claimed to be guided by universally accepted rules of international humanitarian law and in its operative section the CHR called on SLG specifically to cooperate with the ICRC in disseminating and promoting such law. The CHR has thus gone on record that there is an adverse human rights situation here which requires cognisance and comment, whilst identifying the SLG specifically and alone as requiring to upgrade its human rights performance.
3. The Resolution is to be seen as the outcome of a three-year watching brief which the CHR has maintained over the human rights situation here, because it recalls the CHR’s decision of 1984 and notes the Reports of its Special Rapporteur on torture and of its Working Group on enforced or involuntary disappearances (both presumably in respect of the SL situation). That is to say, that the CHR now deems the situation to have so deteriorated during that ‘probationary period’ as to warrant inscription of a resolution.
4. The prospect initially facing SLG was acceptance by a majority of a highly critical resolution damaging to SLG’s international standing. The outcome, claimed to represent a diplomatic victory, has been a consensual resolution which, as will he spelled Out below, is not only critical of SLG’s human rights performance (vide paragraphs 3 & 4 above) but undermines the foundation of SLG’s position. that it is engaged in fighting a terrorist threat to law and order. Moreover, the Resolution as adopted implicitly rccognises the validity of the Tamil claim that it is engaged in resisting (even if violently) a diminution of its human rights and fundamental freedoms. It is a moot point. whether or not it is preferable to he called by some ‘a scoundrel’ whilst a few others testify to your goodness, or be said by all to he ‘a cad’.
5. The Resolution calls upon ‘all parties and groups”. without identification or distinction. to forswear violence and negotiate a peaceful settlement. In as much as there are only two parties to the internal conflict situation under reference. SLG and the Tamil militants, this equates the two in terms of responsibility for violence and undermines the ‘terrorism – law and order’ argument.
6. It also calls on all parties and groups to pursue a negotiated political solution “based on principles of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms”. In as much as it is the State or Government (SLG) which has the role and responsibility to uphold and apply human rights and fundamental freedoms in respect of all its citizens and the only other combatant in the conflict situation is a militant-armed section of the Tamil community. the implication is inescapable that the conflict itself is deemed by the CHR to constitute a diminution if not violation of Human rights and fundamental rights of Tamils.
7. The only comfort the SLG may draw from the Resolution is that the CHR has called on the Tamil militants also to desist from violence and negotiate a peaceful settlement.
8. The outcome has been therefore:
(a) that the CHR has gone on record, having watched the situation for three years, that there is an adverse human rights situation here which warrants cognisance and comment by it.
(b) that this situation stems from an internal conflict between parties it equates in respect of responsibility. and
(c) that the conflict lies within a context of diminished or violated human rights amid fundamental freedoms which require to be restored by a negotiated political solution.
9. India could not have wished for a better preparation of the diplomatic ground, as it were. in respect of any future initiatives she may contemplate on behalf of the Tamils. One must then ask: might it not have been a clever diplomatic move by India to work for a toughly worded resolution, which could then, in bargaining be exchanged for a milder but consensual one. committing the entire international community in support of her perception and approach?