SRI LANKA: Sunday Leader journalist replies to AHRC complaints

We reproduce below the email reply from Ms. Dilruskshi Handunnetti, the Sunday leader journalist who made several allegations against the AHRC in her article entitled ‘Targeting CBK and LTTE’s southern gift’.  We have earlier shared our replies to these letters.  Kindly see AHRC-OL-001-2007, AS-001-2007 and AHRC-OL-002-2007.

We reproduce below the email sent by Ms. Handunnetti today (as received) and the AHRC’s reply.

Dear Mr. Fernando,

Thank you for both your e- mails sent in response to my article titled “Targetting CBK and LTTE’s soutehrn gift” published in The Sunday Leader’s December 31,2006 issue.
We did publish the paragraphs, which were relevant to the strory and in fairness to you, did not add foot notes.
Given the length of your explanation, we regret that we could not publish it in its entirety. However the main allegations you raised were carried in capsule form.
It is needless for us to state that such an exhaustive explanation, most of it giving minute details of exchanges cannot be published completely specially when most of it have no  relevance to the story.
As much as you have taken the liberty to cast aspersions and attribute motive, the newspaper retains the right to edit and publish responses recieved. It is relevance that merits space and not the mere length of a response.
The documents you have sent were not directed my way, hence I am unable to mention anything about it.

Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The Sunday Leader
98, Ward Place,
Colombo 07,
Sri Lanka.


January 9, 2007

Ms. Dilrukshi Handunnetti
The Sunday Leader
98, Ward Place
Colombo 07
Sri Lanka.

Dear Ms. Handunnetti,

Thank you for your email note.

We regret that you have not explained or justified the two main allegations you made against the AHRC, in your original article, which is that our complaint to UNESCO about CBK was about prosecuting the war, and the second with the big title, the ‘AHRC violated NGO guidelines – UN in which you misrepresented a letter written by Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, Secretary NGO Section UN dated April 12, 2002 that you used to challenge our credibility as an organisation.

The essence of your message in the article was to create doubt on the credibility of the AHRC.  “As they agree, they also do not appear to pay any attention to the fact that some of the critics have credibility issues with regard to their organisations such as not being recognised as national institutions in the first place (see box)”.  (Emphasis mine).

This being a key issue of your article, in summarizing our reply it would have been the most basic etiquette to provide our version of the letter we alleged you misinterpreted.

We are willing to grant you the benefit of the doubt that initially you misunderstood the letter by Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, and that the source who gave you that letter did not give you the other correspondence and did not explain the sequence of events.  If this was a bona fide mistake (which of course could have been easily avoided if your sought an explanation from us) you had the opportunity to correct such a mistake once we set out the sequence of events, which give a completely different meaning to the letter which was used in your article to give the impression that our organisation has been found to have violated UN guidelines.

An impression has been created in the minds of your readers about some irresponsible activity on the part of the AHRC which has led to some decision against the commission by a UN agency.  Once the matter had been thoroughly clarified we would think it a basic etiquette to admit the mistake so that the readers may be satisfied as to whether the AHRC has replied to the basic allegations.

We are not challenging the newspaper’s right to delete some portions of a reply.  However, the part that is presented to the reader should reflect the factual information that has been in the reply.  However, the summary you published completely distorts our letter and leaves out the most substantial issues raised.

You make the worst possible allegation against a human rights organisation which is that it is aiding terrorists.  This is the same allegation that is alleged to have been made against the editor of your own newspaper when there was an attempt to arrest him.  This is the most vicious type of propaganda journalism.  If you thought we had any intention of aiding terrorism you should have provided whatever information you have to that effect.  We challenged CBK on that issue and there was no reply.

