UNHRC Divides the World
By Shivanthi Ranasinghe
The world is a divided place as evidenced by the interactive dialogue on the OHCHR Report on Sri Lanka during the ongoing 46th Session of UN Human Rights Council. Instead of being the mediator, the actions of the incumbent High Commissioner of the UNHRC Michelle Bachelet are exacerbating this division further. Unless Bachelet takes corrective measures that deviates her Office from the UN mandate, she too will leave behind her a failed legacy as her predecessors did. As such, all member States must engage with the UN and its bodies, namely the UNHRC that is under the cloud of being politicised, and constructively agitate for the much needed reforms.
Straight to the point response
Philippines’ succinct, straight to the point response was the best delivered in this regard. Its official response in verbatim was, “The Philippines considers the credibility of OHCHR reports to be critical to the integrity of the work of the Council and has consistently called for objectivity and fairness in the reporting process. We are concerned that this report fails to ground itself properly on contextual realities, particularly the challenges of addressing the grave threats of the pandemic and terrorism to Sri Lanka’s 21.3 million people. For a country like the Philippines, which has lost precious lives to terrorism, the report’s mischaracterisation of security policies of Sri Lanka is insensitive to the long struggle of its people against conflict and terrorism. We regret that this feeds the troubling discourse in the Council that downplays the victims of terrorism and earnest efforts by affected countries to stop it within the framework of law. We note that despite the challenges, the Government of Sri Lanka actively pursues reconciliation, accountability and Human Rights through domestic processes with all stakeholders. We therefore find some of the conclusions and recommendations in the report to be inappropriate and ill-conceived.”
China, Russia and Pakistan as always are solidly standing by Sri Lanka. Japan too has expressed its confidence in the Sri Lankan Government and acknowledges the State’s efforts to “promote the well-being of all its people - including the families of victims of enforced disappearances”.
India’s schizophrenic relationship with Sri Lanka continues. While providing enormous support to face the pandemic related challenges, India accuses Sri Lanka of denying Tamils equality, justice, peace and dignity. Without specifying the policies that discriminate Tamils, India insists on the full implementation of the controversial 13th Amendment. It is curious how devolution will resolve these so-called issues when over 50 per cent of Tamils live outside the North and East and reasons to allow these two provinces to be merged where as the rest of the country that has not asked for devolution must live in a quasi federal system. It is also questionable how these comments were allowed when it violates the UN’s mandate of non-infringement of internal policies of sovereign States.
The West, as individual member States as well as the collective body of the European Union, has expressed their concerns over what they claim to be the deteriorating Human Rights, civil society space and democracy in Sri Lanka. According to their verdict, the minority communities in Sri Lanka are increasingly marginalised. Furthermore, it is their prescription that Sri Lanka cannot move forward without reconciliation and due accountability to allegations, which the “domestic processes did not deliver”.
These countries that have consistently refused to follow the same prescription for violent crimes committed by their own forces, are hypocritically disappointed with Sri Lanka for withdrawing from the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 and for taking “a step back from the important gains” Sri Lanka had supposedly achieved by this Resolution. Remorselessly they ignore the manner these so-called gains paved the path to the Easter Attack. It is their recommendation that the Sri Lankan Government sufficiently resource the Office for Missing Persons and for Reparations and ensure its independence.
The West is strengthened by the rejoining of US, under the new Biden regime, back into the Council. The US support of the stance taken by Europe that is parallel to the LTTE ideologists is certainly fodder for thought, especially for those who expected gentleman politics from the new suave American regime and thereby welcomed the departure of the loud, swaggering and brash Donald Trump.
The position taken by the West is consistent with their historical role in global dynamics. For the past five or more centuries the Western envoys on the guise of promoting Human Rights have created discord among our communities, propagated mistrust in our governing institutions, discredited our systems and challenged (militarily and otherwise) our sovereignty.
As a consequence, entire civilisations have disappeared and their descendants are reduced and constrained. They are today the most vulnerable sectors in the global community. The strong Western economies have been built on enslaving other nationalities, deliberately destroying industries in other countries, suppressing indigenous ways whilst forcing an etiquette in line with the Western thinking and displacing countless populations from their ancestral properties to further their own production. The high rate of deformities in new borns and still births as well as cancers in East Asia and the burning rubble in the terrorist riddled Middle East attests to the calamities inflicted by the West.
The backlash in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, disproportionate number of non-Caucasians in State prisons and deeply affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic underscores the institutional discrimination that still prevails in the West. Despite their advanced and sophisticated security mechanisms, these countries have not prevented extremists from harassing their own citizens of Tamil or similar origins, nor stopped these groups from funding terrorism in other parts of the world.
