By Dharisha Bastians in Geneva
As Joint Opposition members led demonstrations outside the United Nations building in Geneva, Sri Lanka’s Deputy Foreign Minister Dr. Harsha De Silva told the Human Rights Council convening inside that the Government was “determined to stay the course” in delivering justice and reconciliation to its people, as the country recovers from a three-decade long civil war.
The Deputy Foreign Minister told the council that Sri Lanka had been working on the draft resolution providing a two-year extension of the timeline for fulfillment of resolution 30/1 that was adopted by the UNHRC in 2015. Sri Lanka will cosponsor this resolution at the council’s current session, he added.
“No country’s human rights record is perfect. It is always a work in progress,” the Deputy Foreign Minister acknowledged, after UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein presented his report assessing Sri Lanka’s progress on implementing the 2015 UNHRC resolution to the council yesterday.
Zeid said Sri Lanka had made “promising progress” on constitutional reform, but said his report had noted that progress on transitional justice had been slow. He also urged Sri Lanka to adopt confidence building measures, including the release of private land and the repeal and replacement of the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA) as frustration mounts about the pace of progress on justice and reconciliation.
“The Government must send a signal that impunity is no longer tolerated,” the High Commissioner noted in his statement before the council.
Dr. De Silva, who is leading the Government delegation to the UNHRC’s 34th Session, which concludes later this week, acknowledged that while much had been done there was much “still left to do”. “There are multiple challenges we face,” he added, echoing sentiments expressed here by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who said extremists on both sides of the ethnic spectrum were undermining the Government’s reconciliation efforts.
Participating in the interactive dialogue on Zeid’s report on Sri Lanka, several EU countries called on Sri Lanka to provide a timeline for implementation the 2015 resolution. Most state delegations welcomed Sri Lanka’s progress on human rights and efforts to achieve a lasting peace in the island, especially referring to the process to draft a new constitution, but nearly all countries remarked on the slow pace of progress and the outstanding commitments made on the 2015 resolution.
In an unprecedented move, the Government of Japan announced it would cosponsor the resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC 34th Session currently underway. Japan has regularly participated in debates on Sri Lanka since 2012, but has always abstained from voting on the US-led drafts. The resolution is expected to be adopted by consensus – or without a vote – as the session reaches its penultimate day today.
The United States, addressing the Council yesterday, said it was pleased that Sri Lanka had had agreed once again to cosponsor the resolution. The US said it was inviting likeminded UN members to demonstrate support for reconciliation and peace in Sri Lanka by adding their names to the list of cosponsors. “The United States applauds the administration of President Sirisena for its continuing efforts to promote reconciliation,” the delegation said.
The UK, a main sponsor of the Sri Lanka resolution, welcomed progress made by the Government but said much remains to be done. “We urge the Government of Sri Lanka to provide the determined leadership required to deliver fully on commitments it made when cosponsoring resolution 30/1 and to develop a comprehensive, time-bound implementation strategy.
As the interactive dialogue on Sri Lanka kicked off inside the Palais des Nations, crowds of Sri Lankans living overseas congregated under the monument of the Broken Chair outside the building to protest the National Unity Government they said was selling out the armed forces at the behest of the Tamil Diaspora.
A crowd of about 40 people had gathered at the square outside the UN, but organisers said they expected at least 500 people. “We are expecting three more busloads,” said the Co-President of the Global Sri Lanka Forum, which was organising the protest.
Speaking to the Daily FT, the Co-President of the forum in Italy said the Yahapalanaya Government was carrying out an agenda to imprison and betray the armed forces in collusion with the Tamil Diaspora. Many of those attending the demonstration had arrived from Italy, where there is a large Sri Lankan expatriate community. Organisers said they counted at least 30 Tamils among their ranks, who were also agitating against the Yahapalanya Government and its policy of “hunting” war heroes in Sri Lanka. The wrath of the demonstrators was mostly directed at Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, who is seen as championing UN-led efforts to “punish” soldiers in Sri Lanka.
Former UPFA MP Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera, who arrived in Geneva earlier this week, and current JO MP Bandula Gunewardane were scheduled to attend the demonstration, organisers said. Weerasekera has been leading a delegation of sorts in Geneva to present an alternative view at the council, against a Government he says is bowing before the United Nations. Weerasekera’s visit to Geneva has been facilitated by an NGO.
In his statement before the council last afternoon, UN Human Rights Chief Zeid said he was “disturbed” by reports of intimidation of human rights activists inside the Human Rights Council at this session and urged the President of the council to look into these reports. Reports have surfaced that the CID had visited the homes of at least two Tamil activists in Kalmunai and Mannar while they were attending the current UNHRC session in Geneva.
On Monday (20), a journalist joining Rear Admiral Weerasekera’s delegation, was pulled up by UN security for taking pictures of activists and lobby groups inside Room XX of the Palais des Nations where the Human Rights Council sits.
The Sri Lankan reporter’s mobile telephone was briefly confiscated and the photographs it contained were deleted by security officials. The UN maintains a zero-tolerance policy of intimidation of human rights activists and civil society representatives inside its premises.