You as a journalist should have been aware of this as our reply was published in the newspapers.  After making such a wild allegation you cannot take up the defence that some portions of our letter were deleted because it “cast aspersions and attributes motive”.  What worse motive can be attributed to a human rights organisation than it abets terrorists?  Having made that allegation how could you restrict the right of reply on that issue?  As for your mention “It is relevance that merits space and not the mere length of a response”, the proportionality between the original article and the reply is based on the issues raised by the original article, the impressions made in the minds of the public and the right of a substantive reply to deal with those issues.  If we are to go by merit your original article does merit publication at all.  If a similar article was written to a newspaper published in Hong Kong (where the AHRC is based) it would have first given a proper summary of our letter to UNESCO and checked the context of the letter written by Maria Franscesca Ize-Charrin.  If such an article as yours was published here, the newspaper would have to deal with a furious public reaction as they require a high degree of adherence to norms and standards relating to publication from newspapers.  Readers do not want to waste time reading mere fantasies, they want facts.  As for our reply it was the facts that we provided and you have considered this to be irrelevant.

(In your email you referred to yourself as Editor Investigations – we have a right to question the quality of the standards of your investigation as reflected in the original article.  There is not a single iota of investigative work evident in that article.  You brutally misrepresented the only factual material you had which is the letter by Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin.  Today in the modern world investigative journalism is a highly prestigious profession and those who have made a name in that field observe a meticulous study of factual material and take prompt action to make apologies if they have made any inaccuracies.  Deliberate misrepresentation is regarded as the worst form of unprofessionalism.  As a human rights organisation we also constantly engage in investigations.  Rarely are any of our publications challenged on basis of fact. However, if at any time we make a mistake we will take prompt and appropriate action to ensure that corrections are made with due apologies).

We therefore request that you include at least the following in the forthcoming issue of the Sunday Leader.  The letter by Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin, Secretary of the NGO Committee quoted in the Sunday Leader, December 31, 2006 is only an intimation by the secretary of the NGO Committee to the Asian Legal Resource Centre that the Sri Lankan delegation had made a complaint that the ALRC distributed documents of the AHRC.  This allegation was rejected by the ALRC as sophistry without any substantial merit.  Subsequently there was an inquiry into this matter at which the ALRC was also represented.  During this meeting the Sri Lankan delegation withdrew the complaint it had made.  Thus, the letter of Maria Francisca Ize-Charrin does not represent any decision of the NGO Committee on the issue.

In summarizing our letter you also omitted that our concern in making our complaint to UNESCO was that (which we would also request you to publish):

While she held the position of a head of state for a long time she failed to conduct investigations into gross human rights abuses, such as the mass disappearances which took place in the south under the previous regime.  As a head of state she had all the resources available within the state to deal with problems of gross human rights abuses and crimes.  Her failure to do so amounts to abdication of command responsibility by a head of state.

The issue of specific allegations whether they relate to murder, personal enrichment of the head of state itself or those who are close associates and acts which may have caused serious harm, including death, and the prevention of inquiries is that once they are publicly made there is an obligation on the part of persons so accused to answer such charges.  This is not merely a question of personal liability but a matter of importance to the public because they have a right to the truth.  When an author, by a publication which has been widely distributed such as Choura Raegina published by Victor Ivan makes chilling accusations the public has a right to have an answer.  This responsibility of providing an answer lies with the former head of state, so accused, as well as the government in power.

The AHRC is based in Hong Kong.  Our experience within this small administrative region is that anyone who faces public allegations such as the ones faced by CBK would either have to give plausible explanation regarding such allegations or suffer prosecution.  Many people have gone to jail here or been forced to resign their posts for allegations which are much less serious in magnitude.  It is not possible to maintain rule of law without prosecution of anyone irrespective of the positions they hold or have held.  The AHRC stands for holding the rulers, bureaucrats and everyone else responsible for what they do as much as other citizens.  We admire the resilience of the people of Chile who for decades struggled to prosecute their dictator, Pinochet for causing gross abuses of human rights during his rule.  There are many such examples from all over the world.  Unfortunately political leaders in Sri Lanka enjoy immunity similar to feudal monarchs.

I regret to say we have wasted the time of the readers by the original publication without any basis or reason and you have also wasted our time.  It would only be professional on your part to make the necessary corrections.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Executive Director
Asian Human Rights Commission

cc: Editor – The Sunday Leader

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-004-2007
Countries : Sri Lanka,