21 January 2002
W. J. Basil Fernando
G/F 93 Tai Wai New Village
Hong Kong SAR
H. E. Mr. C. Mahendran
Permanent Mission of the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka
630, 3rd Avenue (20th Floor)
New York - NY 10017
Fax (00-1-212) 986-1838
By registered post
Re: Attack on a citizen by you in your capacity as Ambassador/Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the United Nations in New York
I am writing to you as a citizen of Sri Lanka, both to protest and request an explanation from you for your attack on me at the United Nations Committee on Non-Governmental Organizations, during its official deliberations held on 20 January 2003 in New York, when you falsely alleged that I have distributed “documents containing politically motivated and unsubstantiated material against Sri Lanka”. This is an extremely serious allegation you have made against me while acting in your official capacity as a representative of the Government of Sri Lanka.
Your statement contains two accusations: first, that I distributed politically motivated material, and secondly, that its contents were unsubstantiated. I categorically deny both of these accusations. I observe that when making this statement on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka you failed to produce any of the said material allegedly distributed by me. As a citizen of Sri Lanka I now demand that you produce this material upon which you have based your accusations. I assert that you are unable to do so as in fact no such material exists. Your statement was a pure fabrication, the motives for which I do not wish to attribute. It is in itself unsubstantiated and appears nothing more than an attempt to distract the international community and people of Sri Lanka from the real issues.
I am lawyer by profession, a former senior United Nations officer and presently executive director of a regional human rights organization of high repute. Both professionally and personally I find the making of unsubstantiated allegations abhorrent, and I also detest politically motivated actions in international human rights fora, as the implication would be that such actions were not made in good faith.
As a citizen of Sri Lanka, I hold among my sacred beliefs that:
1. Sri Lanka today is in a deep crisis of thirty years making and we as citizens must do all we can to get out of it.
2. The rule of law in Sri Lanka is at an all time low and the national survival depends upon its recovery.
3. Torture is endemic in Sri Lanka and without it being addressed we will make no progress in human rights and the rule of law. In this regard, Act No. 22 of 1994 making torture an offence punishable by a mandatory seven-year prison sentence must be effectively and efficiently enforced.
4. Sri Lanka’s prosecution system is very weak and in urgent need of radical reform.
5. Sri Lanka’s criminal investigation system is fatally flawed and this has a direct bearing on the rights of the people.
6. Policing in Sri Lanka suffers from extreme defects and is also in dire need of reform. In this regard, some steps taken under the 17th Amendment to the Constitution, including the setting up of the National Police Commission, need to be supported by the citizens, who should participate in seeing these reforms realized.
7. The ongoing question of mass enforced or involuntary disappearance of people during the late 1980s and early 1990s needs to be faced up to both in terms of Sri Lanka’s international obligations and the rights of individuals and families. In this regard, all the recommendations of both domestic commissions of inquiry into disappearances and also international bodies, such as the United Nations Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, need to be implemented expediently.
8. Sri Lanka’s rate of suicide, among the highest in the world, needs to be addressed urgently, as it indicates acute social problems, particularly among the young, and is profoundly linked to basic economic, social and cultural rights.
9. Freedom of expression, publication and association are fundamental rights that have suffered numerous violations in Sri Lanka, a fact that needs to be corrected.
10. United Nations human rights mechanisms are essential for countries like ours to come out of extreme disorder, repression and poverty.
As a citizen of Sri Lanka I have a right to these views. If your allegation against me on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka is grounded on my holding such views then I have no reason for apology. In fact, in this case it is your attack that has been politically motivated, as it is intended to undermine the fundamental rights of a citizen.
Indeed, sir, this whole incident is reminiscent of the events that first forced me to flee from Sri Lanka. Holding and expressing such views caused me much trouble there. I had to leave in 1989 to avoid imminent assassination by state officers for no other reason than I was doing my duty as a lawyer. Simply defending the accused antagonized police, who in the dangerous political climate of that time readily eliminated persons standing in the way of their illegal acts.
Those terrible times left a large impression on me and as a citizen I have considered it my duty to do everything possible to bring justice and reconciliation to the affected persons, so that we Sri Lankans shall not repeat such a cruel past.
To deny mercy to those who have suffered and been murdered at the hands of this rapacious social order marks a very critical fall in social morality and a legal system. Restraint in use of force and the principle of proportionality in its use are vital principles that can be deviated from only at the national peril. Sri Lanka did breach these norms in the recent past. We owe it to ourselves to admit this fact and take steps to undo the damage.
Since leaving Sri Lanka, then, I have had nothing to do with its vicious politics but instead have devoted every waking hour available to learn how as citizens we can rid the country of such politics and build an environment amenable to democracy and human rights. I have concentrated on the renewal of the rule of law in Sri Lanka, for many reasons. Among them, we must recognize that without the rule of law equality is not possible and attempts to resolve the minority issue would then prove meaningless. No economic development can also be expected without it. I have taken the trouble to inform others of whatever I have learned, so that by sharing of experience we may collectively come out of our very sad fate as a country. I know this will take time but I am quite willing to devote the rest of my life to it.
Now you, on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka, have pursued and attacked me before a world body. I do not pretend to understand the reasons behind your action, which appears as if the state is trying to destroy individual freedom for some purpose of its own. Similarly, I cannot understand the massive repression unleashed on the people of Sri Lanka during these last thirty years, particularly the murder of tens of thousands of people after they were arrested in both the North and the South. But as for you, you must have acted on instructions arising out of some scheme.
I must add my objection to your allegation that I am involved with an organization, the Asian Human Rights Commission, that is engaged in the publication and distribution of “politically motivated and unsubstantiated” material against Sri Lanka. For the reasons I have already outlined above, I likewise reject this as an absolute falsification. This attack that you have made on the Asian Human Rights Commission on behalf of the Government of Sri Lanka is also a covert attack on my right of association.
The Government of Sri Lanka is the representative of its citizens, as is the nature of government in any democracy. When you represent the Government of Sri Lanka the purpose is to protect the citizens and not to attack their freedoms. The Government of Sri Lanka often calls upon everyone to contribute towards a resolution of the deep crisis facing the country. If you attack those who come forward accordingly you undermine the said objectives of the government and the goodwill that may otherwise exist between it and the citizens of Sri Lanka.
Therefore, I demand an explanation from you as to why you have pursued and attacked me in this instance in the aforesaid manner. This is my right as a citizen of Sri Lanka. In short, my question to you is why are you trying to censor me, destroy my right of expression and my right of association?
I await your response.