Sri Lanka’s delegation to the United Nations Human Rights Commission’s 43rd session in Geneva has a tough task – it has to do a U-turn without making the wheels of the car fall off or crash into the nearest wall.
This is because Sri Lanka is facing a Resolution co-sponsored by it which compels it to carry out measures that the newly elected administration of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa is deeply opposed.
The decision as announced after the Cabinet Meeting on Wednesday was to withdraw from the co-sponsorship.
In a note approved by the Cabinet of Ministers and presented to Parliament on Thursday by Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunewardena the government said that it will “announce Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw from co-sponsorship of Resolution 40/1 of March 2019 on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka.’”
Instead, the government will pledge at the conference to institute a Commission of Inquiry headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court to review “the reports of previous Sri Lankan COIs which investigated alleged violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), to assess the status of implementation of their recommendations and to propose deliverable measures to implement them.”
Sri Lanka will also declare its commitment to” achieve sustainable peace through an inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process, including through the appropriate adaptation of existing mechanisms, in line with the Government’s policy framework.”
It will also work towards the closure of the Resolution, Gunewardena said.
That is where the two sides will clash.
The UNHRC in a report on Sri Lanka released earlier in the month by High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said: “it urges the full implementation of resolution 30/1, considering that the commitments under it remain essential to achieve the peaceful society and sustainable development aspired to by people from all communities in Sri Lanka.”
It warned Sri Lanka while some progress has been done in promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights the “inability of the Government to deal comprehensively with impunity and to reform institutions, may trigger the recurrence of human rights violations.”
The UNHRC pointed out that many of the commitments made in the Resolution “originated in Sri Lanka’s domestic process, notably the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission established by the Government during the presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa, and elaborated further in a comprehensive civil society-led national consultation that involved all stakeholders, including the military.”
“The commitments in resolution 30/1 reflect the aspirations of all communities seeking to overcome the legacy of decades of armed conflict, terrorism and authoritarianism,” it said.
The High Commissioner praised the independent institutions which were strengthened under the 19th Constitutional Amendment calling them “critically important.” She noted that the Human Rights Commission of Sri Lanka “has continued its proactive and outspoken defence of human rights in an independent and professional manner. The High Commissioner commends its timely interventions in the aftermath of the attacks of April 2019, which played an important role in preventing resort to excessive or discriminatory measures. The Right to Information Commission established in 2016 is another key institution to guarantee citizens’ right to access information from all public authorities.”
The report went on to say that the “High Commissioner is concerned that the failure to ensure accountability for past violations and to undertake comprehensive security sector reform to dismantle the structures that facilitated them, means that the people of Sri Lanka, from all communities, have no guarantee that violations will not recur. Such failure alienates victims and their communities, instilling distrust in the State, and can potentially fuel further cycles of violence.”
Foreign Relations Minister Gunewardena will lead the delegation that will comprise the Secretary to the Ministry Ravinatha Aryasinha and officials from the Ministry as well as the Attorney General’s Department.
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