VIII. Sri Lanka and the International Community
The Sri Lankan governments unwillingness to seriously address the problem of disappearances has come at increasing cost to its relations with concerned foreign governments. The United States and European Union governments have raised concerns about the deteriorating human rights situation in an increasingly forceful manner, but the Sri Lankan government has to date spent more energy dismissing their concerns than taking action to put them to rest. Ultimately, more concerted action is needed by the international community, particularly the Indian and Japanese governments, to respond to the crisis and help bring about tangible improvements on the ground.
In 2007, US public criticism of the Sri Lankan governments human rights record, as well as that of the LTTE, was bolstered by the threat of financial and military sanctions and calls for a UN monitoring mission in the country.
A number of US congressmen have also addressed the human rights crisis in Sri Lanka, highlighting the issue of large-scale abductions and killings and urging the US government to take action to address the situation.329
The State Department also took a stronger stance. During his visit to Sri Lanka in May 2007, Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A. Boucher voiced his concerns about the worsening human rights situation in the country, and specifically about the growing number of abductions and killings.330
At meetings with leading Sri Lankan human rights activist Sunila Abeysekera in late October, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs R. Nicholas Burns and Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs Paula Dobriansky also expressed great concern about the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. They added that the Sri Lankan government needed to work far more intensively to end such grave human rights violations as extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and torture, as well as on-going media censorship by government security forces.331
The suspension of military assistance has been the most significant demonstration of US concern about the developments in Sri Lanka.
The US suspended the issuance of licenses for the sale or transfer of military equipment and services to Sri Lanka in accordance with the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008, signed into law in December 2007. The Act provides that no military assistance, including equipment or technology, will be made available to Sri Lanka unless the government brings to justice members of the military responsible for gross human rights violations; provides unimpeded access to humanitarian organizations and journalists; and agrees to the establishment of a field presence of the OHCHR with sufficient staff and mandate to conduct full and unfettered monitoring throughout the country and to publicize its findings.332
In support of the legislation, Senator Patrick Leahy emphasized the gravity of the human rights problems in Sri Lanka and dismissed efforts by Sri Lankan authorities to belittle these concerns. Addressing the Senate on November 2, 2007, he stated:
In December 2007, the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC), a US government corporation that provides assistance to developing countries, deselected Sri Lanka as a country eligible for funding because of concerns about the escalating conflict and significant human rights problems such as forced disappearances, extra-judicial killings and challenges to media freedom.334
Following the visit of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to Sri Lanka in October, the US government expressed its strong support for the expansion of the OHCHR office in Sri Lanka as an international monitoring mechanism (see below).
The European Union has also repeatedly voiced concern about human rights violations by both the government and the LTTE, including widespread enforced disappearances. In April 2007, the EU stated:
At the 6th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, an EU representative emphasized that the EU is very concerned with the serious and continuous violations of human rights and international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, and specifically mentioned the high number of abductions and enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions.336
The efforts of the US and the EU to press for improvements in the human rights environment in Sri Lanka have been undermined by the inaction of the Indian and Japanese governments. India, while having a complex relationship with its far smaller neighbor, is well positioned to play a positive role. Japan is Sri Lankas largest bilateral donor and one of the co-chairs of the Tokyo donors conference.
To date India has refrained from publicly criticizing Sri Lanka over human rights and at this writing still has not supported any international action to address the human rights situation there, including UN human rights monitoring. Responding to Louise Arbours September 2007 address to the Human Rights Council, the representative of India welcomed the positive attitude of the Sri Lankan government to the high commissioners visit rather than enunciate genuine human rights concerns.337
Media reports on the Sri Lankan presidents October visit to India gave no indication that human rights issues were discussed in a serious way.338
Notably during Louise Arbours visit to Sri Lanka, the presidents brother and senior advisor, Basil Rajapaksa, cited India as an example of a power, which, unlike the UN, was not acting as the policeman of the South Asian region, but was helping Sri Lanka solve its problems.339
Japanese officials have made some statements calling for an improvement in the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, but as the single largest donor to Sri Lanka the Japanese government should speak out more often and more clearly, and do more to back up general statements of concern by pressing the Sri Lankan authorities toward greater accountability and expressing support for a UN human rights monitoring mission.
