Sri Lankan minister calls on poets to help unite a divided nation

A view of Ella in Uva province: poets are being asked to turn their attention from poems extolling the nation’s beauty to rethinking what it means to be Sri Lankan. Photograph: WestEnd61/Rex

A view of Ella in Uva province: poets are being asked to turn their attention from poems extolling the nation’s beauty to rethinking what it means to be Sri Lankan. Photograph: WestEnd61/Rex

For centuries, the poets of Sri Lanka have sung the praises of the island nation’s stunning physical beauty – and spoken too of the conflicts that have torn it apart. Now, the government is looking to the country’s literature to heal the wounds of a brutal civil war.

Rajiva Wijesinha, the recently appointed minister for higher education, has called on universities to organise programmes of poetry, along with sports, drama and dance, to “bring together” the largely Buddhist Sinhala majority and the largely Hindu Tamil minority.

“The arts are important. They can only be a part of a much broader effort, but should not be neglected. Nothing will make everyone happy but you can reduce the intensity of grief and anger,” Wijesinha, who recently published an anthology of poetry translated into English from both the main local languages, Sinhala and Tamil.

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Immigration Minister Scott Morrison makes secret visit to Sri Lanka’s war-torn Jaffna region

Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has reportedly made a secret visit to the war-torn Sri Lankan region of Jaffna during his whirlwind stop in the South Asian nation.

The ABC understands Mr Morrison arrived in Jaffna by helicopter yesterday afternoon after attending the inauguration of two customs boats donated by Canberra to Colombo.

Mr Morrison was accompanied by the Australian High Commissioner and other Australian officials.

Jaffna was the scene of some of the worst fighting during the civil war and some Tamils there say they still face persecution.

The major Tamil political party in Jaffna says Mr Morrison met only with the governor of Northern Province in Jaffna, GA Chandrasiri, who is a presidential appointee, and not with any Tamil politicians or civil society groups.

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US seeks to eventually partition Sri Lanka – Tamara Kunanayakam

The United States has no genuine interest in accountability or reconciliation in Sri Lanka, but is seeking a strategic military base in Asia, says Tamara Manimekhalai Kunanayakam, onetime Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Office at Geneva and Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to Holy See.

In a wide ranging interview with Ceylon Today, Kunanayakam said, the US would demand more concessions using the resolution as a tool and charged the UN Rights Chief as a ‘US instrument’ doing Washington’s bidding.

Kunanayakam also alleged the resolution was aimed at demonstrating Sri Lanka’s alleged failure to demonstrate accountability and to showcase the island as a failed State to maximize on concessions, including a demand to create a US military hub in Sri Lanka.

Excerpts from the interview:

 By Dilrukshi Handunnetti

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Right to Development: Political will urgently needed to address rising inequalities

NEW YORK / GENEVA (31 October 2013) – The Chair of the United Nations Intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development speaking to diplomats in New York has warned about the dramatic increase of inequalities within and between countries during the unprecedented current global economic and financial crisis.

The surge in inequalities has brought “countless victims, violating their human rights, and threatening the ecosystem upon which life depends,” said Tamara Kunanayakam, who currently chairs the Working Group charged by the UN Human Rights Council to monitor and report on the promotion and implementation of the right to development.

“We are lacking neither in the means nor in the resources to confront these historical challenges through international cooperation and solidarity. Problems of a global character can only be resolved through collective action,” Ms. Kunanayakam told the UN General Assembly during the presentation of the Working Group’s latest report.* “The question is: Is there the political will to do so?”

If any progress is to be made in the realization of the right to development, then social justice and equality, as well as national and international justice, must be given the prominence they deserve in today’s development discourse.

Ms. Kunanayakam urged Governments worldwide to implement the Declaration on the Right to Development, calling it “an instrument that provides a framework for building a human society based on justice, equality, non-discrimination and solidarity.”

The Working Group was established in 1998 by the then Commission on Human Rights to monitor and review progress made in the promotion and implementation of the right to development in the world.

Tamara Kunanayakam (Sri Lanka) took up her functions as Chairperson-Rapporteur of the open-ended intergovernmental Working Group on the Right to Development in 2011. Ms. Kunanayakam has worked as both international and national civil servant, inter alia as Ambassador of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in Geneva. She has also worked for civil society organizations and as independent researcher and is a recognized expert on the right to development. As Chairperson-Rapporteur she serves in her personal capacity. Learn more, log on to:http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Development/Pages/WGRightToDevelopment.aspx orhttp://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/Development/Pages/DevelopmentIndex.aspx

(*) Read the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session24/Documents/A-HRC-24-37_en.pdf

The UN Declaration on the Right to Development:http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/Development/DeclarationRightDevelopment_en.pdf

Commonwealth Secretariat, Human Rights Commission of SL and Reconciliation

Workshop in Vavuniya

The Commonwealth Secretariat organized  a workshop for staff of our Human Rights Commission and invitees  last week.  The objectives  were facilitate to identify HRC’s role in contributing to the country’s on-going national reconciliation process;  share  experiences and best practices of  ‘A’ accredited NHRIs in contributing to the reconciliation processes of their own countries; facilitate discussions between the HRCSL staff, NGOs, grassroots organizations, community and religious leaders, and senior local administrative officials in the areas directly affected by the former conflict to reach consensus on a collaborative project/s on how to contribute to the on-going reconciliation process AND  raise awareness among the Commissioners and staff on how the direct involvement of the HRCSL in the reconciliation process may improve its effectiveness, independence and authority under the Paris Principles.

Status of HRC

Our HR Commission was granted Status ‘A’ in 2000 by the ICC. In 2007 it was downgraded to a’ B’ Status by the Sub-Committee on Accreditation of the International Co-ordinating Committee of National Human Rights Institutions (ICC). The ICC was established for the purpose of creating and strengthening national human rights institutions which are in conformity with the Paris Principles.

The Commonwealth and HRC

The Secretary-General in his Departure Statement issued in February from Colombo observed that bolstering the capacity (of the HRC)  involved in national reconciliation processes was an area of collaboration with the Secretariat.

In May,  the Chairperson of the HRCSL Justice Priyantha Perera and his delegation, which included the Commissioner in charge of the Inquiries and Investigations Division, and Regional Coordinators from Jaffna, Vavuniya and Batticaloa – met with the Secretary-General and Deputy Secretary-General in London. They were in London to participate in the Commonwealth Roundtable on Reconciliation. The HRCSL delegation confirmed the areas in which they would appreciate Commonwealth Secretariat support and technical assistance such as – support for the HRCSL to determine its role, as the national human rights institution, in national reconciliation efforts including making firm recommendations to the government on the fast-tracking of issues around language; making public high profile cases of disappearances and sharing the reports widely; engaging in advocacy with government and Parliament around counting and naming the dead; commencing engagement with government on issues of memorialization.

The UN on Role of NHRI’s

The UN Manual on “National Human Rights Institutions: History, Principles, Roles and Responsibilities”  on the role of NHRIs in post conflict situations, describes that NHRIs can play both a preventive and a restorative role in such circumstances.

“Reconciliation may ensure that people, especially those that have experienced violations, are able to voice their feelings, experiences and expectations. It may support the rehabilitation of combatants and their reintegration into society. And it helps to create an environment where people can live together again. Ensuring justice may serve to deal with past abuses so as to ensure that there is no impunity for gross human rights abuse.” Continue reading