Editorial- island.lk

July 16, 2017 at 5:43 pm

Blacking out dissent the UN way

Torture must not be tolerated in the civilized world. The UN, as the apex world body, is duty bound to protect people against such crimes the world over. However, it has to ensure that its high-ranking officials tasked with that noble mission carry out their duties and functions properly without bringing it into disrepute. They must be asked to keep an open mind when they initiate inquiries without succumbing to their prejudices and pressure from powerful nations which use human rights as an instrument, and various lobbying groups.

UN Special Rapporteur Ben Emmerson concluded his Sri Lanka visit with a media briefing in Colombo on Friday. Interestingly, Emmerson’s full title is ‘United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism’. The use of the word, ‘terrorism’, is intriguing because the UN has not yet defined terrorism, which poses the biggest security threat to the world today. The UN itself has admitted that lack of agreement on a clear definition of terrorism has stained its image and undermined the normative and moral stance against the scourge.


Emmerson’s first meeting after landing here was with Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe at the latter’s ministry. But, the 3,627-word document the UN has issued on the preliminary findings of his visit devotes only seven words to that crucial powwow. It says, “He also met the Minister of Justice.” Here is an instance of dissenting views being blacked out the UN way. True, Wijeyadasa-Emmerson discussion was far from cordial, but the Justice Minister’s official response to the UN official’s very serious allegations should have been included in the report. The UN did not do so because it knew his version would dilute its report. This kind of selectivity has a corrosive effect on whatever is left of the credibility of the UN.


Queen’s Counsel cum international civil servant Emmerson should have respected one of the most cherished and sacrosanct principles of law, audi alteram partem—‘let the other side be heard as well’. This should not mean hearing the other side and forgetting what is heard! Emmerson won’t reveal what the dissenting views expressed by the host country’s Justice Minister are. Instead, he has apparently said what he came all the way here to say and sounded a dire warning.


The Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government would have the public believe that it is not under international pressure to set up a hybrid court with foreign judges to probe war crimes allegations. President Maithripala Sirisena keeps boasting that he has saved his immediate predecessor, Mahinda Rajapaksa, from the ‘electric chair’. But, UNHRC Chief Zeid Hussein and all other UN officials insist that Sri Lanka fully implement the Geneva Resolution 30/1 adopted in Oct. 2015 and begin war crime trials. Emmerson has just reiterated that call. This particular resolution co-sponsored by the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe government specifically says, inter alia, ‘A credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for their integrity and impartiality; and also affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.’ What will the government say to this?


Emmerson has made a litany of serious allegations against the Sri Lankan military and police. They have received wide publicity and some international human rights outfits have already made use of them to call for action against this country.


It is based on lop-sided reports containing allegations and recommendations made by the likes of Emmerson with dissenting views blacked out that the UN takes crucial decisions; the UNHRC has concluded that the Sri Lankan judiciary is not capable of probing war crimes allegations on its own. One wonders whether the UN is planning to have a war crimes tribunal which will adopt the Emmerson method as it were—ignoring what the other side has to say. The Darusman report, which prepared the grounds for damning UNHRC resolutions against Sri Lanka, was based mostly on information provided by some unnamed persons whose identities will not be divulged for 20 years.


The Rajapaksa government came under fire for not allowing then UNSG Ban ki-Moon’s expert panel which prepared the Darusman report to visit this country. Today, UN officials are free to come here, but the reports they produce are lop-sided!


Let the Justice Minister be urged to make public his side of the story, which Emmerson has effectively blacked out so that the world will know what the UN has censored.