Apr 08, 2018

Human Rights Commission Complains to President: 49 Peacekeeping soldiers sent to Lebanon without its vetting

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Human Rights Commission Complains to President: 49 Peacekeeping soldiers sent to Lebanon without its vetting

The Sri Lanka Army sent 49 soldiers to Lebanon in February despite being “clearly aware” that no personnel could be deployed on UN peacekeeping operations without first being vetted by the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka, the commission has told President Maithripala Sirisena.
In a letter to the President, HRCSL chairperson Deepika Udagama says the Commission was astonished over the failure to seek clearance. “Further, the Commission was not informed that the said group of 49 personnel had to be deployed to Lebanon early,” it said. “Deploying soldiers who have not undergone the vetting process is a complete violation of the agreement made with the Human Rights Commission.”

United Nations member-states that nominate or provide personnel to serve with the UN must screen and certify that such personnel have not committed, or are alleged to have committed, criminal offences and/or violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. Those who seek to serve with the UN mustattest the same and, where necessary, provide relevant information. The processes by which this can be done are outlined in Decision 2012/18 of the UN Secretary-General’s Policy Committee.

According to the UN, Sri Lanka is the first nation to be granted the opportunity to vet military personnel for peacekeeping operations by a national Human Rights Commission. Completing this process with a high degree of credibility is essential to enhance the recognition given to Sri Lankan peacekeeping operation troops, the Commission says.

But the HRCSL on February 19 “came to know through a media statement” that a group of 49 soldiers has already been deployed to Lebanon. This was confirmed by the Army. None of the members of this team was cleared by the Commission.

In June 2016, it was agreed between the Government of Sri Lanka, the UN and the HRCSL that the Commission will vet military personnel to be deployed on peacekeeping operations. President Sirisena, who is Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, was duly notified. The HRCSL letter says that in February 2017, the Army submitted documents pertaining to 200 military personnel for vetting. While the process was ongoing, the Army informed the Commission that the UN had already conducted vetting of the said personnel and that therefore there was no need for the Commission to proceed.

“Amidst the confusion that arose, the Commission suspended the vetting process through a written notice,” the letter says. But it was resumed after a discussion with the Foreign and Home Affairs Ministers, Secretaries to the Ministries of Defence and Law and Order, Commanders of the Tri-forces and the Inspector General of Police.

In December 2017, the Commission received the applications of 204 military personnel who were to be deployed for peacekeeping operations in Lebanon. But the group in question was dispatched before vetting. “Relevant documents required for the vetting of 204 military personnel, inclusive of the said 49 soldiers were due to be submitted to the Commission on 19 March 2018,” the letter says. “However, to date we’ve received only a part of these documents.”

The Army has also issued a statement on the controversy but stopped short of directly addressing the Commission’s concerns. It said the Army considers it important that personnel deployed in UN missions at all levels “should be individuals of the highest integrity and maintain the highest standards of conduct at all times”.

There were instances in the past where Sri Lankan personnel did not maintain the standards expected of them and disciplinary action had to be taken “in accordance with the relevant and applicable legal provisions”. Some personnel nominated for deployment have also been found to have allegations of misconduct against them, the statement admits.

At present, Sri Lanka seeks to enhance and expand its participation in UN peacekeeping. “Screening of personnel being deployed at all levels is an important component in this respect,” the HRCSL notes.The Army accepts the involvement of the HRCSL as “the most appropriate way forward with respect to screening of personnel”. Accordingly, it has agreed on a process which is in line with the UN Secretary-General’s Decision No.2012/18 Human Rights.

The statement does not mention or clarify the position as regards the group deployed to Lebanon.