Forty-seven member states of the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council will cast their votes on a resolution that will keep the international spotlight on human rights violations in Sri Lanka, and establish a central database of evidence to future prosecutions against perpetrators of war-time abuses.
The database which will be managed by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will be the second international mechanism established pertaining to war crimes and human rights violations in Sri Lanka. The UNHRC established a OHCHR-led investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) when it adopted a resolution in 2014.
Daily FT learns that the resolution on Sri Lanka has over 30 co-sponsors and has been championed by a core group of countries led by the United Kingdom. The US, which has pledged to rejoin the UNHRC, has strongly supported the resolution on Sri Lanka.
The Sri Lanka resolution – A/HRC/46/L.1 – will also be the first to be voted on using the extraordinary e-voting procedures established for the UNHRC 46th Session, the first session of the Council that has been entirely virtual. UNHRC observers noted that there could be three types of votes taken regarding the Sri Lanka resolution, including a no-action vote to dismiss the process entirely, a special vote on specific contentious paragraphs of the resolution and a straightforward ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote.
Since the resolution on Sri Lanka seeks to establish an OHCHR-led evidence preservation mechanism that will cost over USD 2 million to set up, member states are also likely to have to vote on whether to approve the budgetary implications of the resolution. In 2014, member states friendly to Sri Lanka, opposed the allocation of a budget to set up an OHCHR investigation mechanism, which forced a second vote at the Council.
The Government is relying heavily on friendly nations to help defeat the resolution that Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunewardane has said was politically motivated and infringes on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. Government lobbying efforts at the UNHRC this year were hamstrung by the administration’s policy of mandatory cremation of COVID-19 victims, the continued stigmatisation of Muslims, and a recent announcement that it was considering a ban on the full-face veil or burqa worn by a small fraction of Muslim women. The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and even the Government of Pakistan – keys to Sri Lanka’s chances of success at the UNHRC – have strongly criticised the moves.
The resolution to promote accountability, reconciliation and human rights in Sri Lanka will be taken up by the Council around 10.30AM Geneva time as the first item on today’s agenda.
The vote was previously due to be held yesterday, but was postponed after the 46th Session of the UNHRC was extended by a day until 24 March to accommodate a packed program of work.
Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Bolivia, Brazil, Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cote d’ Ivorie, Cuba, Czech Republic, Denmark, Eritrea, Fiji, France, Gabon, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Libya, Marshall Islands, Malawi, Mauritania, Mexico, Namibia, Nepal, Netherlands, Pakistan, Philippines, Poland, Republic of Korea, Russian Federation, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Togo, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Uruguay, Uzbekistan and Venezuela are voting member states at the Council. China, Russia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Eritrea, Venezuela and Cuba are certain to vote against the resolution on Sri Lanka. Resolutions are adopted by simple majority and abstentions are not counted in the final tally of votes.