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Nobel Prize Winners tell UN: Vote Sri Lanka off Human Rights Council

Three Nobel Peace Laureates Oppose Colombo’s Bid for Re-election

(New York) – Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize from three continents called on UN members to reject Sri Lanka’s candidacy for the UN Human Rights Council, the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council said today. Nobel laureates Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel of Argentina, and Jimmy Carter of the United States each published statements urging opposition to Sri Lanka because of its abusive human rights record.

Elections to the 47-member council, the United Nations’ leading human rights body, will be held in New York on May 21, 2008. Six candidates – Bahrain, Japan, Pakistan, South Korea, Sri Lanka, and Timor Leste – are running for four seats allocated to Asian states. Council members are required to “uphold the highest standards” of human rights and “fully cooperate” with the council.

In a commentary published by The Guardian in London, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa charged that “the systematic abuses by Sri Lankan government forces are among the most serious imaginable,” citing widespread torture and extrajudicial killings. “Governments owe it to Sri Lankan human rights victims – and to victims of human rights abuses around the world – to ensure that the Sri Lankan bid fails,” Tutu declared. Tutu won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984 for his leadership of the campaign to end apartheid in South Africa.

In a commentary published by Página 12 in Buenos Aires, Adolfo Pérez Esquivel compared the routine torture and the hundreds of “disappearances” and extrajudicial killings committed by Sri Lankan government forces to the “dirty wars” waged by various Latin American governments against their own citizens in the 1970s and 1980s. “As Latin Americans know all too well, there are few crimes more horrible for a government to commit than summarily removing its own citizens from their homes and families, often late at night, never to be heard from again,” declared Esquivel. “Latin American governments can do a great service to the people of Sri Lanka by rejecting their government’s candidacy for the Human Rights Council.” Esquivel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1980 for his opposition to the “disappearances,” extrajudicial killings, and torture used by the military government of Argentina in combating domestic terrorists.

Former US President Jimmy Carter observed that the UN established membership standards for the Human Rights Council in 2006 so that it would be “led by countries with a greater commitment to human rights.” A statement released by the Carter Center in Atlanta “calls on the General Assembly not to re-elect Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council,” citing “the country’s deteriorating human rights record since its first election to the Council in 2006.” Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 for his work to resolve international conflicts, advance democracy and human rights, and promote economic and social development.

The Nobel laureates added their voices to the Sri Lankan and international campaigns against the re-election of Sri Lanka to the council. Human rights organizations within Sri Lanka 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, observing it “has used its membership of the Human Rights Council to protect itself from scrutiny.”

A coalition of more than 20 nongovernmental organizations from all regions of the world wrote to UN members to oppose Sri Lanka’s re-election to the council, citing its government for a wide range of serious abuses, including hundreds of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, widespread torture, and arbitrary detention. The website established by the NGO Coalition for an Effective Human Rights Council detailed how Sri Lanka rejects the recommendations of UN human rights experts, harshly attacks senior UN officials who report on human rights issues, and has refused to engage in serious discussions to allow international human rights monitoring.

The coalition noted in its 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. The abuses in Argentina opposed by Esquivel were committed by that government in the name of combating extreme domestic terrorist organizations.

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.”

To read the letter from the NGO coalition to the UN Human Rights Council, opposing Sri Lanka’s candidacy, please visit:

To read more about the Sri Lanka campaign, please visit:

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