'Pathetically unenforceable' – Sri Lanka response to UN war crimes warning

[TamilNet, Tuesday, 15 January 2008, 23:44 GMT]
Sri Lanka’s militarist government reacted furiously Tuesday to warnings by UN Human Rights Chief, Louise Arbour, that human rights abuses in Sri Lanka left perpetrators and their commanders at risk of international war crimes charges. Rejecting Ms. Arbour’s comments as “pathetically unenforceable threats,” Sri Lanka’s embassy to the UN said the Colombo government “will not be deterred by thinly veiled threats attempting to undermine the morale of its military, deter its military campaigns and save separatist terrorism from elimination.” It also challenged the transparency of funding for Ms. Arbour’s office and the extent to which it represented the “world’s peoples.”

Earlier Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Arbour, noting that Sri Lanka’s abrogation of the 2002 Ceasefire Agreement comes into effect Wednesday, reminded the Sri Lankan government (GoSL) and the Liberation Tigers of their responsibilities under international humanitarian law towards civilians.

A UN statement noted that international law “obliges all parties to protect civilians without discrimination and includes prohibitions against the arbitrary deprivation of life, arbitrary detention, forced displacement, enforced disappearances, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. It also forbids the recruitment and deployment of children as soldiers.”

Ms. Arbour warned that “violations of these rules by any party could entail individual criminal responsibility under international criminal law, including by those in positions of command.”

In a prompt response to her comments, the Sri Lankan mission to the UN in Geneva, which is headed by Ambassador Dayan Jayatilleke, slammed Ms. Arbour’s comments and rejected her warnings.

“Sri Lanka was not in violation of international criminal law in the years of armed conflict before the signing of the CFA and after, is not now, and will not be in the future,” the GoSL statement said.

“Sri Lanka is firmly committed to a political solution to the legitimate grievances of the Tamil people, based on the devolution of power. It will not be deterred by thinly veiled (if pathetically unenforceable) threats, attempting to undermine the morale of its military, deter its military campaigns and save separatist terrorism from elimination.”

“Reading her statement, Sri Lanka is curious to know whether similar warnings (as distinct from statements of concern or condemnation) have been issued by the High Commissioner to other States in their conduct of wars much more serious both in scale and impact on International Humanitarian Law than the Sri Lankan situation.”

“In the light of this obvious bias, Sri Lanka feels strongly that the OHCHR should be more transparent in its funding and decision-making and more representative of the world's peoples and regions in its composition, all of which have been repeatedly called for by the member States of the UN Human Rights Council.”


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