Int’l Community Has Backed Sri Lanka Outstandingly – Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena
By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan
As the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session is in progress virtually due to the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told Ceylon Today that the Government has been tirelessly working to obtain support from Members States and there is room for many more countries to speak in favour of Sri Lanka.
UN Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet’s address to the 47-Member-States Human Rights Council in Geneva, was one of the main speeches of the year. Her comments were varying in degrees of detail about human rights issues in around 50 specific countries including Sri Lanka, while a number of the other major issues are to be dealt with separately in individual reports and statements during the 22 February-23 March session.
For and Against...
Minister Gunawardena said 21 countries have spoken in favour of Sri Lanka, which means they have read the country specific resolution and understood the veracity of it.
As at now the resolution text has not been agreed upon and countries are issuing their views on Sri Lanka. There are only a few out of the 21 countries that have the right to vote for or against Sri Lanka. The 47 council members who can vote are: Argentina, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bulgaria Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, India, Italy, Philippines, Somalia, Togo, Uruguay, Armenia, Brazil, Germany, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Marshall Islands, Mauritania, Namibia, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Sudan, Venezuela, Bolivia , China, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, France, Gabon Malawi, Mexico, Nepal, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Senegal, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and Uzbekistan.
So far, 13 countries have spoken against Sri Lanka’s stance on not working on the human rights issues tabled in the past years.
Speaking at the 46th Session, Russia welcomed Sri Lanka’s efforts to improve reconciliation in the country and applauded the readiness of Sri Lanka to continue working with UN mechanisms.
On 25 February, Chinese Permanent Representative in Geneva Ambassador Chen Xu extended China’s strong support to Sri Lanka in his official statement in the Interactive Dialogue on the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) report on Sri Lanka during the 46th Council Session.
“As a friendly neighbour of Sri Lanka, China sincerely hopes that Sri Lanka maintains political stability, ethnic solidarity and national unity and wishes Sri Lanka greater achievements in its national development. We commend the Government of Sri Lanka for its efforts to actively promote and protect human rights, advance sustainable economic and social development, improve people’s living standard, protect the rights of the vulnerable groups, advance national reconciliation and combat terrorism.
It’s the consistent stand of China to oppose politicisation and double standards on human rights, as well as using human rights as an excuse to interfere in other countries’ internal affairs.
Contrastingly, India on 25 February, at the ongoing UNHRC, reiterated that its consistent position on Sri Lanka was to support Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity while abiding by the commitment to help fulfil the aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice and dignity.
India’s Permanent UN Representative in Geneva, Indra Mani Pandey, said the Council has adopted seven resolutions on the question of human rights in Sri Lanka since May 2009 when the three-decade conflict in the country ended.
She noted that India was an active participant in the discussions on these resolutions and has remained engaged with Sri Lanka as its close friend and immediate neighbour.
“We believe that respecting the rights of the Tamil community through meaningful devolution contributes directly to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka. Therefore, we advocate that delivering on the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community is in the best interest of Sri Lanka.” India also called upon Sri Lanka to take steps to address such aspirations through reconciliation and full implementation of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka.
The assessment of the Human Rights Commissioner, regarding the developments nearly 12 years from the end of the conflict, raises important concerns, India said. The statement further noted that the Sri Lankan Government has articulated its position on these issues as well and in evaluation of both, “We should be guided by a commitment to find a lasting and effective solution for this issue.”
The Foreign Minister had personally met many envoys and telephoned many Foreign Ministers around the world urging to support Sri Lanka and to defeat the resolution that the UK-led core group will be tabling soon.
“We don’t even want to defeat the resolution but rescind it,” he added.
The four-week-long Geneva session began last Monday (22) and is expected to end in the third week of March around the 20th where the final voting would commence Sri Lanka and other countries facing resolutions by the UNHRC. However, due to the virtual conference and sessions the voting could take place earlier than scheduled.
Last week’s sessions started off with Commissioner Bachelet’s statement, and notable views by the U.S. Secretary of State, the UK-led core group statement. Defiant, Foreign Minister Gunawardena vehemently rejected the resolution and the statement made by the Commissioner.
Several Tamil Diaspora groups are in full force to bring a strong resolution on Sri Lanka and are still writing to the UK-led core group after prototype of the British-led resolution on Sri Lanka (Zero report) was unveiled at a meeting of the Human Rights Commission beginning on 22 February.
They wrote to British Foreign Office stating that the content of the resolution was not in line with the expectations of the Tamil people at a time when efforts are being made to implement the resolution at the British-led Commission on Human Rights.
They urged the Group to pay attention and include more constructive and conclusive clauses keeping in line with the OHCHR report of 12 January 2021 and the request of the Tamil Nationalistic party leaders enclosed.
They have urged to inquire into the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity by an accountability mechanism available in International Law ICC, ICJ, or similar mechanism or a special tribunal establishing Independent International Investigatory Mechanism (IIIM) to support the accountability mechanism.
They noted that they feel the call for justice is weakened; their people’s faith in depending on UNHRC system and core group with the draft resolution which they still feel will be amended to meet the requirements of the people who cry for justice not leaving room for guilty parties to escape.
Commissioner Bachelet came strong on Sri Lanka and revisited the 30/1 Resolution to promote reconciliation and accountability of alleged war crimes during the last phase of the 30-year war with the LTTE.
According to Secretary of Defence, Kamal Gunaratne the international community did not probe the LTTE’s crimes and said that will never be probed despite being mentioned in the resolution. “But the soldiers are the ones accused of crimes,” he told Ceylon Today during a recent interview.
The Government is stern on its stance that there weren’t human rights violations and the current administration has lined up a local probe and appointed a commission to probe claims by the public. The Government of Sri Lanka initially feared as the UNHRC sessions was around the corner; however, the Foreign Minister said that many countries spoke on behalf of the Government in the last two days.
He noted that it does not mean that we are not serious about the UNHRC but there are matters with unsubstantiated reports and is based on no truth that needs to be corrected.
He also said that given the fact there is a prevailing global pandemic such country specific decision by the UNHRC is unprincipled and unwarranted.
The Government had already gazetted three-member Commission of Inquiry (CoI) to investigate, inquire into and report or take necessary actions on findings of preceding Commissions or Committees appointed to investigate into human rights violations, serious violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and other such offences, he added.
The incumbent Government blamed the former government for making a bad decision to have Co-sponsored the resolution, thus, stirring the UNHRC to bring forth another resolution this year.
Despite rejecting the remarks of the Commissioner, withdrawing the resolution and rejecting the new resolution, the Government has urged the Council to accept their action plan that is workable only under the constitutional framework. The Government is currently working on the new Constitution and how they would undertake the pledge they have made to the UNHRC is a new chapter altogether. In the meantime, if the resolution is adopted, the entire process would be redesigned and Foreign Minister said he would make his remarks to the UNHRC if new developments are seen.