The resolution adopted in the UN Human Rights council is the first step in the rocky path towards accountability, writes the exiled Tamil journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam in the Asian Correspondent on Monday. Full text of his opinion reproduced below. The Sri Lanka resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Thursday establishes an international investigation mechanism to probe alleged war crimes of the past as well as monitor ongoing human rights violations in the country. While politicians worldwide spoke of the passing of the resolution in terms of victory and defeat, for those working for justice and accountability in the country it was a day of sober reflection on the work ahead. While the resolution partly fulfils the demand for justice and accountability, its weaknesses could also be a cause for serious setbacks.
The Tamil Students Initiative (TSI) recognises the resolution passed by the United Nations Human Rights Council as a small but important step in the ongoing struggle for justice for the Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
Writing in JDS, on the recent blanket proscription of several Tamil diaspora organisations by the Sri Lankan government, the National Council of Canadian Tamils' (NCCT) advocacy and research director, Krisna Saravanamuttu, described the government’s attempts to isolate the Tamil people from their families in the diaspora as another step in the genocide of the Tamil nation.
Op-ed written for South Africa's Mail & Guardian , by Yasmin Sooka, who in 2010 was appointed by UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon to a panel of experts to advise him on the conflict in Sri Lanka. The arrest on terrorism charges this week of two well-known human rights activists in Sri Lanka has sent ripples of fear through those who work for justice on the island, even though the two men were subsequently released. It was the timing, happening just days before the United Nations Human Rights Council votes on whether or not to hold Sri Lanka accountable for grave violations of international law during the final phase of the conflict in 2008-2009. An investigative mechanism under the office of the High Commissioner is envisaged in the current draft of the Resolution, which was tabled for voting on March 26.
Today’s resolution is a turning point in the battle for the human rights of the Tamil people. It opens up the possibility to obtain justice via international mechanisms for all those who lost their loved ones in the course of the mass atrocities of 2009 and in the seven years prior.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has stated that an international inquiry on Sri Lanka is "warranted" and "essential", as she presented her report on Sri Lanka at the 25th session UN Human Rights Council earlier today. Addressing the council Pillay stated "there has been little progress in other critical areas" and that " Sri Lanka has not responded positively to OHCHR’s repeated offers of technical assistance". Speaking on the final stages of the armed conflict, Pillay told the council " it is important for the Human Rights Council to recall the magnitude and gravity of the violations alleged to have been committed". She went on to add that whilst the government has claimed to initiate various investigations, "none have had the independence to be effective or inspire confidence among victims and witnesses."
The Australian director at Human Rights Watch has called upon the government to “show leadership” on human rights in Sri Lanka, by co-sponsoring a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council, which is due to be voted on this week. Writing in the Guardian, Elaine Pearson said Australia, which is bidding for a seat on the council in 2018, has been “shamefully non committal” and urged it to use “public and private pressure” on Sri Lanka, including co-sponsoring a resolution.
The below is compiled from comments by Gajendrakumar Ponnambalam to the Geneva Press Club on March 21, 2014 during a panel discussion, ‘Is the Sri Lanka resolution at the UNHRC part of the problem?’ Mr. Ponnambalam is President of the Tamil National People’s Front (TNPF). The purpose of my intervention is to outline the Tamil people’s expectations of international processes and institutions, such as the UN Human Rights Council, given the prevailing situation in the Tamil areas of the North-East. Fundamentally, any international action with regards to Sri Lanka needs to effect distinctive change on the ground. As far as the Tamil people are concerned, this is the only criteria by which one should judge whether any act on our behalf is a positive step, a negative step or, quite simply, irrelevant to us.
The below is compiled from comments by Krisna Saravanamuttu to the Geneva Press Club on March 21, 2014 during a panel discussion, ‘Is the Sri Lanka resolution at the UNHRC part of the problem?’ Mr. Saravanamuttu is elected representative of the National Council of Canadian Tamils (NCCT) and spokesperson of the International Council of Eelam Tamils (ICET). Today we hear a lot about the process of violence that continues five years after the war. We hear about military occupation, rape, the appropriation of land, the imprisonment of political prisoners, the denial of civil liberties under the Prevention of Terrorism Act and the deterioration of health, food and social security.
Writing in the Asian Correspondent today on the heightened militarisation in the North-East, and the spate of recent arrests of activists, the Tamil journalist in exile J.S. Tissainayagam, warned that the international community's deletion of 'demilitarisation' from the draft UNHRC resolution text " signals to Colombo that there will be no serious opposition to it ruling northern Sri Lanka through the military ." See full article here . Extracts reproduced below: "As the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva was discussing the clauses of its resolution on Sri Lanka, the Colombo government used troops and special laws to arrest human rights defenders (HRDs) in the northern part of the country last week. It is ironic that while the Sri Lanka Government decided to beef-up militarisation in the former warzones and arrest activists, the UNHRC agreed to delete the word “demilitarisation” from its draft resolution."