Presentation of Darusman report at UNHRC sessions

Surreptitious move to
vilify Sri Lanka

The much talked about attempt to arraign Sri Lanka before an international tribunal came in for discreet inquiries in Geneva last Monday by the Sri Lankan delegation to the UN Human Rights Council sessions which included Special Presidential envoy Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.
These inquiries revealed the details relating to a surreptitious move that led to the presentation of the Darusman report at the UNHRC sessions. It had transpired that even the Chairperson had had no prior knowledge about the move to introduce the report of the Experts Panel at the sessions. A member from a European delegation had unwittingly let out the undercover move at a luncheon meeting which had surprised the Chairperson and the Sri Lanka delegation.
The BBC and reports from other media sources in Geneva said the Sri Lanka delegation was angry over this unprecedented move as neither the country concerned nor the chairperson of the UNHRC were informed of it.

Credibility of EU
“This brings the credibility of the European Union nations into question as even earlier the EU had made a threat to Sri Lanka that it would suspend the GSP+ concession given Sri Lanka’s accountability on human rights issue,” a Sri Lankan diplomat in Geneva said. He added: “Now a very clear picture has emerged about a group of politicians from Europe and a few officials trying to impeach our country which is coming out of the dark cloud of terrorism and attempting reconciliation and rehabilitation of a very large number of ex-LTTE fighting cadres – about 6,000 of them have been rehabilitated and reintegrated into society after a successful orientation programme carried out by the government – and of course the resettlement programme that embraced 300,000 war-displaced persons has reached completion within nearly two years.”
When certain EU nations planned to take the issue relating to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, both Human Rights High Commissioner Navi Pillay and Ban Ki-moon had been supportive of it, although they did not officially announce their objective, Sri Lankan diplomatic sources said. The Sri Lanka delegation led by Minister Samarasinghe pointed out that the entire procedure was flawed as no intergovernmental body within the UN had requested for a move against Sri Lanka.
The questionable conduct of the European politicians who to a large extent are being `retained’ by the LTTE rump active in their countries, has ugly precedents of violations of international laws and even human rights up to 1945, the eminent Indian international relations expert Prof Sujit Ganguly said in Colombo last week. It is also no secret that the LTTE terrorists were helped with weapons and even training and equipment by certain European leaders. Therefore, the current move should cause no surprise to President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his Ministers.

Samarasinghe challenges UN officials
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, a well known troubleshooter stood his ground and challenged the biased stand of the two senior UN officials, the Secretary General Moon and Human Rights Commissioner Pillay. The latter is an ethnic Tamil from South Africa and hence cannot be totally free of bias against Sri Lankan authorities for annihilating the LTTE terrorism.
At the time of appointing the Panel of Experts on Sri Lanka Moon said that the Panel was expected to only advice him on the accountability issues relating to Sri Lanka but now the intentions of Moon-Pillay duo have taken a sinister look.
Coming back to the hypocrisy of certain European leaders it would come to one’s mind of the refuge given by the UK to LTTE international spokesman the late Anton Balasingham while the LTTE was banned as a terrorist organisation on its soil. If the organisation was banned how did its international spokesman live in the UK? Though no Sri Lankan leader had raised the question, it is still a pertinent question that begs a plausible answer!

Robert O Blake visits SL
Last Wednesday the US Assistant Secretary of State for South and central Asian Affairs Robert O Blake paid a three day visit to country. At the conclusion of his visit, he addressed the media at the American Centre, Colombo where he said Sri Lanka is a friend. “We do not move against our friends.” Earlier he had met President Mahinda Rajapaksa and several other senior government members. He also held talks with TNA leaders.

