The language of the draft resolution on Sri Lanka continues to tighten unprecedentedly as the days wind down for negotiations on the text before it is put to a vote at the UN Human Rights Council at the end of its 46th Session on 22-23 March.
The co-sponsors of the resolution on Sri Lanka are likely to incorporate language into the resolution that calls on High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to present written reports or oral statements every six months until the resolution comes up for renewal in September 2022 following negotiations on the draft text this week, Daily FT learns.
The most significant change in the revised draft of the Sri Lanka resolution circulated among member states of the UNHRC on 5 March was the inclusion of the word “collect” to Operative Paragraph 6. Operative Paragraph 6 now calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to “Collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve evidence” relating to human rights violations and “related crimes”. The phrasing “related crimes” was a suggestion by the United States delegation, which has taken a substantial role in ongoing negotiations on the draft text.
Sri Lanka continued to mount calls for the deletion of Operative Paragraph 8 which refers to the Government’s mandatory cremations policy at the two informal sessions held on Monday (8) and Wednesday (10) this week.
Sri Lanka’s Envoy to the UN in Geneva insisted again that the paragraph was irrelevant because the policy had been reversed and burials were taking place. Sri Lanka was strongly supported by China and Russia on the issue. The delegation of Pakistan, which supported Sri Lanka’s calls to dilute other operative paragraphs of the draft resolution, was markedly silent on the forced cremations issue during its interventions on Monday.
Amidst mounting international criticism, the Government reversed the gazette notification mandating cremation for all COVID-19 related deaths on 26 February but refuses to allow burials except in designated locations. Victims of COVID-19 must be transported to Ottamavaadi in the Eastern Province for burial.
On Sunday (7), former SLMC MP Ali Zahir Moulana tweeted that despite the reversal, only 10% of Muslims dying of the virus were being buried. “The vast majority of families are not lucky enough to obtain elusive exceptions through the judicial system or to hold bodies of loved ones in cold storage and were forcibly cremated,” he noted after the first few burials took place in the Eastern Province.
During the informal session on the Sri Lanka resolution, the United States strongly supported retaining the language on forced cremations in Operative Paragraph 8 of the Sri Lanka resolution.
“Our view is that we don’t actually see the need to delete this wording. The fact is that the Government of Sri Lanka did decide to mandate cremations. We welcome the changes announced, but it is too early to say whether they have been taken or where would lead. So we will support retention of existing language,” the US delegation noted.
The UK, which is the main sponsor of the Sri Lanka resolution said during the meeting that it was important that the resolution reflects the reality of the situation on the ground with regard to forced cremations.
“Factually, we think the wording in the text (of the resolution) is correct, as these cremations did take place causing considerable concern. We understand that as per these stats as of yesterday afternoon 24 burials have now taken place,” the UK delegation noted.
The UK said that while the reversal of the policy was a positive development, as of March 7, 90% of those dying of the virus in the Muslim community were not being buried.
“So it does appear that the issue of cremations and burials does remain a live issue,” the UK said.
Another informal session is due to be held this week on the draft resolution on Sri Lanka which must be finalised by 16 March.