In June 2007, the Japanese special envoy to Sri Lanka, Yasushi Akashi, said during a visit that he was aware that President Mahinda Rajapaksa was determined to safeguard human rights, and pledged Japans continued assistance.340 Remarks from Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Aso just weeks later were less praising, but nonetheless were unlikely to elicit changes from Colombo. Following a Japan-Sri Lanka foreign ministerial meeting, Aso said that he expected an improvement of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, and added that the deteriorating security situation could affect economic cooperation.341 In January 2008, Yasushi Akashi also took a stronger position, noting that Japan could be forced to review its aid policy if military action keeps escalating.342 Yet, so far, this cautious expression of concern has not translated into any change in Japanese policy.
Since October 2006, the position of Sri Lankas Asian partners has helped to thwart attempts to pass an EU-sponsored resolution on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council.
In particularly critical commentary on the performance of the UN from a UN human rights envoy, Philip Alston, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, noted in his report to the 62nd Session of the General Assembly that while the situation in Sri Lanka has erupted into crisis since 2006, neither the [Human Rights] Council nor the [General] Assembly have seen fit to take any action to address the spate of human rights abuses, specifically extrajudicial executions, being reported.343
In addition to Alston, a number of UN representatives and special mechanisms, as mentioned above, have expressed their grave concerns about the developments in Sri Lanka and called for urgent measures to address the situation. Some have specifically referred to the ongoing abductions and enforced disappearances and the failure of the government to bring the perpetrators to justice.
At the end of her October 2007 visit to Sri Lanka, Louise Arbour stated:
She called for an adequate accountability process and urged the government to consider an early ratification of the new International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.345
The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances has raised the issue of continuing and new cases of disappearances with the Sri Lankan government, but with little meaningful response from the government. As mentioned above, the UN Working Group reported in January 2007 that it transmitted more cases of disappearances as urgent appeals to the Sri Lankan government in 2006 than to any other country in the world.346
The Working Group continues to name Sri Lanka specifically in its press statements, but with little meaningful response from the government. In March 2007, the Working Group expressed its worry over the large number of disappearances reported from Sri Lanka.347 Following its June 2007 session, the Working Group noted that its members expressed deep concern that the majority of new urgent action cases are regarding alleged disappearances in Sri Lanka. It reported that the government had yet to schedule a Working Group to visit the country, requested in October 2006 though it is unclear to what extent the Working Group has followed up on its request.348 In a November 2007 statement, the Working Group named Sri Lanka as one of two countries with an important number of new cases of enforced disappearances.349
In dealing with the international community, the Sri Lankan government has engaged in both subtle diplomacy and public bluster. While conducting careful diplomacy with foreign governments and international institutions, it has publicly launched vicious personal attacks on respected international civil servants and others.
For example, in response to findings by Allan Rock, the UN Special Advisor on Children and Armed Conflict, that the pro-government Karuna group was abducting children into its forces with state complicity, the Sri Lankan government accused Rock of being an LTTE sympathizer.350
After John Holmes, the UN undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, said that Sri Lanka was for humanitarian workers among the most dangerous places in the world,351 several government officials angrily rejected his remarks with personal attacks. We consider people who support terrorists also terrorists, said Cabinet Minister Jeyaraj Fernandopulle. So Holmes, who supports the LTTE, is also a terrorist. This person tries to tarnish the image of Sri Lanka internationally.352 When UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called such comments unacceptable and unwarranted, Fernandopulle was quoted in The Nation (Colombo) as saying that he didnt give a damn what the UN secretary-general had to say.353
More recently, after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour visited Sri Lanka and called for a UN monitoring mission to the country, the head of the governments Peace Secretariat described her as 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.354
Despite these remarks, the government repeatedly sought credit for its willingness to cooperate with UN human rights mechanisms.355 Sensing increased international dissatisfaction with the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, in 2007 the government engaged in a vigorous campaign to persuade various UN mechanisms and donor governments that the situation had substantially improved.
