Navi Pillay highlights denial of Tamil right to commemorate war dead

In a rare acceptance of ongoing oppression against Tamils in Sri Lanka, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navanethem (Navi) Pillay has reported that the Government of Sri Lanka has prevented Tamils in the north from commemorating those killed in the war.

In her February 11th ‘Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on advice and technical assistance for the Government of Sri Lanka on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka, Navi Pillay says that civilians in the Tamil majority north have been barred by the military from ‘holding private and religious ceremonies to commemorate family members, both civilians and combatants, killed in the war,’ since the military defeat of Tamil Tigers (LTTE) in May 2009. Her report is for the Geneva United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) session in March 2013, expected to vote on a US sponsored ‘procedural resolution’ about Sri Lankan government’s war crimes accountability during its war against the LTTE.

Destroyed LTTE cemeteries

The report already handed over to Sri Lankan government authorities, points out that memorials for government soldiers have been erected and war museums have been built, while LTTE cemeteries, have been demolished. “Most of the memorials have been built in the Tamil-majority Northern Province and tend to use triumphalist images from which the local population feels a strong sense of alienation,” says the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. JDS has records of at least 25 LTTE war cemeteries consisting of approximately 20,400 tomb stones destroyed by the Sri Lankan military occupying the Tamil majority North-East.

Recognizing that the north is under military rule, Navi Pillay calls upon the government to “take further steps in demilitarization and devolution to involve minority communities fully in decision-making processes”.

Recalling the resolution adopted by the UNHRC in 2012 Navi Pillay reaffirms her long-standing call for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.

The UNHRC head also says that she offered technical assistance to the Sri Lankan government ‘under four key components of a comprehensive and human rights-based approach to transitional justice, namely, the right to truth, criminal justice and accountability, legal and institutional reforms, and the right to a remedy and reparations’. She says that the assistance would have also helped in ‘resolving the cases of disappeared and missing persons pending proper criminal investigations’. However, the report does speak of any government response to the UNHRC offer.

The United Nations was accused by an internal panel report in November 2012 of being aware of the high civilian deaths in the last months of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war against Tamil Tigers.

It questions decisions such as the withdrawal of UN staff from the war zone in September 2008 after the Sri Lankan government warned it could no longer guarantee their safety.

"Events in Sri Lanka mark a grave failure of the UN", it concludes.

Navi Pillay’s latest report has no reference to the conclusions of the panel led by former senior UN official Charles Petrie, which found serious failings in the conduct of UN officials and institutions during the final months of fighting.

'Military presence, a necessity' - GoSL

Meanwhile, rejecting the high commissioner's call for demilitarisation of the Tamil majority areas, the Government of Sri Lanka has responded saying 'there is no institutionalisation of military authority over civilian matters as claimed in the report '. The government claims, "if it had not been for the military's involvement, it would have been extremely difficult to provide critical assistance required by the civilians, in the aftermath of the conflict."

The government has also requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to remove all references to the United Nations Secretary General's Panel of Experts Report.

'The GoSL does not extend any credence or legitimacy to the Panel of Experts Report," says the government in its seven page response to the Navi Pillay report.



Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka

  • JDS is the Sri Lankan partner organization of international media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The launching of this website was made possible by the EU’s European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR), of which Reporters Without Borders is a beneficiary.