Where from here UNHRC Resolution?

By N Sathiya Moorthy | Published: 2:00 AM Mar 2 2021
Columns Where from here UNHRC Resolution?

By N Sathiya Moorthy

If the mood of the world viz the upcoming Core Group resolution on/against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC is any indication, it has greater chances of going Colombo’s way, just as it was against the Nation when it all began in 2013. According to Media reports 21 nations spoke in favour and 15 against the Nation at an interactive dialogue that is independent of the final voting figures.

The UNHRC Council has 47 voting-members, elected regionwise and by rotation for a three-year term with not more than two consecutive terms for any of them.  This is supposed to ensure equity among nations, big and small, based not on size but on sovereignty. Any resolution to be passed would require 24 votes, or a majority in the House. Where there are abstentions, that number will have to be deducted from the total, and half that number plus one will be the final figure required for a motion to be passed. 

Though Sri Lanka had 21 nations speaking for it at the dialogue, only 10 of them are voting members. It can be safely concluded that they will stick to their current position when voting takes place close to a month from now, on the Core Group resolution, mostly identified with the West. The US used to be the champion of the cause, the mantle passed on to the trans-Atlantic ally the UK, by default, when then President Donald Trump caused Washington to exit the world body. Now that his successor Joe Biden has indicated that the US would be back, and his Secretary of State Antony Blinken has declared the nation’s intention to contest for a Council seat next year, the US may take back the Core Group chair status, as and when it is back in the UNHRC business.

The U.S. was one of the 15 members that spoke for the Core Group resolution, but then it is not even a member just now. Likewise, Canada and Norway that supported action against Sri Lanka are not voting members this time round. Significantly, India and Japan that are voting members reportedly abstained. It could mean that both nations would also abstain from the vote. This is so, despite their bitter experience with the present-day Sri Lankan dispensation on the Eastern Container Terminal (ECT), which was promised to them by the previous Government but did not go their way under the incumbent Rajapaksas’ regime. 

Translated, it could mean that as things stand, there will only be 45 (47-2) voting-members and Sri Lanka needs to garner only half that number plus one vote, or 23 votes. Will there be more abstentions, if not outright support for the Nation at voting-time is a million-dollar question. There are no quick answers. As things stand, the prospects seem brighter now than in 2012, when Sri Lanka almost on a clean slate when the campaign began, with the ‘leaking’ of the Darusman Report, Draft and Final, in quick succession. 

Political campaign

In his ‘country statement’ at the Council, Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena has talked about the ‘double-standards’ by some nations that’s tantamount to undermining the global war on terrorism. He asked if the propaganda in this regard was not a political move that contravenes the very values and principles the Council’s founding. He drew parallel to some nations legislating nearer home to protect their soldiers from prosecution for overseas military operations, and asked if it was fair for them to speak in a different voice when it came to Sri Lanka (or any other country). “This cannot but result in a significant loss of morale among countries engaged in the struggle against terrorism,” the Minister added. 

Minister Gunawardena returned to the Rajapaksa-era position that the Government acted in self-defence to safeguard the Unitary State, sovereignty and territorial integrity from the world’s most ruthless separatist terrorist organisation. In a line aimed at the Indian neighbour, he pointed out how the LTTE was the only terrorist organisation in the world to have killed two world leaders, -- namely then Sri Lankan President Ranasinghe Premadasa (May 1993), and former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, exactly two years earlier and on Indian soil, May 1991.

According to Gunawardena, the end of terrorism guaranteed the most cherished of all human rights – right to life of all Sri Lankans – Sinhala, Tamil, and Muslims. “Nonetheless hegemonic forces colluded against Sri Lanka in bringing an unsubstantiated resolution against Sri Lanka which was defeated by the support of friendly nations who remain by Sri Lanka’s side even today,” he said, referring to the forgotten EU initiative that was defeated in the Council vote of May 2009, just 10 days after the successful conclusion of the war. 

If the Minister was also referring to Asian neighbours, India, China and Pakistan coming together on that vote, he did not say so openly about the current situation, where indications now are for India to abstain from the vote, without any direct involvement alongside China and Pakistan, whose Prime Minister Imran Khan was in Colombo, last week. As may be recalled, Sri Lankan academics and strategic thinkers had taken credit for the Nation bringing together the India and the two irreconcilable neighbours, namely, Pakistan and China, in the name of fighting the LTTE terrorism – first in the supply of logistics and weapons, and then at the UNHRC at the first available opportunity, that too provided by the EU critic of the Nation. 

