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Monday, 19 November 2012






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How the discourse on Human Rights is perverted

I was called up by the BBC when they received a leaked copy of the Report to the Secretary General on the work of UN Agencies in Sri Lanka during the conflict period. They wanted me to comment and, though they would not share with me what they had, I agreed since I did not want the debate to go by default.

UN Secretary General
Ban Ki-moon

They promised to send me the text of what their correspondent Lyse Doucette was posting on their website at 2 pm GMT. They would not send this to me beforehand, though they said they could give me some time to study it. Since however they were going on the air at 2pm, I thought I should respond straight away, and this proved sensible, for even before the email arrived, I saw the discussion begin on BBC television.

Radio actually gave me a reasonable time, though nothing like as much as had been allowed all those who attacked Sri Lanka. TV, which followed soon afterwards, cut me off after a couple of minutes, though they did ask me to answer another question for a later programme.

They have not confirmed that this was used, and a friend in Britain who accessed the link to the Newsnight programme found that I was not there. Perhaps there was a mistake, but the track record suggests that suppression is the order of the day. Lyse Doucette’s piece had comments from several of the usual suspects, including Benjamin Dix who first surfaced in Geneva in 2008, when the UN in Colombo apologized for his antics.

He is joined now by someone called Edward Mortimer, who is involved in something called the Sri Lankan Campaign. Not one of those she cites on the piece put up on the Web challenged the basis on which the current UN Report has been produced.

But we can scarcely complain about this, given that the authorities has simply let this happen, without anticipating the problem foreshadowed in the original Darusman Report.

I mentioned the need for this, and asking the UN to look at its own records which had been ignored by the Darusman Committee.

The only response government made to the patent incompetence of the Ministry at the time was to appoint Sajin Vaas Gunewardena as Monitoring Member of Parliament, and he is supposed thereafter to have brought order into the administration. I assume he was also expected to contribute to policy making, but since the same approach as before continued with regard to relations with the UN, I suppose he too was overwhelmed by the prevailing ethos of waiting for crises and then hitting out blindly on all sides.

What I said at the time, to quote from the letter I sent the Secretary, was that we should ‘ensure correction of those aspects that are clearly misleading of what is erroneously referred to as a UN report.

At the same time, we should treat seriously aspects that are not inaccurate and that create an adverse impression….. I have in several publications drawn attention to errors, and I believe a summation of these should be brought to the attention of the UN Secretary General. At the same time he should be asked to respond to the queries on the attached page, since they bear on the credibility of the report as it has been compiled’.

Amongst the queries I suggested were -

* Did the Panel consult the heads of UN agencies in Sri Lanka with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning;

a) Alleged rape

b) Deliberate deprival of humanitarian assistance

c) Unnecessary suffering for the displaced

d) Lack of information about rehabilitation sites?

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the UN Resident Coordinator with regard to conditions at the camps….

* Did the Panel consult the head of the ICRC with regard to the various allegations contained in the Panel report, and in particular those concerning

a) Transportation of the wounded and others from conflict areas to government hospitals, and the treatment received by these

b) Transportation of food and other supplies to the conflict area

UN Special Representative on the
Rights of the Displaced, Prof
Walter Kalin

c) Information provided by the ICRC to government about conditions in the conflict area, and in particular the establishment and operation of medical centres.

It would be useful to ask the UN Secretary General to circulate the letter of the ICRC head to the navy regarding its support for ICRC operations, and to request reports from him with regard to these matters. …

* Did the UN set up a ‘networks of observers who were operational in LTTE-controlled areas’….. Was this with the authority of the UN Resident Coordinator, and how did it fit within the UN mandate? With whom were its reports shared? …

* Did the Panel consult the UN Special Representative on the Rights of the Displaced, Prof Walter Kalin, and use the reports he published? Were they aware that he visited Sri Lanka three times during this period?

* Will the Panel explain errors such as the attribution to government of actions relating to the LTTE (Footnote 92)….?

* Will the Panel provide sources for the various estimates mentioned in Para 133, as well as all alternative estimates with regard to the given figures? …..

* Has the Panel studied the reports of UN committees which make clear the reluctance of agencies entrusted with funds for the benefit of Sri Lankan displaced citizens to upgrade facilities at Manik Farm despite numerous requests…..?

Recently too I have tried to suggest that we work together more coherently with the UN.

But nothing was done, and now our friends too are being thrown to the wolves, because we did nothing to produce a common, detailed response to the calumnies.


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