ISSN 2330-717X

50th Session Of The UN Human Rights Council – OpEd

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The UN Human Rights Council – the UN HRC, was established in March 2006 as a follow-up to the earlier UN Human Rights Commission. The UN HRC is currently holding its 50th session. On a regional rotation, Argentina’s UN Representative, Mr. Federico Villegas is serving as the UN HRC President for the year 2022.

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The people of the North and East, especially the victims, closely observe the activities of the UN HRC. Although many resolutions have been successfully passed on Sri Lanka since 2012, the victims believe that none of these have resulted in any benefits for them – the families, relatives or loved ones of the missing or ‘disappeared’ during the conflict. Since the end of the war, now almost thirteen years have passed, and the victims are still in the same situation.

(Resolutions of the UN Human Rights Council on Sri Lanka – 19/2, 22 March 2012; 22/1, 21 March 2013; 25/1, 27 March 2014; 30/1, 1 October 2015; 34/1, 23 March 2017; 40/1, 21 March 2019 and 46/1, 23 March 2021. We must also note carefully – S11/1, 27 May 2009)

The same thoughts are with those who have lost their kith and kin – and with Tamil political prisoners, imprisoned for decades with no valid reason. In short, it is sad to note that the international community has still not found a proper remedy for the violations of human rights, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide perpetrated against the people of the North and East. 

When we ask international human rights activists and some UN advisors about these subjects, their answer is disheartening for the victims. As far as the international community is concerned, all the resolutions passed on Sri Lanka to date are considered a matter of great success. The reason is that, in the first place, no one can underestimate the international propaganda/lobby by the Sri Lankan government. Secondly, for the victims, their affairs are catastrophic, but to the 193 UN member states and two observer countries, affairs concerning the victims in Sri Lanka appear to be moving progressively towards justice.

A good example quoted by the international community is the Armenian genocide. It is true that it took seventy years for the world to accept it.

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Most people are aware that Geneva is the headquarters for the Human Rights activities of the United Nations. Based on this fact, if any President, Prime Minister or Foreign Minister from any country spends most of his/her time in Geneva, this means that his/her country is under international scrutiny on human rights, war crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing and genocide. It is true that they come to Geneva to divert the attention of the international community away from the real situation in their country. This is done with a bunch of lies, exaggerations and fiction.

Prof. G. L. Peiris and Core Group

On that basis, at the height of Sri Lanka’s economic crisis, the fact that Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris attends the UN HRC very often means that, “international pressure is mounting on Sri Lanka.”

Well, if one analyses the frequent visits of Peiris to Geneva, in reality has he achieved anything for the government of Sri Lanka? In our observation, he says something in Geneva and gives a different picture to pro-government media in Sri Lanka. In other words, they exaggerate the news about the happenings in Geneva and deceive the people in Sri Lanka. 

In fact, Peiris was not officially invited to speak in the 50th session. However, he spoke from the desk allocated to Sri Lanka as an observer country. I mean, there was no agenda as such, for a ‘high-level segment’, in which Presidents, Prime Ministers and Foreign Ministers of countries address the UN HRC. In the 50th session, Peiris was like the diaspora activists, coming to Geneva to lobby the countries.

When we look at his speech in the UN HRC, he was not given the opportunity to deliver the full text that was circulated to the media. For example: 

“After the last Session of this Council, from March to June 2022, 22 persons detained under the PTA have been released”

“The list of designated individuals, groups and entities under the United Nations Regulation No. 1 of 2012 is being reviewed. As of now 318 individuals and 04 entitles are proposed to be delisted. This is a continuing exercise”.Here, Peiris maintains that ‘this a continuing exercise’. 

Yes of course, the government list and delist periodically, depending on their benefits. It’s believed that there is another list pending with one of the important ministries – good luck to them.

“The Office for National Unity and Reconciliation (ONUR) continued with its mandate in promoting reconciliation”.

“The Office on Missing Persons (OMP) has met more than 83% of persons invited for panels of inquiries as part of its verification process. The Office for Reparations (OR) was allocated Rs.53 million in addition to its initial allocation of Rs.759 million to pay compensation for the year, despite the current economic constraints”.

“More than 92% of private lands occupied by the military at the end of the conflict has been released to the legitimate owners. Steps are being taken to resettle the last remaining 8,090 IDPs”.

“On the Easter Sunday attacks, the Attorney General has sent out several indictments to High Courts and the Trials in this regard are proceeding”…..

The above matters were well exaggerated and never said in his speech in the 50th session. Of course it was in the circulated statement. Diplomats around the world have known G.L.Peiris’ hypocrisy since 2002. 

While they circulated the exaggerated statement, the Core Group on Sri Lanka in the UN HRC, which includes – the United States, Britain, Canada, Germany, Montenegro, northern Macedonia and Malawi called on Sri Lanka to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner…. The statement reads as follows :

“We recognise the significant challenges that Sri Lanka has been facing over recent months, causing great hardship for the Sri Lankan people.  

We note that protesters, have exercised their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression in recent months.  We are deeply concerned by violent attacks on peaceful protestors and subsequent violence against government-aligned politicians and supporters. Those responsible for this violence must be held to account. 

We stress the crucial importance of upholding democracy, human rights and the rule of law, and maintaining independent institutions. We also urge the Sri Lankan authorities to address long-standing impunity and corruption, and underline the need for good governance and sound economic policies.   

Our concerns over surveillance and intimidation of civil society persist and we stress the importance of protecting civil society space. 

