South Asians for Human Rights

Promoting Democracy, Upholding Human Rights

Minister questions impartiality of UN High Commissioner

Pillay urges review of  security measures and detentions

By Dianne Silva

The much talked about United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) session began in Geneva yesterday with a diplomatic spat between Human Rights High Commissioner Navanethem Pillay and the Sri Lankan delegation headed by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe.  While Sri Lanka questioned the impartiality of the High Commissioner on the basis it could lead to a loss of confidence in the UNHRC mechanism, Ms. Pillay urged Sri Lanka to do a complete review of its security- related measures. “The counter measures adopted by various countries to combat terrorism have frequently been designed with insufficient regard to human rights.

This has all too often led to an erosion of rights and fostered a culture of diffidence and discrimination, which in turn, perpetuates cycles of violence and retribution. Sri Lanka is one such case,” she said in her opening remarks.

She followed up this statement by saying, “for three decades, not only has Sri Lanka suffered the brutal effects of terrorist acts, but the response of successive governments over the years has undermined independent institutions, human rights and the rule of law. I note the President’s decision to allow some emergency measures to lapse, but strongly urge the government to follow up with a comprehensive review of all security-related legislation and detentions.”

Minister Samarasinghe related events that he believed undermined the proper UN procedures. “On the 9th of this month at a luncheon briefing, we were given to understand that the High Commissioner for Human Rights had informed a group of countries that a decision had been taken by the Office of the UN Secretary-General to transmit the report of his Advisory Panel on Sri Lanka to your office. Previous to this communication, in the course of an interaction with you, Madam President, there was no direct reference to any such transmission. It was rather embarrassing that both you and I had to learn of it from a third party at the luncheon meeting in the presence of representatives of 29 Member States of the Council,” he said.

He questioned the High Commissioner’s impartiality and a loss of confidence in the UNHRC mechanism. “This, regrettably, may lead to a loss of confidence in the Office of the High Commissioner. We believe that she should abide by the same principles that govern the work of the Human Rights Council, such as universality, transparency, impartiality, objectivity and non-selectivity, with a view to enhancing the promotion and protection of human rights in a fair and equitable manner while recognizing the importance of the elimination of double standards and politicization. This incident raises serious concerns regarding the impartiality of the High Commissioner,” Mr. Samarasinghe had said.

He gave a stern warning to the international community, at the session which is expected to continue till the 30th of this month.  “Today it may be Sri Lanka but tomorrow it could be any other member state faced with this predicament,” he said.

Mr. Samarasinghe vigorously questioned the propriety of the Secretary-General’s expert panel report being presented before the Council.

“What needs to be borne in mind by all members of this august assembly is that this report never had the sanction of any inter-governmental body. It was purely an exercise of the prerogative of the Secretary-General to advise himself on issues concerning a Member State. How then, I ask, could such a report be brought to the attention of this Council in this unconventional and improper manner,” he asked.

Very positive response – GL

The Sri Lankan delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva has garnered a “very positive response” from 39 countries after meetings on Friday, Minister of External Affairs G. L. Peiris told Daily Mirror.

“We met with 29 countries in the afternoon and 10 countries in the

evening at a special event organized by the Lankan delegation in Geneva. These countries from the Middle East, Latin America and Africa gave us a very positive response for the good work we have accomplished in a very short period of time. They were very enthusiastic to hear of the work that we have done,” he said.

During these meetings the delegation led by Human Rights Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe had stressed two points. “We asked those gathered to pay close attention to the lapses in procedure at the UNHRC. There are very strict rules about what kind of material can be discussed and at which stage material can be presented,” said Prof. Peiris.

The second matter addressed was the importance for waiting for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in October 2012, when Sri Lanka would come up for discussions. “Besides the UPR, Sri Lanka has engaged very constructively with the UNHRC and the international community, with candour, and this must be respected,” Peiris had told those at the meeting on Friday.

Source: Daily Mirror – 13.09.2011