Posts Tagged ‘Colombo’

UN High Commissioner hits back in Sri Lankan disinformation campaign – and rightly so

September 22, 2013

Mahinda Rajapaksa, president...

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, in a statement which some claim unusual for a top UN official to direct at a UN-member country, took aim at Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa, and other government officials, just  after her visit last month to Sri Lanka. During the visit at least three government ministers “joined in an extraordinary array of distortion and abuse” which is continuing now, Pillay’s spokesman, Rupert Colville, told reporters in Geneva: “We consider it deeply regrettable that government officials and other commentators continue what appears to be a coordinated campaign of disinformation in an attempt to discredit the high commissioner or to distract from the core messages of her visit.” Pillay’s office sent a formal complaint to the government demanding that it immediately retract and publicly correct “misinformation”.

In the statement Pillay complained that the defence secretary made widely reported but false claims that she had asked President Rajapaksa during their private meeting to remove a statue of Sri Lanka’s first prime minister from Colombo’s Independence Square. “Firstly, we categorically deny that the high commissioner ever uttered a single word about the statue of Prime Minister D.S. Senanayake at any point during her visit to Sri Lanka, let alone asked the president to remove it. This claim is without a shred of truth,” Colville said. “Secondly, there has been a further distortion concerning comments the high commissioner made to the president concerning a flag in Independence Square.” Pillay asked the president why the flag of one religious community was flying next to the national flag in such a symbolic location, Colville said.

UN rights Chief hits out at senior officials and Gota for waging misinformation campaign.


The full statement is made available on the OCHR website

NGOs make statement on integration of gender in human rights work

September 16, 2013

On 12 September 2013 Cynthia Rothschild delivered a statement the Human Rights Council on behalf of World Organization Against Torture, with Amnesty International, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, Association for Progressive Communications, Association for Women’s Rights in Development, Center for Women’s Global Leadership, Coalition of African Lesbians, Front Line Defenders, International Service for Human Rights, ISIS- WICCE, Latin American and the Caribbean Committee for the Defense of Women’s Rights, MADRE, Nazra for Feminist Studies, Urgent Action Fund, WOREC Nepal, and Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice. 

“The Council has done strong work in support of the 6/30 gender integration resolution. Read the rest of this entry »

Sri Lankan HRD, Sunila Abeysekera, dies: tribute by A paper bird

September 9, 2013

Today I simply copy the tribute paid by a blogger, A Paper Bird, to Sunila Abeysekera (1952-2013):


The last time I saw Sunila Abeysekera was almost three years ago, over breakfast on one of her very occasional visits to New York. Some people, myself included, were trying to talk her into applying for my old job at Human Rights Watch, a post I thought far too small for her. She politely demurred, in different terms: “My life is enough of a problem,” she said, “and the last thing I need in it is a large organization.” She talked about the dangers of having your work commodified and separated from the people it’s about – either by a bureaucracy, or by the kinds of personality cults that thrive around those who get called (as she was: often, unwillingly, and accurately) “heroes.” Both distract from the simple realities of the stories you try to tell, and the stories, she said, were what counted.At the same time, she was at one of those points (they came quite frequently) where her life was in serious danger in Sri Lanka. People were threatened enough by the stories for which she was witness and messenger that they wanted to kill her. Her friends wanted her to get out, and she herself said she wanted a quiet place somewhere, to rest and think. She said that kind of thing much more often than she meant it. The resting part was something of which she was utterly incapable. She never did it, not till the very last.

Sunila died on 9 September, back in Colombo, at 61, after a long battle with cancer. I didn’t know her very well, but I thought of her as a role model as well as friend. She was scholar, activist, intellectual, feminist, and listener. Others will have more and better things to say about her. I’ll just remember this: while always subordinating herself to the stories she had to tell – – horrible stories, many of them, about rape, torture, murder in the long Sri Lankan civil war – her passion for truth and her personal compassion were always part of them. Without being that kind of person, a kind you instantly recognize but can’t possibly describe, she would never have heard them, would never have won trust or become a witness.   A lot of august philosophers these days write and theorize about the role of the witness in contemporary politics and ethics, but the writing was unnecessary as long as she was alive. You could point at Sunila, and understand.

I would say “rest in peace,” but wherever she is, she isn’t resting.

via Sunila Abeysekera, witness: 1952-2013 | a paper bird.


