Commissioner makes it clear that the deferral is “for one time only”
By Siva Sivapragasam
The UN Human Rights Council has agreed to grant a request by the Commissioner for Human Rights to defer the sensitive Sri Lankan alleged violation of human rights report by six months until September.
Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera urged the UN to postpone the discussion of the report since the new Government needed some time to set-up mechanisms to deal with any recommendations in the report, due for release on 25th March 2015.
Jayantha Dhanapala, seasoned Diplomat and Senior Advisor on Foreign Affairs to President Maithripala Sirisena also met the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in Geneva recently and briefed him on the policies of the newly elected Government. Dhanapala is a former United Nations Under Secretary-General for disarmament affairs and a former ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United States and the UN in Geneva.
Credit also goes to both Foreign Minister Samaraweera and Dhanapala in convincing the UN body for the postponement of the discussion of the report based on the changing context in Sri Lanka due to the change in regime.
The UN Human Rights Commissioner has however made it clear that the postponement is for “onetime only” and will therefore be taken up for discussion coming September.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Monday, Feb 16th explained, his recommendation to the Human Rights Council to delay the consideration of a long-awaited report into alleged human rights violations during the conflict in Sri Lanka for six months until September 2015.
The High Commissioner guaranteed that the report would be published by September. His request for deferral was granted by the Council on Monday, Feb 16th afternoon.
“This has been a difficult decision,” Zeid said. “There are good arguments for sticking to the original timetable, and there are also strong arguments for deferring the report’s consideration a bit longer, given the changing context in Sri Lanka, and the possibility that important new information may emerge which will strengthen the report.”
“In addition, I have received clear commitments from the new Government of Sri Lanka indicating it is prepared to cooperate with my Office on a whole range of important human rights issues – which the previous Government had absolutely refused to do – and I need to engage with them to ensure those commitments translate into reality.”
The High Commissioner noted that the three distinguished experts who were appointed by his predecessor Navi Pillay to advise the investigation, had informed him that, in their unanimous view, a one-off temporary deferral would be the best option to allow space for the new Government to show its willingness to cooperate on human rights issues. Taking all this into account, I have therefore decided, on balance, to request more time to allow for a stronger and more comprehensive report,”.
“There should be no misunderstanding,” the High Commissioner continued. “I give my personal, absolute and unshakable commitment that the report will be published by September. Like my predecessors, I believe that one of the most important duties of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is to act as a strong voice on behalf of victims. I want this report to have the maximum possible impact in ensuring a genuine and credible process of accountability and reconciliation in which the rights of victims to truth, justice and reparations are finally respected.”, Zeid stated. Mr. Zeid’s predecessor, Navi Pillay, visited Sri Lanka in 2013, at the end of which she sharply criticized the then Government.
Political sources told “Monsoon Journal” that the postponement for “onetime only” in a sense strengthened the determination and commitment of the UN to go ahead with the report. It also means that the ball is now in the Sri Lankan Government’s court to not only cooperate with the United Nations inquiry, but also demonstrate between now and September whether it can credibly mount its own investigation into possible wartime atrocities — and whether it can take on criminal prosecutions of the most serious offenders. Sources explained that the postponement also conveys a binding for the Sri Lankan Government to implement it’s promise to the UN of setting up mechanisms to implement any recommendations of the report.
The same sources also explained that the stand and commitment of an International body like the UN acting as a strong voice on behalf of the victims should allay any fears of those affected that the report will not be shelved.