Even as D-day for the vote on a US sponsored resolution regarding Sri Lanka at the 19th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council(UNHRC) drew near in Geneva the Island nation continued to adopt what may be described as a “principled position” as its key strategy in dealing with the diplomatic might of the worlds sole super power.
During the Voting of resolution L.1/ Rev.1, The escalating grave human rights violations in the Syrian Arab Republic during the 19th session of the Human Rights Council. 1 March 2012. Photo by Jean-Marc Ferré
Sri Lanka under the leadership and direction of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has been refusing to compromise in any way with the USA in this matter and instead has been lobbying strenuously on the basis of important principles among the 47 member states of the UNHRC.
President Rajapaksa has given clear instructions to senior officials at Sri Lankas ministry of External Affairs that the Country should adopt a principled position and resist the US action rather than cave into American diktat by compromising.
“It does not matter even if we lose but we must go down fighting” the President has reportedly stated.
The past weeks have seen hectic lobbying by both sides. The US has been applying intensified pressure on members of the UNHRC in this regard. Reputed Human Rights organizations and civil society representatives have also been canvassing in support of the resolution.
Sri Lanka has also been engaged in lobbying and has in the past weeks striven to whip up support by building alliances with key blocs among Non – Aligned and Developing nations.
The power balance among members of the UNHRC has been rapidly fluctuating in recent times. Initially the US was confident of 30 plus votes in the council. The situation reversed dramatically as Sri Lanka stepped up its own lobbying efforts
It soon became a case of “fifty – fifty” and a Sri Lankan envoy to a Western nation summed up the situation succinctly by saying it was a “state of see-sawing equilibrium”.
The US sponsored resolution described as “promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka ” is scheduled to be taken up for discussion and voting under item two of the agenda which relates to the Annual report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
The stipulated date on the agenda for Sri Lanka is Thursday March 22nd but there were signs that the vote could be taken a day earlier on Wednsday March 21st.This was because of the speed at which items on the UNHRC agenda were being disposed of. Although not a foregone conclusion it does seem to appear that the vote on Sri Lanka could be taken on the 21st itself.
This possible advancement of dates resulted in Tamara Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka ’s permanent representative to the UN in Geneva compiling and circulating a note to all member states of the UN in General and UNHRC in particular.
The note by Ambassador Kunanayakam focused on the legal and procedural implications of the US drasft resolution on Sri Lanka and embodied the salient principles on the basis of which Sri Lanka is opposed to the US initiative.
Ambassador Kunanayakam’s 14 point note outlining Sri Lanka ’s principled position is as follows-
1) This Resolution will lead to the Council for the first time addressing past issues, and thus taking on the character of a tribunal that will exceed its mandate.
2) This undermines a decision taken by the Council in 2009, and is doubly intrusive because there has only been change for the better since that decision.
3) The Council mandate provides for resolutions to address specific country issues through the UPR or through special sessions in cases of emergency. The alternative is under Item 4, when circumstances have arisen that require special attention, because there are current instances of gross and systematic violations.
4) Reopening issues decided upon in the past is unwarranted and presents a clear risk of developing countries, in particular, being targeted for collateral reasons.
5) The resolution undermines the cardinal principle and well entrenched rule of international law that demands the exhaustion of domestic remedies. Suspicion and criticism of domestic remedies undermines also the judicial process in democratic countries, and introduces a political dimension that attacks the independence of the judiciary.
6) Through this Resolution, the HRC is asked to reach conclusions on a report [that of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC)], which has not been placed before this Council for deliberation. This precedent will encourage the Council to take cognizance of any writing in any document placed before the Council.
7) The resolution judges the intentions of an elected government, and proposes actions that arise from unwarranted hypotheses. These hypotheses are of a piece with the condign criticism from countries advancing this resolution when the LLRC was appointed.
8 ) The effort to impose technical assistance and advice from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is contrary to the principle that these should be based on consent.
9) The conflation of these with Special Procedures and the requirement of a sovereign government to mandatorily accept such advice is totally contrary to the principle of sovereignty, and has no precedent
10) The lack of specificity as to the budgetary arrangements envisaged by the draft Resolution gives rise to potentially serious concerns about the transparency and accountability of funding sources of OHCHR and Special Procedures in fulfilling the requirements of the resolution. If recourse is had to largely opaque funding sources, developing countries must register their concern about donor driven programmes not subject to scrutiny and monitoring by any inter-governmental body.
