UPDATE: Activists misled to petition UN to go soft on Sri Lanka

Marisa de Silva has informed JDS that she had "NO part in drafting the letter dated 13th March (sic), 2017". Therefore the information referring to her as an author has been removed and updated. See right to reply below. - Editors

A petition supporting Sri Lanka's appeal to allow it more time in fulfilling commitments to address serious human rights violations during its bloody war against Tamil rebels has been handed over to the UN by western-funded civil society leaders without the consent of several of its signatories.

The petition titled “continued support for Sri Lanka” delivered to the United Nations Human Rights Council and its member states, names nearly a hundred individuals and organisations as signatories.

It urges the global rights body to assist Sri Lanka, “through extending the duration” for the time to implement a consensus resolution adopted at the United Nation Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in October 2015.

“The report by the Consultation Task Force (CTF) released this month confirms the support among progressive sections of the population across Sri Lanka for the commitments made in 2015, and reiterates the need for urgent steps by the Government of Sri Lanka. In such a context, it is critical to continue to engage and support Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitment through extending the duration of the resolution,” says the petition.

When it co-sponsored Resolution 30/1, "Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka", the Government made a series of promises to war victims and the international community to address the legacy of the war through a wide-ranging set of measures.

Government under fire

The Government has been under fire from victims and human rights organisations including the UN for not implementing the pledges made on accountability, justice, truth and non-recurrence.

Sri Lanka’s performance is to be reviewed by the UN High Commissioner for human rights on 22 March at the Council in session in Geneva.

Anger and shock

Prominent grass roots activists and academics who have been critical of government inaction were angered and shocked to find their names in the petition to the UN calling for a technical roll over of the resolution.

According to documents in the possession of JDS, the petition has been authored by Colombo based activist, Senior Researcher and Attorney-at-Law at the Centre for Policy Alternatives (CPA) Bhavani Fonseka.

Several grass roots activists working with Tamil war victims in the North said that they had never consented to petitioning the UN to help the Government by giving them more time.

“The consistent demand of the people on the ground is that the Government should be told to implement the resolution in full immediately,” said Father Emmanuel Sebamalai.

Father Jeyabalan Croos says that a draft of a petition that he was shown did not have a clause calling on the UN to allow the Government more time.

The draft in early January was to request the UNHCR to continue to monitor the situation in Sri Lanka, according to the Catholic priest who heads the Mannar Citizens Committee.

Those who have organised this petition have misled those working on the ground and the UNHRC,” he added.

Sinhala chauvinist threat

Professor Kumar David flatly denied that he had signed the controversial petition.

“No way do I support giving more time to the Government to fulfill its UNHRC promises,” he said.

“I believe that the real problem is not some genuine difficulty but the Government is retreating in the face of Sinhala chauvinism.”

Sinhala activist campaigning against landgrabbing in the Tamil areas, Herman Kumara, was disappointed by the way his name was used for a document that echoes the government line.

“Tamil people in the north will lose the trust in us that has been built with painstaking work,” said the convener of the National Fisheries Solidarity Movement (NAFSO).

Those involved with the petition who have tendered an apology for what they call “edits in the petition” have revealed that the letter to the UN rights body and its member states had not been scrutinised before delivery.

I wish to however, sincerely apologise to all signatories that even though at the time I was unaware of the edits made, I also did not follow-up with the drafters and send all signatories the final version of the letter that was sent out to the UNHRC member states and the OHCHR, as is also usually the practice,” says Marisa de Silva in an email sent to some of the signatories, seen by JDS.

The draft petition circulated by her on 11 January for signing did not carry the controversial words: “through extending the duration of the resolution”.

'Lessons learnt'

The initiators deny that they misled the signatories and the UNHRC.

“…there was at no point an effort to deceive/undermine anyone and lessons will be learnt for the future,” says an email by Bhavani Fonseka of CPA sent on 28 February.

However, none of the communications by them had clarified how the words that echo the demand of the Sri Lanka Government crept in to the petition.

JDS learns that the decision to petition the UN rights body was arrived following a civil society consultation on 15 December convened with the attendance of the visiting UK based International Working Group (IWG) coordinator.

Efforts to reach him by phone were not successful.

Right to reply: In her mail to JDS, Marisa de Silva has requested to " publish in FULL the explanation mail, along with the attachments, which I sent all signatories, to give readers the full context of the issue."

In addition to the explanation mail and two attachments that have been already linked to the story (Attachment 1 & Attachment 2), the third attachment which is referred to as the one being circulated on social media can be found here.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

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