ISSN 2330-717X

Sri Lanka To Be Defiant At UNHRC – Analysis

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A think-tank close to the government says an anti-Lankan resolution will be a dead letter and warns that Colombo will switch economic ties from the invasive West to those countries which respect its sovereignty.  

Pathfinder Foundation (PF), a prominent Sri Lankan think tank which is close to the government, has clearly indicated that Sri Lanka will take a defiant posture at the March session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva when Western nations bring an intrusive and punitive resolution against it for alleged war crimes.      

In her report to the UNHRC, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet,  had recommended that Sri Lanka be subjected to “targeted sanctions” and that the alleged war crimes be taken to the International Criminal Court (ICC) as Colombo had not taken any steps to address the “credible allegations”.   

In a statement issued on Saturday, Pathfinder Foundation (PF) warned: “Sri Lanka and like-minded member States will be obliged to press such resolutions to a highly divisive vote in the Council. Even if the resolution is adopted by a slim majority, Sri Lanka is most likely to ignore it and pitch her bilateral ‘economic tents’ with countries that vote in its favor.”  

“Such a resolution will not therefore help the cause of accountability and reconciliation one bit, and will simply add to the considerable number of other resolutions already ignored by countries like China, Cuba, India, Israel, the US, and so on.”

Pathfinder believes that the only way forward is a “negotiated and consensual” one, rather than “unilateral actions” either by Sri Lanka or the initiators of any resolution. There is no point in adding to the paperwork at the Human Rights Council (HRC) with no prospect of implementation at the ground level. It will not enhance the utility or credibility of HRC’s tool kit for international cooperation in human Rights, PF argues.

Core Group

The Pathfinder Foundation asked as to whether the Core-Group on Sri Lanka (comprising Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK) expects to get its job done by resorting to confrontation and browbeating a member state, instead of cooperating and engaging in consultation?

“If the answer is yes, then those countries representing the South in the HRC will think deeply before they cast their vote in support of another meaningless and intrusive resolution,” the PF said.

The 46th session of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) will see a debate on its controversial Resolution 30/1 of 2015, which the previous Sri Lankan government co-owned in an “unprecedented and unwise move”.

Resolution  30/1 adopted in 2015 ‘runs out’ this year and the HRC egged on by the so called ‘core group’ of Western countries – the pilots of 30/1- will feel obliged to take stock of the situation and see where they want to go from here.

Class by Itself

PF says that Resolution 30/1 is in a “class by itself” in both form and content would be obvious to any reasonably literate person, including to its most ardent supporters.

“It is probably the first instance in the history of the HRC, a supposedly sovereign and independent country co-authored a UN Resolution containing an array of highly intrusive, unconstitutional and un-implementable demands directed at itself. It probably scores another first in that the self-authored Resolution touches upon a range of governance matters, which are generally considered the exclusive preserve of the domestic jurisdiction of the authoring member state itself viz, Sri Lanka.”

Electoral Defeat

The resolution of 2015 may be unique as well, for the reason that in no other democratic country a HRC resolution had been so instrumental in delivering so massive an electoral defeat to the incumbent government that cosponsored the resolution, PF said.

“The HRC and the fellow internationals that generally get busy exploring how to ‘helpfully intervene’ in Sri Lanka about this time every year, must understand the reality that it is  a function of the free franchise in one of the two oldest democracies in South Asia. There was a groundswell of opinion in this country against the resolution, which was initiated by a group of countries, who had only a limited understanding of Sri Lanka. It was seen as a blatant interference in a small sovereign nation, by virtually forcing it to ‘out-source’ the oversight of and judgment on many governance matters to a secretariat in distant Geneva,” the statement added.

It pointed out that the provisions of Resolution 30/1 were a ‘bad template’ for HRC to promote international cooperation on human right because that template had failed elsewhere (example the so-called Hybrid Courts in Cambodia).

Some of the recommendations were unconstitutional/un-implementable (example appointment of foreign judges). A watching brief on governance matters was to be conferred on a Secretariat based in Geneva and a dedicated UN office in Colombo was proposed for the oversight of these activities.

“That all these were at variance with the UN Charter, was of no concern to the ill-advised Core- Group on Sri Lanka,” PF pointed out. “Instead, the Council would have been well-advised to develop and propose robust and independent domestic accountability processes, supported where necessary, by international cooperation in technical assistance, advisory services, best practices etc,” it added.

Pathfinder said that it believes such an approach, which is “advisory”, rather than “retributive” in nature will: (1) work within normal national and international legal norms (2) serve as a model for other countries needing such services, to cooperate with the UN and (3) not function as a dis-incentive for countries that are willing to voluntarily cooperate.

Way forward

The PF said that some of the HRC’s recommendations sound “bizarre” as they refer to now familiar Western parlance of ‘targeted measures, assets freeze’ and so on.

“These are counterproductive as far as addressing the real issues of cooperation were concerned, for no country will accept such invasive measures, pathfinder states. Such actions will face hugely divided votes in the UN General Assembly and definite vetoes in the Security Council,” it argued.

Lanka Will Engage

The PF pointed out that even as Colombo pulled out of the co- sponsorship of 30/1 owing to electoral compulsions, it has made it clear (at the HRC itself) that the withdrawal of co-sponsorship does not mean a withdrawal of Sri Lanka’s responsibilities concerning reconciliation and accountability.

President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka will not rule out the possibility of walking out of any entity that will not respect the accepted principles of sovereignty and independence of countries, but he did affirm that his government is fully committed to international cooperation including with the UN on SDGs, which of course include human rights, peace and justice related matters.

It is also a fact that Sri Lanka has continued to work effectively with various Special Procedure Mandates or Rapporteurs of HRC, PF pointed out.

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P. K. Balachandran

P. K. Balachandran is a senior Indian journalist working in Sri Lanka for local and international media and has been writing on South Asian issues for the past 21 years.

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