UN commissioner calls for return of land, de-militarisation in Sri Lanka

Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein also calls for reducing the size of the military force in the North and East to a "less intrusive" level.

Updated - November 17, 2021 02:10 am IST

Published - February 09, 2016 08:19 pm IST - COLOMBO:

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein speaks during a news conference in Colombo on Tuesday.

United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein speaks during a news conference in Colombo on Tuesday.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, on Tuesday urged the Sri Lankan military to accelerate the return of lands to rightful owners and reduce its size in the Northern and Eastern provinces.

Mr. Al Hussein told a press conference at the end of his four-day visit to Sri Lanka that “while some land has been returned in the Jaffna and Trincomalee areas, there are still large tracts which can and should be swiftly given back.”  

(According to the Sri Lankan government, about 3,000 acres of land were returned since January 2015 and 2,329 families had been resettled).

‘Make militarisation less intrusive’

On the level of militarisation, he said the size of the military force in the two provinces could be reduced to a level “that is less intrusive and intimidating.”

Acknowledging that Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe’s recent statement that all the disappeared persons were “probably dead” had created “great distress” among their families, Mr. Al Hussein said rapid action should be taken to “identify precisely who is still alive and who has died or been killed, properly account for their deaths — including whether or not they were unlawful — identify the location of their remains, and provide redress.” 

Government looking at various options

Asked by The Hindu whether there was any lack of clarity on the part of the Sri Lankan government on the participation of foreign judges in the proposed judicial mechanism, Mr. Al Hussein replied that “the preference” of the Sri Lankan government (of having a domestic mechanism) had been made known.  The government was looking at “various options” within the limits of its preference.  

Acknowledging that the Sri Lankan government had “sovereign right” to take decisions on such matters and his office could make recommendations, he said that whatever the government did, it was for victims on all sides to say whether the government “has done enough” in respect of them. This was why the consultative process (to design the mechanism) had assumed importance.

For “an impartial, independent” mechanism

Mr. Al Hussein also emphasised that international participation could guarantee an “impartial and independent” judicial mechanism.

On Sri Lanka co-sponsoring a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in October last on accountability and reconciliation, he said, “it is not a gratuitous attempt to interfere with or undermine the country’s sovereignty or independence.” But, “it was the country’s commitment to both itself and to the world to confront the past honestly and, by doing that, take out comprehensive insurance against any future devastating outbreak of inter-communal tensions and conflict.

On freedom and openness

On the present atmosphere of freedom and openness, the High Commissioner felt that “the element of fear has considerably diminished, at least in Colombo and the South. In the North and the East, it has mutated but, sadly, still exists.” 

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