By Ameen Izzaddeen | in Geneva
The final scorecard on the giant screen at the United Nations Human Rights Coucnil read 24 yes votes and 15 no votes. Eight countries abstained. Thus came to an end weeks of Sri Lanka’ diplomatic efforts in Geneva, Colombo and other world capitals. But the battle has not ended yet.
There will be more work to be done, more steps to be taken and more fine-tuning of diplomacy.
Sri Lanka feels that it in fact had the support of 23 countries – 15 no votes and eight neutral votes. In a battle against a superpower which waives the rules for its convenience, getting the support of 15+8 is indeed a victory.
If only India had supported us, the final result sheet would have been different. Who knows, Sri Lanka could have even defeated the resolution.
India voted for the resolution, prompting many pro-Sri Lankan members to either vote for the resolution or to remain silent.
Austria, Belgium, Benin, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Italy, Libya, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, United States and Uruguay voted for the resolution.
Bangladesh, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kuwait, the Maldives, Mauritania, the Philippines, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Uganda voted against the resolution while Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Senegal abstained.
For Sri Lanka, the passage of the resolution spells uncertainty. What’s next? Although the resolution is non-binding, the implications of non-adherence could be disastrous.
For the US, its reputation as a sole superpower – not as a human rights champion – was at stake in Geneva. It was determined to win it at any cost.
A large number of US and European Union officials had been deployed to lobby support at the corridors of the Palais des Nations and when the sessions began they were hopeful that they would win. One official even predicted that Sri Lanka would get only 15 votes, indicating that they had done their behind-the-scene work with clinical precision.
Developing countries’ envoys here said they had come under heavy pressure from the US and the EU – a fact which Sri Lanka’s External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris did not forget to mention in his post-vote statement. He thanked the countries that voted against the resolution and those who abstained and noted that they had done it despite the intensity of pressure, in a variety of forms.
When the final results appeared on the screen, there was elation in some sectors. Diaspora members and west-funded human rights activists clapped and cheered, warranting the president of the council to warn that she would be compelled to call the security.
Minister Peiris in his post-vote statement also said:
“The most distressing feature of this experience is the obvious reality that voting at the Human Rights Council is now determined not by the merits of a particular issue but by strategic alliances and domestic political issues in other countries which have nothing to do with the subject matter of a resolution or the best interests of the country to which the Resolution relates. This is a cynical negation of the purposes for which the Human Rights Council was established.
“Many countries which voted with Sri Lanka were acutely conscious of the danger of setting a precedent which enables ad hoc intervention by powerful countries in the internal affairs of other nations. This is a highly selective and arbitrary process not governed by objective norms or criteria of any kind. The implications of this were not lost on many countries.
“As far as Sri Lanka is concerned, our policy in respect of all matters will continue to be guided by the vital interests and wellbeing of the people of our country. It hardly requires emphasis that this cannot yield place to any other consideration.”
Earlier, opening the debate, the US Permanent Representative Eileen Donahoe said Sri Lanka had failed in the past three years to take effective measures aimed at reconciliation, implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and addressing accountability issues.
“Given the lack of action to implement the recommendations of the Sri Lankan government’s own LLRC, and the need for additional steps to address accountability issues not covered in the LLRC report, it is appropriate that the UNHRC consider and adopt this moderate and balanced resolution.
“It is a resolution that encourages Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of it own LLRC and to make concerted efforts at achieving the kind of meaningful accountability upon which lasting reconciliation efforts can be built,” Ms. Eileen said.
Supporting the US position was the European Union, on behalf of whom, Belgium made a statement. The Belgium representative said that the matters raised in the United Nations Secretary General’s panel of experts’ report had not been reflected in the LLRC recommendations and it was in this spirit that the EU was compelled to back the resolution. Belgium also said Sri Lanka’s civil society members who work for the promotion of human rights were being intimidated in Colombo and Geneva and called on Sri Lanka to respect their rights to engage in human rights work.
Making statements in support of Sri Lanka were Cuba, China, Russia, Bangladesh, the Philippines, Thailand, Uganda and the Maldives.
The Cuban Permanent Representative Rodolfo Reyes Rodríguez said the resolution undermined sovereignty of Sri Lanka which had its own mechanisms to address issues raised in it.
He said the United States continued to commit horrendous human rights violations, involved in illegal detention, rendition flights, torture killing of civilians in drone attacks and the council had not taken any measures to stop these violations.
Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe in his response said Sri Lanka had been cooperative with the council and pledged to continue to actively engaged with the council. But despite the exemplary interaction, Sri Lanka had been selectively targeted by certain countries, he said.
He said Sri Lanka had after three decades of war achieved peace and stability and it needed space and time to further consolidate the clear progress that had been achieved in three years.
In a parting shot at the western nations, whose double standards have politicized human rights, Minister Samarasinghe said “Those who live in glass houses are best advised to exercise caution before they throw stones.”
In winding up his statement, he wanted one more thing to say –physician, heal thyself. Courtesy: Sunday Times