Will Ranil’s tokenism work with the 51st session of UNHRC?
BY S.V. Kirubaharan
Last July, soon after the 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was over, I wrote the following: “In the opinion of some analysts, Ranil Wickremesinghe as the Prime Minister with a fox’s cunningness; Prof. G.L. Peiris as the Foreign Minister; and Aruni Wijewardane, who is currently serving as the Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, may be able to avert the impending difficulties in the 51 session. Let’s wait until September.”
Since then, the situation in Sri Lanka has been changing rapidly. Wickremesinghe is now the Executive President and Prof. Peiris was replaced by Mohamed Uvais M. Ali Sabry PC, a Muslim, as Foreign Minister, ostensibly to influence Islamic countries.
Now, Sri Lanka has an Executive President who co-sponsored the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 on Sri Lanka in 2015, making commitments to promote reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka. In other words, he agreed to every word in the UNHRC Resolution. Whether right or wrong, good or bad, the establishment of the “Office on Missing Persons (OMP)” was his brainchild and everyone knows its fate. When Wickremesinghe co-sponsored the Resolution and established the OMP, many veteran human rights activists said that these efforts were just to brainwash the international community.
However, Wickremesinghe, as the Executive President, cannot turn his back on the UNHRC Resolution that he co-sponsored himself. At that time, we told the international community that this was another Sri Lankan tactic to buy time and space on accountability and reconciliation. The members of the UNHRC and the international community have eventually realised this.
Two weeks remain before the 51st session begins. Members of the UNHRC, the international community, international non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and others are closely observing what Wickremesinghe and his collaborators are doing in preparation for the 51st session.
The expectation of these institutions and organisations is that Wickremesinghe should do something different from the “runaway” former President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and the opportunist Peiris. The latter’s recent statement regarding the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act as amended (PTA) is evidence of this opportunism, as he was one of the persons who justified the use of the PTA in Sri Lanka.
Lobby against any further action
What we gather from the media and privileged information is that Wickremesinghe and his collaborators, including a group of Tamil political apprentices alongside some seasonal Tamil activists among the diaspora and in Colombo, are preparing to lobby against any further action on the Resolution during the 51st session. It is a crying shame that Wickremesinghe openly said to the media that “the UNHRC session will not be a challenge to Sri Lanka”.
The action of the Government team is totally unacceptable, but understandable – it is the way they work. But the action of Wickremesinghe’s collaborators, in the name of human rights, is utterly shameful. They have no feeling, no knowledge of the victims’ suffering. In fact, they only work for their “name and fame” and material benefits.
Wickremesinghe’s tokenism, such as the lifting of the ban on diaspora organisations and individuals, establishing a diaspora office in Sri Lanka, allowing the singing of the national anthem in Tamil at certain functions, and periodical bogus promises on removing or bringing charges against persons arrested under the PTA, etc., are simply to fool the UNHRC, the international community, and the people of the North and the East.
In the recent past, many, including international experts, have said that the main reason for today’s economic crisis in Sri Lanka was the ethnic conflict, which resulted in 30 years of war. Has Wickremesinghe ever realised this crucial fact and the urgent need to address the deep-rooted causes to bring durable peace and harmony to Sri Lanka? Wickremesinghe is putting the “cart before the horse”.
Therefore, during Wickremesinghe’s presidency – another two years or less – the UNHRC and the international community cannot expect anything different from what he has done previously, especially during the period between 2015 and 2019.
If this reality cannot be understood by the UNHRC, especially by its members, the international community, and India, once again everything will come to a dead end, the same as it did in the past. The Sri Lankan Government will be freely allowed to do whatever it wishes sans scrutiny.
It is sad to say that Wickremesinghe’s task or actions in the coming days will be no different to those of the runaway President Rajapaksa. But of course, he will manipulate everything through his soft voice, speech, and quiet activities.
Tokenism will not bring peace and harmony
The 51st session is going to be a challenge to Wickremesinghe’s presidency, but he expects the international community to turn a blind eye to Sri Lanka. To ease this process, some Tamil stooges have once again seem to have been put into action, as Wickremesinghe did from 2015 to 2019.
During that period, these Tamil stooges celebrated birthday parties and wedding anniversaries and enjoyed nice holidays with Wickremesinghe and then-Foreign Minister, the late Mangala Samaraweera, completely ignoring the suffering and grievances of the people.
In other words, the tokenism and cunning of Wickremesinghe will not bring peace and harmony to Sri Lanka. Now, 13 years have passed and no progress has been made towards accountability and reconciliation, except for some bogus promises and statements with the idea of buying time and space.
