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UN Human Rights Council & Sri Lanka

December 2007

During her visit to Sri Lanka, she paid special attention to the issue of abductions and disappearances, which had been reported in alarming numbers over the past two years. Regrettably, the various national institutions and mechanisms that could be expected to safeguard human rights had failed to deliver adequate protection. In particular, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had had its independence compromised, and the credibility of its work had suffered. Ms. Arbour had suggested that the Government would benefit from the support of a presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country, with a full mandate incorporating technical assistance and public reporting.

UN News & Media

HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS UPDATES HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL ON HER ACTIVITIES

11 December 2007

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Statement by United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

LOUISE ARBOUR, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said with regard to her activities since last September, she had visited Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Ireland and Brazil. During her visit to Sri Lanka, she paid special attention to the issue of abductions and disappearances, which had been reported in alarming numbers over the past two years. Regrettably, the various national institutions and mechanisms that could be expected to safeguard human rights had failed to deliver adequate protection. In particular, the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka had had its independence compromised, and the credibility of its work had suffered. Ms. Arbour had suggested that the Government would benefit from the support of a presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country, with a full mandate incorporating technical assistance and public reporting...

Ms. Arbour said she was very pleased with the endorsement by the General Assembly of the Human Rights Council’s institution-building package. The Universal Periodic Review process represented potentially the first universal and comprehensive tool for overseeing the application of the principles of the Declaration in a consistent, comprehensive and meaningful manner. A commitment from all States to cooperate with the Special Procedures system and to extend standing invitations to all mandate holders was vital to the realisation of the objectives of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Statements by Concerned Countries

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DAYAN JAYATILLEKA (Sri Lanka), speaking as a concerned country, said that there had been recent terrorist attacks on elected individuals and the civilian population in Sri Lanka. The Government was currently in negotiations with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on two issues – the privacy of the nation and the need for international scrutiny. Sri Lanka had agreed to visits and remained open to scrutiny. However, it was proud of its national institutions. In the aftermath of the recent attacks, the judiciary ruled that roadblocks in the capital city had to be dismantled as they were not fully in keeping with international human rights. Negotiations would always be informed by the principle that national institutions may be supported by international mechanisms but not supplanted by them.

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Debate on the High Commissioner’s Statement


FRANCISCO XAVIER ESTEVES (Portugal), speaking on behalf of the European Union, said that the European Union strongly supported a wider field presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The European Union valued the existing partnerships developed by the Office worldwide and welcomed the newly established Regional Office for West Africa, in Senegal. Regarding Sri Lanka, while the European Union welcomed the invitation by Sri Lanka to the High Commissioner to visit the country, it remained concerned with the lack of adequate investigation of serious violations of human rights concerning abductions and enforced disappearances there. The European Union called on the authorities to cooperate with all relevant United Nations mechanisms, including through the support of a field office of the OHCHR in Sri Lanka.

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MARIUS GRINIUS (Canada) said that Canada was encouraged by the visit of the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka and strongly supported a presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country. The Sri Lankan Government was urged to accept this support. Of grave concern was the escalation of violence in Sri Lanka. It was believed that the only way to achieve a sustainable solution was through a political process. Sri Lanka should create the conditions for this political process to resume. On Sudan, implementation of the recommendations made by the Expert Group and the Special Rapporteur would serve to increase transparency and stop violence. The continued engagement in Afghanistan was welcomed. The seriousness of the humanitarian situation on Somalia was underscored and the Security Council resolution was supported...

BO QIAN (China) began by expressing shock over the terrorist attack in Algiers, condemned that attack, and expressed sympathy to the victims and their families. China approved the statement made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and appreciated the briefing on a proposed strategic management programme. It was China's hope that the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) could solicit input from Member States before proceeding to finalize such a programme. Similarly, OHCHR should seek agreement from countries in the region when setting up regional field offices...

MUSTAFIZUR RAHMAN (Bangladesh) thanked the High Commissioner for sharing her views on human rights situations in countries that she had visited recently. While recognising that the situation was not fully satisfactory in some cases, Bangladesh would suggest seeking solutions from within the country, through strengthening national mechanisms. Cooperation and engagement of States were essential to improve human rights...

KING BEE HSU (Malaysia) said Malaysia associated itself with the statements made by Cuba and Pakistan, on behalf of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, respectively. Malaysia appreciated some of the suggestions made by the High Commissioner for Human Rights in her update to the Council. At the same time, Malaysia recognized that Governments had also to take into account broader national interests, including that of the integrity and stability of their countries. Thus, Malaysia underlined the need for appropriate balance. Constructive engagement with Governments was fundamental for the effectiveness and success of such efforts.

