Highly Questionable OHCHR Report

The Report issued by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Sri Lanka is questionable on several counts (A/HRC/46/20). Although titled ‘Promotion [of] Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights,’ there is nothing on the question of ‘reconciliation.’ Instead, the report is completely focusing on punitive judgements in the name of ‘accountability.’ Not a single recommendation on devolution or provincial council system.

The document is more of a political manifesto, than a human-rights report. There is a very clear bias towards the last government, in contrast to the present government. This political partiality or interference is very clear and should not have been in a UN human rights report.

A credible human rights report should be unbiased and objective, focusing on human rights and human rights violations of the people without dragging on political matters or preferences. The purpose of such a report for the Human Rights Council from the High Commissioner should be to enlighten the member countries about the facts and evidence of the past or the present to engage in a constructive dialogue with the country concerned, and recommending necessary steps to promote human rights, reconciliation, and accountability.

Especially of a country where extremism and terrorism have been recurrent problems, such reports should particularly be careful not to give excuses (udagedi) directly or indirectly for such movements to reemerge.  

There is no mentioning of the terrorist attacks in April 2019 which in fact marked the deteriorating security and human rights situation in the country.

It appears that the human rights ‘advocates’ at the Commissioner’s Office do not accept that peoples’ security in a country (let alone national security) is a necessary condition for the protection and promotion of human rights. This is a fundamental defect in the ‘Western’ thinking of human rights to my experience and knowledge on the subject.  

It may be the case that the Commissioner is angered or prejudiced by the Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw from the previous co-sponsorship of the Human Rights Council’s resolution that the last government signed. That is apparently why the present government is castigated. The Commissioner herself is a politician with clear ideological views.

It must be understood that in independent and sovereign countries there can be different views on the matter of ‘co-sponsorship’ and if this understanding is lacking on the part of the Commissioner, there cannot be proper understanding of human rights or freedoms.

Part II of the Report tries to give a distorted and even a dangerous picture of the origins of insurrections, armed conflicts, and violence in Sri Lanka. Paragraph 7 begins with the following sentence.

“Sri Lanka’s armed conflict emerged against the backdrop of deepening discrimination and marginalisation of the country’s minorities, particularly the Tamils.”

Mind you, there was an armed conflict in 1971 without any connection to the Tamils or discrimination against the Tamils. Most of these armed conflicts emerged (1971, 1983-2009, 1987-89) because of political objectives (or aspirations) above and beyond social grievances. Or otherwise, there were democratic and peaceful means to rectify them although arduous and slow.

The phrase ‘against the backdrop’ in the statement may appear sobering the implied connection between the ‘armed conflict’ and ‘discrimination of minorities.’ However, it is a direct or indirect justification of the LTTE’s ‘armed conflict.’ It is also not correct to characterize the ‘armed conflict’ as between two equal contenders. Those were armed insurrections against a democratically elected government.

Most alarming in the Report is the obvious political bias expressed in favor of the last government and against the present government. This should not be the case in a human rights report. Paragraphs 15 and 16 are very clear on this matter. First para begins:

“It was at this juncture that a national unity Government, formed in January 2015, made important commitments to confront the past, strengthen democratic and independent institutions, and end impunity….The developments since November 2019, however, have reversed that direction and, instead, threaten a return to patterns ofdiscrimination and widespread violations of human rights experienced in past decades.”

This is a clear example that the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s Office has anobvious political bias over political matters, party politics and democratic governmental changes within a sovereign and an independent country.

The task of the Commissioner’s Office or the UN would be to involve member countries in a constructive dialogue without preferring defeated governments/parties, and without involving in political polemics. Otherwise, there are serious doubts whether the Commissioner or the Commissioner’s Office aiding and abetting defeated governments, terrorist groups like the LTTE ostensibly in the name of human rights

by Dr Laksiri Fernando

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