On March 27, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted to open an investigation in Sri Lanka, based on allegations of human rights abuses and other crimes related to the civil war in Sri Lanka that ended in 2009.

In a press release, Secretary of State John Kerry said that the resolution “reaffirms the commitment of the international community to support the Government of Sri Lanka as it pursues reconciliation and respect for human rights and democratic governance.”

In 2009, Sri Lanka’s 26-year- long and extremely bloody civil war ended when Sri Lanka’s military defeated the Tamil Tiger rebels.

Earlier in March, Sri Lanka detained two well-known human rights activists for 48 hours under their anti-terrorism laws. The government has also denied allegations of human rights abuses, brought to them by various human rights groups.

The resolution calls on the UNHRC’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to conduct an investigation in Sri Lanka based on allegations of human rights violations on both sides. The 47 members of the council voted 23 to 12 for the resolution, with 12 members choosing to abstain.

Kerry went on to say that the HRC is “deeply concerned by recent actions against some of Sri Lanka’s citizens, including detentions and harassment of civil society activists.”

Navi Pillay, the UNHRC high commissioner, had previously wanted to investigate human rights violations in the country because he believed that the country’s authorities had not made a great deal of progress in their own investigations.

This investigation has been called “long overdue,” as two years after the war ended in 2009, the HRC passed a resolution that commended Sri Lanka’s way of bringing the war to a close.

Prior to the vote on March 27, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the HRC Ravinatha Aryasinha was not in favor of the resolution that would open a new investigation. Aryasinha said that the resolution would be a “grave threat to the sovereignty of U.N. member states” and that the resolution also went against international law.

Pakistan’s ambassador Zamir Akram also protested the resolution claiming that it based on political motives rather than about human rights. Akram also questioned whether the UNHRC had the resources to open the investigation at all.

India chose to abstain from the vote, claiming that it was concerned about going forward with an independent investigation. This decision was off-putting, as many nations expected India to support the independent investigation. In the past, India supported “tamer” resolutions regarding the war and supported previous proposal to open investigations.

The UNHRC’s investigation will focus on the bloodshed and violations that occurred at the end of the war in Sri Lanka. It was reported that approximately 40,000 civilians were killed at the end of the war, largely due to military offensives.

Additionally, the resolution calls for continuous monitoring of human rights conditions in Sri Lanka. The United States has said that it is important to improve human rights in Sri Lanka in response to the continuing abductions, torture, and extrajudicial killings that are taking place.

– Julie Guacci

Sources: The New York Times, U.S. Department of State, BBC News
Photo: The Independent

A report titled “Right to Food” was submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council in which the contemporary distribution of food was addressed. Currently, major corporations maintain control over food production and distribution—which has caused problems for society at large.

The World Food Programme stated that there are currently 842 million people without steady access to food. The UN special rapporteur on the right to food asserted that the global food system is in dire need of reform, especially considering some of the significant environmental and technological changes in society. The worldwide human population is expected to rise significantly while limited resources continue to be threatened by a global climate at risk.

Currently, the system of food production and distribution is in the hands of prominent corporations that have utilized the industrial processes to increase the efficiency of resource distribution overall. It has allowed for the global population to expand significantly in the 20th century and will continue to do so regardless of some of the environmental threats we face.

Some of the corporations that control food distribution are ConAgra, Cargill and PepsiCo. In order to be able to maintain their efficiency in distributing food resources, they rely heavily on chemical fertilizers, pesticides and fossil fuels to maintain their operations. The industrial revolution marked the start of the utilization of external variables to impact food production. At the time, the global population was rising and the green revolution was necessary to sustain the population.

However, the distribution of food is now becoming outdated with environmental issues, and the system indicates challenges that may require institutional reforms to be addressed. With so much of the global population without stable access to food resources, a rise in global population will further complicate matters.

Moreover, industrial food production also requires intensive freshwater use—which is also a limited resource. So if the United Nations is able to meet its goals of supporting fundamental human rights in the access to food, the industrial food distribution system will have to adapt. Corporate sources of food distribution have been unreliable in allowing for the general population to have access to the resources they need to survive—which is causing the issue to be considered from a human rights perspective.

Society is changing faster than ever before. With the level of technological development today, we can expect to see our world become increasingly fragile. Therefore, sustenance will require the consideration of sound approaches to distribution of resources, such as food.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: TruthDig, FNS
Photo: Zoom in on Poverty

This week, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been conducting public hearings on potential human rights violations committed by the DPRK. This was the first panel established to investigate claims of human rights violations by the government of North Korea.

The Commission was started by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in March with a one year mandate to investigate such claims. The panel is the most direct confrontation of the North Korean government by the international body.

While the world body has been critical of North Korea’s nuclear program, it has been less vocal about the repressive nature of the country towards its citizens. The International Criminal Court has been accused of focusing predominantly on Africa, while turning a blind eye to the situation in North Korea. The expanded focus of the ICC is an important step for the international community in dealing with problems of this kind.

The DPRK manages to keep a tight grip over its citizens, preventing migration in or out of the country. Without direct access to the country, the international body relies on defectors to provide a glimpse into life in the repressive country.

Although North Korea denies their existence, there are approximately 80,000-120,000 political prisoners held in 5 prison camps across the country. Many prisoners lose their lives during their stay due to the harsh conditions and torture.

North Korea denies committing human rights abuses and has called past UN resolutions on the subject as a part of a ‘political plot’ to destabilize its government. Many defectors hope that the panel will lead to the indictment of Kim Jong-un and his government allies in the International Criminal Court.

As one defector, Shin Dong-hyuk, explained, “We were expendables they were keeping as beasts of labor, to get the most out of us before we die.” Shin, like many others, was forced into a labor camp. Unlike most of his peers, Shin escaped. Shin is now telling his story to the panel in hopes of advocating against the government of North Korea.

A female defector, Hee Heon-a, explained that conditions inside the prison camps are often unbearable for women. Most women are sexually exploited and some are even beaten until they miscarry. Thus far, the commission has identified nine patterns of human rights violations used in the country, such as torture, induced famine, and arbitrary detention.

Later this month, the commission is set to convene in Japan to meet with defectors from the country and those knowledgeable about the abduction of Japanese nationals. The hearings will take place in Tokyo on August 29-30. Government officials, NGOs, and other research organizations are set to take part in the discussion.

The chairman of the Commission, Michael Kirby, said Pyongyang has not yet agreed to participate in the hearings. Although there are few options to prevent such abuses from occurring further, the international community is utilizing the panel as a forum to raise awareness about the human rights abuses in North Korea.

– Kelsey Ziomek

Sources: UN, New York Times, Policy Mic
Photo: Washington Post