Minister Gunawardena detailed the steps initiated by the current Rajapaksa regime since assuming office in November 2019, on the ‘accountability’ front. “These steps have been taken even as Sri Lanka was battling the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic for the past one year. In spite of these challenges, we held a free and fair General Election in August 2020 and elected a new Government with a two-thirds majority in one of Asia’s oldest Parliamentary Democracies,” he pointed out. Truth be acknowledged, neither the political Opposition in the country, nor the professional INGO critics of the Nation, as also the Rajapaksas, from elsewhere called the Parliamentary Polls of August 2020, fraudulent in any which way. 

As such, said Minister Gunawardena, “It is regrettable that despite the spirit of cooperation with the HRC and its mechanisms, elements working against Sri Lanka intend to table another country-specific resolution based on this OHCHR Report. This rejected report by Sri Lanka has unjustifiably broadened its scope and mandate further, incorporating many issues of governance and matters that are essentially domestic in any self-respecting, sovereign country.” Rather than appealing for the support of member-nations, he left it to the members and observers of this Council to make their own judgment on whether Sri Lanka represents a situation that warrants the urgent attention of this Council, or if this campaign is essentially a political move that contravenes the very values and principles on which this Council has been established…

He urged that the “Council must hold the scales even. Not going by hearsay, unilateral action or one-angled doubtful sources but adhere to its guiding principles. Insistence on such ever-expanding externally driven prescriptions notwithstanding our continuous cooperation and engagement with this Council can pose numerous challenges.” Though Minister Gunawardena did not mention it, he was obviously referring to the Darusman Report, commissioned by then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for his personal knowledge but got leaked without any investigation about the source thus far, and its use as the primary source of the first US-led resolution in 2013. The controversial Navi Pillay held the UNHRC chair at the time. 

‘Justice has failed’

In her report to the Council earlier, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet said that even 12 years after the end of armed conflict in Sri Lanka, domestic efforts to ensure justice for victims have failed.

Introducing her report on Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights Council, Bachelet said the effect of the conflict on thousands of survivors from all communities was devastating. Interestingly, High Commissioner Bachelet made a pair of the current regime and the predecessor Government of President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, without sparing the latter, who have no chance of returning to power. 

Said HC Bachelet: “Despite commitments made in 2015, the current government, like its predecessor, has failed to pursue genuine truth-seeking or accountability processes.” Yet, in its time, from the very word, ‘Go’, successive Rights head of the UN and also the Council under his/her care, seemed to be giving more time to the predecessor Government, knowing full well the Sirisena-Wickremesinghe regime had no intention of implementing any of the serious recommendations contained in the adversarial resolution of 2013, nor work on the commitments made through the co-authored resolutions since 2015.

This could well mean that the High Commission has not been fair even between two governments and leaders in the same nation, over the same issue, exposing itself to the charge of blatant partisanship and taking positions in domestic politics. Hypothetically, it would be interesting to know what would have the High Commission, the Core Group and their other western backers done if only the previous leadership, especially then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe had returned to power. In the final analysis, not only could he not obtain his UNP’s presidential nomination, but could not even become an MP – a reflection this on his popularity nearer home, and also of his party, which messed up with the administration, contributing to the ‘Easter blasts’ of 2019, in which close to 250 persons, including 40 foreigners, lost their dear lives.

Today, as the UNHRC sits down to vote, it is not any more about the war-crime allegations. Instead, year after year, the West has developed a penchant for adding new allegations and complaints, to add heft to the resolution, and make it all sound new and fresh. In the process, they end up moving away from the original purpose, other than their own political ends of the geo-strategic kind. It is this that that had pushed Third World nations targeted by the West for such political reasons, into the waiting hands of the Soviet Union in the past, and China, post-Cold War. Individually, they all need a veto-vote at the UNSC, which these nations can provide – now, also the Russian Federation. And that is where the UNHRC cases rest at the long last. 

(The writer is Distinguished Fellow and Head-Chennai Initiative, Observer Research Foundation, the multi-disciplinary Indian public-policy think-tank, headquartered in New Delhi. email: [email protected])

By N Sathiya Moorthy | Published: 2:00 AM Mar 2 2021

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