Prez, PM assure Hussein: Sri Lanka will meet UNHRC commitments

* UNHRC chief slams Sri Lankan judiciaryand law enforcement agencies

*... stresses need for ‘international participation’ in accountability mechanism

* ... advocates expeditious reduction of military strength in North and East

*... calls upon armed forces to face up to the stain on their reputation

By C. A. Chandraprema

Concluding his four-day visit to Sri Lanka, UN Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Al Hussein told the media in Colombo that he had met President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that morning and they had both assured him that Sri Lanka would be meeting its human rights commitments.

The UN Human Rights Commissioner said that the President and Prime Minister had given him that assurance when he had informed them of the fears expressed by victims in the North and East that the government might be ‘wavering in its human rights commitments’. He said that he had discussed a wide range of issues with the President and the Prime Minister which would have a bearing on the future of Sri Lanka.

High Commissioner Hussein said Sri Lanka’s key institutions had been ‘corroded and corrupted’ during three decades of conflict and that though Sri Lanka had many excellent judges, lawyers and law enforcement officials, over the years the system they depended upon had become highly politicised and unbalanced. The country’s history was ‘littered with judicial failures’ he said. "Virtually every week provides a news story about a failed investigation, a mob storming a court room or another example of a crime going unpunished" he said, stressing that it was for those reasons that the OHCHR report on Sri Lanka and the UN Human Rights Council had called for international participation in the accountability mechanisms to be set up to deal with international crimes and gross human rights violations.

Hussein stressed the importance of the recommendations made in the UNHRC resolution and wanted everyone to remember that the UNHRC resolution had been co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and passed with the concurrence of all 47 member states of the UNHRC. He said that the UNHRC resolution pointed out an "an eminently sensible pathway for the country to follow". He said that his office was charged with following up its implementation.

The High Commissioner said the international community wanted the armed forces to face up to the stain on its reputation and that the people who were against the implementation of the resolution, were undermining the future peace and stability of Sri Lanka. He said that the element of fear had considerably diminished in Colombo and the south but in the North and East it ‘has mutated but sadly still exists’. He warned against neglecting or mishandling any of the four key elements of the post conflict— resolution truth telling, accountability, reparations or institutional reform –lest the country should lose a tremendous opportunity to establish long term stability.

HR Commissioner Hussein also said that large parts of the country had been physically, politically, socially and economically separated from each other for the better part of the last three decades and that while Colombo was a bustling city with a mass of construction sites, flourishing businesses and clean streets, in the North and East there were damaged and depressed areas where poverty was rife. While there were some signs of physical development and positive vision (in the North and East) there were ‘ominous signs of hopes not yet bearing fruit and optimism showing signs of souring’.  Hussein recommended the following immediate measures to halt the ‘draining of confidence’:

(a) The military should accelerate the return of land it has seized in the North and East (b)

(b) The government should reduce the number of military personnel in the North and East.

(c) (c) The govt. should find a formula to either charge or release the remaining Tamil detainees.

Hussein also said that his visit was a more friendly, cooperative and encouraging visit than the one his predecessor Navi Pillai ‘endured’ in August 2013 which was marred by vituperative attacks on her integrity simply because she had addressed a number of burning human rights issues which any High Commissioner for Human Rights would have raised at the time.

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