Another General Election is around the corner. From all the commotion created during the period leading up to the
If the GoSL does not handle the entire issue pertaining to Resolution 30/1 tactfully and diplomatically the blow out could be substantial which might go as far as economic sanctions being imposed on an already weak economy.
November 2019 Presidential Election to the COVID-19 episode highlighted by a two-months long lockdown, attention has been focused on anywhere, but the issue of reconciliation. By reconciliation it is to be understood that we have the ethno national landscape in mind. Political events that have taken place during the last two years have ensured that even the stuttering commitment that the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) showed towards achieving lasting reconciliation, of healing the wounds caused by a thirty-year civil war, lifting the cloud of mutual suspicion that exists between the majority Sinhalese and minority Tamils of the country, were sidelined. The exclusive Sinhala vote the present President obtained in his victory and the almost 100% Tamil vote his challenger Sajith Premadasa garnered could not have made it clearer.
It was in March this year that the Minister of Foreign Relations Dinesh Gunawardena informed the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights (UNHRC) of Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw from the co-sponsorship of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 which Sri Lanka committed to in 2015 after the UNP-SLFP Yahapalana Government assumed power. The announcement for withdrawal was seemingly in line with an election promise given by President Rajapaksa. Gunawardena nevertheless expressed the hope that “the Council would appreciate this approach of focusing on ‘deliverable measures’ of reconciliation that are in line with the interest of Sri Lanka and its people, instead of the practice of taking on a host of undeliverable commitments with the intention of never implementing them’’.
As to what the GoSL meant by ‘deliverable reconciliation’ and which was undeliverable remains anybody’s guess. The Minister further assured that despite the government’s intention for such withdrawal from the resolution, that “Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.”
It was in the backdrop of such a context that the Core Group on Sri Lanka comprising the representatives of Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and the United Kingdom issued a statement to the UNHRC earlier this week, expressing dismay over the Government’s position that it no longer intended to support resolution 30/1, which Sri Lanka had co-sponsored in 2015.
Rita French, the United Kingdom’s Ambassador for Human Rights delivering the statement on behalf of the members of the Core Group on Sri Lanka, had this to say: “We reiterate our profound disappointment at this development. We remain firmly committed to advancing the resolution’s goals of accountability, reconciliation, and inclusive peace in Sri Lanka,” further adding that “while the Government of Sri Lanka has stated its own commitment to advancing these principles through domestic processes, we stress that any accountability mechanism must have the confidence of those affected.”
Expressing the response of the GoSL on the statement issued by the Core Group, Sri Lanka’s Acting Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Dayani Mendis urged “….. all parties once again to recognise the realities on the ground, and appreciate this approach of focusing on deliverable measures of reconciliation – which is backed by a people’s mandate and is in the interest of Sri Lanka and its people – instead of opting to continue with a framework driven externally that has failed to deliver genuine reconciliation for over four-and-a-half years.”
The dismay expressed by the Core Group and endorsed by many of the Western Diplomatic envoys to Sri Lanka has yet again come under flak from those who are supportive of the Government as failing to recognise the ground realities that existed and going as far as meddling with a country’s Sovereignty to deal with its internal affairs, a stand point always taken by the Rajapaksa loyalists who have invariably cashed in on the general indignation that the Sinhala South have on the entire issue of Western Countries attempting to teach Sri Lanka a concept which the former countries themselves have not practiced.
In fact, some of the demands made by the UNHRC from Sri Lanka such as establishing Hybrid Courts in line with the Rome Statute had been rejected not only by the Rajapaksa family led SLPP and their affiliated Sinhala nationalist groups and even by the former Leader of the Opposition and Gotabaya Rajapaksa’s opponent at the Presidential Election Sajith Premadasa; who was critical of the intrusive nature of such requirement as meddling with the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. The Resolution 30/1, to which the Yahapalana Government acceded has been one of the sore points faced by that Government and which over a period of time had been a rallying point for Rajapaksa political alliance. The triumph of Gotabaya Rajapaksa signaled an unequivocal rejection of the demands for reconciliation, accountability and inclusive peace in Sri Lanka. Or that is what their loyalists would be quick to make out.
Resolution is still alive
As much as the proponents of the move for withdrawal would hail the decision, it does not signal the demise of the resolution; with or without Sri Lanka in it, the Core Group and the Western Diplomatic missions will ramp up pressure on the GoSL to adhere to the commitments made in 2015. If the government does not handle the entire issue tactfully and diplomatically, the blow out could be substantial which might go as far as economic sanctions which would signal dooms day for an already weak economy specially after the COVID-19 lockdown. It seems that the government is counting on a closer relationship with the United States, which had withdrawn from the UNHRC altogether, would help it tread the treacherous waters when it comes to the issue of reconciliation.
The recent activities such as putting the military in charge of many aspects of civilian life such as the COVID-19 response, including in the Tamil dominated North and the East as well as the stalling of criminal investigations and judicial proceedings inquiring into gross violations of human rights such as the abduction and disappearance of 11 tamil youth, well after the LTTE was crushed militarily do not augur well not only from the perspective of appeasing the Western Powers who seem to hell bent of committing Sri Lanka to its promises, but in terms of the broader and inescapable need for reconciliation and accountability with the aim of achieving lasting peace.
As much as the Mahinda Rajapaksa Government exercised its sovereign duty of protecting its territory and the citizens by defeating the LTTE and the armed forces had acted with restraint and discipline as witnessed rarely in conflicts of this nature, incidents such as white van abductions, extrajudicial killings and rights violation have occurred though not on a mass scale or as an orchestrated tactic by the government. Yet as the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Committee (LLRC) proposed, further fact finding and redress where it is deemed necessary, remain a must, after a civil war which has claimed Tens of thousands of lives and created a polarizing divide between the two communities.
Yet with the General Election around the corner with the Rajapaksa led SLPP aiming to cap the Presidential Election victory with a substantial majority in the legislature, concerns such as reconciliation is very unlikely to constitute part of the agenda they put forward.
It applies not only to the SLPP or the SLFP, but to the SJB and even the UNP.
‘Deliverable Reconciliation’ therefore, remains as elusive as ever.