Colombo, March 20 (newsin.asia): In his speech at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva on Wednesday, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Tilak Marapana, categorically denied that the Sri Lankan armed forces had committed war crimes. He also clearly stated that it is not possible to establish a hybrid judicial mechanism with foreign and Sri Lankan judges to try cases of alleged war crimes as demanded by the UNHRC resolutions of 2015 and 2017.
Marapana went on to point out to inaccuracies and impermissible innuendos in the speech of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, and the double standards applied to the Sri Lankan government and its detractors.
On the allegation that war crimes had been committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the recommendation that Sri Lanka must be subjected to “universal jurisdiction’, the Foreign Minister said: “ It must be asserted that there are no proven allegations against individuals on war crimes or crimes against humanity in the 2015 OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) .or in any subsequent official document.”
“ It is an injustice to deprive any serving or retired officer of the Sri Lankan security forces or the police of their rights,” he added.
The Minister further said that the damaging assertions of the High Commissioner “remain in direct contradiction to independent assessments sent by Colombo-based foreign missions, UN agencies as well as other international organizations, including the ICRC, some heavily redacted accounts of which have been presented not only in the House of Lords in the UK on 12 October 2017, and in writings by academics and journalists which are found in the public domain.”
No Room For Foreign Judges
Referring to the High Commissioner’s advocacy of a hybrid court with Sri Lankan and foreign judges to try alleged war crimes cases, Marapana said: “ I wish to make it clear that the Government of Sri Lanka at the highest political levels, has both publicly and in discussions with the present and former High Commissioners for Human Rights and other interlocutors, explained the constitutional and legal challenges that precludes it from including non-citizens in its judicial processes.”
“It has been explained that if non-citizen judges are to be appointed in such a process, it will not be possible without an amendment to the Constitution by 2/3 of members of the Parliament voting in favor and also the approval of the people at a Referendum.”
Inaccurate Data on Return of Lands
On the charge that the Lankan government and the armed forces are still holding on to large tracts of land taken from the minority Tamils during the 30 year war against the Tamil militants, Marapana said: “ The data reflected in the High Commissioner’s report in Para 35, that only 75% of the land occupied by the security forces as at 2009 has been released, is at significant variance with the actual numbers.”
“As on March 2019, 88.87% of State lands and 92.16% of private lands have been released.”
Giving details, he said: Of the 71,172.56 acres of State lands held by the Security Forces, since May 2009, 63,257.48 acres have been released, as on 12th March 2019, i.e. a release of 88.87% of land originally held.
Of the 28,215.29 acres of the private land held by the Security Forces since May 2009, 26,005.17 acres (92.16%) have been released.
“The remaining lands, which are a necessity in the context of national security, would continue to be held by the security forces, with compensation being paid in respect of privately owned lands,” he added.
Innuendos on Mass Graves
On the discovery and dating of the skeletal remains in a mass grave in Mannar, and the innuendoes uttered by the High Commissioner in this regard, Marapana said: “As for the mass graves in Mannar, referred to in para 23 of the High Commissioner’s Report, despite the fact that the test results obtained from a US laboratory have revealed that the said skeletal remains date back to 1499-1719 AD – a period when Sri Lanka was largely under European colonial rule – the report presupposes ‘other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future.’ An assumption of this nature in a public report, on a matter of this magnitude and seriousness, is not acceptable, and may even cast a doubt as regards other assertions in the report.”
Biased Approach To Facts
The Minister pointed to the considerable unevenness in the standards of proof applied to the Government of Sri Lanka, compared to those applied to the unsubstantiated allegations made by Sri Lanka’s detractors. “This is problematic and confounding,” he remarked.
Expanding on this, Marapana said: “Conventional wisdom teaches us that when facts do not fit a theory, the theory has to change. However, conventional wisdom does not seem to be applied to Sri Lanka’s case. It seems that even if the theory is disproved through hard evidence that absolves Sri Lanka, as in the case of the Mannar graves, a matter in which some sceptics sought to implicate the Government of Sri Lanka, such facts are cast aside for further inquiry.”
“At the same time when evidence surfaces, which contests the culpability of the Sri Lankan security forces and police in having deliberately caused civilian casualties during the last phase of the conflict, this evidence is summarily disregarded,” he pointed out.
Lies About Infrastructure Nailed
With regard to the allegation that the former war zone is “lacking in infrastructure”, the Minister said that 66,100 houses have been constructed and handed over in the North and East to civilians during the period 2009 to 2018.
In 2019, work commenced, on the construction of 4,750 houses on an “owner driven model”. It is anticipated that this program would be completed by June 2019.
The Prime Minister has taken keen interest to see to the progress of the development in the North and East, Marapana said.
On the PM’s recommendation, a program to construct 10,000 houses has commenced.
Other infrastructure development projects that have taken place since 2015 are: Livelihood Assistance – 23,548 families (Rs. 100,000/- per family); No: of domestic common wells – 1,817 nos; No: of Water Connections – 10,245 families (Rs. 25,000/- per family); Electricity Supply – 14,374 families; Internal Roads – 254 no; No: of Sanitation facilities – 14,238 families (Rs.60,000/- per family); Hospitals/Health Centers – 56 nos, the Minister said.
Denies Colonization of Tamil Areas
On the charge that the government is encouraging the systematic colonization of the Tamil areas, Marapana said: “The Government of Sri Lanka has no policy of colonization of either the Northern Province or Eastern Province, or as a matter of fact, of any province in the country.”
“As regards the contention that land owners are deprived of their land by declaring their land as forest cover or as archeological projects, it must be clearly and categorically stated that the Government has not resorted to any such measures.”
“However, it must be born in mind that the protection of forest land and archaeological projects are an obligation cast on any State in accordance with its international obligations that mandate protection and preservation of the environment and of the cultural heritage.”
“Furthermore, in identifying the relevant forest land and the cultural heritage, respective provincial administrations are also consulted.”
Promises To Cooperate Within Set Parameters
In conclusion, the Lankan Foreign Minister assured the UNHRC that based on the above parameters, Sri Lanka will continue to work with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other partners.
It is not clear as to what form the resolution to be passed on Thursday will take. What is abundantly clear is that Sri Lanka will only implement what it can taking into account political, legal and constitutional factors.
(The featured image at the top is that of Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana)