UNHRC: Unlucky Seven For Sri Lanka – OpEd


Abraham Lincoln once said: “You can please some of the people some of the time, all of the people some of the time, some of the people all of the time, but you can never please all of the people all of the time”. This was so evident in what the Core Group said on Thursday 6th October in the 51st session of the UN Human Rights Council – UNHRC, when they tabled the resolution on Sri Lanka.  

Since J.R.Jeyawardena’s presidency, Sri Lanka has adopted the practice of using someone other than a Sinhala Buddhist as Foreign Minister or lobbyist, to manage international pressure. However, this idea proved useless in the 51st of the UN *HRC.  

The late A.C.S. Hameed and Lakshman Kathirgamar were Foreign Ministers of Sri Lanka who worked hard to maintain the image of a spotless Sri Lanka. When Hameed was Foreign Minister, he was invited to speak on behalf of Sri Lanka in the UN General Assembly on 5th October 1978. A Tamil Lawyer from UK, the late Vaikunthavasan impersonated the Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka, addressing the UN General Assembly for two minutes, about the grievances of the Tamils in Sri Lanka, until the UN Security led him off the platform.  

The late Lakshman Kathirgarmar contributed much in suppressing the armed struggle of the Tamils.  However, when he was to be made Prime Minister, there was fierce opposition to his appointment, from Buddhist monks to many Southern politicians, especially Mahinda Rajapaksa. Government personnel, including Mahinda Rajapaksa eventually established an institute in memory of Kathirgamar, purely for their own benefits. There have been many occasions in the past, when Mahinda Rajapaksa used Rauff Hakeem as his lobbyist among Islamic countries.  


Now the latest scapegoat is Ali Sabry. To be frank, I personally feel sorry for him. I was told that he is a good lawyer who appeared for some important PTA cases. However, being a personal lawyer for Gotabahya Rajapaksa, he was forced into politics and is now getting the blame for what has gone wrong in the UNHRC.  

Now everyone is aware of what happened to the resolution on Sri Lanka tabled by the Core Group which consists of the United Kingdom, USA, Canada, Germany, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Malawi. This resolution was co-sponsored by nearly forty countries. In my thirty-two years of experience participating in the UN Human Rights Forums, it has always been clear that when a resolution is tabled by seven countries and the number of co-sponsors increases to forty – there is no doubt that the particular resolution will go through. Sri Lankan diplomats have not realised this yet, and I do not know who is to be blamed!  

What happened on 6th October in the UNHRC marks a really sad day for Sri Lanka. The representative of the United Kingdom smartly tabled the resolution and spoke. When member countries were invited to explain the way they would be voting, France and Republic of (South) Korea said that they would vote in favour of the resolution. This was followed by Pakistan, China and Venezuela saying that they would vote against it.  Brazil and Japan said that their position was to abstain.   

At this point India’s Permanent representative Mr. Indra Mani Pandey,  took the floor and said the following : “In finding a lasting and effective solution for peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, India has always been guided by the two fundamental principles of support to the aspiration of the Tamils for equality, justice, dignity and peace and unity, territorial integrity and sovereignty of Sri Lanka……………Achieving prosperity for all Sri Lankans and realizing the legitimate aspirations of Tamils of Sri Lanka for prosperity, dignity and peace are two sides of the same coin….” . Since 2009, there have been nine resolutions on Sri Lanka in the UNHRC – India has voted in favour of three, and has abstained thrice. The other three resolutions were adopted without a vote – by consensus.  

Standard text since 2012 

Then, representing the ‘concerned country’, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Ali Sabry was invited to speak. I wonder whether they have used a standard text since 2012, I mean the very first time a critical resolution on Sri Lanka was tabled and passed by the USA. In my observation, whenever there is a resolution against Sri Lanka, whether the representative is Ali Sabry, Dinesh Gunawardena, Mangala Samaraweera, Mahinda Samarasinghe or whoever it is, they read the same contents only changing the session number and the date. This shows that they have nothing new to add or justify. In other words, they use a smokescreen to cover the truth. This fooling has gone on since 1948.  

Let’s consider Ali Sabry’s point about the financial implication of this resolution. What surprised me was that Ali Sabry does not realise that “charity begins at home”. Sri Lanka knew very well that this resolution would be passed without any hurdle, so why did they bring a jumbo team to Geneva from Colombo?  

There were five parking spaces reserved for Sri Lanka in front of the UN building in Geneva, from Monday 3rd October. In other words, there were five vehicles in operation in Geneva. What was the cost of their flights, lodgings, travel locally and hosting other diplomats, etc? In other words, Ali Sabry who spoke about the financial implication of the resolution and severe financial situation in Sri Lanka should set an example to the citizens who are really facing extreme economic hardship in the country.  

I always admire the speeches of a few pied-pipers for Sri Lanka. They are none other than Bolivia, China, Cuba, Pakistan, Uzebekstan and Venezuela. Their text is also standard. They talk about selectivity, partiality, pro-western agenda, double standards, interfering in the domestic affairs of a sovereign state, etc. Also, they say that Sri Lanka co-operates with all the UN mechanisms, so why is a resolution needed? This shows their ignorance. A resolution is tabled and passed because Sri Lanka doesn’t respect international treaties and mechanisms. Also, when resolutions were agreed by consensus in 2015, 2017 and 2019 they never implemented what they had co-sponsored. In such a situation, no states other than pied-pipers will support Sri Lanka.   

Prof. G.L. Peiris, Foreign Minister of Sri Lanka on several occasions in the past, has defended Sri Lanka in the UNHRC. Yet last week he said that “Sri Lanka has had to face a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council, as Sri Lanka has failed to fulfil its pledges to the UNHRC on previous occasions”.  It’s a pity that it has taken such a long time for Peiris to realise this fact. Hope he is not using this as a trump to get a ministerial post.  

Surely this is another serious issue to make the international community lose any trust that it had in Sri Lanka before. Now G.L.Peiris has opened his mouth. 

In the recent past, former Minister of Justice Rauff Hakeem and former Sri Lankan representative to the UN in Geneva, Dayan Jayatilka who justified the PTA in many platforms including in the UNHRC, spoke this time against it. Is this called hypocrisy or opportunism? If these three are offered government top positions again, will they reverse what they are uttering now?  

The voting last Thursday 6th brought real shame to Sri Lanka. Anyone who looks at the past resolutions and the voting patterns can easily witness the downfall of Sri Lanka in the UNHRC. The table is given below for any sensible person to understand where Sri Lanka stands among the international community.  

Slap on the face to Ranil 

Last week’s resolution was a slap on the face to Ranil Wickremasinghe who is considered to be western-oriented. Also to Ali Sabry, who was appointed as the Foreign Minister to manage the voting through Islamic countries. Their entire bag of tricks failed in the UNHRC.  

Since 2009 – the numbers of countries voting in favour of Sri Lanka are given below:   

2009      2012      2013      2014      2015    2017    2019      2021      2022  

22          15           13         12        (Consensus – No vote)   11          07  

If we talk like a Sri Lankan politician, we should consider that forty out of forty-seven countries were against Sri Lanka in the last voting. The actual result was 20 in favour, 20 abstentions and 07 against (which was in favour of Sri Lanka). Abstaining countries must have presumed that it is not fair for them to humiliate Sri Lanka. Otherwise, they would have voted in favour of this resolution.  

Presently who is a friend of Sri Lanka? None, is my reply. Soon after the resolution on Sri Lanka was passed by UNHRC, there was a resolution tabled by the USA against China on the subject of ‘Human rights situation in the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous region, China”. This resolution was defeated by China with a difference of two votes. If China is a real friend of Sri Lanka – in the same session, same members, the same day, why didn’t China help Sri Lanka? It is the same with India. India abstained during the resolutions against China as well as against Sri Lanka. If so, many are curious as to why, and ask the question ‘where do they stand?’  

The International community is not going to tolerate the hypocrisy of the Sri Lankan politicians anymore. I will give a good example to show how Sri Lanka is cheating the international community.   

In 2009 – UN Secretary General name was used

During the peak hours of the war in Vanni, the Western countries called for a Special session in the UNHRC. But it was deliberately delayed by India, Cuba, China, Pakistan and others. Eventually that Special session took place only after the end of the war from 26th and 27 May 2009. In fact, Sri Lanka played a sneaky game making use of this Special session. With the help of India, China, Cuba, Pakistan and others, they tabled a resolution in their favour. The promises made by Sri Lanka and laid out in this resolution have still not been honoured. Please read the quotes given below:  

Sri Lankan representative Dayan Jayatilleka said when introducing the draft resolution L.1/Rev.2 (S 11/1) on 27 May 2009:  

“Operative paragraph 10 enshrined the entirety of the discussion between the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the President of Sri Lanka. There could be no more sincerity to the commitment of Sri Lanka and the co-sponsors. Sri Lanka, now ten days after the end of a 30-year war, had represented the best synthesis of the discussions taking place in the Council.”  

“………..Draft resolution L.1/Rev.2 was not a blank check for the Government of Sri Lanka, it comprehended the totality of the agreement with the Secretary-General. But it was not a punitive measure either. It was not a manifesto for a lynch mob”.  

Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, President of the Human Rights Council, in concluding remarks, on 27 May 2009, said that , “………The draft resolution endorsed the joint statement made by the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the Government of Sri Lanka”.    

Since independence in 1948, whoever has been in power in Sri Lanka manages citizens with verbal and fake promises. What they sign on papers has no value or meaning. The same path or idea is not going to work with the international community. Globally there is ample evidence to prove that “cheating will end up in a disaster”. 

S.V. Kirubaharan

S.V. Kirubaharan is the Founder General Secretary of the Tamil Centre for Human Rights – TCHR.

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