News

Ranil changes stance on UNHRC

  • GoSL to oppose content of SL-co-sponsored 2015 Resolution 
  • Govt. to oppose any anti-Constitutional UNHRC moves 
  • Rejects past two Resolutions with external mechanisms as being ‘anti-Constitutional’

BY Buddhika Samaraweera

 

The Government led by President Ranil Wickremesinghe has announced its rejection of the past two United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolutions as being anti-Constitutional, specifically citing the proposed external mechanism and system – which had previously been accepted by the Government of Sri Lanka in the UNHRC Resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka when Wickremesinghe was the Prime Minister of the United National Front-led “good governance” Government in 2015.  

“The past two Resolutions included an external mechanism as well as an external evidence-gathering mechanism, charging Sri Lankan citizens outside the country, and allowing hybrid judges to come and hear cases in the country. Those are all against the Constitution, and we cannot agree with such moves,” said Minister of Foreign Affairs M.U.M. Ali Sabry PC while addressing a media briefing held yesterday (5) regarding the Government’s plan for the upcoming 51st Session of the UNHRC in Geneva, Switzerland.

In 2015, the Government led by President Maithripala Sirisena, Premier Wickremesinghe, and the late External/Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera co-sponsored a UNHRC Resolution which sought to, among others, establish an external mechanism to probe alleged human rights abuses and violations committed by the military during the war against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). 

Sirisena however, subsequently denied approving the said Resolution, stating that he was not made aware of its content. Then Premier Wickremesinghe, while addressing a meeting with newspaper editors and heads of media organisations at the Temple Trees held in September 2015, had stated that the co-sponsored Resolution would pave the way to bring about a home-grown solution to the question of reconciliation and accountability during the last stages of the war. He had added that cases would be probed by the special counsel’s office and would be referred to the truth commission and compassionate council where necessary while the courts would only prosecute exceptional cases. 

On such occasions when cases would be heard under a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism through a court that would be established for this purpose; if the services of Commonwealth or other judges are sought and if foreign lawyers are to appear, it has to be decided by Sri Lanka’s Supreme Court; and new laws would be introduced through the Parliament for the establishment of a special counsel’s office and the necessary judicial mechanism, Wickremesinghe stated at the time. Regardless, the mechanism was never implemented and the Government under Sirisena’s successor Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew the co-sponsorship of the Resolution.

Although the Government led by President Wickremesinghe does not want confrontations with any international partner at the upcoming UNHRC Session, Sabry PC said that the Government would however oppose the imposition of any anti-Constitutional move upon the country.

He said: “We have continuously engaged with the international community. We are not interested in any confrontations and are only interested in consensus and cordial relationships with all multilateral agencies and bilateral countries. That is the policy of the Wickremesinghe led Government.”

Claiming that the Government is looking at a holistic or lasting solution to the problems or the grievances of all parties who have suffered over the past, he said that the external mechanisms included in the past two Resolutions that were adopted at the UNHRC on alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka are all against the country’s Constitution. 

“We will engage. We will discuss with the co-sponsors, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (HCHR), and the UN Office of the HCHR, and find the way out, but our ultimate mechanism and solution should lie within the Constitutional framework,” added Sabry PC.

Furthermore, commenting on the proposed 21st Amendment to the Constitution, he said that when the said Amendment comes into the law, most of the structures which were introduced through the 19th Amendment to the Constitution would be back on track. When it is implemented, he said, there will be a more participatory form of governance where there will be independent Commissions, the UN Convention against Corruption, and power sharing between the President and the Prime Minister. 

“The powers of the President and the Premier will be shared. It is a correct approach, and the President himself did not want to retain the transitional provision that was earlier envisaged for an incumbent President. He said that he doesn’t want that, and that he can directly go for the full implementation of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution.”

Commenting on the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act as amended, he said that the Act has been amended within the past three months, and that a lot of people who were held under that have been released. He also said that the Government is in the process of formulating a totally new legislation to balance national security, human rights, and human liberty in line with the best practices internationally and regionally.

The 51st Session of the UNHRC is scheduled to be held from 12 September to 07 October, 2022, in Geneva, Switzerland. Ali Sabry will lead the Sri Lankan delegation and deliver a statement at the UNHRC during the Interactive Dialogue on Sri Lanka scheduled for 12 September. Minister of Justice, Prisons Affairs, and Constitutional Reforms Dr. Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe PC will also join the delegation.