After years of huffing and puffing by the then joint opposition -- against the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Resolution 30/1 since its adoption on October 1, 2015 -- now in government in its current format as the Sri Lanka Podujana Peramuna (SLPP) had got the opportunity to urge President Gotabaya Rajapaksa to withdraw from the process of co-sponsorship of the Resolution.
What follows are some excerpts from the speech made by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardena formally announcing the withdrawal from Resolution 30/1: “The previous government in January 2015 jettisoned the home-grown reconciliation process, which was bearing fruit and contrary to Sri Lanka’s stance on country-specific resolutions, the then government co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution 30/1 on Sri Lanka.
“Constitutionally, the resolution seeks to cast upon Sri Lanka, obligations that cannot be carried out within its constitutional framework and it infringes on the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka and violates the basic structure of the Constitution.
“By co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1, the previous Government violated all democratic principles of governance by declaring support for the resolution even before the draft text was presented; it sought no Cabinet approval to bind the country to deliver on the dictates of an international body; there was no reference to Parliament on the process, undertakings and repercussions of such co-sponsorship and included provisions which are un-deliverable due to its violation of the Constitution the supreme law of the country while the then president Maithripala Sirisena has stated that he was not consulted on the matter and remains to date a blot on the sovereignty and dignity of Sri Lanka.
“It is in this context that I wish to place on record, Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw from the co-sponsorship of Resolution 40/1 on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’ which also incorporates and builds on preceding Resolutions 30/1 of October 2015 and 34/1 of March 2017.”
Minister Gunawardena concluded his speech by saying that the Sri Lankan Government holds the well-being of the multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, multi-religious and multicultural people of Sri Lanka, close to its heart.
Meanwhile, former Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera, during whose tenure the much-debated co-sponsorship of the resolution, took place had this to say on how it came to be co-sponsored by Sri Lanka:
“The consensus resolution was intended to achieve three main objectives. First and most importantly, it provided the means for Sri Lanka to take charge of its own reconciliation agenda and provide a broad-framework and vision for the country to strengthen reconciliation, end impunity, fortify democracy and strengthen, uphold and entrench institutionally the human rights of all citizens irrespective of their ethnicity, race, religion, faith or gender. Secondly, it allowed Sri Lanka the means to restore the dignity of the institutions of the Army, Air Force, Navy and the Police, by investigating locally, through locally-designed processes, all allegations of violations of the law including by the LTTE and any others. Thirdly, it enabled Sri Lanka to regain its due place and dignity on the international stage, normalising its relations with the international community to chart its path to economic progress and prosperity as a hub in the Indian Ocean.
“The final text of the resolution was largely negotiated over the telephone, with President Maithripala Sirisena and me at the same hotel in New York, and the Prime Minister in Colombo accompanied by the then Secretary to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the US Ambassador and the British High Commissioner. Once consensus was reached, the then Foreign Affairs Ministry Secretary who was in Colombo had coordinated with Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva and conveyed the decision of the Government of Sri Lanka to the Human Rights Council.”
He said once the resolution was adopted by the Council, it was presented to the Sri Lankan Parliament, where there was broad consensus in the House while then President Sirisena also chaired two sessions of an All Party Conference at which the views of all political parties were consulted and sought for the implementation of the provisions of the resolution, including the design of the mechanisms. However, Mr. Samaraweera said the parties representing the then Joint Opposition in Parliament did not submit any views at the time.
The advantages and the disadvantages of the co-sponsorship and the withdrawal thereof are bound to be felt in the weeks and months to come. Nevertheless, the SLPP without doubt will make the withdrawal from the co-sponsorship a propaganda tool at the upcoming general election similar to what it did with the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact during the presidential election campaign in November last year.