UNHRC Resolution 46/1
Yesterday, the lead story on page one of our newspaper said that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, at a meeting with UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, at UN Headquarters in New York, had made several pledges benefitting the minority population here.
To quote excerpts, while saying that internal issues in Sri Lanka should be tackled through a countrywide framework, Rajapaksa nonetheless added that the Tamil Diaspora would be invited to join in such discussions. The President also said that he won’t hesitate to pardon Tamil youth who have been in custody for a long time.
He further said that many youth who were arrested on suspicions of terrorist activities were released after he took office and legal action would be expedited against those who weren’t released.
Rajapaksa also told the UN Chief that the Government would take prompt action in the case of missing persons and would speed up measures such as death certificate issuances. The President had further told Guterres that his goal was to strengthen democracy in Sri Lanka, the results of which were no baton charging and water cannoning of protesters during his administration.
He had also said that he’s willing to closely work with the UN. In an obvious reference to the Tamil minority in the North and East impacted by Sri Lanka’s recent terrorist war, Rajapaksa had also spoke of the steps taken to pay victims’ compensation and the ‘massive’ development works carried out in the N&E. These are worthy pledges made by the President.
But the seeming nagging question, that has apparently remained unanswered and the crux of the international community’s ‘concerns’ is accountability vis-à-vis alleged war crimes committed in the prosecution of the recently concluded LTTE terrorist war? Possibly, though unsaid, Rajapaksa expects that to be covered under the aforesaid ‘countrywide framework’ only? Nonetheless, this has to be looked at in the context of the UN Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC’s) Resolution 46/1, in particular its charge/s, to quote excerpts, “the persistent lack of accountability of domestic mechanisms, that the domestic commission of inquiry announced on 22 January 2021 lacks independence and that its mandate is to review reports of previous commissions and committees, and does not include a mandate to pursue accountability for past gross violations of human rights (HR) or for serious violations of international humanitarian law, which 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; 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 violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including for long-standing emblematic cases.”
In short, UNHRC Resolution 46/1 says that it has no confidence in domestic mechanisms, seemingly running counter to Rajapaksa’s pledge to Guterres of establishing a countrywide mechanism, an indication that this mechanism would be wholly local, with Resolution 46/1 further saying, “to address issues pertaining to HR grievances and leaving such works in the hands of the of the OHCHR.” In other words Resolution 46/1 is seemingly emphatic that the over-arching responsibility of investigating accountability issues in relating to the aforesaid issues is the sole responsibility of the OHCHR and not of any other organisation or Government.
Nonetheless, Rajapaksa, in his meeting with Guterres, has not rejected UNHRC Resolution 46/1 but in fact said that he’s willing to closely work with the UN, leaving open the reality that the domestic accountability mechanism will not only run parallel to UNHRC Resolution 46/1, with no obstructions posed on the latter, but will also complement 46/1. This is a prudent move, considering the fact that the forces behind UNHRC Resolution 46/1 are also Sri Lanka’s top three export markets, namely the USA, UK and EU. Economics cannot be divorced from politics