This week will be a crucial week for Sri Lanka, or more precisely for the Government, as the woman seen as the
“iron lady” dealing with human rights issues makes her visit to Sri Lanka to get a firsthand account of what happened during and after the war.
During her weeklong stay in Sri Lanka, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay will not just visit the North and East, but will also have several meetings both in Colombo and in the North in an attempt to get an independent view of the ground situation.
Chief of Defence Staff General Jagath Jayasuriya said the Government will be giving her three separate briefings, including one by the Secretary to the President Lalith Weeratunga on the action plan on implementing the LLRC recommendations and one by the Ministry of Defence headed by the Defence Secretary.
Pillay to update UNHRC at Geneva
Pillay’s impression of Sri Lanka at the end of her visit will be all the more crucial as the UN Human Rights Council will meet in Geneva next month, and she is expected to make a statement on Sri Lanka. Her office said that in its resolution 22/1 – Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka – the Human Rights Council requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present an oral update to the Council on the implementation of that resolution with input from relevant special procedures mandate holders.
The oral update will be made to the Council during its September session. Pillay has repeatedly called for an international independent investigation on Sri Lanka, particularly into the allegations which arose over the final stages of the war, and it would not be surprising if she maintains that stand even after her visit to Sri Lanka.
Pillay is scheduled to call on President Mahinda Rajapaksa and meet Government ministers and officials during her visit. She will also hold talks with senior judicial figures, members of the National Human Rights Commission and representatives of civil society.
The High Commissioner is due to hold a news conference in Colombo at the end of her visit on Saturday 31 August, her office said in a statement last week.
The Government hopes Pillay will submit a “balanced and objective” report on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council’s next session in September.
Human Rights Envoy and Plantation Minister, Mahinda Samarasinghe said that Pillay would be able to see the progress made by Sri Lanka in the reconciliation sphere since the civil war with the LTTE ended four years ago.
Dr Jayatilleka: She is a human rights fudamentalist
Dr Dayan Jayatilleka, former Ambassador and Permanent Delegate of Sri Lanka to the UN in
Geneva (2007-2009) and a former Vice President of the UN Human Rights Council (2007-2008), told The Sunday Leader that Pillay and the Government should perhaps explore the possibilities of setting up an Office of the High Commissioner in Sri Lanka.
He said such an office should have a monitoring function on the strict proviso that it is an alternative to an international inquiry mechanism in to the war, and shall be strictly limited to the post-war period.
“While ambassador/permanent representative to the UN in Geneva I was in the forefront of the opposition to such an office being established in wartime because I felt it could be used to leverage a ceasefire and forestall our definitive liberation from the Tigers.
I still think I was right at the time, but given the human rights situation in peacetime, the impunity and immunity flaunted by state terrorism against unarmed citizens, I think that such a presence of the UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s Office would be in the public interest,” he said.Dr Jayatilleka, who has had direct dealings with Pillay during his term in Geneva, said she can be seen as independent and highly autonomous. “She is by no means a front for the West or the global North. She has criticized the USA, Israel, Libya, Syria and Iraq.
The worst I can say about her contains a sincere compliment within the criticism; she is a human rights fundamentalist. The world needs such people,” he said.
Dr Jayatilleka however said it will be a ‘joke’ if anyone in the Government thinks they can be tough with her when she comes. “Navi Pillay is impossible to intimidate. If the Government tries to be ‘tough’, the world’s media will relay it, and we shall lose even more votes than we have lost already in the UN Human Rights Council.
Navi Pillay is a respected world figure, known as a moral and ethical voice and a keeper of conscience. I have crossed swords with her successfully on important occasions, but have great respect for her.
The Government must be honest, transparent, reasonable, rational, frank and forthright with her. Be cooperative while being upfront is my advice. Do not try to pull wool over her eyes or intimidate her,” he said.
The Government has however assured Pilay will be free to move around and meet anyone she wants, including the Tamil National Alliance and former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka. Fonseka had said that he hopes to meet Pillay and discuss several issues with her, including the lack of democracy and justice in Sri Lanka.
Apart from the war, the recent incidents in Weliweriya will also draw Pillay’s attention. Her office had told The Sunday Leader recently that she had been alerted over the violent incidents which took place in Weliweriya and they were gathering more information. Pillay’s spokesperson Cécile Pouilly said that Pillay’s office was concerned over the reported incidents in which three people were killed and many others sustained injuries.