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Cablegate: Ngos Continue to Use Upr Process to Press Sri

VZCZCXRO0885
RR RUEHAT
DE RUEHGV #0515/01 1891135
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 071135Z JUL 08
FM USMISSION GENEVA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6688
INFO RUEHZJ/HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL COLLECTIVE
RUEHLM/AMEMBASSY COLOMBO 0539
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 2782
RUEHBS/USEU BRUSSELS

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 GENEVA 000515

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV UNHRC CE
SUBJECT: NGOS CONTINUE TO USE UPR PROCESS TO PRESS SRI
LANKA HUMAN RIGHTS ISSUES

REF: GENEVA 489

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Both the government of Sri Lanka and its
critics implemented the same strategy in the plenary session
of Sri Lanka's Universal Periodic Review (UPR) as they had in
the working group phase of that newly-created mechanism.
Defending itself against criticism leveled at it in both
sessions, the government and its allies in the Human Rights
Council (HRC) tried to present Sri Lanka as pursuing a
cooperative spirit in the UPR and as making progress on its
human rights record. Among the noteworthy aspects of the
plenary was the activism of NGOs, both during the plenary and
on the margins. The Sri Lanka review again highlighted the
importance of UPR for independent human rights NGOs, and the
important role that they, in turn, play in the process. END
SUMMARY.

2. (U) Like all the countries that had undergone an initial
UPR session at working group level in previous months, Sri
Lanka underwent a one-hour UPR plenary session on June 13, as
part of the HRC's Eighth Session (reftel). This culminated
in the adoption of a resolution concerning Sri Lanka's UPR
review.

REITERATED PRAISE, CRITICISM
----------------------------

3. (U) The session featured much the same combination of
praise and criticism of Sri Lanka as during the working group
phase. Algeria and Indonesia used their interventions to
praise the GoSL for its commitment to human rights, with the
latter stressing that change could not be expected overnight.
Denmark and Canada were among those who voiced criticism,
with the former expressing regret that the GoSL had not
accepted 26 of the recommendations made in the working group
phase and that the recommendations did not cover the full
range of problems. Japan took the middle ground, stressing
the GoSL acceptance of 45 recommendations but hastening to
add its concerns about the human rights situation on the
ground and expressing its desire to help make improvements.

CIVIL SOCIETY TAKES THE STAGE
-----------------------------

4. (U) NGOs, which had not been allowed to speak in the
working group phase, used all the time available to them to
express concerns. One NGO echoed the concerns raised by
Denmark about the incompleteness of recommendations. Others
focused on those recommendations that already had been made
and which Sri Lanka had not accepted. Criticism focused
heavily on the lack of independence of Sri Lanka's election
commission, as well as on impunity for forced disappearances.
With only twenty minutes for all NGOs to speak, several
coordinated their activity, with Amnesty International (AI)
and Human Rights Watch (HRW), for instance, making a joint
statement.

NGO-HOSTED MEETINGS
-------------------

5. (SBU) Despite having minimal time to speak in the actual
UPR plenary sessions, NGOs were highly visible on the margins
of the sessions of a number of countries, with Sri Lanka
being perhaps the most notable. Activists, including several
who had come from Sri Lanka for the occasion (in many cases
after having come for the earlier working group sessions as
well), were active in the corridors before and after the
actual review. They also organized several side-events. One
panel, hosted by AI, HRW, and the International Commission of
Jurists, included representatives from national human rights
institutions but also a representative of the GoSL, Deputy
Solicitor-General Shavindra Fernando, who presented the
GoSL's response to issues related to witness protection and
the Constitutional Council. (NOTE: Several of our
interlocutors who were otherwise critical of Sri Lanka
praised it for sending a representative to a session at which
it knew it would come under criticism. Few other governments
showed any willingness to do so. END NOTE.)

6. (SBU) At another side event, Sri Lankan NGOs led the
discussion on how best to push their concerns through the
many filters of the UPR process. They focused on the
structural problems in Sri Lanka today, emphasizing that the
country has plenty of lawyers, who have no scope, however, to
exercise the rule of law. The NGO activists argued that
webcasting of the UPR review allowed those lawyers, and
others, to better press for human rights on the ground, as
well as keeping the international community focused on Sri

GENEVA 00000515 002 OF 002


Lanka's situation. The UPR also could lead to greater
grassroots efforts back home.

COMMENT
-------

7. (SBU) NGO participation in the Sri Lanka UPR process has
been valuable in painting a more comprehensive picture of
human rights in that country for Geneva delegations, as well
as for a potential international community that can access
the proceedings through webcasts and by virtue of media
coverage. As the Sri Lanka review demonstrated, NGOs have
made impressive progress in finding their place in the UPR
and coming together to share best practices on maximizing the
impact of their presence. Their eagerness to travel here and
participate energetically highlights the hope that the UPR
process can be a force multiplier for on-the-ground activism
-- even in a state that obstinately rejects the criticism of
its peers. Further coordination among NGOs in discussing
best practices and strategies for advocating their interests
and the interests of civil society in the UPR process could
result in more NGOs, most notably smaller NGOs who have
previously not been able to speak in Geneva, having a
stronger and more effective presence in the UPR process.
STORELLA

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