Our worldwide coalition of human rights organizations writes to you once again to respectfully urge that your government not vote for Sri Lanka for membership to the U.N. Human Rights Council on 21 May 2008.
While we welcome the attention that the government of Sri Lanka has given to the concerns of the international human rights community, it is important to note that in its response of 9 May to our letter, of 6 May, the Sri Lankan government does not contest allegations that it has committed hundreds of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in its conflict with secessionist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). As we have noted previously, the LTTE’s long and horrific record of atrocities does not justify the government’s own rampant abuses.
Although these abuses have gone on for many years, the Sri Lankan government cites measures it has yet to take in the future to protect witnesses to human rights abuse and an “action plan” on human rights it has yet to undertake. It notes that it has allowed U.N. human right experts and agencies to visit, but does not deny that it has impeded their investigations and failed to implement their principal recommendations, including repeated recommendations to allow international human rights monitoring under U.N. auspices. The government cites the still-ongoing investigations by its own “Presidential Commission” of a small number of the many extrajudicial killings, but does not mention that the independent panel of eminent persons appointed by the government to oversee these investigations recently disbanded after concluding that the government lacked the political will to truly search for the truth.
Most strikingly, the government’s five-page response entirely fails to deny that in the two years since it was first elected to the Human Rights Council, its security forces have been directly implicated in hundreds of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, including of humanitarian workers; arbitrary arrests and long-term detentions without charge or trial; and widespread torture of detainees. A government responsible for such gross and systematic abuse is clearly not “upholding the highest standards of human rights” as is required of Human Rights Council members.
The Human Rights Council is a select body for states that while honestly dealing with their own human rights issues, will use their membership to actively promote human rights around the world. It is not appropriate for highly abusive states which seek election in order to defensively prevent international scrutiny of their own serious violations. Such membership is destructive addition to the Council.
We urge the Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of special procedures and OHCHR, including the establishment of a UN human rights monitoring mission that would monitor abuses by all sides to the conflict, and to halt its use of torture, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial killings. Sri Lanka can legitimately seek election to the Council in the future once it has demonstrated a record of halting human rights abuse, providing information on the whereabouts or fate of the “disappeared,” and effectively prosecuting those responsible. But at this time, U.N. members should recognize that Sri Lanka does not belong on the Human Rights Council due to a clear failure to meet the membership standards established when the body was created.
With six candidates competing for four seats from the Asian Group, U.N. members should vote only for those countries which indeed uphold the highest human rights standards. We respectfully urge your government to urge Sri Lanka to focus its attention internally toward the goal of providing remedies to human rights victims. We also urge the government of Sri Lanka to view its own human rights community as independent and impartial advocates of fundamental rights rather than as politicized adversaries. We look to the day that we can support Sri Lanka’s candidacy to the Council and welcome the opportunity to continue this dialogue toward that goal.
Hannah Forster, Executive Director
African Center for Democracy and Human Rights
Frank Kamunga, Coordinator
African Democracy Forum
Michael Anthony, Program Coordinator
Asian Human Rights Commission
Moataz El Fegiery, Executive Director
Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
Gaston Chillier, Executive Director
Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales
Humberto Guerrero, Advocacy Director
Comisión Mexicana de Defensa y Promoción de los Derechos Humanos, A.C.
Maja Daruwala, Director
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative
Dokhi Fassihian, Acting Executive Director
Democracy Coalition Project
Mr. Hassan Shire Sheikh, Chairperson
East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network
Ms. Souhayr Belhassen, President
Fédération Internationale des Droits de l'Homme/International Federation for Human Rights
Giyoun Kim, UN Advocacy Programme Manager
Peggy L. Hicks, Global Advocacy Director
Human Rights Watch