Sri Lanka strongly rejects UN report; questions its mandate and timing

Sri Lanka rejected Friday’s UN report from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) calling for accountability for enforced disappearances, stating such a report has not been mandated by the UN Human Rights Council.

It also questioned the timing of the report on the eve of the May 18 end of the armed conflict with the LTTE in 2009.

On Friday, the OHCHR issued a 45-page report titled ‘Accountability for Enforced Disappearances in Sri Lanka’, referring to the “continuing accountability deficit in Sri Lanka” and calling for “renewed action” at the domestic level to hold it to account through criminal justice and other relevant processes. The report calls for the international community to be engaged with Sri Lanka on this issue and for the instigation of investigations and prosecutions using universal jurisdiction or other bases of jurisdiction and the need for targeted sanctions.

A Foreign Ministry spokesman told the Sunday Times that the timing of the report seemed to politicise the entire issue of allegations of enforced disappearances.

He said UN Human Rights High Commissioner Volker Turk was not mandated by any UN member-state to issue such an “unsubstantiated, vague and biased” report against senior security and defence officials. “There is no resolution on the issuance of such a report,” he added.

Ambassador to the UN (Geneva) Himalee Arunatilka will be writing to High Commissioner Turk, questioning his unilateral initiative to issue this report and the motive for it when he has no mandate or authority to serve extraneous interests. She is also to speak to other member-states on the breach of protocol by the UN High Commissioner.

The Sunday Times further learns that the report has no author and no number as is customary for any UN report.

The spokesman raised the issue of the timing for the day before when commemorative events are being held in the north of Sri Lanka and in Western capitals by sections of the Sri Lankan diaspora to commemorate the dead especially during the last stages of the three-decade-long armed conflict that ended with the defeat of the LTTE on the battlefield.

He said that this was an attempt by the UN agency to target Sri Lanka “at a time when there are gross human rights violations happening elsewhere in the world,” a clear reference to the human rights violations currently unfolding in Occupied Palestine.

One of the highlights of the report has been that, for the first time, the UN has drawn references to those who ‘disappeared’ as far back as the JVP-led 1971 insurgency—more than half a century ago—and the second JVP insurgency from 1987 to 1989.

While there has been repeated questioning why the UN has only raised the issue of enforced disappearances during the LTTE-led armed conflict, though references have been in general to ‘enforced disappearances’, the formal specific inclusion of the JVP insurgencies, and references to the work of “paramilitary groups” are clearly a reference to the JVP insurgencies.

These come against the backdrop of a recent comment by a JVP parliamentarian that the party, now contesting the forthcoming presidential election, supports the commemoration of all those who died during all the armed conflicts in Sri Lanka. Of late, the JVP has intensified its campaigning in the north, with a May Day rally in Jaffna seeking northern votes for its presidential candidate.

The JVP’s Propaganda Secretary and International Affairs spokesman, Vijitha Herath, told Parliament that anyone who lost their loved ones in the (LTTE) war should be allowed to commemorate them, and “that is common whether it is in the South or North”. He said it was a right that families should have. “We too have lost people; we have two commemorative events to remember our members who have died, and no one has tried to stop us so far”.

The Foreign Ministry spokesman said it was “ridiculous” to even try and investigate allegations of forced disappearances of 1971 when the actors were “dead and gone” and that it was proof of a targeted agenda by the UN agency against Sri Lanka.