11) The resolution subverts the principle of cooperation that has been institutionalized through the UPR procedure. The system of discussion and debate that the UPR has nourished will be undermined by this innovation. In particular, given the pledges made by Sri Lanka at the first UPR cycle, which will be reviewed in a few months, it is gratuitously inappropriate to introduce a fresh mechanism now which anticipates the evaluation due in a few months
12) The justifications advanced for this resolution, which refer to intervention where States have failed, opens the floodgates for subjective assessments in a context of increasingly judgmental indices that are celebrated in the popular media with no reference to objective criteria or the funding sources of such information.
13) Whilst it is claimed that this resolution will promote reconciliation, it will only contribute to polarization in a society that has begun to come together through the various reconciliation initiatives that have commenced.
14) Sri Lanka needs to move forward to a pluralistic society, in which all citizens can live together in harmony, equality, dignity, justice, self-respect and inter-dependent prosperity. In purporting to deal with reconciliation in a manner that satisfies external perspectives rather than those of Sri Lankan citizens, this resolution will only benefit disruptive forces and prevent us from achieving the goals we share
The 14 point note is being widely circulated and read by interested parties in Geneva . It remains to be seen as to whether the vital principles enunciated by Sri Lanka would influence voting patterns in the world of diplomatic “realpolitik” where might is seen as right.
With H-hour drawing close the situation in respect to the voting positions at the UNHRC underwent a swift transformation as the US adopted aggressive lobbying to gain support.
In an unexpected twist, the South Asian Regional power India indicated a change of stance. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in Parliament that India was inclined to vote in support of the US resolution
This contradicted New Delhi ’s earlier stance of opposing country – specific resolutions at the UNHRC
There are however reports that India is engaged in quiet diplomacy and is trying to get the US to tone down the text of the draft resolution as a condition to vote in support.
The US however is reportedly refusing to water down the resolution further and pressuring India to throw in its lot with the star spangled banner in this regard.
New Delhi is being reluctantly compelled to adopt a supportive stance with regard to the resolution on account of American insistence as well as heightened pressures from the Southern state of Tamil Nadu home to 60 million Tamils
India however continues to play its cards close to its chest and what position it would finally adopt seems unclear yet.
Meanwhile Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremasinghe stated that the government was negotiating with the US on the resolution at the UNHRC calling for accountability and reconciliation issues in Sri Lanka and it might not be put to vote this week. The UNP leader Ranil Wickremesinghe told the UNP parliamentary group meeting in Colombo this , according to party sources.
Wickremesinghe said that the resolution was to be deferred on the strict condition that the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime undertook to speedily implement the LLRCs recommendations which inter alia call for the re-establishment of the independent police, election, public and judicial service commissions required to enforce the rule of law and safeguard human rights.
The government by rejecting all overtures by the UN, had placed the country and its people in the present predicament, Wickremesinghe said, adding that it was good to hear of a change in attitude even at this late stage.
It is against this backdrop that the UNHRC in Geneva will determine the fate of the US sponsored resolution on Sri Lanka
The following is the text of the Draft Resolution–
Draft Resolution tabled by US at UNHRC
Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability in Sri Lanka (3/6/12)
Guided by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and other relevant instruments,
Reaffirming that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, as applicable,
Noting the Report of Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and its findings and recommendations, and acknowledging its possible contribution to Sri Lanka ’s national reconciliation process,
Welcoming the constructive recommendations contained in the LLRC report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extra judicial killings and enforced disappearances, de-militarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, reevaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement involving devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all, and enact rule of law reforms,
Noting with concern that the LLRC report does not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law,
1. Calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations in the LLRC report and take all necessary additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans,
2. Requests that the Government of Sri Lanka present a comprehensive action plan as expeditiously as possible detailing the steps the Government has taken and will take to implement the LLRC recommendations and also to address alleged violations of international law,
3. Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures to provide, and the Government of Sri Lanka to accept, advice and technical assistance on implementing those steps and requests the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to present a report to the Council on the provision of such assistance at its twenty-second session.
DBS Jeyaraj can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org