UN Human Rights Council flunks test on Sri Lanka

I can’t tell you how disappointed I am.  The UN Human Rights Council concluded its special session on Sri Lanka yesterday by adopting a resolution proposed by the Sri Lankan government.  The Council’s session should have been used to examine the reports of human rights violations and war crimes occurring during  the recent fighting between the Sri Lankan security forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  On May 17, the Sri Lankan government had announced that it had defeated the Tigers, recapturing all the territory controlled by them and killing their leaders.  The Tigers had been fighting over the past 26 years to establish an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of the country.  Both sides have committed gross human rights violations and war crimes over the course of the conflict.

Amnesty International had called for the Council to set up a fact-finding mission to look into allegations of abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law by both sides.  The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights told the Council’s special session that an independent, international investigation should be undertaken into these abuses.  Both also called for the Sri Lankan government to give journalists and aid agencies unimpeded access to the hundreds of thousands of displaced civilians who’ve been placed by the government in overcrowded internment camps which they can’t leave.

Of course, the Council’s resolution, since it was drafted by the Sri Lankan government, does none of these things.  While condemning the Tigers, it makes no mention of abuses committed by the government forces.  It simply acknowledges that the Sri Lankan government would provide aid agencies with access “as may be appropriate” to the displaced civilians.  

What’s next for the Human Rights Council – asking the Sudanese government to draft a resolution on Darfur?  asking the government of Myanmar to draft a resolution on Aung San Suu Kyi?  The Council could still redeem itself; its next regular session starts next Monday, June 2.  The Council should take up action again on Sri Lanka and this time live up to its responsibilities by establishing an international investigation into the abuses committed by both sides and ensuring unimpeded access for aid agencies and the media to the displaced civilians.

Yesterday was a very sad day for the cause of human rights in Sri Lanka.  Let’s hope it’s not repeated.

UN Human Rights Council to hold special session on Sri Lanka

Good news!  The U.N. Human Rights Council will hold a special session in Geneva on Monday, May 25, on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.  The Sri Lankan government has recently reconquered all the territory controlled by the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The Tigers had been fighting for over 26 years in pursuit of an independent state for the Tamil minority in the north and east of Sri Lanka.  The conflict has been accompanied by scores of human rights abuses and war crimes committed by both sides. 

The Human Rights Council should at least do the following for the people of Sri Lanka:

  1. Establish an international commission of inquiry to investigate war crimes and human rights abuses by both sides and hold accountable those found responsible
  2. Persuade the Sri Lankan government to open up the conflict zone and the internment camps holding displaced civilians to aid agencies and journalists, so that the civilians can get the aid they need and the truth about the war can emerge
  3. Get international monitors deployed at all places where the Sri Lankan government is screening people to separate captured Tigers from civilians, so that the rights of everyone being screened are protected
  4. Have the Sri Lankan government allow displaced civilians to leave the internment camps if they choose
  5. Have the Sri Lankan government immediately release the detained journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam, and drop all charges against him
  6. Get the Sri Lankan government to release the three doctors who had been reporting from the war zone and were recently detained, unless they are promptly charged with a recognizable crime

Will victims of Gaza tragedy ever find justice?

Although the UN initiated a Board of Inquiry into allegations of war crimes in Gaza, Dion Nissenbaum, Jerusalem Bureau Chief for McClatchy news company, says

 “I’m not sure what impact this UN report is going to have.” He continues to explain, “I think the only thing that the Israeli government will look at is reports from Israeli soldiers. Israel has always been skeptical of the United Nations, the international press, and they are certainly skeptical of what comes out of the Palestinians.”

Stories from members of the Israeli forces came out recently and created a firestorm of discussion within Israel about accusations which had already been levelled by human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the international media and other NGO’s working in the area.  These stories from the soldiers were given more credit than all the evidence presented from outside sources.

Sadly, these stories were discounted out of hand by investigators and the IDF investigation has been closed already saying the stories by the IDF members were based on ‘hearsay’.

So will there ever be justice for the victims of the human rights violations that took place during the Gaza crisis?

Amnesty Int’l has been calling for an independent, impartial international inquiry into human rights violations by all parties involved be undertaken from the beginning and has said that the UN inquiry is insufficient in that it only looks into attacks on UN personnel and facilities.  Other human rights groups are also calling for an independent inquiry and look on the IDF’s eagerness to close the investigation into the IDF members’ stories as questionable:

“the speedy closing of the investigation immediately raises suspicions that [it] was merely the army’s attempt to wipe its hands of all blame for illegal activity…”

UPDATE (April 3, 12:10pm):  The UN Human Rights Council announced today that the former chief prosecutor of two criminal tribunals, Richard J. Goldstone will lead a probe into allegations of war crimes committed during Gaza crisis between December 27th, 2008 and January 18th, 2009 by all parties involved.  This investigation is separate from the UN Board of Inquiry created by the UN Security Council which was formed to look into specific attacks on UN personnel and facilities in Gaza.