Saturday, November 08, 2014

Sri Lanka: UN rights chief condemns ‘disinformation campaign’ to discredit Sri Lanka probe

Relatives of missing persons from Sri Lanka's 26-year long civil war hold their pictures during a meeting in the capital Colombo. Photo: IRIN/Amantha Perera

7 November 2014 – The top United Nations rights official today criticized the continuing attacks by the Sri Lankan Government on the integrity of the ongoing investigation being carried out by his Office into alleged grave human rights abuses in the country, and condemned ‘insidious attempts’ to intimidate those wishing to cooperate with the probe.

The Government of Sri Lanka has refused “point blank” to cooperate with the investigation despite being explicitly requested by the Human Rights Council to do so, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said in statement issued from Geneva this morning.

“Such a refusal does not, however, undermine the integrity of an investigation set up by the Council – instead it raises concerns about the integrity of the Government in question. Why would Governments with nothing to hide go to such extraordinary lengths to sabotage an impartial international investigation?” Mr. Zeid said.

The Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in March requesting OHCHR “to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka.”

The Council also requested the High Commissioner to present a comprehensive report, resulting from that investigation, to its 28th session in March 2015.

Instead, a “continuing campaign of distortion and disinformation” as well as “insidious attempts to prevent possible bona fide witnesses from submitting information” to the investigating team, has become an affront to the Human Rights Council’s work, Mr. Zeid said.

He called the Government’s attempts to deter and intimidate individuals from submitting evidence to a UN investigation “unacceptable conduct” and said that a “wall of fear” has undoubtedly served to deter people from submitting evidence.

Sri Lankan civil society organizations and human rights defenders have continued to be subjected to surveillance, harassment and other forms of intimidation, he added.

“Since the end of the conflict in 2009, Sri Lanka has continued to obstruct any independent investigation despite the persistent, compelling and widespread allegations that possible serious international crimes were committed by both sides during the conflict in Sri Lanka,” Mr. Zeid said.

The High Commissioner also rejected this week’s “false and unsubstantiated accusations by the Sri Lankan Government that the conduct of the investigation has been ‘unprofessional’ and that its approach is ‘selective and biased.’”

He also rejected as “absurd” the accusation that the investigation was somehow compromised by the arrest of a man who was allegedly in possession of blank signed forms that would then be fraudulently filled in and submitted to the investigation.

“We don’t accept anything at face value. UN human rights investigators are trained to spot fraudulent submissions. The process of analysis and corroboration of information and evidence is well defined, refined and codified on the basis of many years’ experience,” Zeid said.

He also rejected the assertion that the United Nations would ever provide monetary compensation in exchange for information.

The standard methodology for such investigations is based on ensuring the integrity of the process through the “application of the principles of independence, impartiality, objectivity and protection of witnesses,” he added.

“On the issue of transparency, we will not be releasing information on the interviews we are conducting, or where, or when they take place,” the High Commissioner said, emphasizing that this is standard procedure for protecting sources especially where there is a clear risk of reprisals.

Mr. Zeid urged the Government to “focus on the substantive issues under investigation instead of obscuring them by the constant questioning of procedures which – while not unimportant – are not the heart of the matter.”