Sri Lanka questions independence of U.N. human rights boss
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka questioned the independence of the human rights office of the United Nations on Wednesday, a day after the United States asked the U.N. to investigate human rights violations by the Sri Lankan government.
The U.S. resolution calls for the U.N.'s Human Rights Council to investigate "past abuses and to examine more recent attacks on journalists, human rights defenders, and religious minorities."
The past violations relate to Sri Lanka's 26-year civil war with Tamil separatists. The resolution also raises concern over continuing violations, including sexual violence, enforced disappearances, extra-judicial killings, torture and threats against human rights defenders and journalists.
But Sri Lanka's foreign minister, G.L. Peiris, told a Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva that his country doubted the independence of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the office of the U.N.'s human rights chief.
"We remain deeply concerned that the lack of financial independence of the OHCHR leads to the erosion of independence in its overall functioning," Peiris said.
The commission pays disproportionate attention to some countries, he said, and ignores human rights violations in other parts of the world.
The chief human rights officer at the U.N., Navi Pillay, is a South African of Tamil ancestry.
The U.N., through two U.S.-sponsored resolutions in the last two years, has asked Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a local panel appointed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
But the West and rights groups say Rajapaksa's government has failed to address rights abuses and pursue a lasting political settlement.
Last week, Pillay called for an international inquiry into war crimes committed by both government forces and separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam during a 26-year civil war. She said the government had failed to do its own credible investigation.
Sri Lanka has rejected calls for an international investigation and said it will conduct investigations under its local legal framework.
Peiris said recommendations in Pillay's report "are not placed within the ambit of the LLRC, as demonstrated by the call to establish an international inquiry mechanism."
Rajapaksa's administration, backed by China and Russia, has said Pillay has failed to investigate the military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya and allegations of human rights abuses taking place in those countries.
Rights groups have welcomed Pillay's report, citing Sri Lanka's failure to comply with two successive UNHRC resolutions.
A vote on the resolution is scheduled for the last week of the session, starting on March 24.