How the Governments are lying to people of their respective dealings with the UNHRC
- Both the current and the former Governments have been lying to the people
- The local rhetoric by politicians is a far cry from how they respond to international pressure
- While claiming zero casualty; commissions were appointed under pressure
Both the current and the former Governments have been lying to the people in respect of their respective dealings with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
Both the governments have been attempting to say that they have not been succumbing to the pressure by the world’s human rights body, despite both having been submitting to it.
Opposition MP and former Minister Sarath Amunugama who travelled to Geneva last week as a nominee of the President in the Sri Lankan delegation to the 40th regular session of the UNHRC said on Tuesday in Parliament that Sri Lankan delegation informed the UNHRC that Sri Lanka was not prepared to allow foreign judges to participate in any hearing on war crimes allegations.
During the same Committee Stage budget debate on his Ministry, Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana, who led the Sri Lankan delegation to this year’s UNHRC session also said that he stressed in Geneva that foreign judges were out of the question.
This was confirmed by another Sri Lanka Freedom Party MP, Mahinda Samarasinghe who is not a stranger to the UNHRC issues.
He said that Marapana in his statement made on behalf of the country at the UNHRC session rejected the call for an international probe on human rights violations.
In the meantime, JVP MP Bimal Ratnayake also commended the Government for rejecting the setting up of a hybrid court to investigate into the allegations of human rights violations against the security forces and the LTTE during the war.
Did the Government delegation reject the hybrid court or the participation of foreign judges in the process of accountability for violations of international human rights laws and humanitarian laws at the UNHRC session?
Yes, they did in their statements but while accepting a resolution that provides for the participation of foreign judges in such a process.
Minister Marapana as the leader of the Sri Lankan delegation to the world’s Human Rights body made a statement stressing that the Sri Lankan Constitution did not provide for foreign judges to participate in Sri Lankan judicial mechanisms.
But, as happened in 2015 and 2017 Sri Lanka was among the countries that co-sponsored a resolution on Sri Lanka that was adopted at the UNHRC session last week. The resolution says, among others, the council:
“…Takes note with appreciation of the comprehensive report presented by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council at its fortieth session, pursuant to the request made by the Council in its resolution 34/1, and requests the Government of Sri Lanka to implement fully the measures identified by the Council in its resolution 30/1 that are outstanding…”
"Appointment of the Udalagama Commission, LLRC the Paranagama Commission and the foreign experts to the Paranagama Commission were not voluntary"
This clause has two parts; one says that the council appreciated the High Commissioner’s report, while the other says that it requested Sri Lankan Government to implement fully the council’s resolution that was adopted in 2015 (resolution 30/1).
Samarasinghe told Parliament that the first part of the clause was a mistake. But it is not clear whether the officials of the UNHRC are agreeable to his claim.
Nevertheless, he did not say that the other part of the clause was a mistake and it is the crux of the issue. With that part of the clause Sri Lanka for the third time has undertaken to implement the resolution passed in the council in 2015.
The 2015 resolution says among others, that the council:
“…notes with appreciation the proposal of the Government of Sri Lanka to establish a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations and abuses of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law, as applicable; affirms that a credible justice process should include independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions led by individuals known for their integrity and impartiality; and also affirms in this regard the importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators”
Thus, it is clear that Sri Lanka has undertaken this year to implement the 2015 resolution which in turn provides for the participation of foreign judges.
But, even after the government co-sponsored this year’s resolution, some people seem to believe and some others try to make the masses believe that the government has rejected the participation of foreign judges in Sri Lankan judicial process.
The strategy followed by the previous regime of President Mahinda Rajapaksa has not been different.
Appointment of the Udalagama Commission, Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission the Paranagama Commission and the foreign experts to the Paranagama Commission and giving a second mandate to the Paranagama Commission by Rajapaksa were not voluntary, but measures taken under pressure by the outside world. He took these steps while the leaders of his government were shouting on top of their voices that the Government had never given in to foreign pressure.
By 2013, four years after the end of the war, the Government has been claiming that it pursued a “zero civilian casualty policy” during the war and there were no civilian deaths or disappearances.
The then Defence Secretary Gotabhaya Rajapaksa and the Army had publicly denied the reports of disappearances during the war.
At a press briefing on January 24, 2013, Gotabaya Rajapaksa rejected claims of civilian disappearances in the North during the last stages of the war, insisting that all records maintained by the Army and the ICRC tallied with no discrepancies.
“Not a single person is missing from that list,” he had said.
The first part of a report of an SL Army-appointed six-member Court of Inquiry that was handed over to the Defence Secretary in April 2013 too had exonerated its troops from the civilian casualties during the last phase of the war.
It had concluded that the military operation was conducted strictly in accordance with the Zero Civilian Casualty directive made by the President.
"Both the governments have been attempting to say that they have not been succumbing to the pressure by the world’s human rights body, despite both having been submitting to it"
However, when international pressure mounted with the UNHRC having warned to appoint an international probe on Human Rights violations with its second resolution on Sri Lanka in 2013, President Rajapaksa appointed the Paranagama Commission on August 15, 2013, which recorded more than 19,000 complaints.
The Rajapaksa Government accepted the prevalence of civilian deaths during the last stage of the war as well, a year later, by giving a second mandate to the Paranagama Commission apparently in response to the team set up by former UN Human Rights High Commissioner Navanetham Pillay to conduct a comprehensive investigation of alleged human rights violations in Sri Lanka.
The second mandate was to “address the facts and circumstances surrounding civilian loss of life and the question of the responsibility of any individual, group or institution for violations of international law during the conflict that ended in May 2009.”
These facts show that the local rhetoric by politicians, irrespective of their party affiliations, has been a far cry from how they respond to the international pressure.