Sexist and racist remarks leveled at the UN HCHR

Sexist and racist remarks leveled at the UN HCHR

Date: September 6, 2013
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Sexist and racist remarks directed at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navatheenam Pillay in Sri Lanka this week cannot be tolerated. Sri Lanka’s Minister for Public Relations and Public Affairs, Mervyn Silva declared to the media that he was “willing to marry” the Human Rights Commissioner. Playing on her Tamil origins, he offered to teach Ms Pillay the history of Sri Lanka, taking her to visit Sinhalese sites. In Sri Lanka where ancient and recent history is fraught with ethnic division this is a disturbing coded message of racial superiority. Ms Pillay, who was South Africa’s first black woman judge, was on an official visit to Sri Lanka from 25 to 31 August 2013, at the invitation of the Sri Lankan Government.

The UN Human Rights Council in 2012 and 2013 adopted two resolutions against Sri Lanka’s alleged lack of accountability. These resolutions demand that Sri Lanka implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learned Commission (LLRC). These include investigating allegations of war crimes committed by both the Government of Sri Lanka and the Liberation Tamil Tigers of Eelam during the last bloody months of May 2009, at the end of a three-decade civil war. Pillay was assessing progress on implementing the Lessons Learned Commission recommendations.

Mr Silva’s emphasis on Ms Pillay’s gender and ethnicity not only insults a highly respected South African human rights lawyer who happens to be a woman; it trivialises the office she holds as United Nations High Commissioner.

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