Refusal to cooperate
The West expects the Sri Lankan Government to strengthen the Office for Missing Persons. However, these governments have categorically refused to cooperate with Sri Lanka to identify those who have sought or seeking asylum in those countries. Shamelessly they harbour well known terrorists as Adele Balasingham and yet demand that missing persons should be found. The insincerity is further highlighted by the terms of this Office. The status of a person listed as missing if found can only be amended with that person’s consent.
The Western block repeatedly pressurise the Sri Lankan Government to hold those accused of war crimes accountable. Yet, they will not furnish the UNHRC dispatches from their own defence attaches. The UNHRC too have not made any attempt to even request for this vital evidence from these governments. Such requests are not easily honoured either as Lord Naseby’s experience proves. It took him three long years to obtain few of the pages and that too were heavily redacted. Still the evidence in support of Sri Lanka and its military could not be suppressed. Lord Naseby, a true champion of human rights, has been underlining his findings since 2017. Yet the UNHRC had simply ignored him.
Countries like Sri Lanka are still battling to overcome the huge social problems inherited from the European forced occupation - especially the British. Farmers without land or water in an ever increasing conflict with the elephants can be traced to this ignominious legacy left by the British.
Sri Lanka as a traditional agricultural economy had jealously protected its thick rainforests. Especially the forests in the hill regions have been preserved for millions of years as restricted areas. Disregarding these ancient practices, the British mowed down forests in entire hills to make way for tea plantations. This deeply affected our weather patterns and the waterways that fed to the extensive irrigation system of the country. It also forced the elephant populations out of their homes and into areas below. The Wasteland Ordinance Act, supposedly to make better use of the land, resulted in displacing the people in their own country. In turn this has forced the people, especially the rural farmers to encroach on the elephants’ diminishing territory.
Since regaining Independence, successive governments have tried to resettle these internally displaced persons. However, this has been deliberately misconstrued by separatists as “colonising” their homeland.
The use of the terminology ‘colony’ in this context is interesting. The European forced occupation is also termed as the colonising of the Island. The Government of Sri Lanka’s attempts at settling people of the country in the country is also termed as colonising. This thereby misinterprets the Government’s efforts as a form of invasion against the minorities. It is of little surprise that the West sympathies with the separatists who profess to be protecting their homeland.
Today the debate between the oscillating governments in Sri Lanka is between subsidising fertiliser and giving it free to the farmer. It is somewhat of a consolation that there is a revived discourse on the traditional practice of growing the meegaha (Mee tree) along the borders of our paddy fields.
Long before the West configured to use the atmospheric nitrogen into the much needed soil soluble format, we discovered the large doses of nitrogen released by the fruits of the meegaha through the digestion and excretion by bats. Furthermore, these 20-metre tall trees provide homes to birds who in turn feast on various insects below. Thereby, this magnificent tree not only provided a source of much needed fertiliser but also provisions for controlling pests.
When the West discovered the art of extracting Nitrogen, the British forcibly destroyed this tree to promote their chemical fertiliser. Our continued dependency on these chemical fertilisers not only enriches these western economies but also supports their arms industry. This industry for its growth continues to support or even create armed conflicts in the rest of the world in the guise of promoting human rights, establishing democracy and protecting minority concerns.
The only way to break this vicious cycle would be to gain independence in not only terms of territorial integrity, but also economically and technologically.
Science and technology
At the 15th Governing Council meeting of the Non-aligned and Other Developing Countries for Science and Technology, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa noted, “Science and technology-based planning is what was used to build and transform the world. Indeed, technology provides answers to many of the challenges that are taking place in this dynamic world.” However, the “major challenges in introducing new technologies due to high capital investment. Similarly, there is heavy competition developing countries have to face. As a result, our own inventions do not progress much.” The new Ministry of Technology, which is under the President’s purview will exchange technologies and collaborate with member countries to share best practices and so “minimise our capital investment in introducing new technologies.”
It is heartening that steps were already taken to introduce scientific methodologies and technological advancements in major economic sectors such as Information and Communication Technology, agriculture, plantations, and fisheries. The President further asserted “Sri Lanka has a proud history of indigenous and traditional technologies that are environmentally-friendly would integrate our local and indigenous technologies with high-end technologies.”
Success in this endeavour is the most effective protection against the hegemonic overtures by the West and India. The current role of the UNHRC is absolutely contentious. Instead of using human rights as a bludgeon vulnerable countries like Sri Lanka, this Council ought to support the Herculean efforts of the Governments to meet the pace of modern technology and thereby hugely improve the quality of life of all sectors. At the very least, the Council should not let other member States use its platform to bully and browbeat weaker members. After all, it is only the citizens that can be the true judge of its Government.