KEEPING HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HUMANE

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In a brief statement at the 50th Session, Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris sought the understanding of the UN Human Rights Council on the ‘challenging social and economic situation’ facing the nation. Detailing the twin crises without going into the specifics, he also outlined what the Government had done in the context of the ‘war crimes probe’ and ‘accountability issues’, which have since taken monstrous propositions to include every day law-and-order situation, so to say.

 “We undertake to engage in the multiple tasks before us and to honour legitimate commitments,” Minister Peiris said. “The difficult situation we are facing today and the voices of our youth remind us urgently that we need to address these challenges with humility,” he added.

In the same vein, he reiterated the Government’s conviction that ‘so-called external evidence-gathering mechanism introduced by HRC Resolution 46/1, adopted without our consent and that of other members of this Council…. will only serve to polarise and divide (Sri Lanka), and will be an unproductive and an unhelpful drain on the resources of this Council and its members’.

Golden dagger

Whether or not Minister Peiris is right on the ‘unproductive and unhelpful drain’ part of his statement, but definitely the triple crises in the country – food, fuel, forex, and many more – is certainly not the time for expecting the Government to address those so-called UNHRC concerns, especially those pertaining to the ‘evidence-gathering mechanism’. 

It is in this context that the opening statement of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet’s call for Sri Lanka to ‘advance reconciliation and justice for all communities’ sounds amateurish and unbecoming. True, as she pointed out, the Government ‘must ensure immediate relief for the most marginalised and vulnerable groups and prioritise social protection as it negotiates a recovery plan’.

But her hope that ‘efforts will focus on deeper institutional reforms to ensure greater transparency and accountability in governance, reduce inequalities and advance reconciliation and justice for all communities’ hides a golden dagger ready to be plunged into the other’s soul, when ready. Given the enormity of the job on hand and the inherent inabilities of the nation to cope with it all at once, no one in Government may even have even the time, energy and disposition to respond to the UNHRC and High Commissioner Bachelet in the coming weeks and months – when you have the 51st Session in September.

This is because, through her statement, unannounced, for the nation’s poor and needy in these times of acute suffering of an unprecedented kind, under the purview of the ‘evidence-gathering mechanism’ of 46/1 – unannounced. If so, there cannot be a more inhuman approach, and there cannot be a cruder design, worse than all that has gone by over the past decade, at Geneva and elsewhere.

Blue-eyed boy

It is anybody’s guess if Bachelet’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), or their mentors in western capitals has taken note of a slight change-of-guard in Colombo. While Gotabaya Rajapaksa remains President, the Prime Minister’s job has since gone to Ranil Wickremesinghe, their blue-eyed boy in Sri Lanka.

It was Ranil’s presence; again as Prime Minister that ensured that they together divined and devised the ‘co-sponsored resolution’ route, to keep Sri Lanka out of the hook through those five years, 2015-19. Now, it remains to be seen if the two sides would and could come up with a similar way out that has to be even more convincing and if the West and hence High Commissioner Bachelet want it that way.

They should however, remember one thing that is different between then and now. In 2015, then Foreign Minister, the late Mangala Samaraweera spoke for PM Ranil. Today, FM Peiris speaks for President Gotabaya, so to say. Or, that could be the interpretation. But the reality is that Peiris also represents PM Ranil. The reverse is also truer.

If someone in a western capital thought that they were frightening Sri Lanka with Bachelet’s words, it may be the other way round. Peiris has outlined the conditions on which there could be an interim meeting of minds, as happened earlier, at least until the multiple crises pass by – and, not otherwise. It has Rajapaksa’s clearance as President and Ranil’s endorsement as PM.

More than the Rajapaksa era pride and prestige, it’s the ground reality that seems to be dictating the Government’s reiteration and direction even more this time. The Tamil North too, or at least some in the Tamil North, may want to fish in troubled waters, using the Diaspora and the UNHRC as the cover. But across the majoritarian Sinhala South, the public mood needs to be felt and tested before the West and the UNHRC does anything rash.

Blind, deaf and mute

Possibly, they do not know, they do not understand. After all, they all lost no time in rightfully criticising the 9 May riotous attack on the peaceful, anti-Rajapaksa protestors in capital Colombo’s Galle Face Green water-front. Even around that time, elsewhere, one ruling party MP had been killed, and it was sought to be passed off as ‘suicide’.

But the global rights-warriors turned blind, deaf and mute when retaliatory violence took the shape of unprecedented arson, in which homes, businesses and cars, among other possessions, of at least 78 ruling party politicians were burnt down in a matter of two hours or less, all across the Sinhala South. Because there were one too many Rajapaksas around, one too many properties belonging to them all, too, got burnt down.

It is not about who lost how much, or how many people actually lost their lives in the retaliatory violence. It is for the Sri Lankan authorities to worry about it, as it is becoming increasingly clear a month and later after the event. But the other message is for the ‘international community’ (read: West), which needs to understand and acknowledge the existence of ‘Sinhala Buddhist nationalist’ militants.

They have become more vigorous in these past weeks of food-and-fuel crises. They would stop at nothing to ensure that the ‘Sri Lankan national pride’ is honoured, both by their Government and by those that they think want to tarnish it more than already.

Is anyone out there listening?

(The writer is a Policy Analyst & Commentator, based in Chennai, India. Email: [email protected])

By N Sathiya Moorthy