Ben Emmerson, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights and counter-terrorism, speaks during a press conference in Colombo yesterday, July 14. (Lakruwan Wanniarachchi / AFP)
by Shamindra Ferdinando
Alleging that ‘retrograde elements in the security establishment and their allies’ in the government were trying to undermine post-war reconciliation process, the UN yesterday warned Sri Lanka of dire consequences unless the government fully implemented Geneva Resolution 30/1 co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe administration in Oct 2015.
The warning was given by Ben Emmerson, QC, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism.
Addressing the media at UN compound in Colombo at the conclusion of a five-day visit undertaken on the invitation of the government, the British lawyer explained a range of measures available to the UN in case reneged its promises. Emmerson declined to speculate what their options would be but indicated that punitive measures could be taken.
Emmerson was flanked by UN Resident Representative Uma McCauley.
The Special Rapporteur asserted that fulfilling Geneva Resolution wouldn’t be an easy task. Responding to a query, Emmerson said that Sri Lanka shouldn’t test patience of the international community. Sri Lanka last march received two year period to accomplish the challenging task.
Emmerson emphasized that Sri Lanka couldn’t under any circumstances refrained from implementing the Geneva Resolution.
The Britisher who had held Special Rapporteur post since Aug 2011 declared Sri Lanka’s anti-terrorism law as one of the worst in the world. Emmerson declined to compare the situation in Sri Lanka with any other country.
Asked by The Island whether he could explain argument with Justice Minister Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakse, PC, over Sri Lanka’s human rights situation, Emmerson said that he didn’t wont to comment on discussions he had with government representatives. Emerson emphasized that it was his policy not to reveal discussions. When The Island pointed out that Emmerson, in his opening remarks, had referred to discussions he had with Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, Law and Order Minister Sagala Ratnayake, Foreign Minister Ravi Karunanayake, Attorney General Jayantha Jayasuriya as well as Army Commander Lt. Gen. Mahesh Senanayake though he declined to discuss his meeting with Justice Minister Rajapakse, Emmerson acknowledged that he was being selective. Having listed all politicians, officials, military and police top brass, Emmerson said that he had also met the Minister of Justice.
The UN official said that those who had been obstructing the process of post-war national reconciliation were known and it would be up to Parliament and the people to decide on them.
Emmerson again declined to comment when P.K. Balachandra, The New Indian Express correspondent in Colombo asked him whether during his meetings here he had met any one of those who had been obstructing the UN led process.
Justice Minister Rajapakse is a key member of the Prime Minister Wickremesinghe’s ministerial team tasked with implementing the Geneva Resolution.
Emmerson attributed the inordinate delay in the implementation of the Geneva Resolution 30/1 to agenda pursued by elements in the security establishment and their allies in the government. In spite of much touted promises by the government, Emmerson said: “Two years on and already four months into a two-year extension granted to the government by the Human Rights Council the progress in achieving the key goals set out in the Geneva Resolution is not only slow but seems to have ground to a virtual halt. None of the measures so far adopted to fulfill Sri Lanka’s transitional justice commitments are adequate to ensure real progress and there is little evidence that perpetrators of war crimes committed by members of the Sri Lankan armed forces are being brought to justice.”
Emmerson revealed that Sri Lanka had promised to discuss the proposed Counter Terrorism Act (CTA) in place of the PTA and bring in required changes before being presented for parliamentary approval. Emmerson emphasized in no uncertain terms that the proposed Act wasn’t acceptable to the UN though there were significant improvements. Emmerson alleged that the proposed CTA was meant to continue with the existing security policies that would guarantee the continued violation of those human rights of suspected terrorists.
Emmerson revealed that he had received an assurance from the Foreign Ministry that the CTA would be discussed with his Geneva-based team to redraft it in line with international standards.