by Easwaran Rutnam
- Former head of the Civil Defence Force, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara and the Tamil diaspora went head to head in Geneva last week
- Earlier, at a side event, the TGTE called for the arrest of Weerasekara
- An investigation was later launched into alleged intimidation of members of Sri Lankan civil society in the Palais des Nations in Geneva
A member of the TGTE laughs while Sarath Weerasekera delivers a speech at the UNHRC
Former head of the Civil Defence Force, Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekara and the Tamil diaspora went head to head in Geneva last week as both sides looked to counter the resolution on Sri Lanka which was eventually adopted at the UN Human Rights Council.
The tense feeling between both sides was clearly evident when Weerasekara and members of the Trans-National Government of Tamil Eelam (TGTE) delivered statements at the 34th session last week.
When Weerasekara was delivering his statement, a TGTE member seated behind him was seen laughing much to the visible annoyance an accomplice of Weerasekara who was also seated in the same area.
Weerasekara was in Geneva under the banner of an NGO where he spoke of the sacrifices made by the military during the war.
The TGTE and a few others, including some politicians and activists from the North and India, were in Geneva to campaign against Sri Lanka being given time to fully implement the 2015 resolution.
Earlier, at a side event, the TGTE called for the arrest of Weerasekara accusing him of being involved in war crimes in Sri Lanka.
A heated exchange then ensued as Weerasekara rubbished the claims and called for the arrest of the LTTE supporters in Geneva at the time.
In media interviews given from Geneva, Weerasekara also slammed human rights activists Nimalka Fernando and Dr. Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu who were in Geneva, for pushing for action on Sri Lanka.
An investigation was later launched into alleged intimidation of members of Sri Lankan civil society in the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that he was disturbed to hear reports of intimidation of members of civil society in the Palais des Nations.
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said that Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour, the system-wide coordinator for action on reprisals, will be looking into this.
He urged the President of the UN Human Rights Council to also give the cases close attention.
Daily FT reported that on Monday (20), a journalist joining Rear Admiral Weerasekera’s delegation in Geneva, was pulled up by UN security for taking pictures of activists and lobby groups inside Room XX of the Palais des Nations where the Human Rights Council sits.
The Sri Lankan reporter’s mobile telephone was briefly confiscated and the photographs it contained were deleted by security officials.
All this was taking place as the government was successfully gathering international support for the resolution which would give the government two more years to show progress in the transitional justice system.
The resolution on Sri Lanka was passed without a vote in Geneva. The resolution ‘A/HRC/34/L.1’ was passed with 36 additional co-sponsors.
The resolution was submitted by the United States with Montenegro, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland the main sponsors and Sri Lanka a co-sponsor.
Titled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” the resolution gives Sri Lanka two years to show more progress on implementing the 2015 resolution on Sri Lanka.
The adoption of the resolution followed a report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concern at the “slow progress” of reform in Sri Lanka. During a debate on the country’s human rights situation, numerous states welcomed Sri Lanka’s engagement with the international community, but called on the government to develop a clear implementation plan for meeting its reconciliation, reform, and justice commitments.
“The UN Human Rights Council decided to keep Sri Lanka on its agenda for at least another two years. In a debate on the country’s human rights situation, numerous states expressed concern at the slow pace of reform. They called on Sri Lanka to develop a clear timeframe and implementation plan for meeting its commitments to ensure justice and accountability for the victims of its long civil war. The government’s slow progress on reform efforts and disregard for an extensive national consultation is cause for concern. The Sri Lankan leadership’s mixed messaging on the participation of foreign judges and prosecutors, as agreed in the 2015 resolution, calls into question the government’s commitment to justice and threatens the trust and confidence necessary for a successful outcome. Sri Lanka needs to stop equivocating and move forward with a clear plan and timetable so that the promise of justice and accountability can finally become a reality,” John Fisher, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch said.
After the resolution was adopted the British government encouraged Sri Lanka to deliver meaningful devolution through constitutional reform, establish credible transitional justice mechanisms, return all remaining military-held private land and replace the Prevention of Terrorism Act with human rights compliant legislation.
A statement by the British High Commission in Colombo said that the UK welcomed the co-sponsorship of the new UN Human Rights Council resolution by the government of Sri Lanka, which reaffirms commitments made in resolution 30/1 in October 2015, for the next two years.
“By co-sponsoring a new resolution the government of Sri Lanka has demonstrated its commitment to human rights, accountability and reconciliation, as important elements of a lasting political settlement for all Sri Lanka’s communities,” the UK High Commission said.
The UK said as the report of the Office of the High Commissioner notes, there have been some improvements made to the human rights situation in Sri Lanka since January 2015.
“We recognise that further progress is needed and believe that continued support and encouragement from the international community, including through the UN Human Rights Council, will be an important factor in delivering this. We join the High Commissioner in recognising the steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka since January 2015 to improve the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, in particular the restoration of important democratic checks and balances, improvements in respect for freedoms of expression and movement, the return of some military-held land, the passing of legislation to establish an Office for Missing Persons, the ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the initiation of a process of constitutional reform,” the UK Government added.
However, the UK noted that as the High Commissioner’s report clearly states, much remains to be done. The UK encouraged the government to take the steps necessary to deliver fully on the commitments it made when co-sponsoring resolution 30/01 and to develop and communicate a comprehensive and time bound implementation strategy.
“We also welcome the work of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms and encourage the Sri Lankan government to give due consideration to its recommendations,” the UK said.
In November 2015, the UK committed £6.6 million over three years to support Sri Lanka’s ambitious reform agenda. This includes work on police reform and training, defence engagement, support to the UN’s work on reconciliation and peace building, inter-religious dialogue and mediation, capacity building on anti-bribery and the fight against corruption, and demining in the north of the country.
The UK and the wider international community are helping support Sri Lankan government efforts to implement its commitments on reconciliation, accountability, human rights and a political settlement that delivers equitable and just governance for all Sri Lankans.
Speaking in Geneva just before the resolution on Sri Lanka was adopted, Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha de Silva said that his government deeply appreciated the understanding shown by all, and support for Sri Lanka’s processes for promoting reconciliation, justice, and human rights, towards enduring peace and prosperity for all Sri Lankans.
“On January 8th 2015, we made a promise to our people that we will engage and work with all stakeholders including our friends and partners, to uphold human rights, establish rule of law, end impunity, strengthen democracy and good governance, and create the stability and peace required in our country for the prosperity of all our people. We thank the international community for their continued support in this journey. We thank them for placing their faith in our government, and our people, and for walking with us at our side, as we strive to establish ‘Sri Lankan Government-led processes’ with international assistance, engagement and support for the benefit of all our citizens, without discrimination,” he said.
The Deputy Foreign Minister said that Sri Lanka looks to the continued support of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and his Office.