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Situations That Require the UN Human Rights Council's Attention

by S.V. Kirubaharan, Interfaith International, March 13, 2008

The humanitarian situation in the conflict areas is really worsening and the plight of the innocent people including women and children is a matter of gravest concern. Impunity continues to prevail in Sri Lanka.

The Emergency Regulations (ER) have become the norm - for more than 35 years. Furthermore, the Prevention of Terrorism  (Temporary provision) Act - PTA, made permanent since 1982, gives a free hand to the Sri Lanka security forces to arrest, detain, torture, rape, kill and dispose of the bodies with impunity.

 

Interfaith International

Ecosoc accredited NGO, Geneva, Switzerland

Statement by Visuvalingam KIRUPAHARAN

on behalf of 'Interfaith International' under item – 4 Human rights situations that require the Council’s attention

7th session of the UN Human Rights Council – 13 March 2008

Mr President,

General Assembly Resolution 60/251 emphasizes the responsibilities of all States, in conformity with the Charter, to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language or religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

As one of the important pillars of the Human Rights Council, agenda item-4 permits members of civil society to raise their concerns regarding situations around the world.

Having carefully considered this available mechanism, Interfaith International would like to bring to the attention of this august forum, the UN documented facts regarding the grave and worsening situation in Sri Lanka.

Mr President, careful perusal of the records of incidents in Sri Lanka, registered within the last two decades in the UN human rights forums and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – OHCHR, may well elicit the question “Why is the world silent about these realities?”. The world is less silent when it comes to unjustifiable arguments on Sri Lanka.

Several special rapporteurs have visited Sri Lanka and in the meantime the treaty bodies (HRC, CEDAW, CERD and CAT) have compiled their factual reports on Sri Lanka. The references to some of those reports are given below.  Also in the recent past, many special representatives of the UN Secretary General (on IDPs, on the Humanitarian Situation, on Children in Armed Conflict and the Assistant Secretary-General for Political Affairs of the United Nations) have undertaken field visits. Some have returned as “Terrorist supporters”, because they stated factual observations of the prevailing situation in Sri Lanka. Also, it is to be noted that many UN dignitaries including the High Commissioner for Human Rights were not allowed to visit the conflict areas to find out the stark on-going realities.

The humanitarian situation in the conflict areas is really worsening and the plight of the innocent people including women and children is a matter of gravest concern. Impunity continues to prevail in Sri Lanka.

The Emergency Regulations (ER) have become the norm - for more than 35 years. Furthermore, the Prevention of Terrorism  (Temporary provision) Act - PTA, made permanent since 1982, gives a free hand to the Sri Lanka security forces to arrest, detain, torture, rape, kill and dispose of the bodies with impunity.

Mr President, The government controlled areas in the North East are virtually under military rule. The soldiers and paramilitary forces are the decision-makers of day to day activities in the lives of local citizens. The civil administration is paralysed in the North East, under the pretext of enforcement of the Emergency Regulations and the PTA.

Human rights defenders – Lawyers, parliamentarians, academics, social workers and others are killed by so called unknown gunmen in Sri Lanka. Even last week, a Tamil parliamentarian was killed in a Claymore attack carried out by the Sri Lanka Army Deep Penetration Unit.

However, until today no proper investigations have been carried out on any of the killings of human rights defenders, despite many clues about the culprits of these cold blooded murders. Although there have been many statements by government officials and Police investigators that the killers have been identified, these statements are considered to be routine and disseminated to deflect the concerns and the scrutiny of the outside world.

Since January 2006, 62 humanitarian workers have been killed in Sri Lanka. Many NGOs  who bring the facts to the outside world are under severe pressure from the Sri Lankan government.

Mr President, last week, on 6th March, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons – IIGEP quit Sri Lanka after issuing several exhaustive press releases. President Rajapaksa had invited the IIGEP to observe and ensure the transparency of investigations held by the Commission of Inquiries on the complaints of abductions, disappearances and other serious violations of human rights arising since 1st August 2005.  Also, the IIGEP was to ensure that those inquires are conducted in accordance with basic international norms and standards.

Even though Sri Lanka is signatory to the ICCPR, on 15 September 2006, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that Sri Lankan citizens cannot seek remedy from the UN Human Rights Committee regarding human rights violations. It declared that the accession to the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1997 does not bind Sri Lanka and has no legal effect within the island - Nallaratnam Singarasa vs The Attorney-General – Decision of the Supreme Court 15 September 2006 – SC Spl (LA) No 182/99.

Last January, Sri Lanka arbitrarily withdrew from the Ceasefire Agreement - CFA that was signed between the government of Sri Lanka and the LTTE in February 2002. As a consequence of its withdrawal, the Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission, which consists of members from Nordic countries to supervise the violations of the CFA, has also quit Sri Lanka. Now war continues without any international witnesses. The situation in Sri Lanka is going from bad to worse.

Therefore, Mr President, we urgently appeal to you and other distinguished delegates to seriously consider all available mechanisms to ensure rigorous and timely international scrutiny on Sri Lanka. It may be too little, too late, but better late than never. Another Rwanda is emerging in Asia!

Thank you Mr President.