U.N. High Commissioner says Sri Lanka increasingly authoritarian

September 2, 2013

On Saturday 31 August 2013 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said at the end of her long awaited one-week-long fact-finding mission that the Sri Lankan state is becoming more authoritarian. “The war between government troops and Tamil rebels may have ended, but in the meantime democracy has been undermined and the rule of law eroded,” the U.N. commissioner for human rights told a news conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka. She visited the former Tamil rebel-held areas in northern Sri Lanka, and met civil society groups, politicians and aid workers before meeting President Mahinda Rajapaksa and his brothers, Defense Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and Economic Affairs Minister Basil Rajapaksa.” I am deeply concerned that Sri Lanka, despite the opportunity provided by the end of the war to construct a new vibrant, all-embracing state, is showing signs of heading in an increasingly authoritarian direction,” Pillay said. The U.N. envoy said that some people she visited in the northeastern part of the country previously held by the rebels had been later visited by military and police officers and questioned again. “This type of surveillance and harassment appears to be getting worse in Sri Lanka, which is a country where critical voices are quite often attacked or even permanently silenced,” she said. Pillay visited Sri Lanka on the invitation of the Sri Lankan government, but some of the members of the government have criticized her and openly ridiculed her, with one of the Cabinet ministers saying he was willing to marry her.Pillay also expressed concern about media freedom, incomplete investigations into disappearances and abductions, attacks on civil protests, issues of sexual harassment of women and harassment of human rights defenders. She is due to submit a report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next month. Cabinet Minister Keheliya Rambukwella said that the government had invited her to the country genuinely and would await the report to be submitted next month.

via U.N. human rights chief says Sri Lanka increasingly authoritarian – Wire Lifestyle – The Sacramento Bee.

the full version of her very substantive speech can be found at:


4 Sri Lankan Professors gone to Britain accused of launching ‘anti-Sri Lanka activities’

August 16, 2013

The statement below was picked up from the Official Government news agency of Sri Lanka on 15 August 2013. I do not know who the professors in question are and therefore we cannot know whether they are human rights defenders, but in view of earlier retaliation by the governmental media in that country against those who testified before the UN mechanisms on human rights and the tone of the message, there is no doubt that those who speak out risk more than disagreement!  Read the rest of this entry »

Attack on human rights defender Mr Gunaratne Waninnayaka in Sri Lanka

December 20, 2012

On 17 December 2012, a group of four armed men carried out an attack on human rights defender Mr Gunaratne Waninnayaka, the president of the Colombo Magistrate’s Court Lawyers’ Association and the convenor of People’s March. Gunaratne Waninnayaka is an outspoken campaigner for the independence of the judiciary. Over the past years, Gunaratne Waninnayaka has figured prominently in campaigns to protect the independence of the judiciary in Sri Lanka. Most recently he has been at the forefront of the campaign opposing the Sri Lanka government’s move to impeach Chief Justice Shirani Bandaranayake, who was a member of the Supreme Court when it delivered an adverse ruling to the government.

In the morning of 17 December, Gunaratne Waninnayaka was ambushed outside his house by four unidentified persons armed with automatic weapons who had been waiting for him to return home. As he approached his home, he saw the armed group and managed to enter his residence in his car, enter his home and block the entrances. The armed persons tried to enter the house but failed.

Harassment and illegal arrest of HRD in Sri Lanka – backlash against testimony in the UN

November 30, 2012

Today Front Line Defenders reports the case of  arbitrary arrest of human rights defender Mr Sanjeewa Samarasinghe in Sri Lanka.

On 27 November 2012, human rights defender Mr Sanjeewa Samarasinghe was taken into custody by the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and questioned for 13 hours without a reason given or a lawyer present, before being released. Sanjeewa Samarasinghe is a journalist and the chairman of the State Media Workers’ Association, which defends press freedom and the rights of media workers in Sri Lanka. The human rights defender was taken to the CID office in Colombo 1 with a friend present, although his friend was told to leave the interrogation after 15 minutes. The defender asked the police officers to wait for his lawyer to arrive before questioning him, but this request was ignored and the police proceeded to question him in the absence of his lawyer. The defender’s lawyer was not permitted to enter the CID premises for the entire duration of the interrogation. It is reported that Sanjeewa Samarasinghe was subsequently questioned throughout the night for a period of 13 hours until he was eventually released around 9.30am the following morning on 28 November. Although no reason was given for the arrest, he was reportedly asked during the questioning whether he had been supplying information on human rights violations in Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Sanjeewa Samarasinghe works as a journalist and leads the State Media Workers’ Association, which works on issues related to media freedom, the right to freedom of expression, and which holds conferences, campaigns, and demonstrations on the rights of media workers.

It would seem another case of backlash against those HRDs who testify in the UN on which I reported previously and which has been condemned in the strongest terms by the United Nations.