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Home > Struggle for Tamil Eelam > Sri Lanka Accused at United Nations > UN Human Rights Council - 2006: Inaugural Session > UN Human Rights Council - September 2006

Inaugural Session : 19-30 June 2006

The International Federation of Tamils welcomes the inauguration of the reformed UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on 19 June 2006. Taking lessons from the past, observing challenges and problems of the present and vowing to take human rights to another new dimension, we are aware, that the new UNHRC has been formed after intense deliberations, research and consultations involving experts and institutions. We wish the UNHRC, all success.

We wish to remind you that the success of the UNHRC depends on the credibility of the members sitting on its council and the trustworthiness the Council could inspire among all peoples of the world with its forthrightness, impartiality and fidelity to its mission.

Here, we wish to point out that the inaugural meeting of the UNHRC will face a challenge to its lofty ideals, its trustworthiness and its credibility because of the composition of its membership. Though the election of Sri Lanka to the UNHRC was a mockery and travesty of human rights and humanitarian law, the hope perhaps may have been to inspire the country to mend its ways and adhere to the norms of human rights and international standards, at least from the day it was included into a top UN body.

In fact, although the Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, in its Aide Memoire dated 10 April 2006, addressed to the Secretary General of the UN, confirming its candidature to the Human Rights Council, detailed its pledges and commitments on human rights in support of Sri Lanka's candidature, and if elected, as to how Sri Lanka aimed to play a constructive role in the Human Rights Council, yet, within the last two months, the government has made a mockery of its pledges by resorting to extra-judicial killings of Tamil civilians and "Cluster-Killing" of Tamils with impunity.

On election to the high echelons of the UN apparatus, newly elected member countries, with their pledges commit themselves to be worthy of their newly elevated position. Before the commencement of the inaugural function, the UN needs to examine the escalating human rights violations in the case of Sri Lanka, a cancer that has eaten deeply into the Sinhala polity for decades. To give just one instance, during the Sinhala JVP insurgency of 1992, more than 30,000 Sinhala civilians were killed with impunity and as many were added to the involuntary disappeared list, at the hands of the Sri Lanka Armed Forces.

The Tamils in Sri Lanka are horrified that the government's human rights violations during the past 4 months have increased and continue to increase at a greater velocity than ever before. More than 300 extra-judicial killings have taken place since February when Sri Lanka announced its candidature to the UNHRC. Incarceration in jail and detention without bail are also continuing. It should also be remembered that more than 65, 000 Tamils have been killed by State armed Forces since 1983.

We should like to point out to the UNHCR that neither in the case of the thousands of Sinhala civilians killed during the JVP insurgency nor in the case of the thousands of Tamil civilians killed during Tamil national struggle was there any Independent Commission of Inquiry with full powers appointed to investigate and punish the guilty. Perhaps this explains the escalation of killings with impunity.

Since of late, involuntary disappearances have multiplied mostly followed by nocturnal visits to civilian Tamil homes by state armed forces, with non-declared implementation of normal curfew at night in the Tamil areas making abductions convenient.

Lifeless bodies of people arrested for questioning and taken to army camps have been discovered left abandoned outside Sri Lanka Army bases the following day, as in the case of five Tamil youths at Puthur on 18 april 2006 and the five decapitated naked bodies of five Tamil youths at Avissawela a little earlier.

Extra-judicial killing of Tamils by Sri Lanka armed forces has now taken a new appearance of 'Cluster-killing,' as in the case of five higher education students in Trincomalee on January 2, 'cluster-killing' of 7 youths on their way to a nuptial party at Nelliyadi, with SL army rocket-launchers on 04 may 2006, 'cluster-killing' of 8 Hindu devotees at Manthuvil temple on 06 May 2006, 'cluster-killing' of 13 Tamils in Allaipitti, an islet off Jaffna, an incident in which 9 people including a family of father, mother, 4 year-old son and a 4 month-old daughter were butchered on 13 May 2006 and finally a most horrendous 'cluster-killing' of a young family at Vankalai, Mannar on 8 June are but some examples of Sri Lanka army's rampage and killing with impunity.

Of the cases referred to above, the only case that has not yet been reported in detail to the International Community by IFT is that of the recent incident at Vankalai, Mannar, an outline of which we propose to present here.

Vankalai, a large Catholic Tamil village in Mannar, has been subject to continual harassment and intimidation from the Sri Lanka army men, who were based in the village. Many families have already moved out of the village. The neighbours of Moorthy Martin, the village carpenter, had heard gunshots and screams on the night of 8 June, but could not go out to help for fear of army reprisals. But they had seen a group of army men leaving the house. The following morning they found the bodies of Martin, 35, his daughter 09, and son, 07, hanging from the roof inside the house, dripping blood. There were numerous stab-wounds on the female organ of the little girl, from which blood was dripping. The little boy's body was dismembered under the ribs. The body of the 29 year-old mother of the two kids lay sprawled on her bed, with gunshot ripping through her female organ, the army gang-rapists expecting to remove evidence, perhaps.

IFT wishes to draw the attention of the UNHRC to the EU declaration dated 30 May 2006, in which it says,

" …. The EU urges the Government of Sri Lanka to act effectively on the commitment of President Rajapakse to put a stop to the culture of impunity and to clamp down on all acts of violence in areas controlled by the Government. The EU further urges the Government to ensure law and order for all citizens of Sri Lanka, and to investigate and prosecute all cases of violence that have so far not resulted in arrests or convictions."

