Government to co-sponsor 2019 Geneva Resolution

According to The Island of March 7, 2019 the Foreign Ministry issuing a press release stated: "Sri Lanka will seek an extension of the time line of resolution 30/1 of October 01, 2015 through a co-sponsored roll over resolution at the ongoing 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council…. This initiative will further attest to Sri Lanka’s ownership of the implementation process…"

As far as furthering the "ownership" of the provisions of the resolution is concerned it is absolute hogwash, since practically all the commitments in the resolution are undertakings voluntarily agreed upon by the Sri Lankan government, further ownership is simply not possible.

The reason for seeking "an extension of the time line" is to fulfill the remaining provisions of the original UNHRC Resolution 30/1 of 2015. However, the Government, starting with the Prime Minister, is aware that certain provisions such as "establishing judicial mechanisms with a special counsel to investigate allegations…" (Paragraph 6); "Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively" (Paragraph 16) etc. are not possible without amending the Constitution. Furthermore, while other provisions require introducing new legislation, others such as "security sector reforms" amount to a degree of interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign State that would be unacceptable to most States; as is reported to have been stated in no uncertain terms by the British Prime Minister when she declared that the British Government would never subject a British soldier to an investigation of any sought.

For these and other reasons the majority in Sri Lanka are opposed to the position taken by the Foreign Ministry to co-sponsor the UNHRC Resolution first in 2015 and now again in 2019. A regular columnist to The Island of March 9, 2019 states: "Many who are from the Sinhala majority and are supportive of pro Sinhala Buddhist policies in governance strongly oppose it. It is their democratic right. There are also many, especially those from the Tamil minority and also from Sinhala majority who are supportive of it, again a democratic right". According to this view, the decision by the Foreign Ministry to first co-sponsor the resolution in 2015 and now in 2019 is contrary to the view of the majority.

Does it then mean that the Foreign Ministry knows what is in the best interest of Sri Lanka, and that the majority are a bunch of nobodies who could be ignored because they do not know any better? If that is so, what about the temple of Democracy that operates on hallowed words such as "will of the People" however dumb they are considered to be. The stand taken by the Foreign Ministry reflects the degree of disconnect that exists within the ranks of the government. This disconnect is the reason for the President to send a three-member delegation to Geneva. They possibly cannot be going to Geneva to endorse "further ownership" of the resolution. Instead, it has to be to present a stand that is at variance with those in the government and their agents in the Foreign Ministry who seem to hold views that are vastly different to that of the President.

The country is paying a heavy price for the inability to develop consensus between the President and those members of the government who determine policy, not only in respect of Geneva but also in respect of other key issues. What the country is experiencing is the continuation of a policy in regard to Geneva set by the first Foreign Minister, notwithstanding that there have been three others since then. Despite the fact that this policy is not acceptable to the President, he is unable to institute a course correction at this stage of the game because of the unwillingness of those in the Foreign Ministry to recognize the need for such a change based on indisputable facts such as that of Lord Naseby. The tragedy is the absence of accountability for policies that run counter to the interests of the many.

The President in his last address to the UN General Assembly requested that Sri Lanka should be left alone to develop its own arrangements to heal based on its own civilizational values, some of which are not "an eye for an eye". Recently, the Prime Minister suggested an approach of "forgive and forget". Despite all this, what the Foreign ministry is pursuing is its own agenda that has no resemblance to both what the President and the Prime Minister have advanced. The policy of the Foreign Ministry is said to be for "constructive engagement and dialogue with a UN entity that in the opinion of the US is a "cesspool of political bias… not a place of conscience, but a place of politics" that "makes a mockery of human rights".

The Foreign Ministry press release further states that "Sri Lanka will join hands with the core group leader, UK, in co-sponsoring this rollover resolution". One wonders whether the Foreign Ministry is aware that it is joining hands with one - the UK - that got its hands soiled by the ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for having evicted about 2000 inhabitants from the Chagos archipelago in the 1960s and 1970s so that the US could build a military base in Diego Garcia. A report in The Guardian of February 25, 2019 states: "The UK has been ordered to hand back the Chagos Islands to Mauritius "as rapidly as possible", after the United Nations’ highest court ruled that continued British occupation of the remote Indian Ocean archipelago is illegal.

"Although the majority decision (13 to 1, the latter being from the US) by the international court of justice in The Hague is only advisory, the unambiguous clarity of the judges’ pronouncement is a humiliating blow to Britain’s prestige on the world stage" (See also Ranjith Soysa, The Island, March 9, 2019). Such humiliations do not seem to deter countries such as the UK or the US to initiate charges of human rights and humanitarian law violations based on mere allegations, despite violations in the case of the UK being indisputable.

The strategy advocated by the Foreign Ministry is based on a flawed notion that it would serve to prevent international war crimes allegations being continuously leveled against Sri Lankans. This is an extension of the falsely held notion that "engaging" with the UNHRC would be in the best interests of Sri Lanka as far as war crimes allegations are concerned. Since all that ‘engagement’ has meant from the day Sri Lanka first co-sponsored Resolution 30/1 has been to commit Sri Lanka to fulfill provisions that involve revisions to the Constitution, enact fresh legislation and directly intervene in its internal affairs without even the approval of the Cabinet or reference to Parliament, it is clearly evident that what matters is how a country engages and not engagement for the sake of engaging.

Instead of trying to hoodwink all concerned and asking for time to implement the rest of the provisions in Resolution 30/1, the three-member delegation should go to Geneva and tell the truth for the first time. Telling the truth means telling the UNHRC and the core group that considering the prevailing political formations in Sri Lanka, constitutional changes and/or introduction of fresh legislation are not possible. Furthermore, that war crimes are not and were not committed by the Sri Lankan nation or by its security forces. If there were any breaches in international humanitarian law which is the only law applicable to the armed conflict in Sri Lanka, they were committed by individuals, and if anyone has clear and irrefutable evidence of such crimes, current judicial mechanisms have the capacity to address them. Any attempt to find the so called Truth as to what happened would end up in nothing but narratives without substance to bring charges or confessions in the hope of qualifying for amnesty; an experience that failed to live up to expectations in South Africa. Therefore, engagement should mean telling the UNHRC and the core group straight out what is possible and what is not, and if they do not like what they hear, at least they would know the truth that there are limits to ‘reconciliation’ depending on the context.

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