At the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, the government left no stone unturned to block the EU-proposed resolution on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. In the words of Human Rights Minister Samarasinghe, the Sri Lankan delegation had to go the extra mile and was even out of breath by the time it had concluded discussions with all the countries, which they approached individually, collectively and went also to regional groups.356
Government advocacy at the Human Rights Council sought to discredit reports by Sri Lankan and international rights groups without a sound factual basis for doing so. Officials portrayed allegations of widespread abuses as unfounded and exalted the various internal mechanisms the government has set up to address them.357
Also illustrative in this respect was the governments response to proposed US legislation imposing human rights conditions on military assistance to Sri Lanka. In a letter to the US Senate Appropriations Committee, the Sri Lankan ambassador to the US insisted that Sri Lanka had already met all of the human rights conditions mentioned in the bill. On the issue of impunity, he argued that the government has consistently taken action to bring the offenders to justice. In fact, statistics attached to the letter demonstrate that since 2004 not a single member of the security forces has been indicted for an abduction or disappearance.358
In November, US Senator Patrick Leahy responded to the personal attacks as well as criticisms of the need for the proposed legislation:
Instead of addressing the concerns expressed by foreign governments, the Sri Lankan government has persistently tried to create an impression that its aggressive advocacy is indeed winning over the international community. Following the 6th session of the UN Human Rights Council in October, Minister Samarasinghe triumphantly reported that the government was finally successful in convincing the member States that the human rights reports released on Sri Lanka were factually incorrect and the allegations are baseless.360
Overall, the Sri Lankan government puts enormous resources into challenging the reputations and motivations of its international critics, while demonstrating little willingness to listen to the substance of their concerns and to take real measures to address them.
The failure of the Sri Lankan government to adequately address widespread human rights and humanitarian law violations has prompted growing national and international support for a human rights monitoring mission under the auspices of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
Since 2006, Sri Lankan and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, have sought the establishment of a UN monitoring mission. In 2007, some of Sri Lankas key international partners joined these calls, dissatisfied with the measures taken by the Sri Lankan government.
At the 6th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, the EU representative Ambassador Francisco Xavier Esteves encouraged the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the government of Sri Lanka to agree on the establishment of an OHCHR field presence in the country. Esteves noted that while the government has taken certain steps to address the situation, more effective measures are necessary to put an immediate end to all human rights and international humanitarian law violations.361
In October, the US State Department stated that an international human rights presence in Sri Lanka would be an important step in improving human rights, accountability, and the rule of law, and ultimately resolving the conflict in Sri Lanka, and called on the government to reconsider its opposition to expansion of the OHCHR office and mandate in Sri Lanka.362
During her October 2007 visit to Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour made it clear that the cooperation between her office and the Sri Lankan government should go beyond training and capacity-building programs for national institutions. Emphasizing the need for independent information gathering and public reporting on human rights issues and the lack of progress made in this area by national bodies, such as the Presidential Commission of Inquiry and the Human Rights Commission, the high commissioner expressed her willingness to support the government in this task.363
Referring to the gravity of the reported ongoing abuses, and in particular of threats to life and security of the person, she called on the government to urgently resolve the ongoing discussions about the future of a productive relationship between OHCHR and the Government of Sri Lanka.364
The Sri Lankan government has thus far rejected the proposals for an international monitoring mechanism, including the expansion of the OHCHRs field presence. The arguments have ranged from polite assurances that international involvement is not necessary because national institutions are capable of addressing the problems, to indignation with the OHCHR and foreign governments for trying to police Sri Lanka and undermine its sovereignty.
In December 2007, in her address to the Human Rights Council, the high commissioner noted that her office has reached no agreement on a formula by which independent, public reporting by OHCHR could be ensured.365
The Sri Lankan governments opposition to the establishment of the international human rights monitoring mission is unfortunate. Instead of viewing the creation of such a mission as pointing to failings of the government, it should recognize that UN monitors would report on abuses by all parties to the conflict, including the LTTE. If the LTTE is the primary perpetrator of abuses, as the government has stated repeatedly, and the government indeed has nothing to hide,366 the government should welcome the role international monitors could play.
A team of experienced UN monitors based throughout the country could prevent the further deterioration of the human rights situation, deter abuses from taking place, and promote accountability.
International monitoring has proven particularly effective in dealing with the problem of large-scale disappearances and abductions. With a sufficient mandate and resources, the monitoring mission could achieve what the government and various national mechanisms have not been able to do so farestablish the location of disappeared persons through unimpeded visits to government and LTTE detention facilities; request information regarding specific cases from all sides to the conflict; assist national law enforcement agencies and human rights mechanisms in investigating the cases and communicating with the families; and maintain credible records of the reported cases.
The mission, despite the claims of some critics, would have nothing to do with a military intervention or peacekeeping, as it would consist of civilian monitors charged with investigating and deterring abuses by all parties to the conflict. At the same time it would be able to play a more effective role than the existing tiny OHCHR office, with a handful of professional staff or any of the national institutions.
