ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka has decided to hold its ground at the latest United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva, expressing strong opposition to a newer and tougher resolution to be taken up for a vote on Thursday October 06.
Noting that the odds are stacked heavily against the island nation what with powerful Western nations lobbying hard for votes, Sri Lanka Foreign Minister Ali Sabry said on Wednesday that his government is particularly opposed to operative paragraph number 8, which he claimed is directly in confrontation with Sri Lanka’s constitution.
The paragraph reads: “Recognises the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability, and decides to extend and reinforce the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka, to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings, including in Member States, with competent jurisdiction.”
Speaking to journalists in the run-up to the Thursday’s vote, Minister Sabry said over a Zoom call from Geneva that countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, who lead the UNHRC core group on Sri Lanka, are greatly influenced by domestic-level lobbying by pressure groups from the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora.
“This is not a fair reflection of the people’s will. This is heavy lobbying. This is geopolitics,” he said.
The composition of the UNHRC has changed and many countries that previously voted in support of Sri Lanka are no longer members of the council, said Sabry, indicating that the country will fare poorly at Thursday’s vote.
The minister complained that neither the West nor the diaspora groups are ever satisfied with the steps taken by Sri Lanka under successive governments to promote reconciliation through its own homegrown mechanisms and are determined to perpetually keep the “small country” trapped.
“Whatever you deliver, they will continue with a new theme and this will remain,” he said, falling back on Sri Lanka’s usual defence that human rights are being used as a tool of control.
With the exception of the Yahapalana government period from 2015 to 2019, Sri Lanka has, since 2009, taken a defensive if not confrontational approach to handling the UNHRC’s attempts to hold the state accountable for human rights violations alleged to have taken place in the final phase of a brutal 26-year with the separatist Tamil Tigers.
Minister Sabry said in September that Sri Lanka’s government under new president Ranil Wickremesinghe – who, incidentally, was prime minister in the Yahapalana government – does not want any confrontation with any international partner at the 51st UNHRC sessions but will oppose any anti-constitutional move forced upon the country.
Sri Lanka does not want confrontation at UNHRC, but will oppose anti-constitutional moves
In his address to journalists on the eve of the vote, Sabry said that Western machinations notwithstanding, Sri Lanka is committed to establishing a truth-seeking mechanism of its own and will go ahead with efforts at reconciliation that are in line with the constitution and do not violate the country’s sovereignty or the independence of the judiciary. Proponents of an external mechanism, however, have questioned the reliability of any internal investigation.
A truth-seeking mechanism that’s acceptable to the international community will be established after a rapport has been submitted by a presidential commission of inquiry, he said.
The Prevention of Terrosism Act (PTA), Sri Lanka’s controversial anti-terror law, already amended in April will also be repalced with new legislation, he added.
The PTA and its use in detaining anti-government protestors have also been highlighted in the new UNHRC resolution.
Sabry complained that countries like the US, the UK, Canada and Germany do not acknowledge measures taken by Sri Lanka over the years such as the rehabilitation and release of 12,9000 Tiger cadres who had surrendered to the army and the release of some 94 percent of Tamil-owned land previously occupied by the military.
The Tamil people of the country’s north and east, claimed Sabry, are not asking for a hybrid court or foreign judges but for employment opportunities and economic assistance.
The minister reiterated his government’s opposition to operative paragraph 8, which he called dangerous and a “targeted act against war heroes”.
“We cannot agree to this. We can’t do it even if we do agree,” he said, noting that having foreign judges investigate Sri Lankan troops or having troops prosecuted abroad would be a violation of the constitution.
“Since 2009, the peace benefits have been enjoyed by everybody, be they Sinhalese, Tamil, or Muslim. There has been massive development in various parts of the country. Until the unfortunate recent economic crisis, Sri Lanka was on a good path. People have now forgotten,” he said, adding that the dividends of peace are “everywhere”.
The latest UNHRC resolution on “promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka”, sponsored by 26 countries, also makes reference to the country’s prevailing currency crisis.
Operative paragraph 13 calls upon the government of Sri Lanka to “address the ongoing economic crisis, including by investigating and, where warranted, prosecuting corruption, including where committed by public and former public officials, and stands ready to assist and support independent, impartial and transparent efforts in this regard.”
Minister Sabry said Sri Lanka objects to this too, on the grounds that the UNHRC has no jurisdiction on economic matters.
“We are all agreed that economic reform is needed. But is that the specialisation of the UNHRC? That’s the area of the IMF and the World Bank. We have been perpetually put here. They’re interfering in everything, whether it’s within their purview or not,” he said.
Next they’ll say they need to investigate cricket, he added.
“What we’re saying at this crucial juncture is [that Sri Lanka needs] unity international support. We don’t want division and polarisation in the council,” said Sabry.
“We have engaged the core group and told them that we need time and space to deliver,” he added. (Colombo/Oct05/2022)