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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

The Universal Periodic Review has come, and gone, and as usual there seems to be general satisfaction in Sri Lanka as to how it went. I have no doubt that the generally excellent team sent from Sri Lanka performed well, and gave sensible answers to the questions raised.

What is sad, though, is that the Review seems to have become an end in itself. Some of the blame for this should go to a few organizations who see this as a chance to attack Sri Lanka, whereas the original conception of the UPR was that it would provide an opportunity for all stakeholders to work together to improve the Human Rights situation in the country under review.

It is in that spirit that Sri Lanka should approach the Review, and this was what I thought happened last time round, in 2008. On that occasion we made a number of voluntary pledges, and then accepted several of the recommendations made by other countries. I believe that was done sincerely, and certainly we made a great effort to move on many matters, ranging from formulation of a National Action Plan and a Bill of Rights, to training for the police, and of course the fantastic effort we made with regard to resettlement of the displaced.

However several matters fell by the wayside. A good reason for this – though it should have spurred us to greater efforts after the emergency situation had passed – was the continuation of the conflict and the problems caused by the large numbers the Tigers had held hostage, who had to be rescued and nursed back to health, and resettled with basic facilities. A not so good reason was the abolishment of a dedicated Ministry for Human Rights. As a result the pledges made could not be pursued consistently. Read the rest of this entry »

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As pressures mount in Geneva, my bemusement increases at our failure to answer systematically the many charges made against us. I had long pointed out that the criticisms made were by and large untenable, but there were certain incidents which required to be investigated further. This view, based on close observation from the vantage point of the Peace Secretariat where I had set in place mechanisms to monitor allegations and check on them, was confirmed by the LLRC Report. That highlighted the need to check on the treatment of surrendees while affirming that indiscriminate attacks on civilians etc were absurd and tendentious charges.

To dismiss those charges however requires logical argument based on evidence. This approach is sometimes not acceptable, as I realized when I was roundly attacked for having declared way back in June 2009 that there had been civilian casualties. The then Attorney General asked me why I had said this, to which my answer was that it was true. I could however understand his assertion that people would try to make use of my answer, and I sympathize with those who feel they might succumb to leading questions and therefore stay silent. But the way of dealing with such matters is to point out the nonsensical nature of such stratagems – as I did with Stephen Sackur on ‘Hard Talk’ when he asked whether I was admitting there were civilian casualties – rather than hiding one’s head in the sand, ostrich-like, and pretending one knew nothing, or even worse, denying reality.

Unfortunately, given that we have so many ostriches in the country, blank denials are thought preferable to logical argument. Thus we seem internationally to have lost the battle with regard to the number of casualties, which has reached the inflated figure now, sanctified by the blessed Darusman, of at least 40,000. These are claimed to be civilians who were killed in indiscriminate firing.

The facts speak otherwise, but we do not use the facts. The recent census report is not publicly discussed, and though there is a report that tries to use data from it to rebut allegations, the process is flawed because the report is long-winded and would not be read by anyone except those already convinced.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

August 30th is the day chosen by the United Nations to commemorate missing persons, a subject that is of great concern to Sri Lankans. Its official title is the International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, and we are claimed to have the second highest number of such disappearances in the world. Though that statistic is based largely on past history, namely the large numbers of those alleged to have vanished during the JVP insurrection of the eighties, it is nevertheless a sad reflection on us that we have not provided clarifications to the UN Working Committee on Disappearances which maintains those statistics.

There are several reasons for working on this expeditiously, not least the fact that the figure is thrown about freely by extreme elements in the diaspora and the international community who imply that it relates to the recent conflict. An example of this came up recently when there were questions raised about a figure that appeared in a recent ICRC report, even though a careful reading of that report would have made clear that the figure relating to recently reported cases was comparatively small, and the figure of over 10,000 related to complaints of over a decade back.

We should in all cases however take steps to have the figure reduced. This is connected with what seems to me the main reason for working on the problem, namely that we need to do whatever is possible to assuage the grief and the problems of those who have no idea as to what has happened to their family members. For this purpose we ourselves should maintain records and ensure not only material support for those who lost their breadwinners but also spiritual support to help them cope with indeterminate loss.

For this purpose we must pay more attention to the development and deployment of counseling services. This has been grossly neglected over the years, and I fear our efforts to fast forward training, when the Peace Secretariat noted in 2008 that there would be great need of more trained Counsellors in the near future, were not successful. Though I had discussions with both WHO in Geneva, and those spearheading the programme in Colombo, we could not get concerted action. Indeed, because of what seemed to be internal rivalries, the excellent programme begun by John Mahoney, shortly after the tsunami, was brought to a close, and the poor man had to leave, to be redeployed later in Vietnam which clearly had a greater sense of purpose about this than we did.

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The National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2011 – 2016 as well as the full series of  Sri Lanka Rights Watch are available at the Peace & Reconciliation Website.

The issue of disappearances, which looms so large in public discourse at present, is hardly mentioned in the National Human Rights Action Plan. This is understandable because the Plan is intended for the future, to ensure that Human Rights are not violated, and therefore it suggests mechanisms to prevent disappearances occurring in the future.

The question of disappearances that have occurred, or are alleged to have occurred, is however a significant one, and requires concerted action. The LLRC recommendations also point this out, as does the Draft National Reconciliation Policy, which refers to losses which must be recorded and compensated.

One problem is the confusion that besets us about the various types of disappearances. The first, which is used to build up horrendous sounding statistics, are those that occurred two decades back, largely in connection with the JVP insurrection. Though commissions were appointed in the nineties to go into these, and concurrent disappearances in the North and East, their findings were not collated systematically. We also failed to respond systematically to queries from Geneva, to which these disappearances had been reported.

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Rajiva Wijesinha

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