Below are my Initial comments on the statement made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa yesterday when addressing the war hero’s ceremony at the war memorial, that he will not hesitate to pull Sri Lanka out of any international organisation that unfairly targets the country’s war heroes.
The President is most likely referring here to the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The statement indicates he is either wrongly advised about the UN or plain politics, which could go against Sri Lanka at a time it desperately needs international support precisely to protect its war heroes. The statement has been widely picked up by Western media agencies, which have a global influence.
Why is there a problem with the statement?
SL is not a Member of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) it is only an Observer State, so the question of ‘pulling out’ does not arise. Besides, HRC is an integral part of the United Nations, a subsidiary body of the UN under the General Assembly, which elects HRC members from among UN member States. The only way to completely withdraw from HRC is to leave the United Nations.
As for ‘pulling out’ of OHCRC, the only way to do so would also be by leaving the UN altogether, OHCHR being a body of the United Nations, not a Specialised Agency.
It is preposterous that SL should even consider quitting the only global multilateral organisation that exists today capable of defending multilaterism, in accordance with the UN Charter, and hence the interests of less powerful states such as ours. The world order established under the UN Charter, whatever its weaknesses – and there are many – is the only order capable of defending the sovereignty of less powerful states and former colonies such as ours, against external interference, intervention, agression, and wars.
The system must be strengthened, not weakened, in the light of the increasing resort to unilateral coercive measures by the US (especially) to exert pressure on sovereign states to compel a change on policy through sanctions or threats of sanctions, embargoes, blockades, conditionalities, intimidation, etc ..
Withdrawing from the United Nations will only strengthen the US supremacist unilateralist vision of the world ; undermine multilateralism which the Non Aligned Movement has fought for and largely contributed to developing in the interest of former colonies; isolate Sri Lanka; weaken its ability to negotiate from a position of strength; deprive it of the means to resolve problems with global dimensions (such as COVID 19, climate change, trade, finance…); and, ultimately, erode its independence, sovereignty and possibly its territorial integrity.
It is incongruous that the President should make such a statement at an event to pay tribute to war heroes who sacrificed their lives in the war against LTTE terror and separatism that was fought precisely on the basis of defending those very same principles unilateralism seeks to undermine.
And how will such a statement be interpreted by our potential allies in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, whose very existence and survival as independent and sovereign nations depends on respect for the purposes and principles incorporated in the UN Charter, and at a time that US President Donald Trump uses the exact same threat to quit WHO in the midst of a global pandemic?
(Tamara Kunanayakam is a former Sri Lankan Envoy to Cuba and the UN in Geneva)