Ultimately, the Sri Lankan government should not view the proposal for a UN human rights monitoring mission as a burden to be avoided, but as an opportunity. Continuing disappearances attributed to Sri Lankan security forces will only damage the governments standing at home and its reputation abroad. By accepting and fully participating in the development of a monitoring proposal and putting it into effect, the Sri Lankan government will be sending a powerful message that it is serious about accomplishing what previous Sri Lankan governments have not done: putting an end to Sri Lankas scourge of disappearances once and for all.
329 See, e.g., Ackerman Calls for Increased U.S. Efforts in Sri Lanka, press statement by House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, July 10, 2007; Lantos Calls for Calm, Return to Negotiations in Sri Lanka, press statement by House Committee on Foreign Affairs; " the Honorable Frank Pallone, Jr., Political Crises in South Asia: Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Nepal," written testimony, House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Middle East and South Asia, August 1, 2007.
330 Remarks By U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Richard A. Boucher at the Press Conference in Colombo, transcript by the Embassy of the United States in Sri Lanka, May 10, 2007, http://srilanka.usembassy.gov/bouchermay07.html (accessed October 28, 2007).
331 Under Secretaries Burns and Dobriansky Meet With Human Rights Defenders, media note, Office of the Spokesman, US Department of State, 2007/946, October 30, 2007.
332 H.R.2764, Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2008 (Enrolled as Agreed to or Passed by Both House and Senate).
333 Sri Lanka, Congressional Record, November 2, 2007, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?r110:16:./temp/~r110HqiyAL: (accessed November 3, 2007).
334 Ambassador Blakes Remarks at the International Seminar on Human Rights in Conflict Situations, January 11, 2008, website of the Embassy of the United States: Sri Lanka & Maldives, http://colombo.usembassy.gov/ambsp-11jan08.html (accessed February 27, 2008).
335 The EUs Relations with Sri Lanka, April 2007, website of the European Commission, http://ec.europa.eu/external_relations/sri_lanka/intro/index.htm (accessed October 30, 2007).
336 United Nations Human Rights Council, 6th Session, Statement by H.E. Ambassador Francisco Xavier Esteves, Permanent Representative of Portugal on behalf of European Union, Item 2, Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, September 13, 2007.
337 Statement by H.E. Mr. Swashpawan Sinhg, Ambassador/Permanent Representative of India at the General Debate following the Address by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, September 13, 2007.
338 PK Balachandran,Lanka Asks UN to Emulate India, The Hindustan Times, October 14, 2007.
340 Ananth Palakidnar, Akashi Commends President for Safeguarding Human Rights, Sunday Observer, June 10, 2007.
341 Japan-Sri Lanka Foreign Ministerial Meeting and Working Lunch, press release of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, June 28, 2007, http://www.mofa.go.jp/announce/announce/2007/6/1174268_828.html (accessed November 1, 2007).
342 Japanese Envoy Warns Sri Lanka of Aid Cut, AFP, January 31, 2008.
343 United Nations General Assembly, 62nd session, Item 72 (b) of the provisional agenda, Promotion and protection of human rights: human rights questions, including alternative approaches for improving the effective enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms, Report of the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary executions, A/62/265, August 16, 2007.
344 Press Statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights on Conclusion of Her Visit to Sri Lanka, Colombo, October 13, 2007, http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/2C07EE5600DE5B19C12573750034C474?opendocument (accessed October 20, 2007).
346 Human Right Council, Fourth session, Item 2 of the provisional agenda, Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, A/HRC/4/41, January 25, 2007.
347 Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Concludes Eighty-First Session, United Nations press release, HR/07/44, March 22, 2007, http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/7601FF7596243906C12572A7002D0348?opendocument (accessed April 22, 2007).
348 The United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances concluded
349 UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Concludes Its 83rd Session, Revises Methods of Work and Adopts Annual Report, press statement, November 30, 2007, http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/0300FB5BD28C6E2FC12573A300741BC3?opendocument (accessed December 17, 2007). The other country mentioned by the Working Group was Pakistan.
350 Allen Rock's Report Looks Like a Mere Calumniation - Defense Spokesman, Statement by the Ministry of Defense, January 20, 2007, http://www.defence.lk/new.asp?fname=20070118_05 (accessed October 17, 2007).