DENIS CEPATAN (Philippines)... It was noted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights was invited and given broad access to Sri Lanka this year, allowing broad consultation with government, political and civil society representatives. It was important to show the human rights violations committed by non-state actors in Sri Lanka. The Government had shown great good will in engaging constructively with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and needed the constructive support of the international community in its national endeavours, and the Human Rights Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights should work towards this end.

LEE SUK-TAE (Republic of Korea) said that the Republic of Korea supported a broader field presence as a crucial element to strengthen the Office of the High Commissioner. The future opening of the Regional Office for West Africa in Dakar was welcomed. The view that the human rights situations around the world called for the establishment of additional field presences was shared. The adoption of the ASEAN Charter was another remarkable step forward. Particular attention was paid to the High Commissioner’s visit to Sri Lanka and the cooperation with the Government was welcomed.

ROBERT JAN SIEBEN (Netherlands) said the Netherlands aligned itself with the statement made by Portugal on behalf of the European Union. Regarding the High Commissioner's observations on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, the Netherlands had listened carefully to the intervention made by Sri Lanka. It understood the difficult situation in the country, but shared the opinion of the High Commissioner on the need for a strengthened field presence in that country.

The High Commissioner's recommendation was particularly important as the independent Group of Eminent Persons had handed in its resignation last week. That Group had been the last impartial, independent institution providing advice to Sri Lanka. The Netherlands regretted that the Group's recommendations had been rejected by the Sri Lankan Government, and that the Group had subsequently resigned. It was incumbent on the Government to ensure independent, public reporting in Sri Lanka by strengthening the presence of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the country.

DANIEL VOSGIEN (France) said that France fully supported the statement made by Portugal on behalf of the European Union. The worsening situation and persistent human rights violations in Sri Lanka included the recruitment of child soldiers, kidnapping, forced disappearances and extra-judicial killings. It was deplorable that the Group of Eminent Persons had shed no light on the disappearances and assassinations, in particular the murder of 17 Sri Lankans who were working for the non-governmental organization, Action against Hunger...

BLAISE GODET (Switzerland), speaking as the host State, expressed Switzerland's sincere condolences to the delegation of Algeria. Switzerland thanked the High Commissioner for Human Rights for her excellent report, and for the detailed information contained therein. On Sri Lanka, Switzerland would appreciate additional clarification from the High Commissioner, in particular with regard to the difference between the High Commissioner's proposals and those submitted by the Government, and what were the conditions necessary for a future presence of her Office to be set up there.

GUSTI AGUNG WESAKA PUJA (Indonesia) said that the High Commissioner’s report was an important barometer of the state of human rights around the world and provided valuable insight into the progress of countries in meeting their obligations to promote and protect human rights at all times. The High Commissioner was thanked for her visits to various countries and her dedication in this process. Efforts had been made by Sri Lanka to institute a constructive dialogue and the creation of a national protection system and support for this system from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would no doubt pay off...

HIROSHI MINAMI (Japan) said on the situation in Sri Lanka, the President of Japan had reiterated yesterday to the Government of Sri Lanka the importance of making efforts towards improvement of the human rights situation in the country. It was hoped that collaboration would continue between the Office of the High Commissioner and Sri Lanka. On Afghanistan, Japan had continued supporting the process of democratisation in that country.

BEATE STIRO (Norway) said that Norway remained concerned about the human rights situation in Afghanistan, and particularly about the indiscriminate attacks on civilians by insurgent groups. Norway deplored the attack in Baghlan which had killed 54 and injured over 80. While insurgent activities remained the most dangerous threat to Afghan civilians, the responsibility for upholding human rights in Afghanistan rested with the Government. The Afghan authorities had to treat detainees in accordance with international human rights standards. Norway had followed that up by entering into a bilateral agreement with the Afghan authorities on the treatment of detainees.

It was with deep regret that Norway learned about the execution of 15 Afghan nationals on 7 October. Norway opposed the death penalty in all cases, and had appealed to the Government of Afghanistan to halt any possible further executions. Support for national human rights institutions was crucial, and there was a continuous need to build Afghan national capacity to ensure that the Government could fulfil its responsibilities. The police and the justice system were obvious examples. The international community should assist with providing adequate training and funding for those institutions.

JOAN MOSLEY (New Zealand) welcomed the High Commissioner’s report on her visit to Sri Lanka, and shared her concern about the issue of abductions and disappearances and the inadequate investigation into the majority of these cases. The current status of the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission and its failure to investigate adequately allegations of human rights abuses was a matter of concern, and it should return to operating in accordance with the Paris Principles for National Human Rights Institutions. It was no less important that the Commission of Inquiry be allowed to carry out its task effectively in order to ensure that there was no impunity for the individuals it was investigating. New Zealand was also pleased about the endorsement by the General Assembly of the institution-building package for the Human Rights Council. The Universal Periodic Review held the potential for an equitable assessment of the country human rights situations...

