Welcome Economic Move
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, complementing what he told UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres at UN Headquarters in New York on Sunday, renewed his pledge ‘to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations in the nation building process’ when he addressed the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on Wednesday (See lead story in yesterday’s Ceylon Today (CT). Intertwining his speech with Sri Lanka’s 26-year LTTE terrorist war, followed by ‘Bloody Easter Sunday,’ Rajapaksa, to quote excerpts said, “My Government is committed to ensuring that such violence never takes place in Sri Lanka again. We are, therefore, acting to address the core issues behind it.
Fostering greater accountability, restorative justice and meaningful reconciliation through domestic institutions is essential to achieve lasting peace. We are ready to engage with all domestic stakeholders and to obtain the support of our international partners and the United Nations in this process.” Earlier, at a meeting with Guterres on Sunday, he said that he was willing to closely work with the UN. (See CT’s lead story of Tuesday’s) Both a domestic mechanism and an international mechanism to address accountability of the Government of Sri Lanka in particular, vis-à-vis the recently concluded LTTE terrorist war is what the international community demands.
In relation to a domestic mechanism, the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC’s) Resolution 46/1, to quote excerpts, said “Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights (HR) violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including for longstanding emblematic cases.”
And in reference to the establishment of an international mechanism, UNHRC Resolution 46/1, to quote excerpts, said, “Recognises the importance of preserving and analysing evidence relating to violations and abuses of HR and related crimes in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability and decides to strengthen in this regard the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for HR in Geneva (OHCHR) to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of HR 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.’
The chief backers behind UNHRC 46/1 are Sri Lanka’s top three export markets, namely the USA, UK and the EU. Currently Sri Lanka is going through an economic crisis led by US dollar shortages, where, even a basic essential food item such as milk powder is not available to the masses. Sri Lanka’s self sufficiency in milk is only 40 per cent, therefore the balance 60 per cent has to be imported. In a tragicomic twist, even when milk powder was freely available in the country, milk in developing Sri Lanka was far costlier than in the world’s richest country, the USA.
Shortages, especially in the periphery, cause a black market. Bad enough the masses cannot get an essential nutrient like milk powder for their children even though its cost is greater than that of the USA, what may be even worse is that if available in the black market, it will be available at an exorbitant price. Therefore, Sri Lanka cannot afford to antagonise the aforesaid key export markets. If antagonised, they may resort to imposing various barriers to curb Sri Lanka’s exports to those markets, making Sri Lanka’s dollar crisis even worse. Even if Sri Lanka’s products are competitive, their consumers are rich enough to forego products from the island and buy more expensive ones in the event import curbs from Sri Lanka are instituted for not toeing the line, in this instance vis-à-vis UNHRC Resolution 46/1.
The EU and the UK, for the same reason as the above, i.e. for not allowing them to investigate alleged war crimes during Sri Lanka’s LTTE terrorist war, did it once, i.e. by removing the GSP+ duty free concession in exports to those regions in August 2010. Consequently Sri Lanka not only lost jobs but also export oriented investments targeting those markets as well. This facility, however, was restored in May 2017 when Sri Lanka agreed to toe the line.
In 2010, the year Sri Lanka lost the GSP+ facility, the island’s reserves then stood at $ 6,610 million, whereas as at last month end it was only half that sum, at $ 3,550.7 million. Besides that, according to Moody’s, an international rating agency, current reserves are well below the Government’s annual external debt repayments of around $4-$5 billion through at least 2025. Therefore, Rajapaksa reaffirming his pledge at the UNGA on Wednesday, made a few days earlier to Guterres, of engaging the UN and by an extension, UNHRC Resolution 46/1, is a welcome economic move.