The EU declaration further states,

"….. The EU strongly urges the Sri Lankan authorities to curb violence in Government controlled areas. The EU notes with concern the growing number of reports of extra-judicial killings."

IFT wishes to point out to the UNHRC that while including a country such as Sri Lanka in its august body has inevitably raised questions about the credibility of the commitment of the Council to protecting human rights, accommodating Sri Lanka on the dais at the inauguration ceremony on 19 June will be an affront to human decency.

We seek to persuade the UNHRC that it should rectify the situation by applying at its earliest, its stipulation (4) under An Improved Framework in the Press Release - HRC/2 dated 15 June 2006, which says,

" -- Any Council member who commits gross and systematic violations of human rights can have their rights of membership suspended by a two-thirds majority of the General Assembly."

This is an opportunity for the UNHRC to separate considerations of geo-politics from its stated commitment to human rights and tell the recalcitrant government of Sri Lanka that it remains ostracised till it respects human rights and puts its house in order.

International Educational Development
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23 June 2006

Senor Luis Alfonso de Alba,
United Nations Human Rights Council
First Session
19-30 June 2006
Palais de Nations

Aux Mains


International Educational Development (IED) warmly welcomes your election as President of the new Human Rights Council. Having participated as an NGO in the sessions of both the Commission and Sub-Commission for nearly a quarter of a century, we understand from first hand experience the problems that befell the Commission and hope that the Council can overcome them. In particular, we point to the need for an impartial and fair body, all of whose participants provide honest assessment and work cooperatively for remedies. We especially welcome your inaugural statement in which you underscore the need to be "fair and balanced" in assessment of situations and your reminder not to waste our "second chance."

Our hopes for genuine reform were threatened, however, by a statement made by the government of Sri Lanka during the first session of the new Council. As you are aware, Sri Lanka won a seat on the Council with the fewest votes in the Asian group. Sri Lanka also holds the record as second only to Iraq in disappearances, and has been under intense scrutiny, including many investigative missions, by essentially all UN human rights special mechanisms for a number of years. Most of this scrutiny is in the context of the long armed conflict in Sri Lanka between the majority Sinhala government and the minority Tamil people and leaders, so the many violations of human rights of Tamils reported are also violations of humanitarian law -- many at the "grave breach" level. At present time, nearly one-third of Sri Lanka's Tamil population has sought and received asylum abroad or languish in camps for the internally displaced.

Also at present there is a very shaky ceasefire agreement between the government forces and the opposition forces, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Yet in spite of its own very poor record and the fragility of the ceasefire, the representative of Sri Lanka resorted to distortion and outright untruths, continuing what we have referred to as the "demonizing" of the Tamils and their leadership.

The vehicle for this plan is to "convert" what has clearly been an armed conflict into "terrorism and counter-terrorism," and is overtly aided in this by the United States due to US geopolitical interests in Sri Lanka. In our view, if the government of Sri Lanka committed as much time and will to resolve the war as it does in demonizing the Tamils before the international community, the war might have been peacefully concluded years ago. As we set out in one of our written statements submitted to the last session of the Commission on Human rights (E/CN.4/2006/NGO/207) the unrelenting anti-Tamil policy even spilled over into Tsunami relief in the Tamil areas, as the United States government told the American Red Cross it could not distribute any on the millions of dollars in donations to the Tamil areas without facing counter-terrorism measures. The Sri Lanka government joined the US in blocking most other international aide, as well as meaningful visits by the Secretary-General Annan and former US President Clinton to the Tamil areas.

In its statement to the Council, the government capitalized on both the increase in violence in Sri Lanka as well as the child soldier issue to again demonize the Tamils and the LTTE. The representative referred to recent LTTE recruitment of "thousands" of children. This is blatantly false. While not to deny that there may be some children in LTTE areas under the age of 15, there are certainly not thousands of combatants under 15 (the Geneva Convention age) or between 15 and 18 for that matter. Further, the relevant Geneva Convention provisions relate to use in combat, but as there has been a ceasefire for a number of years, in that sense there are no child soldiers at all.

The government representative also pointed out an event that occurred very recently when a crowded bus hit a land mine, killing most passengers. We joined many in condemning this event, as did the LTTE and Tamil groups worldwide. All, including the LTTE, have called for a full investigation. Such an investigation has not taken place, yet the representative referred to the event as a "senseless LTTE terrorist attack." We feel very strongly that the government of Sri Lanka should not have sullied this new body by using it as a forum to continue its demonizing of the Tamils.

In our written statement to the Council (A/HRC/1/NGO/7), and using Sri Lanka as one example, we urge that when a country has been subject to review by many human rights procedures and mechanisms, that country should automatically be subject to the stricter scrutiny of a country special rapporteur or representative or advisory services. In this way, the choice of country review is not made politically but objectively. We look forward to your proposals and Council action in this regard. If the Council fails to establish objective rather than political processes to invoke heightened scrutiny, the Council may well start down the same road that ultimately brought down the Commission.

Yours truly,

Karen Parker, JD,
Chief Delegate, IED

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