The Sri Lankan Envoy to the United Nations in New York unprecedently raised the country’s human rights issues at the UN General Assembly last Thursday (28 January), charging that defeated terrorists were using international rights mechanisms to unleash a different kind of terrorism, a serious broadside to the Geneva-based Human Rights Council.
In his maiden address to the General Assembly, Pieris, a former controversial Chief Justice, appeared to question whether a recent report on Sri Lanka by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet was an “exercise in regime change”.
“It appears today that vanquished terror groups and terrorism is making use of very civilised mechanisms to unleash a different kind of terrorism. To walk themselves into the very mechanism that protects a civilised world,” Ambassador Pieris said, alluding to the United Nations and its instruments, such as the Human Rights Council based in Geneva.
“Should our mandates extend to interfering with local processes such as perhaps an exercise in a change of regime which is being critiqued in a recent report from the human rights council?” Ambassador Pieris asked the General Assembly.
The Sri Lankan Envoy to the UN delivered his remarks to the United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres during an informal interactive session following the presentation of the UN Annual Report to the General Assembly. The Secretary General’s Annual Report did not include a reference to Sri Lanka but Ambassador Pieris’ intervention drew a candid response from Guterres.
If the Government and its people took the need for reconciliation and accountability seriously, it would reduce the interest of other entities to directly involve themselves in those issues, Secretary-General Guterres noted, delivering a broadside of his own.
“A country has to heal its wounds. Truth is essential for this and without truth and reconciliation, it is impossible to move forward. Accountability is an important instrument in this regard,” Guterres replied. He added: “I hope all the interventions that are taking place at present will help the process of effective reconciliation and effective accountability.”
The UN Secretary-General is a former Prime Minister of Portugal who first entered politics in Portugal’s first democratic election after the Carnation revolution, which ended a five-year dictatorship in 1976. Guterres also led the UN refugee agency before being elected Secretary-General. Confronting a scathingly critical report from High Commissioner Bachelet on the human rights situation, which sets the course for Sri Lanka’s engagement with the UN Human Rights Council at its 46th Session this month, the Government is grappling with its response.
Bachelet not only sounded the alarm about the possibility of recurrence of grave human rights violations in Sri Lanka but also urged the UNHRC Member States to consider targeted sanctions and asset freezes against alleged perpetrators.
Sri Lanka, under a previous Rajapaksa presidency, has had a rocky relationship with UN human rights chiefs, including High Commissioners Louise Arbour and Navi Pillay. Ambassador Pieris’ remarks were not the first time the Government of Sri Lanka has accused the Human Rights Council and the High Commissioner for Human Rights of falling prey to the agendas of the LTTE.
Senior diplomats have struggled for years to keep Sri Lanka’s human rights issues out of the Agenda in New York, which is where the UN Security Council meets to make executive decisions that can have lasting impacts on a UN Member State