UN to probe threats to Sri Lanka activists in Geneva

The global rights chief has directed a topmost official to look into complaints on harassment and intimidation of Sri Lankan human rights activists at the UN premises itself.

Speaking at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 22 March, the UN human rights commissioner said that he is disturbed to hear reports of intimidation of members of civil society in the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

“Assistant Secretary-General Andrew Gilmour, the system-wide coordinator for action on reprisals, will be looking into this, and I trust, Mr President, you will also give these cases close attention,” said Zeid Raad Al Hussein.

This is the first time that an international summit heard about threats against human rights activists on foreign soil who consistently face intimidation by the Sri Lanka security forces.

JDS reliably learns that international rights activists too have supplied information to UN authorities regarding harassment of Tamil activists either speaking in or commenting on the process in Geneva.

Coming hard on the Sri Lankan authorities inability to do more to signal an end to impunity, harassment and torture, Zeid accused the government of being afraid to take action against its security forces.

Impunity and International judges

“The consistent failure to effectively investigate, prosecute and punish serious crimes appears to reflect a broader reluctance or fear to take action against members of the security forces,” he said reiterating his call for a high level of international involvement including judges in delivering justice to victims.

“Combined with a general lack of trust in the impartiality of the justice system regarding past violations, this continuing unwillingness or inability to address impunity reinforces the need for international participation in a judicial mechanism. For this to be credible, it should include a special counsel, foreign judges and defence lawyers, and authorized prosecutors and investigators.”

However, Sri Lanka has rejected the establishment of an international court, as suggested by the High Commissioner.

Two more years

The UN rights chief said “in the face of rising frustration among victims, a number of confidence-building measures must be accelerated." He added, "These include the release of land occupied by the military, which remains slow. While an effort is underway to repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and replace it with legislation that complies with international human rights law, this work has yet to be concluded.”

Despite strong opposition from victims and grassroots activists UNHCR granted Sri Lanka two more years to deliver its international commitments on transitional justice mechanisms, which High Commissioner Zeid has earlier slammed as "worryingly slow".

The resolution on Sri Lanka, submitted by the United States, United Kingdom, Sri Lanka, Macedonia and Montenegro was passed without a vote with the backing of 36 co-sponsors.

(By Kasun Yapa Karunaratne – jdslanka.org)