351 Simon Gardner, Sri Lanka Rebukes Aid Chief Over Safety Fears, Reuters, August 10, 2007.
352 Sri Lankan Minister Brands U.N. Official Who Questioned Aid Workers Safety a Terrorist," International Herald Tribune, August 15, 2007.
353 Rathindra Kuruwita, Jeyaraj Slams Ban Ki-moon, The Nation, August 19, 2007, http://www.lankanewspapers.com/news/2007/8/18409_space.html (accessed October 20, 2007).
354 Kicking Facts Around, SCOPP Report, October 16, 2007, http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/peace2005/Insidepage/SCOPPDaily_Report/SCOPP_report161007.asp (accessed October 25, 2007); Louise Arbour as a Political Football, SCOPP Report, October 12, 2007, http://www.peaceinsrilanka.org/peace2005/Insidepage/SCOPPDaily_Report/SCOPP_report121007.asp (accessed October 25, 2007).
355 See, e.g., Sri Lanka is open to Rational Persuasion. It is not Open to PressureAmbassador Dayan Jayatilleka, press release by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, September 13, 2007; Geneva Report: NGO Allegations of Human Rights Crisis refuted, statement by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, September 17, 2007.
356 Uditha Jayasinghe and Ravindu Peiris, UNHRC Resolution a Dead Letter-Minister, Daily Mirror, October 5, 2007; Sri Lanka: Government will Continue to Protect Human Right-Mnister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sunday Observer, October 8, 2007.
357 See, e.g., Geneva Report: NGO Allegations of Human Rights Crisis refuted, statement by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations Office at Geneva, September 17, 2007.
358 The letter contains a list of 84 members of the police or armed forces who have been indicted for abductions, disappearances, and, in some cases, murder, before 2004. Notably, only one of these led to a conviction so farthe accused received two years imprisonment and had to pay compensation. Eighteen members of the security forces were acquitted, and the rest of the cases are pending in courts. The letter also lists 40 indictments served since 2004 pertaining to investigations into allegations of torture, yet none related to abductions or disappearances. See Letter from the Embassy of Sri Lanka to the Senate Appropriations Committee and Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations, Re: Amendment relating to Sri Lankan, proposed under the Foreign Military Financing Program of the Senate Appropriations for the Department of State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs FY 2008, October 24, 2007.
359 Sri Lanka, Congressional Record, November 2, 2007, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?r110:16:./temp/~r110HqiyAL: (accessed November 3, 2007).
360 Sri Lanka: Government will Continue to Protect Human Right-Mnister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sunday Observer, October 8, 2007.
361 United Nations Human Rights Council, 6th Session, Statement by H.E. Ambassador Francisco Xavier Esteves, Permanent Representative of Portugal on behalf of European Union, Item 2, Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, September 13, 2007. A copy of the statement in on file with Human Rights Watch. The European Commissioner for External Relations reiterated the EUs position, emphasizing that in the dramatic context of Sri Lanka, a forward-looking UN human rights field operation, which can monitor, investigate and report on abuses by all parties to the conflict and deter further violations, is clearly justified. Answer given by Ms Ferrero-Waldner on behalf of the Commission, E-4193/07EN, E-4194/07EN, September 28, 2007.
362 Government of Sri Lanka's Reaction to High Commissioner Arbour's Visit, press statement by the US Department of State, 2007/904,October 22, 2007. US Senator Patrick Leahy argued that an international monitoring mission is essential to put an end to human rights violations and ensure impartial investigations into abuses committed by both sides of the conflict. In his November 2007 statement to the Senate, he said:
Sri Lanka, Congressional Record, November 2, 2007, http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/D?r110:16:./temp/~r110HqiyAL: (accessed November 3, 2007).
363 Press Statement by High Commissioner for Human Rights on Conclusion of Her Visit to Sri Lanka, Colombo, October 13, 2007, http://www.unhchr.ch/huricane/huricane.nsf/view01/2C07EE5600DE5B19C12573750034C474?opendocument (accessed October 20, 2007).
365 Address by Ms. Loiuse Arbour, High Commissioner for Human Rights, on the occasion of the resumed 6th session of the Human Rights Council, Geneva, December 11, 2007.
366 Sri Lanka: Government will Continue to Protect Human Right-Mnister Mahinda Samarasinghe, Sunday Observer, October 8, 2007.