Geneva: The UN human rights chief has accused Sri Lankan delegates of intimidating NGO activists with what it calls "unacceptable levels of threats and harassment". These activists, many of whom work in Sri Lanka, were present at the Human Rights Council in Geneva in the run up to the vote on the draft resolution which was finally adopted against Sri Lanka on Thursday. In a strong statement criticizing the conduct of the Sri Lankan contingent, the office of the Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay has made a direct call to the Sri Lankan government to protect these activists who they say, have been threatened severely. It's being called a "deliberate campaign" against NGOs and the UN Human Rights High Commissioner has asked the Sri Lankan government to make it clear publicly that they disassociate themselves from this campaign.
Rupert Colville, the Spokesperson of the Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights said, "They were abused in many way verbally, there were text messages, telephone calls, accosted in corridors...there were even incidents outside the UN premises as well as inside wry intimidating filming and photography taking place...people putting cameras right in people faces...against the rules...I mean that's not supposed to be happening on these events"
The high commissioner's office says both Tamil and Sinhala NGOs were targeted. They also said that the Sri Lankan delegation was an exceptionally large one of 71 people and many Sri Lankan ministers were actively taking part in the harassment. A Sri Lankan Minister, Mervyn Silva, speaking at a protest in Sri Lanka against the resolution, named several NGO activists and said, "If you get caught by me in Sri Lanka, I will break your limbs in public."
NDTV spoke to Nimalka Fernando, one of the activists who was mentioned by the controversial minister. Her photos were flashed on Sri Lankan TV channels and like many other activists, she was accused of taking money to campaign for the draft resolution. Nirmala Fernando said, "For the Sri Lankan government, anyone who supports Tamils is an LTTE supporter. Not all Tamil people were LTTE supporters. I am Singhalese but I have been working for Tamil people since my childhood. This has been a propaganda spearheaded by the Sri Lankan Defence Ministry website and by Sri Lankan national television, against human rights defenders like us."
Sri Lanka's own Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission talks about the positive role civil society can play in reconciliation and rehabilitation efforts. The high commissioner's office also noted that the Sri Lankan ambassador has received an anonymous threatening letter which is being followed up by the police and the UN security. The conduct of the Sri Lankan delegation has been severely criticised and it has been alleged that their threats were aggressive and unprecedented at the Human Rights Council.
Story first published:
March 24, 2012 07:42 IST