Blake said he was happy to see the progress being made by the government in the areas of rehabilitating former LTTE cadres and resettling war-displaced persons. “This is a very different country from it was when I left here in May of 2009. Most IDPs have left the Menik Farm and the rest will leave as soon as the demining is complete,” he said. He also expressed his satisfaction that local government elections had been held in the North. Commenting on the efforts aimed at reconciliation and finding a political formula for devolution of power to the North and East he said he had spoken to both the President and the TNA leaders and they will resume their important dialogue on devolution and other matters. There was an element of sincerity on both sides and he was hopeful, devolution of power solution could be found if the talks continued, he said.
Asked to comment on the para-military groups in the North he said the government has disarmed these groups that had instilled fear into the civilians in the North though these groups may be still having arms hidden somewhere. The government should continue with improving the human rights situation. He also suggested deploying Tamil policemen in the North and East.
Asked whether there was a possibility of terrorism rising up again in the country, he said experts who had studied the pattern of arising of terrorism or insurgencies in countries across the world have found there was a sixty percent chance of an insurgency regaining ground within ten years after it was defeated if the issues that gave rise to such an insurgency existed without solutions found for the root causes. Therefore, Sri Lanka too, he said, should address such issues to prevent terrorism raising its ugly head again in this country.
Asked to comment about the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission he said he was hopeful that its report would carry some important proposals. He said he would study the report once it was out.
The USA has continued to support the reconstruction and development efforts by the government and would encourage the private sector to reopen ventures in the North, he said.
The visit of US Assistant Secretary of State for Central and South Asian Affairs Robert O Blake last week has ruffled some `political feathers’ as expected.

Blake attacked
Of course, there was no official government statement on the US official’s visit. Even if the government representatives had not seen eye to eye with Blake on certain issues during the talks held, both discretion diplomatic etiquettes would not permit any differences, had even there been any, to enter the public domain. However, a Deputy Minister and a Cabinet Minister were quick to articulate their angry reactions to comments made by US Assistant Secretary of State Blake on two separate issues. Blake’s suggestion that Tamil policemen be deployed to maintain law and order in the North had drawn a quick retort from an obviously irked Deputy Minister Vinyagamoorthy Muralitharan, the LTTE’s former military commander for the East. He said: “There are no Sinhala, Tamil or Muslim policemen here. All are Sri Lankan policemen.”
Minister Douglas Devananda had taken exception to Blake’s remark that the EPDP has a strong paramilitary presence in the North. Addressing a media briefing in Colombo, Blake said: “When I was in Jaffna I experienced the power wielded by the EPDP which attempted to prevent me from meeting some university students.” An angry Minister Devananda charged that Blake had made allegations with ulterior motives.
Meanwhile, addressing a public meeting in Maharagama Construction, Engineering Services and Public Utilities Minister Wimal Weerawansa charged that the US is making an effort to influence the student community here as part of its overall strategy to undermine the post-war situation in Sri Lanka. He warned that student grievances could be exploited by interested parties to cause chaos. Meeting students of the Jaffna University was part of US Assistant Secretary of State Blake’s itinerary in Jaffna and it is obvious Minister Weerawansa’s remarks were barbs aimed at Blake.

TNA reacts
The TNA on Wednesday slammed Sri Lankan government Special Human Rights Envoy Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe’s address at the UN Human Rights council on Monday contradicting several assertions he made in his speech.
A hard hitting statement released to media by TNA leader R. Sampanthan says: “The experience of Tamil people in Sri Lanka does not support the claims made by the government that its approach to reconciliation has been predicated on building trust and amity between communities.”
Sampanthan has charged that despite the government’s claims that it is looking to speedy implementation of the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), none of the recommendations have yet been met even with the lapse of a year since they were made.
The TNA’s statement which has come as an indictment on Sri Lanka at a time when she is fighting a battle at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to stave off a possible decision to hold an international probe into accountability issues arising from alleged human rights violations committed by the government forces during the last phases of the war in May 2009. The four-page statement from the TNA which has already been widely publicised through electronic media, would be a godsend to Western nations and Human Rights outfits out to nail Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. The Sri Lankan government delegation to Geneva should hasten to take necessary damage-control measures in this regard.

`Recall’ of envoy
Media reports that Sri Lanka’s deputy ambassador to Germany, Switzerland and Vatican Major General Jagath Dias had been suddenly recalled had triggered speculation in political circles and public domain that this move could be linked to human rights allegations Sri Lanka is facing internationally. However, External Affairs Ministry promptly set the record straight issuing a press release saying that the envoy had returned on completion of his stint categorically denying that he had been recalled.
Of course, there was cause for raising the eyebrows over the move. A report from the European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) in January this year accused Major General Jagath Dias who led the 57th Division during the final stages of the war of committing war crimes. It also accused him of participating in acts of torture and execution of the LTTE cadres. The ECCHR recommended revoking the diplomatic Visa of Major General Dias and declaring him `persona non grata’ and initiating criminal investigations against him. However, the host governments paid no heed to this request.

