Focus/Spotlight

President’s push strangles SL in Geneva

By Easwaran Rutnam

President Maithripala Sirisena’s push for Sri Lanka to withdraw from the co-sponsorship of the Resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has placed Sri Lanka in a sticky situation in Geneva.

Sri Lanka co-sponsored the last Resolution which expires this month and a new Resolution is expected to be submitted by the UK at the ongoing 40th session of the UNHRC in Geneva.

Sources at the UK High Commission in Colombo told The Sunday Morning that talks on the draft text of the Resolution were continuing and the discussion involved Sri Lanka as well, in an unofficial level so far.

The Permanent Mission of the UK in Geneva will also host an informal discussion in Geneva this week on Sri Lanka and the proposed draft text.

When contacted, a Foreign Ministry source said that the issue on Sri Lanka was sensitive in nature, especially since there were now two different views on the matter within the Government.

The source said that the Foreign Ministry was involved in talks with the Core Group on Sri Lanka which will be submitting the Resolution.
Leading NGOs, activists, and some Diaspora groups are in Geneva to push the international community to ensure Sri Lanka agrees to a time-bound action plan on human rights with UN monitoring.

The Core Group on Sri Lanka, comprising Canada, Germany, Macedonia, Montenegro, and the UK will present the Resolution on promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka.

The Core Group will again be working in partnership with Sri Lanka and look to continue the cooperation which began in 2015 and maintain engagement with the Council as Sri Lanka works towards the implementation of the commitments in HRC Resolution 30/1.

Truth, justice, and repatriations

Sri Lanka co-sponsored the last two Resolutions, 30/1 (2015) and 34/1 (2017), committing to implement transitional justice measures, including those related to truth, justice, and reparations.

The draft text of the new resolution will be procedural in nature and seek to extend further the process established by the HRC in 2015.
Prior to the draft text being submitted, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will make public a report on Sri Lanka.

The report is expected to go public on Friday or early next week. A copy of the report will be presented to Sri Lanka before it is made public.
The Global Tamil Forum (GTF), a powerful Tamil lobby group, said that despite Sri Lanka’s public pledge, its commitment and conviction to faithfully implementing the resolutions have been lacking from the word go.

“Merits of the accountability process and the need to end impunity for the future wellbeing of all its communities hardly entered a national dialogue.

“A comprehensive plan to implement all aspects of the resolutions was never developed. Instead, it was always an ad hoc, politicised process with twin objectives – a façade of actions to keep the international community at bay, while no judicial enquiries that would indict military personnel or were bound to result in political fallout materialised. Justice for the victims and their families was never a serious concern,” the GTF said.

The GTF also noted that the recent call by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe for a process of truth-telling, regret, and forgiveness – without the key promises of justice and accountability – and the statement by President Sirisena that discussions were ongoing regarding Sri Lanka withdrawing from UNHRC commitments were “astounding, sinister, and dangerous”.

The GTF warned that letting Sri Lanka off the hook at this critical juncture without formal UN scrutiny will invariably result in the abandonment of its accountability commitments and will alienate the Tamil community by failing to address longstanding grievances related to impunity, thus effectively extinguishing the prospect of reconciliation.

“It will also abruptly end the processes designed to mitigate the past UN failures and convey a dangerous message that accountability commitments for international crimes are expendable,” the GTF said yesterday.

As Sri Lanka continues to squander a unique opportunity to address its tragic past, the Global Tamil Forum called on the international community and the members of the UNHRC to ensure that Sri Lanka firmly remains on the UNHRC agenda until all aspects of Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1, are fully implemented, without exceptions.

“The new resolution contemplated must be strengthened by a time-bound action plan and be subject to more rigorous monitoring by a special country rapporteur and/or by OHCHR presence in the country or by any other suitable mechanism.

“The time is right to consider consequences – both bilateral and multilateral – if Sri Lanka continues to repudiate its commitments. These include UN Member States exercising universal jurisdiction; particularly in the absence of the promised special court, adopting effective vetting procedures that would deny travel privileges to those credibly accused of international crimes, and targeted economic and military restrictions,” the GTF said.

The GTF also noted that the recent constitutional crisis and its resolution offer a useful model as it amply illustrated the vulnerability of Sri Lanka to external economic pressure.

“Our request is that failure at UNHRC should trigger alternate UN processes involving multiples of UN organs to establish criminal accountability,” the GTF added.

Call for accountability in Sri Lanka

A UN Special Rapporteur on Thursday urged the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that persons who had committed serious human rights violations were held accountable for their actions.

UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin noted the important opportunity available to the Government to address longstanding and serious human rights concerns, in respect of fair trial, allegations of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, ensuring accountability for serious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, and redressing stigmatisation and exclusion of minority communities.

She also welcomed, in particular, the commitment of the Government to review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act and to replace it with new legislation.

“As I have affirmed in communications with Sri Lanka, the new legislation makes significant and commendable efforts to address procedural protections for rights, deepens access to judicial oversight, and provides for a range of important human rights protections, including a role for the Sri Lankan Human Rights Commission,” she said.

She also encouraged the Government to continue its focus on legislatively enacting a tight and limited definition of terrorism, ensure proscription is a limited and proportionate device, ensure violations of human rights are speedily and effectively addressed, and enable full and unrestricted access to legal counsel and magistrate oversight.

“I also bring attention to reform of the security sector including full civilian control and oversight, proportionate representation of all groups including minorities, as well as a fair and through vetting process to ensure that persons who have committed serious human rights violations are held accountable for their actions,” she said.

The Special Rapporteur said that she looked forward to the ongoing work of her office with the Government of Sri Lanka and continues to offer her technical assistance in Sri Lanka’s endeavours.