The Core Group calls on Sri Lanka to cooperate with the High Commissioner and her Office and is ready to support Sri Lanka on the implementation of HRC resolution 46/1”. 

Non-Aligned movement

It is ironic that the Sri Lankan representative said in his speech that Sri Lanka aligns with the statement made on behalf of ‘NAM’ – Non-Aligned Movement. I wonder whether Peiris and his colleagues do realise that ‘NAM’ is divided into many groups in the UN HRC. Although they proudly aligned with the NAM statement, in the past many members of the NAM voted against Sri Lanka in favour of the resolutions. 

When the United States and the USSR were seen as two great powers in the world, then ‘NAM’ was considered as a significant organisation. But today, decades after the end of the Cold War, these are seen as ‘Aligned Movement – AM’. Those who understand the activities of NAM will understand the reality.

Countries such as the United States, the European Union and India have been amazed by Sri Lanka’s statements at the 50th session of UN HRC – which portrayed itself as a superpower. The reason is that most of Sri Lanka’s statements were ‘holding tail’ to countries like – China, Eritrea, Sudan, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Burundi, Syria, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Togo, Zimbabwe and a few others. If this is the case, how can Sri Lanka be ‘Non-Aligned’?

One can consider this as meaningless and confused advocacy in preparation for the 51st session. 

It is pertinent to note that the annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet also referred to Sri Lanka.

In any case, the forthcoming 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council will provide a good answer to the current trend in Sri Lanka. As Sri Lanka’s resolution expires in September, members of the UN HRC will decide at the 51st session on the continuation and conclusion of the resolution.

In the opinion of some analysts – Ranil as Prime Minister with a fox’s cunningness; Prof. G. L. Peiris as Foreign Minister and Ms. Aruni Wijayawardena who is currently serving as the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – may be able to avert the impending difficulties in the 51session. These researchers do not realise that in the past, it was among these same individuals that many international actions have taken place successfully. Let’s wait until September.

Herewith I would like to show the results of the last resolution passed on Sri Lanka at the 47th Session of the UN HRC in March 2021:

Support (22): Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cote d’Ivoire, Chekhov, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany, Italy, Malawi, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Republic of Ukraine, United Kingdom , and Uruguay.  

Against (11): Bangladesh, Bolivia, China, Cuba, Eritrea, Pakistan, Philippines, Russia, Somalia, Uzbekistan, and Venezuela.

Neutral (14): Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Japan, Libya, Mauritania, Namibia, Nepal, Senegal, Sudan and Togo.

It is noteworthy that there have not been any major changes among the forty-seven (47) member states of the UN HRC between the years 2021 and 2022.

During the 50th session, a photo exhibition was organised by Vietnam at the UN in Geneva. While visiting the exhibition, I met Mr. Chandraperuma who has been the Sri Lankan representative in Geneva for the last eighteen months. Even though the Sri Lankan delegation and diaspora activists are seen as two hardcore opponents – we used to have ‘corridor discussions’, except with a few nasty ones.

Concerning the UN HRC resolution on Sri Lanka, we see a Prime Minister who co-sponsored it in the past and managed without any problem for five years and we see an Executive President who went against it and withdrew from the co-sponsoring. Now we see a Foreign Minister who expects the resolution on Sri Lanka to be accepted by all 193 member states – this shows his knowledge about UN mechanisms. If Peiris understands democracy better, why did he never ask his Prime Minister whether he was elected by the people to the parliament? 

Meeting with High Commissioner 

In any case, international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, ICJ, Crisis Group and others are working hard on the situation in Sri Lanka and have seen many successes in the UN HRC.

In the case of Sri Lanka, although the present 50th session of UN HRC is seen as unimportant, the diaspora’s ongoing lobby continues. On this basis, many loyal and genuine diaspora activists – from France, Switzerland and the United Kingdom were seen working hard in the 50th session. Some members of civil society from Sri Lanka were also doing their part.

In this regard, in one of the meetings organised by an NGO known as RADDHO in Geneva, the Secretary-General of the British Tamil Forum – BTF, Mr. V.S. Ravikumar spoke on the history, socio-economic and political issues of the North and East. 

Meanwhile, during the 50th session, I met the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mrs. Michelle Bachelet. In this brief meeting, my recently published book, “Reaching toward justice: Reality revealed” was officially handed over to the High Commissioner.

Palestinian-Israeli inquiry

Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mme Navaneethan Pillay is the Chairperson of the UN Independent, International Commission of Inquiry to Investigate, in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and Israel. This was established by the UN HRC in May 2021.  Mr. Chris Sidoti of Australia and Mr Miloon Kothari of India are the other two members of this Commission of Inquiry. 

In their first report to the 50th session on 13th June, Navaneetham Pillay said: “It is our strong view that the continued occupation of the Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem and Gaza, the 15-year blockade of Gaza, and longstanding discrimination within Israel are all linked and cannot be looked at in isolation. Given a clear refusal by Israel to take concrete measures to implement the findings and recommendations of past commissions, the international community must urgently explore new ways of ensuring compliance with international law. State of “perpetual occupation” of Palestine and longstanding discrimination in both Israel and Palestine is a core underlying root cause of the ongoing violence”.

The opinion of many international observers is that when one looks at the activities over the past sixteen years of the UN HRC – sooner or later, Sri Lanka will fall into a serious trap of the United Nations. Late veteran human rights activist; one of the VIPs of the UN and our lecturer at the International Institute of the Human Rights in Strasbourg, Ms. Asma Jahangir once said, “The mills of the UN grind slow but sure”.

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