Human Rights Watch Challenged by the Sri Lanka Mission to the UN

Ambassador Dr. Palitha Kohona and Deputy Ambassador General Shavendra Silva met with officials from Human Rights Watch (HRW) to discuss HRW’s concerns relating to the last phase of the conflict in Sri Lanka. Internally Displaced Persons, the rehabilitation of former Tamil Tiger combatants and the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) featured prominently in the discussion.

HRW focused on the issue of accountability. They were discouraged, they said, as it has been a year since the LLRC submitted its interim recommendations and complained that they were still to see any of those recommendations being implemented. In response Dr. Kohona said that the suggestions that the interim recommendations were not implemented were palpably false. He explained the changes made to the law to enable death certificates to be issued within one year and the appointment of the Inter Ministerial Committee to deal with the implementation of the recommendations, including land issues. The Ambassador also emphasized that when compared with other nations recovering from similar situations, Sri Lanka had acted far swifter in addressing a variety of issues arising from the conflict. Deputy Ambassador Silva added that the lifting of the Emergency Regulations was the most recent example of the government complying with the interim recommendations of the LLRC.

Ambassador Kohona asked for a reasonable acknowledgement of the efforts made by Sri Lanka to deal with the conflict related and post conflict issues, especially, the time taken for the purpose. The Sri Lankan government had a challenging range of priorities to deal with during this short period of time. The paucity of resources of a small country like Sri Lanka needed to be taken into account. Sri Lanka had to give precedence to rehabilitation, rebuilding and reconstruction. The humanitarian issues relating to a large number of IDP’s were a key priority. He expressed his disappointment at the reluctance of certain sections of the international community to appreciate the successes of the Sri Lankan government in addressing the immediate humanitarian needs of close to 300,000 IDP’s in less than 24 months with limited resources. The government had a monumental task in providing relief assistance, education facilities for children, rehabilitating LTTE cadres, returning child soldiers to their homes, demining and providing shelter for those affected by the conflict. Unfortunately HRW officials focused only on the issue of accountability when a year ago their main concern was the resettlement of the IDP’s.
The HRW suggested that the Report of the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts and the Channel 4 Documentary were sufficient to begin investigations. Deputy Ambassador Silva challenged the credibility of both items. With regard to the Channel 4 documentary, he said that the documentary produced by the Sri Lankan government “Lies Agreed Upon” provides a comprehensive refutation of the claims made in the Channel 4 documentary which he suggested was a concoction of fabricated footage and unfounded allegations propagated by the LTTE media. As regards the Darusman Report, he pointed out that there were many factual inaccuracies which would compromise the credibility of the report in a court of law.

Ambassador Kohona continued that the report by the LLRC is expected to explore all relevant aspects and provide the basis for any following investigations into human rights violations. The Ambassador explained that the LLRC was never established as a defensive measure but rather with a genuine commitment to look into all aspects of the conflict. Sri Lanka has a proud history of being upfront in the Human Rights debate and is party to seven core human rights treaties and the Geneva Convention. The Sri Lankan people and their government have always subscribed to the view that respect for human rights is key to maintaining a cohesive social fabric that is essential for a sustainable peace. The mandatory training in human rights and international humanitarian law for all members of the Sri Lankan Armed Forces by the ICRC highlights the commitment by the government to human rights in their training.

Deputy Ambassador Silva added that the credibility of human rights organizations like HRW had to be questioned when they seemed to be only concerned about investigating the events that took place during the last few months of the conflict, while ignoring the reign of terror that the LTTE engaged in for 27 years. HRW suggested that it was impossible to hold the LTTE leaders accountable as they had perished in the conflict. In his riposte, the Deputy Ambassador pointed out that while LTTE leaders who were combatants had perished in the conflict, political and legal leaders of the organization like Adele Balasingham and Visvanathan Rudrakumaran were still living in the West and some were spreading the message of hate and were not held accountable for financing and supporting the terrorist activities of the LTTE, including child recruitment. Therefore HRW had a responsibility to urge the prosecution of these people who are currently residing in Europe and North America. The Deputy Ambassador also stated that consistent with its embrace of peace and reconciliation, the Government had brought to the democratic mainstream many former LTTE combatants. HRW said that they had exposed LTTE fund raising in Canada.

At the conclusion of the meeting both Ambassador Kohona and Deputy Ambassador Silva expressed their commitment to engaging in a transparent and constructive dialogue with HRW and other human rights groups as Sri Lanka progressed in efforts of reconciliation and a sustainable peace.

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