Don’t Reward Failed Promises to Improve Rights
May 8, 2008

(New York) - Sri Lanka’s worsening human rights record and failed promises for improvement undermine its claim for a place on the UN Human Rights Council, a coalition of more than 20 national and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) said in a letter released today.

Elections to the 47-member council, the United Nations’ leading human rights body, will be held in New York on May 21, 2008. Council members are required to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate” with the council.

In a letter to UN members, the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council (www.hrw.org/effectiveHRC/SriLanka) noted that Sri Lankan Government forces have in the past two years been implicated in a wide range of serious abuses, including hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, widespread torture, and arbitrary detention. Sri Lanka obstructs the work of the council’s own appointed human rights experts, ignores their recommendations, publicly attacks senior UN officials who speak out on human rights issues, and has been unwilling to engage in serious discussions regarding UN human rights monitoring. The coalition noted in the letter that the armed separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam have long been implicated in serious human rights abuses, but says this provides no justification for government abuses.

Sri Lanka pledged when it joined the Human Rights Council in 2006 to implement recommendations from UN bodies. It has notably failed to do so – including through its refusal to confront the problems of torture and enforced disappearances.

The coalition’s letter follows concerns expressed last week by a group of leading Sri Lankan NGOs, which urged UN members to “hold the Sri Lankan government accountable for the grave state of human rights abuse in the country” by rejecting its candidacy. The Sri Lankan organizations said that their government has “presided over a grave deterioration of human rights protection” since first winning membership in 2006, and “has used its membership in the Human Rights Council to protect itself from scrutiny.”

“The Human Rights Council is meant to uphold human rights, not undermine them,” said Steve Crawshaw, UN advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “To elect Sri Lanka would be a travesty, given its appalling rights record over the past two years.”

Six candidates – Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste – are running for four seats allocated to Asian states.

“Many countries have human rights problems, but Sri Lanka truly stands out amongst this year’s candidates,” said Michael Anthony, programme coordinator of the Asian Human Rights Commission. “Sri Lanka is the Asian state in this year’s election which most clearly fails to meet the council’s membership standards, without even a hint of possible improvement.”

In 2007, a coalition of NGOs successfully opposed the candidacy of Belarus for the Human Rights Council.

“Cheers went up amongst human rights defenders around the world when Belarus was defeated,” said Hassan Shire Sheikh of the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project in Uganda. “This year’s election provides an opportunity for African states to send a strong signal, following up on the defeat of Belarus. The Human Rights Council must stand with the victims, not become an abusers’ club.”

“Sri Lanka’s record of torture, disappearances, and extrajudicial killings should lead Latin American countries to oppose electing such an abusive government to the Human Rights Council,” said Salvador Herencia, legal adviser with the Andean Commission of Jurists.

To read the letter from the NGO coalition to the UN Human Rights Council, opposing Sri Lanka’s candidacy, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/effectiveHRC/SriLanka/INGOletter.html

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