MICHAEL S. KLECHESKI (United States) thanked High Commissioner Louise Arbour for her statement and emphasized the importance the United States placed on maintaining the independent activities of her Office. The United States welcomed the High Commissioner's comments on the grave violations of human rights and humanitarian law occurring in Sudan. The Council had the opportunity during this session to speak directly on the issues there. The United States hoped that the Council would renew the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Sudan and continue the work of the independent experts.

The United States also shared the High Commissioner's increasing concern about growing violence in Sri Lanka on all sides. The United States supported the Government of Sri Lanka as it grappled with a terrorist group, but had expressed its concerns about human rights violations and the lack of justice and accountability of the Government, emphasizing its deep concern about the rise in forced disappearances, torture and extrajudicial killings. The United States encouraged the Government to reconsider its rejection of an expanded mandate and staff for the Office of the High Commissioner in Colombo...

HANS DALHGREN (Sweden) welcomed the fact that the Government of Sri Lanka had facilitated the visit of the High Commissioner to the country. What was clear today was that the report confirmed that the situation in Sri Lanka was deteriorating. This needed urgent action to make sure that human rights were respected. Sri Lanka was urged to explore all possible ways to strengthen the respect of human rights in the present, difficult situation...


EMERLYNE GIL, of International NGO Forum on Indonesian Development, said the visit of the High Commissioner to Sri Lanka was welcomed. There was an urgent need for a strong presence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Sri Lanka, considering that the existing institutions and mechanisms established by the Government had failed in their mandate to protect and promote human rights in the country. The Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission, for one, had been ineffective in protecting human rights defenders and had not been in compliance with the Paris Principles...

PETER SPLINTER, of Amnesty International,... The Government of Sri Lanka appeared to lack the political will to enable Sri Lanka’s national mechanisms to meet the dire need of the people for the protection of their human rights.

LUKAS MACHON, of International Commission of Jurists, welcomed the discussions that had taken place between the High Commissioner and the Government of Sri Lanka about the options for establishing a field presence. National mechanisms in Sri Lanka were very weak...

JULIE DE RIVERO, of Human Rights Watch, said with the return of heavy fighting between the LTTE and Government forces, lack of protection for civilians remained a main concern in Sri Lanka. There were around 208,000 internally displaced persons in Sri Lanka. The High Commissioner had mentioned the failures and weakness of the national human rights mechanisms - and it was regretted that the Government had not accepted the establishment of a United Nations office with monitoring capabilities. The Council should indicate its support for the creation of a United Nations human rights monitoring mission, and encourage Sri Lanka to accept its establishment. The situation in Pakistan was also of concern. The Human Rights Council could not continue to ignore the situation...

Right of Reply

RAJIVA WIJESINGHE (Sri Lanka), speaking in a right of reply, thanked delegations for the concern they had displayed concerning the situation in Sri Lanka. However, what they had here was perhaps a failure to understand the problems posed by terrorism. It should be stressed that, despite terrorism, Sri Lanka had done its best to cooperate. Indeed, it would welcome strengthened cooperation with international organizations. It was hoped that, following High Commissioner Arbour's visit, Sri Lanka would receive the technical assistance that it had been asking for for a long time now.

It was not true, as had been asserted by the Netherlands, that Sri Lanka had dissolved the Group of Eminent Persons, it had extended the mandate of that body a month ago. The progress of the Sri Lankan Government in trying to resolve problems should be recognized. Also, while there had been many civilian deaths, a close investigation would show that the vast majority of them were owing to terrorist actions. To work effectively with the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights to strengthen its national human rights institutions, it was important that there be an accurate understanding of the situation, to do so effectively...

ROBERT JAN SIEBEN (Netherlands), speaking in a right of reply, on the Group of Eminent Persons, said that the Government of the Netherlands had received a copy of a letter sent by the Group of Eminent Persons to the President of Sri Lanka. This latter said that the members of the Group would resign by early 2008, feeling that they were not able to contribute to Sri Lanka’s policy making.

DAYAN JAYATILLEKA (Sri Lanka), speaking in a right of reply, said that the spin had to stop somewhere. He read out a letter signed by the Chairman of the Group of Eminent Persons. "After careful deliberation ... on 16 November the [Group] is of the opinion that it is approaching the end of its useful work", he read. In the letter, the Group said that its two previous reports had already highlighted a number of shortcomings of the investigation commission, and these were listed. The letter ended by saying that "it is in the interest of [the Group] to conclude the mandate at the end of March 2008". It was hardly an abrupt resignation.