***

UN Documented reports/press releases and statements on

Sri Lanka

Interfaith International - Ecosoc accredited NGO, Geneva, Switzerland – 13 March 2008

The Sri Lankan State has violated every human rights covenant and convention to which it is a signatory. A few examples are given below:

In 1991, the Special Rapporteur on Summary and Arbitrary Executions reported disappearances – E/CN.4/1991/36

On 3 October 1995 - UN Human Rights Committee expressed serious concern about information on loss of lives of civilians, disappearances, torture, summary executions and arbitrary detentions concerns were noted that there was no effective system for prevention and punishment of violations - Concluding observation. Sri Lanka – A/50/40.

On 12 March 1998 - The report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, following a visit to Sri Lanka from 24 August to 5 September 1997  - E/CN.4/1998/68/Add.1 and E/CN.4/1998/68/Add.2

On 19 May 1998 - The Committee against Torture stated that it was gravely concerned about Torture - Sri Lanka – Concluding observations  A/53/44

On 14 March 2000 - The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women expressed concern - UN Press Release.

On 18 December 2000 - UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances stated that Sri Lanka remained the country with the second largest number of un-clarified disappearances in the world – E/CN.4/2001/68

On 1 December 2003 - UN Human Rights Committee stated that it remained ‘concerned about persistent reports of torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees in Sri Lanka’ – CCPR/CO/79/LKA.

On 15 December 2005 - UN Committee against Torture expressed concerns regarding Sri Lanka and over the failure to investigate impartially violations by law enforcement officials - Conclusions and recommendations.  – CAT/CLKA/CO/2

On 27 March 2006 – The report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions following a visit to Sri Lanka from 28 November to December 2005 -  Mission to Sri Lanka - E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.5

On 29 October 2007 - UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, following a visit to Sri Lanka from 1 to 8 October 2007, stated that “ ….. the high number of complaints that the National Human Rights Commission continues to receive on an almost daily basis indicates that torture is widely practiced in Sri Lanka,”  - UN Press Release

On 21 December 1999 - The report of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances following a visit to Sri Lanka 25-29 October 1999 E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1

Also see visit October 1992 - E/CN.4/1993/25/Add.1

On 29 December 2001 - The report of the UN Working Group on Disappearances following a visit to Sri Lanka from 25-29 October 1999 stated that they had received many complaints that persons who were identified as suspected perpetrators by the three Presidential Commissions of Inquiry continued to serve in their posts or have been promoted - E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1

On 1 December 2003 - The UN Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the large number of enforced or involuntary disappearances, and the Sri Lankan State’s inability to identify or inaction in identifying those responsible and to bring them to justice - E/CN.4/2000/64/Add.1.

On 27 March 2006 - UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, following a visit to Sri Lanka in 2005, noted the frequent failure to prosecute police accused of responsibility for deaths in custody and the failure to rein in abuses committed or tolerated by the military.

On 29 October 2007 – UN Special Rapporteur on torture noted that there had been only three convictions against perpetrators under the 1994 Torture Act - UN Press Release.

On 18 September 2006 - UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour, in her statement to the 2nd session of the UN Human Rights Council said that government institutions have no respect for the rule of law and the failure of the Sri Lankan government to provide the protection of the rule of law to all its citizens generates serious concerns.

Presidential Commissions inquiry into disappearance

Four Presidential Commissions inquired into 37,662 of the 54,404 complaints which took place between January 1988 and December 1995.

Found evidence of disappearance in 21,115 cases.

No enquiries conducted into 16,742 cases

No action has been taken on the 21,115 cases on which the commissions have recorded the security force personnel responsible for those disappearances.

In November 2006 Presidential Commission was appointed with a mandate to inquire into complaints of abductions, disappearances and unexplained killings.

In June 2007, the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) expressed concern regarding the methods and lack of transparency of inquiries.

The Presidential Commission submitted reports to the President in 2006 and 2007 and made recommendations to take strong action against officers in charge of the police stations responsible for violations, and their superior officers but as usual report is ignored.

On 11 June 2007 – 1st Public statement of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, P N Bhagwati, Chairman.

On 15 June 2007 - 2nd Public statement of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons, P N Bhagwati, Chairman.

Supreme Court – ICCPR

On 15 September 2006, the Supreme Court effectively ruled that Sri Lankan citizens cannot seek remedy from the UN Human Rights Committee regarding human rights violations. It ruled out that the Accession to the Optional Protocol to the ICCPR in 1997 does not bind Sri Lanka legally - Nallaratnam Singarasa vs The Attorney-General – Decision of the Supreme Court 15 September 2006 – SC Spl (LA) No 182/99

On 27 March 2006 - The UN Special Rapporteur on Extra-judicial Executions stated that in Sri Lanka, an ineffective justice system creates a climate of public opinion conducive to condoning police torture and summary execution of suspects. -  E/CN.4/2006/53/Add.5

IDPs

In September 2007, the total number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Sri Lanka stood at some 503,000, including more than 190,000 persons newly displaced by the upsurge in violence in April 2006. The remainder were displaced as a result of earlier fighting and no durable solutions have been found for them since the ceasefire agreement. From August 2006 to October 2007 more than 152,000 new IDPs returned to their places of origin in the districts of Batticaloa and Trincomalee in a Government-organized return monitored by UNHCR and other agencies. (UNHCR Global Appeal 2008-2009, excerpt - http://www.unhcr.org/home/PUBL/474ac8dc0.pdf)