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Cablegate: Sri Lanka: Response On President's Human Rights

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OO RUEHBI RUEHLMC
DE RUEHLM #1266/01 2560356
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 130356Z SEP 07
FM AMEMBASSY COLOMBO
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 6806
INFO RUEHKA/AMEMBASSY DHAKA PRIORITY 0408
RUEHIL/AMEMBASSY ISLAMABAD PRIORITY 7395
RUEHKT/AMEMBASSY KATHMANDU PRIORITY 5518
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON PRIORITY 4025
RUEHNE/AMEMBASSY NEW DELHI PRIORITY 1362
RUEHNY/AMEMBASSY OSLO PRIORITY 4092
RUEHKO/AMEMBASSY TOKYO PRIORITY 3178
RUEHCG/AMCONSUL CHENNAI PRIORITY 7993
RUEHBI/AMCONSUL MUMBAI PRIORITY 5634
RUEHON/AMCONSUL TORONTO PRIORITY 0401
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA PRIORITY 2319
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS PRIORITY
RUEHLMC/MILLENNIUM CHALLENGE CORPORATION PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 COLOMBO 001266

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/INS, G, AND DRL/SEA
NSC FOR NSC/DEMOC

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PREL PTER PHUM MOPS CE
SUBJECT: SRI LANKA: RESPONSE ON PRESIDENT'S HUMAN RIGHTS
ROUNDTABLE AT 2007 UNGA

REF: A) STATE 125456 B) COLOMBO 1225

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Ambassador, Embassy staff, and
Washington-based officials have made a consistent, intensive
effort over the past year to engage the Sri Lankan government
on improving its human rights record, and to support and
defend human rights advocates in the country. Sri Lanka has
recently shown some improvement on human rights, with the
number of disappearances in the country declining. However,
the government's performance on human rights still leaves
much room for improvement. For a number of policy reasons,
Embassy recommends against extending an invitation to
President Mahinda Rajapaksa to participate in the President's
Human Rights Roundtable at the 2007 UNGA (see paragraph 10).
End summary.

2. (U) Ambassador and other EmbOffs have actively sought
opportunities to encourage Sri Lankan government officials at
all levels to improve efforts to safeguard human rights in
Sri Lanka. Post has consistently conveyed our message, both
publicly and privately, that the GSL needs to do more to stem
the tide of human rights abuses. For example, Ambassador
held a roundtable discussion on December 21, 2006 with
representatives of 15 Sri Lankan and international
organizations on the theme "Defending the Defenders: The
Struggle of Human Rights Advocates to Safeguard the
Fundamental Freedoms of Vulnerable Populations in Sri Lanka."
Ambassador has also given many interviews to the local media
on the importance of progress on human rights, including with
the Tamil daily Thinnakural and the Indo-Asian News Service.

3. (U) The Embassy and senior Washington-based officials,
such as Assistant Secretary Boucher, have argued strenuously
for media freedom in Sri Lanka. Specific interventions by
Ambassador led to new deliveries of newsprint to
Tamil-language newspapers in Jaffna after a de facto embargo
on newsprint supplies led to an acute shortage, stifling
independent voices there. Ambassador has demonstrated
support for the staff of two particularly beleaguered Tamil
dailies by visiting their editorial offices and allowing
photos of the meetings to be published.

4. (U) Our Public Affairs section has regularly distributed
publications with human rights themes, including USINFO
articles and Electronic Journals, also employing Selective
Dissemination of Information techniques to get out our human
rights message.

5. (SBU) USAID has provided start-up help, institutional
capacity-building and infrastructure to several organizations
active in human rights in Trincomalee, Jaffna, and Colombo.
These include communications and office equipment,
instruction, training materials, and other help. Recipients
have included human rights NGOs in Jaffna, the Civil
Monitoring Commission in Colombo, which tracks disappearance
cases, and civil society organizations such as the Muslim
Rights Organization and Muslim Peace Council. The Ambassador
also visited the Civil Monitoring Commission and invited the
press to photograph the meeting to demonstrate U.S. support
for that organization's efforts.

6. (U) In response to a number of politically motivated
attacks on non-governmental organizations and serious
incidents, including killings of humanitarian workers,
Ambassador and USAID worked intensively with a number of
other bilateral donors and international organizations to
draft a set of Guiding Principles for the work of NGOs based
on Secretary Rice's Guiding Principles.

7. (U) Following a meeting in March 2007 between SCA PDAS
Steven Mann, Ambassador, and President Rajapaksa, Embassy

COLOMBO 00001266 002 OF 002


forwarded a list of 355 alleged cases of disappearances to
the Presidential Secretariat for the GSL to examine.
President Rajapaksa promised to look into these cases. To
date, we have received partial information on 14 of the 355
cases.

8. (U) One of our most important recent initiatives was to
join with an ad-hoc consortium of other donors to found and
support the International Independent Group of Eminent
Persons to observe and assist the Presidential Commission of
Inquiry into Human Rights Abuses. This Commission is
investigating sixteen of the most notorious cases of
assassination and mass killings that have occurred in Sri
Lanka since August 15, 2005.

9. (SBU) We have placed particular emphasis on violations by
armed paramilitary groups suspected of maintaining links with
the military. Ambassador has been a strong advocate for
holding human right abusers accountable for their crimes.
There has been some recent progress in reducing the number of
abductions, especially in the capital, but that improvement
has not extended to the conflict-affected areas in the North
and East of Sri Lanka. Human rights abuses in Jaffna are of
grave concern and continue unabated.

RECOMMENDATION
--------------

10. (SBU) Embassy recommends against including President
Rajapaksa in President Bush's roundtable discussion on human
rights on the margins of the UNGA this year. Despite some
recent evidence that our efforts have contributed to limited
progress, the government's record on human rights and
fundamental freedoms still leaves much to be desired. In
Embassy's view, extending an invitation to President
Rajapaksa to sit at a roundtable with President Bush and
other human rights advocates from around the world is not
warranted at this time and would undermine the message that
the roundtable is intended to send. An appearance by
President Rajapaksa at this venue would carry other important
risks with it.
-- The international press would strongly criticize us for
providing this forum to a government that has a weak human
rights record.
-- It would undercut our tough message to the GSL that it
needs to improve its performance on human rights.
-- The U.S. Congress had been critical of the GSL human
rights record. Influential members, particularly on the
Senate side, might consider Rajapaksa's inclusion in a
roundtable on this level provocative.
-- Finally, it would run counter to our policy not to offer
meetings to the GSL at the most senior levels until we see a
significant improvement in human rights conditions in Sri
Lanka. Embassy believes this test has not yet been met.
BLAKE

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