Regarding the “disappearances” in the North and the East, the families, parents, and kith and kin of the disappeared have initiated their 2,000 days of protest, looking and searching for their loved ones, but it has fallen on the deaf ears of the Government.
This reminds us of the 1987-1989 “disappearances” in the South. Then MPs Mahinda Rajapaksa, Samaraweera, and well-known Leftist Vasudeva Nanayakkara went to European countries, to the then-UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Switzerland, and to the European Union (EU) in Brussels, Belgium, with affidavits and submitted official complaints about the disappearances of youths that took place in the South in the late 1980s. These political leaders called for international pressure on Sri Lanka. From abroad they organised meetings, lobbying against Sri Lanka, to find justice and obtain financial help to address the issue of disappearances.
Surprisingly, when all these three got their high-profile positions in the Government, instead of bringing the culprits to justice, they ended up associating with those who caused the disappearances. To date, nobody has raised a voice against the extrajudicial killing in November 1989 of Rohana Wijeweera, the Founder of the Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (People’s Liberation Front).
Once again, I would like to ask the two living leaders – Mahinda Rajapaksa and Nanayakkara – considering their brave humanitarianism regarding the disappearances in the South, what is their contribution to seeking justice for the disappearances in the North and the East? How do they see the struggle of the mothers of the disappeared in the North and the East?
Here, what is worse is that some who carried out international lobbying on the disappearances in the South underestimated, and even justified, the disappearances in the North and the East. In other words, for them, whoever “disappeared” in the South was human, but those who “disappeared” in the North and the East were not. Is this the result of their education, culture, civilisation, etc.?
When we consider reconciliation, the international community, India, and the UNHRC Resolution repeatedly demand Sri Lanka fully implement the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. As far as Wickremesinghe is concerned, he was and is against the Indo-Lanka Accord, which gave birth to the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Some Sinhala Buddhist leaders publicly showed their opposition, but Wickremesinghe silently opposed it right from the beginning. So the full implementation of the Indian initiative, the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, is not going to happen during his presidency.
Regarding this matter, he played a smart move from 2015 to 2019 by fooling the Tamil leadership into believing that a federal solution would be found. Even a President’s Counsel who happens to be one of the “political apprentices” never asked the question: “How could such a solution be possible without a two-thirds majority in the Parliament?”
What can a Tamil political party achieve in the Sri Lankan Parliament, even if it wins in all the North and East electorates? It is sad to note that none of the Tamil politicians ever realised the importance of this question. I agree that if there is a Parliamentary Election in the North and the East, it should be contested by Tamil parties rather than allowing any Southern party to win in these regions and carry out strange propaganda internationally.
We must seriously consider that if Sri Lanka can fool and cheat the regional superpower India and the international community, the people in the North and the East are treated as worth nothing. Regarding the Chinese “spy ship” Yuan Wang 5, everyone knows how India was cheated by Wickremesinghe’s cunning and Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s influence in the present Government.
It is a pity that the diplomacy of the regional superpower India never succeeded with Sri Lanka. It is strongly believed that some Indian decision-makers regarding Sri Lanka give priority to their “wine and dine” engagements rather than to their country’s vital interests. This is what has been happening since Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s period. If this situation continues, India will lose its hold on Sri Lanka, and China will become the dominant power.
Whether right or wrong, the peaceful anti-Government demonstrators over the past months have brought some reasonable changes in Sri Lanka. Ironically, despite the fact that they brought Wickremesinghe into power, unfortunately, some of these demonstrators are now targeted, arrested, and detained by Wickremesinghe’s Government.
The peaceful demonstrators at the Galle Face Green and other parts made a serious blunder when they gave up their agitation in various venues. Even though they had all sorts of legal experts on their side, they neither asked for any sort of promise nor for general amnesty regarding any reprisal against them – in other words, assurances that they would not be arrested, harassed, and detained for leading the protest and occupying certain venues. They simply trusted their opponents without realising the consequences. A Tamil proverb says: “Inspire trust, but don’t trust others.” Now, it is too late. It is a pity that those who brought changes in Sri Lanka are now behind bars.
Regarding further scrutiny on Sri Lanka in the 51st session, I ask: “Can Sri Lanka take up the challenge to have a debate in Geneva with audiences including diplomats, very important persons (VIPs), and international NGOs?”
In conclusion, since 1948, every Government in power in Sri Lanka has managed accountability and reconciliation purely through empty words, as the verbal and written promises have never been implemented. It is a pity that many educated, civilised, and cultured people in the international community and VIPs have not yet realised this.
(The writer is a human rights activist, freelance research analyst, and author)
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.