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Sri Lanka lobbying Muslim countries ahead of crucial Geneva vote

WELCOMED – Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina welcomes Sri Lanka Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa in Dhaka/PMD handout

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has ramped up contacts with Islamic countries as the vote on the Resolution against the island nation at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva nears.

Steady support from Muslim countries has in the past helped stave off similar resolutions against Sri Lanka’s Human Rights record particularly in the last stages of the separatist war.

The Council is expected to vote on the resolution against Sri Lanka this week which aims to condemn Sri Lanka’s lack of reconciliation after the war and also enforce targeted sanctions against key members of the current government.

This year, however, support from Islamic countries has been lukewarm due to the anti-Muslim rhetoric emanating from government leaders as well as the insistence on the cremation of the remains of all Sri Lankans who die of Covid 19. Cremation is abhorrent to people who follow the Abrahamic faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said yesterday that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa had called the Secretary-General of the Organisation Dr Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen and “discussed with him the existing relations between the OIC and Sri Lanka as well as the situation of the Muslim community in the country.”

In an earlier session of the Council Al-Othaimeen had slammed Sri Lanka over the burial issue. However yesterday’s statement “welcomed the decision of the Government of Sri Lanka on the right of Muslims to bury their dead in accordance with the Islamic rites. The Secretary-General reaffirmed the OIC’s keenness to follow up the conditions of Muslim communities and defend their rights in non-OIC member states.”

Yesterday Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa returned from a two-day trip to Bangladesh where he attended the centenary birth celebrations of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, considered the liberator of Bangladesh and father of long-standing Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed.

Although not officially stated, Sri Lanka is known to have lobbied Dhaka to either vote in favour of Sri Lanka or abstain from the poll.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena also had a meeting last week with the Afghan Ambassador in Colombo Ashraf Haidari, at which Kabul’s envoy had asked for Sri Lanka’s support for the candidacy of Dr Zalmai Rassoul for the post of President of the United Nations General Assembly. Rassoul is a former Foreign Minister of Afghanistan.

Official statements did not say whether the Geneva Resolution was discussed. (Colombo, March 22, 2021)

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Reported by Arjuna Ranawana

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