PSC on National problem
The Parliamentary Select Committee on the National problem is due to materialise shortly and Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa has already called upon the political party leaders to nominate their representatives to the Committee, government spokesman Keheliya Rambukwella said. The main opposition the UNP which initially made a negative response to the proposal has now decided to participate in it. However, the JVP which vehemently opposed the move has not changed its stand.
The main Tamil political party TNA which took up the position that the proposed PSC would serve no purpose in the absence of a set of proposals by the government as the basis for discussions is not likely to participate, according to Tamil political sources.
“Let alone presenting its proposals for consideration, government has not even made known the terms of reference of the proposed PSC,” a source close to the TNA said.
The spokesman said that even the TNA’s preparedness to continue with the bilateral talks with the government is in doubt.
The TNA submitted a set of proposals, he said, at the second round of talks held on February 3. And the government delegation asked for a detailed report which the TNA submitted on March 18. Government delegates wanted time to study the set of proposals and asked for time. “They agreed to take up the proposals for discussion at the talks scheduled for April 29. But at the talks on April 29, they were not prepared to discuss them. They said would make a response later. We said there was no point in talking without the government response.”
When referred to the government allegation that the TNA had laid down some conditions for compliance if they were to continue to attend the talks, the spokesman said: “We laid no conditions. We only asked the government delegation to honour their commitment.”
However, the government’s position is that that it is not pragmatic or reasonable to foist its proposals on others and the aim of the government is work out a set of proposals acceptable to all through a process of consultation.

SL expresses disappointment
The government yesterday expressed its disappointment over the announcement allegedly made by Canadian Prime Minister that he would boycott 2013 Commonwealth Summit in Sri Lanka if the Sri Lankan government failed to address the accountability issues relating to human rights violations allegedly committed by the government armed forced during the final phases of the war on terrorism. Canadian Prime Minister is quoted as having said: “I intend to make it clear to my fellow leaders of the Commonwealth that if we do not see the progress in Sri Lanka in terms of Human Rights and some of the issues that you raised, I will not, as Prime Minister be attending that Commonwealth Summit.
Reacting to the Canadian Prime Minister’s statement a political wag quipped: “Much water will have flowed under the bridge by 2013.”

Colombo battle
All eyes are on the battle for Colombo Municipal council as both the UPFA and the UNP have entered the fray here with all guns firing as the city is widely considered as the jewel of the local government crown. And the leaders and activists of the two main parties leave no stone unturned to win over the voters in the city. Both the UPFA and generally looked on as a UNP bastion, the UNP has held power in the council decade after decade. However, at the election round the corner, the UNP is facing a formidable challenge from the ruling UPFA which has gained much strength with a number of UNP stalwarts commanding popular support in the city throwing in their lot with President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
During the week the former senior UNP minister and its former general secretary Sirisena Cooray publicly announced his support for the UPFA. It is well known that Cooray has a sizable vote base in Colombo particularly in the areas where the people from low income groups live. Cooray, a one time Mayor of Colombo had been keeping a low profile in politics over a long time and he has now staged a comeback to support the President and the UPFA.
A close associate of former President Ranasinghe Premadasa, he had functioned as the Minister of Local Government and Housing in the Premadasa government. Cooray personally knows a larger number of people of Colombo many of whom he addresses by their first name whereas most UNP front-liners engaged in electioneering in the city are strangers to its people. Therefore, Cooray is definitely a great asset to the UPFA campaign.

The UNP has made the issue of demolition of shanties in the city as the main plank of their propaganda platform. They hold out the promise to provide better housing for shanty dwellers within the city itself. On Tuesday President Rajapaksa who met a representative gathering of Colombo Central people told them the considered it important that city dwellers continued to live in their present locations and he had no intention whatsoever of evicting them from the city.
He said he considered their present locations as their hometowns or villages but the only change he wished to make was to build better and more convenient housing units for them. “I always keep my promises as I did earlier and I am giving you the promise that you will not be sent out of the localities where you live,” the President told them.

UNP general secretary Tissa Attanayake campaigning in Colombo had criticised that President Rajapaksa is holding tamashas to entertain the people of Colombo. However, the UNP has failed to take up any strong issue against the government. However, all indications are that there is a very keen contest between the two main parties and the result is looked on as a cliff-hanger. For the UNP it is a battle to regain its lost prestige. For the UPFA winning the city is reaping the results of the efforts made to give a facelift to the city. People have to decide whether they should repose their faith in a fractured UNP or in a strong ruling party which is in a position to fulfill their urgent needs.