P.K.BALACHANDRAN | 31 JANUARY, 2021
Support from 15 countries solicited
COLOMBO: Sri Lanka is in discussion with India and other countries for support in 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.
A top source in the Lankan government said that the support of about 15 members of the 47-member UNHRC is being sought to counter the Core Group’s move to bring a resolution that is expected to call for targeted sanctions, asset freezes and travel bans among other intrusive measures. The High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has even recommended that the Lankan case be taken to the International Criminal Court.
The Core Group comprises Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the UK. The US, which is the prime factor in the anti-Sri Lankan move but is not a UNHRC member, is using the Core Group to push its anti-Lankan agenda. The Core Group is now working a “consensual resolution”. But given the radical difference between the stands of the Core Group and Sri Lanka, chances of a consensus emerging appear to be slim.
According to the government source, Sri Lanka approached India first and India had said that it would consider the Lankan request. China and Russia have already publicly stated that they would support Sri Lanka in international forums. Sri Lanka is also counting on African countries to support it, as in their case especially, the Black Lives Matter movement in America is of special significance.
Sri Lanka is bringing to the fore the fact that the US has much to account for in terms of human rights violations before it points an accusing finger at Sri Lanka. Recent incidents of gross violations of the basic rights of the Blacks and other minorities in the US, and the unbridled assaults and vandalism against established democratic institutions, will be highlighted.
The government also pointed out that the one-sided indictment of the High Commissioner of Human Rights will only exacerbate Sinhala-Buddhist majoritarianism.
It will also push Sri Lanka further into the arms of China, which the West has been trying hard to prevent.
Colombo is pointing out that the US and the Core Group are ignoring the political reality in Sri Lanka which is that the majority detests Resolution 30/1 of 2015 which had called for unconstitutional accountability mechanisms.
The source said that the Western nations must take into account that the co-author of the co-sponsored 2015 resolution, viz.,the previous government of Sri Lanka, lost face among the people and was voted out in the 2019 and 2020 elections.
The resolution’s prime movers lost their seats in parliament. Therefore, Colombo sees no logic in the US and Core Group’s current bid to bring in an even stronger resolution.
The Pathfinder Foundation (PF), a Lankan think tank close to the government, issued a statement on Saturday warning: “Sri Lankan 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.”
The PF asked as to whether the Core-Group on Sri Lanka 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.
PF said that Resolution 30/1 of 2015 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.”
“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.
The Pathfinder Foundation 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.
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.
The think tank recalled that President Gotabaya Rajapaksa said that Sri Lanka will not rule out the possibility of walking out of any entity that does 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. The PF pointed out that Sri Lanka has continued to work effectively with various Special Procedure Mandates or Rapporteurs of the UNHRC.