9/15/2009

At UNHRC Sri Lanka promises to create a new multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious state


(September 15, 2009 - Lanka Polity) Sri Lanka promised to create a new multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious state before the international community although the Sinhala nationalist elements in the ruling coalition had challenged this 'multi' factor strongly. "We have to rebuild our institutional foundations to foster and preserve the new multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Sri Lanka that we wish to create. Our vision is the creation of a new Sri Lankan identity which acknowledges and cherishes the wonderful diversity that characterizes our society." Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said. 

On Monday, 14 September 2009, Sri Lanka Minister of Human Rights Mahinda Samarasinghe addressed the Twelfth Session of the UN Human Rights Council which began its 3-week long session on that day.  
"Since June this year, when we last addressed this forum, Sri Lanka has made significant strides towards a lasting and durable solution to our long-standing conflict." the Minister said adding President Mahinda Rajapakse is doing its utmost to restore, rebuild and renew the foundations of a democratic social order throughout the territory of the Sri Lankan nation.
 
"We have taken note of the concerns expressed with regard to the internally displaced Sri Lankan civilians by the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier today. She chose, in her statement, to characterize the relief villages and welfare centres housing internally displaced Sri Lankans, as being no more than internment camps. This is furthest from the truth.  The reality in post-conflict Sri Lanka is very different," he said.

Before his speech, UN Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillai made several references on Sri Lanka in the opening statement of the session. "Conflicts continue to exact a tragic toll in Afghanistan, Colombia, the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo, in the occupied Palestinian territory, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Yemen and elsewhere. An intolerable number of displaced persons continue to live in camps. In Sri Lanka, internally displaced persons are effectively detained under conditions of internment. Humanitarian agencies’ access to these camps remains restricted, and the mandates of relief agencies are increasingly coming under threat," she said.

The Minister said that protection issues were also a concern given that the Government possessed information that some LTTE cadres had infiltrated the ranks of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) and posed a significant threat. "You will appreciate Mr President, that the Government of Sri Lanka has a responsibility to guarantee the human rights of the entirety of the population – not only the rights of the conflict-affected IDPs. Allowing LTTE cadres, masquerading as ordinary civilians, freedom of movement would have posed a grave threat to people in the rest of the country."
Minister Samarasinghe also said that It was the government position that the IDPs could and would be permitted to leave the relief villages and welfare centres once they are screened and their bona fides established. 
"As at 06 September 2009 167,908 IDPs representing 75,009 families have been registered, with 110,000 temporary identity cards being handed over to the authorities for distribution." 

"Since the end of successful armed operations to rescue the civilians in the theatre of conflict in May 2009, over 14,500 persons have been cleared to live with relatives. Over 31,000 persons have been reunified with members of their families who were separated during the military operations. Resettlement has commenced with limited returns being made possible by demining. In the period July to August 2009, a total of 5,331 IDPs representing 695 families have been resettled from sites in Vavuniya to Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna and Trincomalee Districts. A further total of 9,994 persons are to be returned to their places of origin in the East and Jaffna during a two week period. Of this total, the first set of returns took place on 11 September with approximately 2,800 persons from Vavuniya IDP sites being returned to their places of origin in Ampara, Batticaloa, Jaffna and Trincomalee Districts. This included 60 university students who were sent to Jaffna. Of the older category of persons displaced between 2006 and September 2008 during the Eastern Humanitarian Operations, 2,828 persons from 762 families have been resettled in Musali DS Division, in the Mannar District.  Further “go and see visits” are being organised for the rest of the IDPs to ensure that eventual return and resettlement is voluntary based on informed choice. "

In response to UN High Commissioner for Human Rights who spoke of access to humanitarian actors, the Minister said along with the several Governmental agencies working for IDP welfare, there are over 50 agencies including United Nations, international and national non-governmental organizations working alongside the government to support and supplement our efforts. 

Commenting on the controversial video telecast by UK's Channel-4 depicting Sri Lanka Army officials executing Tamils, the Minister said the initial impact of this fake video was devastating to the extent that even the Secretary-General aired his grave concern to me when the Minister met with him ten days ago in Geneva on the sidelines of the World Climate Conference. "I am now pleased to announce that four separate investigations conducted in respect of this video footage have now scientifically  established beyond doubt that the video was a fake. We have shared these scientific findings with the Secretary-General and the High Commissioner, among others, and we will be taking appropriate steps to ensure that this kind of unverified broadcast is prevented from happening again." Sri Lanka vowed to defeat these forces who cannot be allowed to tarnish and bring disrepute to the image of my country.  
  
"For those remaining in the relief villages and welfare centres, health has been identified as a priority sector. At present, a total of 81 doctors are working in camps in Vavuniya and 18 doctors are working in the Cheddikulam hospital close to the main relief village site known as Menik Farm......Examinations Department established 10 special examination centres in Vavuniya for 1,236 displaced candidates to enable them to sit the G.C.E Advanced Level examination. It is significant that 166 ex-child combatants also sat for the examination held last month." 

"The Government's programme could be summarized under the 5 heads of relief, reconstruction, resettlement, reintegration and reconciliation.......According to the initial survey carried out by the Information Management System on Mine Action, it is estimated that approximately 1.5 million landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) contaminate an area of 402 sq km."
The Minister also did not forget to speak about the sentencing of Tamil journalist  J.S. Tissanayagam for 20 years rigorous imprisonment by a Sri Lankan court under draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act. "Much has been said about the arrest, detention, trial and conviction of Sri Lankan journalist Mr J.S. Tissanayagam. What to my mind is most important in regard to this matter is that due process was observed and he was detained and tried in accordance with the law within a period of approximately 18 months. While the merits of the case and the interpretation of substantive aspects of the law are purely a matter for the courts to decide upon, as a member of the executive and Minister for Human Rights, my first concern is to see that the law is observed. I already understand that measures are under way by his legal team to file an appeal before the appellate courts of Sri Lanka and am confident that the judicial process will mete out justice to this individual. Indeed, in comparison to journalists who have been detained for over two years in some cases and released without ever being charged in other conflict situations, Mr. Tissanayagam’s trial and conviction by the regular courts of the country is less odious and offensive to human rights norms and standards."  


In the opening statement the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said, "We should all be dismayed by the recent sentence of twenty years’ imprisonment imposed on Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam, who had been critical of the army’s treatment of Tamil civilians. His conviction raises serious concerns about respect for the right to freedom of expression."

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