UN, Sri Lanka should cooperate on human rights, High Commissioner says

15 October 2007
Louise Arbour

Citing ongoing reports of abuses in Sri Lanka, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has just wrapped up a visit to the country, called for UN-Government cooperation to address the problem.

Citing ongoing reports of abuses in Sri Lanka, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has just wrapped up a visit to the country, called for UN-Government cooperation to address the problem.

“There is a large number of reported killings, abductions and disappearances which remain unresolved. This is particularly worrying in a country that has had a long, traumatic experience of unresolved disappearances and no shortage of recommendations from past Commissions of Inquiry on how to safeguard against such violations,” Louise Arbour said in Colombo.

Sri Lanka, which has ratified most international human rights treaties, has potential for national protection, she said, but “in the context of the armed conflict and of the emergency measures taken against terrorism, the weakness of the rule of law and prevalence of impunity is alarming.”

The High Commissioner said government representatives insisted that national mechanisms are adequate for the protection of human rights, but “people from across a broad political spectrum and from various communities have expressed to me a lack of confidence and trust in the ability of existing relevant institutions to adequately safeguard against the most serious human rights abuses.”

Members of the Commission of Inquiry established last year to investigate killings of civilians reported that some State officials had failed to appear in response to their requests, and said their work was constrained by the absence of an effective witness assistance and protection system, according to the High Commissioner.

Ms. Arbour called for public hearings of the Commission and stressed that it should not be a substitute for effective action by law enforcement agencies.

She praised the country's Human Rights Commission for the “important role” it has played in the past but said controversy over the appointment of commissioners has created a crisis of confidence both locally and internationally.

One of the major human rights shortcomings in Sri Lanka, she said, “is rooted in the absence of reliable and authoritative information on the credible allegations of human rights abuses.”

The assertion that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) is manipulating information for propaganda gain, she said, “only accentuates the need for independent information gathering and public reporting on human rights issues.”

The High Commissioner said her office (OHCHR) is willing to support the Government of Sri Lanka toward this end. “In light of the gravity of the reported ongoing abuses, and in particular of threats to life and security of the person, I believe that we should urgently resolve our ongoing discussions about the future of a productive relationship between OHCHR and the Government of Sri Lanka.”

Ms. Arbour, who visited Jaffna with help from the military authorities, voiced regret that she had not been able to visit the Eastern Province because of time constraints.

“I also regret that I did not have the opportunity to visit Killinochchi, where I would have liked to convey directly to the LTTE my deep concern about their violations of human rights and humanitarian law, including the recruitment of children, forced recruitment and abduction of adults, and political killings,” she said.

“I am very concerned by the many reports I have also received of serious violations by the TMVP and other armed groups,” she added, referring to a breakaway rebel faction.

Broader human rights issues affecting all communities on the island have largely been eclipsed by the immediate focus on issues related to the conflict, Ms. Arbour said, citing discrimination and exclusion, gender inequalities, the low participation of women in public and political life, the rights of migrant workers and press freedom.

“These challenges will remain before and after any peace settlement, and they are deserving of greater and more focused attention.”

She also called for Sri Lanka to ratify the new International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and to “seriously consider joining the 105 countries which have ratified the Rome Treaty creating the International Criminal Court” (ICC).


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