NGOs for an Effective Human Rights Council

Say no to Sri Lanka's Bid for U.N. Rights Council Seat

Joint NGO Letter to Member States

NGOs for an Effective Human Rights Council
6 May 2008  
Your Excellency,  
We are a coalition of nongovernmental organizations from all parts of the world.  
We write to urge that your government not vote for Sri Lanka for membership in the U.N. Human Rights Council in the election in the General Assembly on 21 May 2008 because of Sri Lanka’s failure to meet the Council’s membership standards.  
In doing so, we strongly support the position of human rights organizations from within Sri Lanka, who state that their government fails to meet the membership standards, has “presided over a grave deterioration of human rights protection” since first winning Council membership in 2006, and “has used its membership of the Human Rights Council to protect itself from scrutiny.” Their letter of 28 April 2008 is available online at  
As you know, General Assembly (GA) resolution 60/251 requires that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and “fully cooperate” with the Council. Sri Lanka falls far short of meeting these requirements.  
I. Sri Lanka is failing to protect human rights  
We recognize that that the armed separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) have long been responsible for numerous and horrific human rights abuses. However, abuses by non-state armed groups do not justify rights violations by government forces.  
In the last two years, Sri Lankan government forces have been directly implicated in a wide range of serious abuses of human rights, and have failed to ensure investigations and bring those responsible to justice. These include :
  • hundreds of extrajudicial killings, including of humanitarian workers

  • hundreds of enforced disappearances, the highest rate of new cases recorded by the Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances in 2007

  • arbitrary arrests and long-term detentions without charge or trial

  • widespread torture of detainees, “a routine practice … both by the police and the armed forces” according the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Torture.

  • forcibly returning internally displaced persons to unsafe areas

  • unwarranted restrictions on media freedoms, and threats and killings of journalists

  • complicity with the recruitment of child soldiers by the Karuna militia

  • denunciations and threats against human rights defenders and humanitarian workers

These problems are compounded by the authorities having failed to provide easily accessible avenues enabling victims of human rights abuses to make complaints. Extreme delays in adjudication make it near-futile to pursue such complaints, when made. The absence of a witness protection law and system has lead to the harassment and even killing of victims seeking redress and witnesses.  
A full list of U.N. and other reports documenting these and other abuses are posted on our coalition website at  
A government which has been proven to engage in such serious human rights violations cannot be said to be upholding the “highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.” Based on its current record, Sri Lanka is simply not qualified for re-election to the U.N. Human Rights Council.  
II. Sri Lanka refuses to cooperate with the Council and U.N. human rights mechanisms  
Government officials have launched unacceptable and unfounded personal attacks on respected international officials who have visited Sri Lanka and raised human rights concerns. Rather than consider the recommendations made in good faith by these officials, the Sri Lankan authorities have instead chosen to question the officials’ integrity. Senior Sri Lankan officials have accused:  
  • U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour of having become “a football, to be kicked about at will, to score goals for terrorists and others who do not mind sharing a terrorist agenda provided it gets them their goals too.”
  • U.N. Special Advisor on Children and Armed Conflict Allan Rock of being a sympathizer of the LTTE.
  • U.N. Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes of being “a terrorist.” When Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called such comments “unacceptable and unwarranted,” a Sri Lankan cabinet minister said that he “didn’t give a damn” what the U.N. secretary-general had to say.
The Sri Lankan government has not seriously engaged the recommendation by several special procedures and by OHCHR to establish a human rights monitoring mission under U.N. auspices to document and report on violations committed by all sides to the conflict and to prevent further violations.  
Sri Lanka did not reply to any of the 12 questionnaires sent by special procedure mandate holders between 1/1/2004 and 31/12/2007, nor to over half of the 94 letters of allegations and urgent appeals sent by special procedures in that period. Sri Lanka has not implemented the principal recommendations of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances and the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings. The Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment observed that Sri Lankan authorities impeded his fact-finding, citing “instances where detainees were hidden or brought away shortly before the Special Rapporteur arrived.”  
III. Don’t Vote for Sri Lanka this Year  
Rather than promote human rights worldwide as required of Council members by GA Resolution 60/251, Sri Lanka has sought to use its Council membership to shield itself from constructive international scrutiny.  
GA Resolution 60/251 requires that in voting for members of the Human Rights Council “member States shall take into account the contribution of candidates to the promotion and protection of human rights.” Council members are required to “uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights” and to “fully cooperate with the Council.” As Sri Lanka so clearly fails to meet either of these standards, your government should withhold its support this year, and instead vote only for other candidates which do meet the standards.  
U.N. Members have an important choice to make in this election. To re-elect Sri Lanka based on its record of the last two years would weaken the Human Rights Council and indicate the international community is unconcerned with the grave human rights situation in Sri Lanka. To reject Sri Lanka’s candidacy at this time would show that U.N. members are serious about the membership standards they established for the Council, and bring new attention to the gross violations in Sri Lanka and hope and support to the victims of abuse.  
With assurances of our highest respect,  
Ms. Martha Meijer, Director  
Aim for Human Rights  
Enrique Bernales, Executive Director  
Andean Commission of Jurists  
Dr. Agnes Callamard, Executive Director  
Michael Anthony, Program Coordinator  
Asian Human Rights Commission  
Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director  
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies  
Abdurashid Abdulle Abikar, Chairman  
Center for Youth and Democracy  
Gaston Chillier, Executive Director  
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales  
Maja Daruwala, Director  
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative  
Lorena Fries, President  
Corporación Humanas—Chile  
Ana Lucia Herrera, Director  
Corporación Humanas—Ecuador  
Robert R. LaGamma, Executive Director  
Council for a Community of Democracies  
Dokhi Fassihian, Acting Executive Director  
Democracy Coalition Project  
María Ysabel Cedano García, Director  
DEMUS—Estudio para la Defensa y los Derechos de la Mujer  
Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson  
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network  
Natalia Gherardi, Executive Director  
ELA - Equipo Latinoamericano de Justicia y Género  
Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, President  
Fédération Internationale des Droits de l'Homme/International Federation for Human Rights  
Jennifer Windsor, Executive Director  
Freedom House  
Dieudonné Zognong, President  
Humanus International  
Tolekan Ismailova, Director  
Human Rights Center/Citizens against Corruption  
Maureen Byrnes, Executive Director  
Human Rights First  
Kenneth Roth, Executive Director  
Human Rights Watch  
Deborah Muir, Project Director Asia-Pacific  
International Federation of Journalists—Asia-Pacific  
Indria Fernida, Deputy Coordinator  
KontraS (Commission for “the Disappeared” and Victims of Violence)  
Nozima Kamalova, Chairman  
Legal Aid Society of Uzbekistan  
Taufik Basari, Chairperson of the Board of Directors  
Lembaga Bantuan Hukum Masyarakat (Indonesian Community Legal Aid Institute)  
Vo Van Ai, President  
Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam & Vietnam Committee for Human Rights  
Robert Menard, General Secretary  
Reporters Without Borders