Days prior to Sri Lanka’s human rights record being scheduled to be examined by the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group for the third time on Wednesday, 15 November 2017, President Maithripala Sirisena has once again reiterated his pledge to protect war heroes from foreign tribunals. One of the key UN demands is for Sri Lanka to set up international courts with foreign judges to try alleged war crimes during the last phase of the war between the government military and Tamil Tiger rebels.
President Sirisena who is to soon face the test of popularity of his party under his reins in the local government election in January 2018, said last Friday that if there are any errant Army personnel, they will be produced before Sri Lankan courts and tried according to the existing law of the country.
Addressing a gathering of more than 350 high ranking army officers at the Colombo Army Hospital auditorium, President Sirisena as emphatic that no international human rights organisations will be allowed to pressure the Sri Lanka Army on whatever grounds and stated that the UN has been informed of Sri Lanka’s capability as a sovereign State to find solutions to its own problems without any foreign interference.
Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is one of the 14 States to be reviewed by the UPR Working Group during its upcoming session taking place from 16 to 17 November. Sri Lanka’s first and second UPR reviews took place in May 2008 and November 2012, respectively.
Meanwhile, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion of Truth, Justice, Reparation and Guarantees on Non-Recurrence, Pablo de Greiff, at the end of a 14-day tour of Sri Lanka end October reiterated the need for foreign judges but justified the need by claiming that the requirement was based on expertise and not nationality.
“The criterion for appointment of judges should be the competence and the expertise of the judges in war crimes cases, and not their nationality,” Greiff stressed following his visit to Sri Lanka. He also declared that he ‘noted with concern’ political rhetoric such as ‘war heroes will be brought to trial.”
However, for President Sirisena, competing with former President Mahinda Rajapaksa for the public image of being a savior of national interests it is obviously the local opinion that over-rides international perception or judgment.
“You have all dedicatedly come forward to safeguard the country at all times, and also in times of national disasters risking your own lives, for which we are indebted to you. In the most recent past, you stood by the nation and took the lead when national disasters, epidemics, landslides, etc.
struck us, and I need your continued support for development of our country as we march forward as a peaceful society, rich with co-existence, reconciliation, harmony and understanding,” Sirisena told the military officers in what sounded very much like a pre-election plea, as he assured that ‘as long as he remains the head of the country’, none of the war heroes would be allowed to testify before any war tribunals.