Platform for Freedom panel: (from left) Attorney-at-law Sampath Pushpakumara, attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, Brito Fernando, Dr. Nimalka Fernando and spokesperson Freddy Gamage.
Pic by Dhammika Salwathura
By Shamindra Ferdinando
A collective of Sri Lankan human rights organizations yesterday urged the government to address accountability issues or face the consequences at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). Senior representatives of 32 organizations made representations to Human Rights Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe yesterday at his ministry as regards their submissions to Sri Lanka’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on No 1, 2012.
Minister Samarasinghe explained post-war initiatives on the part of the government to address accountability issues.
Having met the minister, attorney-at-law Sampath Pushpakumara told The Island that they had an opportunity to discuss issues pertaining to the forthcoming UPR. Responding to a query, Pushpakumara said that their submissions to the UPR were available with the minister as it was the normal practice to release such documents before the meeting.
Pushpakumara said that their campaign was on track in spite of the government’s efforts to discredit them as traitors.
The UK headquartered Global Tamil Forum (GTF), too, made representations to the UPR process recently. GTF spokesman Suren Surendiran told The Island yesterday: “GTF and other Tamil Organizations along with all other international human rights institutions will not rest until justice is served and the appalling human rights conditions for all in the island come to international standards. We will take every single opportunity presented at international and local events to expose the human rights abuses that continue with impunity.”
Addressing the media at the Centre for Poverty Analysis, No 29, Gregory Road, Monday evening, attorney-at-law Sudarshana Gunawardena, Dr. Nimalka Fernando, attorney-at-law Sampath Pushpakumara and Brito Fernando on behalf of ‘Platform for Freedom’ emphasized that they would campaign both here and abroad against the dictatorial Rajapaksa regime. They vowed to pursue their campaign until those responsible for war crimes and post-war violations of human rights were punished.
Calling themselves human rights defenders, they explained the circumstances under which they made submissions to the UNHRC for consideration at the UPR. The grouping strongly denied allegations that theirs was a secret report aimed at undermining the Sri Lankan state. They made available a copy of the submissions categorized as ‘Joint Civil Society submissions to the UPR,’ which dealt with 18 separate issues, including a general view of rule of law. “Of course the process was secret until the government finalized its own report to the UPR. Once the government furnished its report, we released ours,” Gunawardena said.
The grouping accused the government of failing to address what it called ethno-political grievances even after the conclusion of the conflict in May 2009.
The initiative spearheaded by the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) faulted the government for failing to fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, while calling for a far reaching solution to the national issue. The Civil Society organization alleged that the introduction of the 18th Amendment at the behest of the executive had worsened the situation, with the judiciary, too, vulnerable to the manipulations of the political authority.
Attorney-at-law Gunawardena explained the setting up of a troika comprising India, Spain and Benin to facilitate the UPR process as regards Sri Lanka. Asked by The Island whether it was fair for a godfather of Sri Lanka’s terrorism to be part of the troika especially in the background of India backing an anti-Sri Lanka resolution at the 19th sessions of UNHRC last Feb/March, the panel pointed out that the government of Sri Lanka had not voiced any concern regarding India’s role. The panel pointed out that there couldn’t be any issue as GoSL hadn’t opposed the composition of the troika. The panel asserted that the GoSL had always acted friendly towards India, though there were issues. Any opposition to India’s involvement should come from the government, the panel stressed.
When pointed out by The Island that their report had been funded by foreign sources generally hostile towards Sri Lanka, hence could be supportive of those pursuing an international war crimes investigation here, the panel said that as theirs was now a public report people could examine it. The report could be challenged if it was not true, the panel said.
The panel attributed The Island taking an unsympathetic position to their cause to this writer being part of the GoSL delegation to the last UNHRC sessions.
Dr. Fernando explained the circumstances leading to the setting up of United Nations Human Rights Council in place of United Nations Human Rights Commission in 2006 and the introduction of the UPR process two years later to ensure that both member states of the council as well as other countries adhered with the commitments given by them. An irate Dr. Fernando alleged that those countries violating human rights used to manipulate the process adopted by the commission. Unfortunately even after the establishment of the 47-member council in 2006, various blocks of countries engaged in politics at the expense of the truth and reconciliation, she said.
Dr. Fernando criticized India’s position at Sri Lanka’s first UPR in 2008 at the height of the war. India remained silent at that time, she said.
She lashed out at the government for turning a blind eye to a minister (She was referring to Minister Mervyn Silva) threatening to harm those members of the NGO community, including herself for representing the interests of the civil society at the last UNHRC sessions in Geneva.