Vice President Dr Mohammed Waheed Hassan has paid a courtesy call on Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa at the 66th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.
The Vice President’s Office later refuted reports that Dr Waheed discussed the Sri Lankan human rights situation with Rajapaksa during the meeting, following media reports quoting Sri Lankan officials to the contrary.
Haveeru on Tuesday quoted a senior Sri Lankan official as saying that during a meeting between Rajapaksa and the Vice President, Dr Waheed “assured that he will be supporting Sri Lanka’s stance on the human rights issue.”
The Vice President’s office later claimed the meeting was a courtesy call during which Dr Waheed said it was refreshing to hear the Sri Lankan President talk about trade unions and north-south cooperation in his speech [to the UN], and that there was “no mention of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.”
Sri Lanka is currently conducting an internal investigation of these allegations, which refer to acts of violence committed by both government and rebel forces in the final phases of Sri Lanka’s civil war.
Numerous human rights groups, including Amnesty International (AI) and Human Rights Watch (HRW), have rejected Sri Lanka’s investigation on the grounds that its Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) does not meet international standards.
The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) has reported that human rights groups found the commission flawed because “its members were appointed by the government, it has no real mandate to investigate war crimes in the last stages of the conflict, lacks any mechanism to protect witnesses and falls short of minimum international standards of a commission of inquiry.”
The Sri Lankan government has denied committing any offenses. The Maldivian government said it supports Sri Lanka’s wish to solve internal issues without external involvement.
Today, the Maldives President’s Press Secretary Mohamed Zuhair issued a statement expressing support for the Tamil people.
“The President of the Maldives would like to express his good wishes to all Tamil people. The Tamil people have always been like brothers to Maldivians. The President would like to see peace and harmony in our region and has expressed his desire for all people to live peacefully together.”
Human Rights Watch recently applauded the Maldives as one of the seven most important countries on the UN Human Rights Council. It expressed puzzled concern, however, over the Maldives’ “regrettable” support of Sri Lanka at this time.
“The Maldives should revisit its approach on Sri Lanka in order to bring it in line with its otherwise principled approach to human rights at the Council,” said the report.
Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmed Naseem said he did not wish to comment on the issue.
Meanwhile, UN secretary general Ban Ki-Moon has appointed a panel to advise him on accountability issues in Sri Lanka, reports the BBC. The Sri Lankan government rejected the panel, however, and said it would not issue visas to UN panel members visiting Sri Lanka.
The UN Office for the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) today said they are urging Sri Lanka “to ensure there is a genuine accountability process to address the serious violations believed to have been committed during the last months of the war in Sri Lanka.” The OHCHR is waiting to see how member states take action on the issue, “but, of course, the United Nations hopes Maldives – like other UN members – will encourage Sri Lanka to address this important issue.”
Late last week, President Mohamed Nasheed met with Sri Lankan Prime Minister Disanayaka Mudiyanselage Jayaratne regarding the upcoming South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit, due to be held in Addu City in November. The heads of state also discussed ways to strengthen ties between the two countries.
The SAARC summit could afford the Maldives an opportunity to promote human rights in south asia, a region that is reportedly slower than others to adopt international human rights standards.
The Maldives recently became the 118th member of the International Criminal Court (ICC), a close partner of the UN.
“As a chair of the SAARC summit, Maldives will have quite an influence on South Asian countries attending this year’s event,” she said previously. “It will certainly be constructive in reviewing human rights, a key point we plan to address at the summit.”
Evelyn Balais-Serrano, Asia-Pacific Coordinator for the ICC’s advocacy NGO Coalition for the International Criminal Court (CICC), called the Maldives’ accession to the Rome Statute a significant step for human rights in south asia.
She noted that Sri Lanka is “a long way” from membership at the ICC.
ICC membership requires the Maldives to uphold ICC standards and rulings. “The Maldives cannot do anything if the ICC decides to investigate and put into trial the perpetrators of crimes in Sri Lanka,” said Balais-Serrano. “If suspected criminals from Sri Lanka seek refuge in the territory of the Maldives, as a state party to the ICC, the government is obliged to cooperate with the Court by arresting the criminals.”
Sri Lanka’s findings are due for release on November 15.
Clarification: This story has been updated to reflect a clarification from the Vice President’s Office that human rights were not discussed at the meeting with Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa.