At the U.N. Human Rights Council today, a special session was held to address the urgent situation in Sri Lanka. While the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the EU and other Western states pushed for a commission of inquiry to assess the human rights violations of both the Tamil Tigers and the Sri Lankan government, a number of countries and regional groups used the session to praise Sri Lanka and rail against the states who called for the session. 

Cuba, speaking for NAM, welcomed the Sri Lankan Minister and praised Sri Lanka’s engagement with the Council, while complaining about the “selectivity and double standards” in the convening of this session.

Egypt, speaking for the African Group, echoed Cuba in welcoming the Minister and praising Sri Lanka’s engagement. It said it is against the convening of the session because the situation in Sri Lanka is an “internal affair,” explaining that Sri Lanka “did its best to fulfill its commitments to its people to fight a terrorist group recognized as such by the international community.”

Pakistan, speaking for the Islamic Group, congratulated Sri Lanka for its victory over “one of the most dangerous, ruthless, and vicious terrorist organizations” that “threatened the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka.” It went on to say that the “international community should help Sri Lanka address its challenges rather than sanctimonious pontification.” Pakistan condemned the “haste” of those calling for a special session with the council’s regular session a few days away, calling this session a “waste of time, effort, and money.” It said Sri Lanka was right to “protect its territorial integrity by all means at its disposal” against LTTE terrorism and warned that “the Human Rights Council will be reduced to a forum by some to interfere in the affairs of sovereign states.”

China said the council should “respect the sovereignty of Sri Lanka” and “the ideas of Sri Lanka itself and its neighbors.”

India said that by “forcing” a special session on this council, it has become “politicized.” It would have “sufficed” to discuss Sri Lanka at the regular session, barely a week away, it said.

Russia said that it “welcomes the end of the bloody conflict” and that Sri Lanka has “upheld its sovereignty and territorial integrity,” winning a “historic victory over separatism and terrorism.”

Egypt reiterated its welcoming of the Sri Lankan Minister and praise of Sri Lanka’s cooperation with the council and said, “We didn’t understand why the session has convened. Sri Lanka won a hard battle against terrorism for many decades” considering that the LTTE is “a movement which the international community considers a gang of terrorists” who violate the “territorial integrity of a member state of the U.N.” It said Sri Lanka needs “urgent assistance rather than commissions of inquiry.”

Cuba paid tribute to Sri Lanka’s ambassador as the council’s “untiring defender of justice.” It condemned the convening of the session as an “attempt by certain colonial powers to stigmatize certain developing countries.” It said, “Cuba, as a victim of terrorism for over 50 years” finds the practice “condemnable from every point of view.” Cuba complained that the session was convened without adequate consultation of all parties, saying this is evidence of the “old methods and practices of the former Human Rights Commission” or “not engaging in dialogue with all.” It complained this “divided the council just before we begin our 11th regular session.” Cuba stated its surprise at the statement of the representative of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures, saying she made “allegations which we call into question” and asked if her speech was “compatible with the code of procedures for special procedures.” Cuba said it welcomes Sri Lanka’s draft text because it “moves away from cold, condemnatory language to cooperation.” It explicated the difference between Sri Lanka’s draft and the Swiss/EU proposal in that the former stresses “cooperation and constructive dialogue, integrating a trans-regional perspective as to how the council should function,” while the latter was the “arrogant, narrow vision of those who won’t accept the new realities of the world we live in” and called it “inquisitory and backward looking.” Cuba called for “unreserved support” for Sri Lanka’s text.

South Africa complained that “inconsistency and double standards are damaging the council,” explaining that no special session was convened when 1.5 million people were displaced by a certain country’s efforts to fight terrorism. (Editor: reference to U.S. in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan?)

Other highlights from the session:

The EU is reportedly trying to negotiate a comprimise solution regarding the resolution to be passed at this session, but the prospect seems unlikely because it refuses to stoop below certain minimum standards and insists on retaining a call for the Council to “follow-up” on the sitaution in Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka submitted a revised draft that incorporates the non-contentious elements of the EU draft.

Virtually all states condemned the Tamil Tigers and called for or pledged assistance to Sri Lanka.

The President of the Human Rights Council, Nigerian Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi, justified the convening of the special session, saying it is within the mandate of the council to promote human rights in all parts of the world. He called on the Council to work in an “open and constructive manner” through dialogue in an “atmosphere of respect and dignity” to address the “needs of victims.”

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said through a video message that tens of thousands of civilians were killed in Sri Lanka since December. She said there are “strong reasons to believe that both sides” have targeted civilians. “The ends cannot justify the means,” she said. She called for an independent, impartial inquiry to investigate violations on both sides of the conflict, saying that the “victims and survivors have a right to justice.”

Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda Carmona, U.N. expert on human rights and extreme poverty, spoke as a representative of the Coordinating Committee of Special Procedures (under the office of the High Commissioner). She complained that there was a lack of “transparency and accountability” in the Sri Lanka conflict. She reiterated the High Commissioner’s call for a Sri Lanka investigation and also called for the establishment of a Special Procedures mandate holder for Sri Lanka.

Mr. Mahinda Samarasinghe, Minister of Disaster Management and Human Rights in Sri Lanka said, “The most ruthless terror organization the world has ever known has been eradicated” and “the biggest hostage crisis the world has ever seen in recent times is being successfully resolved.”

Switzerland did not join the EU, most other Western States, and High Commissioner Pillay in calling for an independent investigation into violations in Sri Lanka. Instead, it asked Sri Lanka to investigate itself.

Latin America split allegiances. Chile specifically disassociated itself from the statement made by Cuba on behalf of NAM. Brazil said Sri Lanka’s military operations “raised concerns of serious violations of human rights,” but also praised Sri Lanka’s “readiness to cooperate” given its joint statement with Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. On the other hand, it asked why the Sri Lanka might not welcome a U.N. mandate holder given the visit by the Secretary General. Argentina said it sponsored the session because it sees it as complementary to the work of the regular session. Mexico said that fighting terrorism needs to be linked to human rights decisions and reaffirmed the importance of follow-up to this session by the council and Sri Lanka. On the other hand, Nicaragua said it regrets the process has become “politicized and unbalanced.” It stated its support for Sri Lanka’s draft text because of Sri Lanka’s cooperation with the council, saying too “the Human Rights Council is supposed to support communication and dialogue.”

Aside from discussing the conflict, Canada strongly censured Sri Lanka for its “backsliding” of human rights in areas not related to conflict, including “the deterioration of media freedom in 2008 and 2009, several attacks on journalists,” including the “murder of a prominent newspaper editor, leading many journalists to flee the country or practice self censorship.” It called on Sri Lanka to bring to justice the perpetrators of enforced disappearances and change its “climate of fear.”



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