The situation will just go on with annual rituals, so long as the Government maintains a rapport with the UNHRC and Tamil leaders
Finally, President Maithripala Sirisena and the UNF government headed by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have averted a ridiculous situation that was to arise at the 40th Regular Session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) by agreeing to send a unified group to Geneva this month.
Earlier, in fact, a few days ago, the two leaders seemed to have prepared for a showdown in Geneva by pursuing two different approaches at the council.
The Prime Minister was planning to co-sponsor another resolution at the council whereas the President who is against such a move was planning to request the council to leave the country alone, through his representatives, former Ministers Sarath Amnugama and Mahinda Samarasinghe and Northern Province Governor Suren Raghavan.
What would have been the situation if the representatives of the President and the Prime Minister told the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) two different stories in respect of the country’s commitments towards the accountability issue?
However, according to a statement by the Foreign Affairs Ministry announced on Wednesday Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana after consultation with the President is going to lead a delegation comprising of the representatives of both the leaders and State officials.
And also now it is clear that the President has agreed to the government’s move to co-sponsor a resolution on Sri Lanka moved by a group of countries headed by Britain at the ongoing UNHRC session.
Referring to the Government’s move to co-sponsor at the ongoing 40th session of the UNHRC, the Prime Minister’s office and the Foreign Affairs Ministry said in a joint statement on March 6 thus:
“The current initiative is nothing but seeking more time for the GOSL to address the issues of reconciliation, peacebuilding and national integration. For instance, the Government of Sri Lanka was unable to finalize some of the required legislation due to the infamous Constitutional Coup of 26th October 2018.”
Government is seeking more time from the UNHRC to implement its commitments under the resolution that it co-sponsored in October 2015, which include setting up of a local judicial mechanism with the participation of foreign judges and other judicial officials, among others. The resolution first granted two years for the implementation of the recommendations of it and another two years were granted by another resolution which was also co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in 2017.
Apart from the establishment of a local judicial mechanism in order to ensure accountability in respect of the Human Rights violations allegedly committed by the armed forces and the LTTE, the 2015 resolution, commonly known as Resolution 30/1 had thrust upon Sri Lanka a plethora of other commitments as well.
Accordingly, leaders of the government had to institute and set in motion an Office on Missing Persons (OMP), a mechanism for “truth-seeking, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence”, introduce “security sector reforms ensuring that no scope exists for retention or recruitment into the security forces of anyone credibly implicated in serious crimes involving human rights violations”, investigate all alleged attacks by individuals and groups on journalists, human rights defenders, members of religious minority groups and other members of civil society, as well as places of worship, and to take steps to prevent such attacks in the future, review the Public Security Ordinance and review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA),among others.
Before the “infamous Constitutional Coup of 26th October 2018”, the government had three years for the implementation of these pledges and therefore putting the blame for the failure to implement them on the 51-day “coup” is unfair by the “coup” leaders. In fact, it is the government leaders’ unwillingness or the fear of the political backlash that delayed or stalled the implementation of them.
However, going by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights Michelle Bachelet this year, the Government seems to have successfully convinced the officials of the UNHRC that the “coup” had a drastic impact on the government’s actions.
Nevertheless, one can witness changes in almost all stakeholders of the Sri Lankan accountability issue -the UNHRC, the President, the Prime Minister and Tamil leaders – since 2015. Unlike during the Mahinda Rajapaksa regime, slackness could be seen especially in the UNHRC attitude towards Sri Lanka.
This is an outcome of the friendly approach of the UNF government towards the UNHRC.
Indicating the sagging firmness of the UNHRC, the then UN human rights chief Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein while referring to the participation of the foreign judges in Sri Lankan accountability process told the Sri Lankan media in February 2016 “Through the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights makes a recommendation on the judicial process into alleged war crimes or on the involvement of foreign judges, it was the sovereign right of Sri Lanka to decide.”
Although five months later he insisted in his annual report on the need for the international participation in the accountability process, now the UNHRC officials do not specifically mention it.
However, one cannot argue that they have totally given it up as they have been pressing for the implementation of the 2015 resolution which recommended a local judicial mechanism with foreign judges.
Another drastic change on the part of the officials of the world’s human rights body is that they seem to have completely forgotten the human rights violations/war crimes allegedly committed by the LTTE.
In a report released on September 16, 2015, after an investigation by the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights into alleged war crimes committed during the final stages of the war, almost every allegation levelled against the security forces except for sexual violence had been levelled against the LTTE as well.
Those allegations included killing and abduction of civilians and depriving them of food.
Both the security forces and the LTTE had been held responsible by the report for the civilian deaths within the no-fire zones. But the recent reports and the resolutions have totally forgotten the atrocities committed by the LTTE.
The Government or the southern politicians cannot blame the UNHRC officials alone for this. Even the leaders of the present Government who have agreed to establish a local judicial mechanism with foreign participation, do not seem to be prepared to charge-sheet any individual LTTE leader or cadre for any crime.
Besides, former top LTTE leaders such as Kumaran Pathmanathan (KP) and Daya Master had been exonerated by the Sri Lankan courts.
On the local front, it was President Maithripala Sirisena, who first had a change of mind with regard to the accountability process.
When the 2015 resolution was passed he never uttered a word against it. The resolution brought acclaim for the Sri Lankan leaders internationally and President fondly shared the acclaim with the UNF leaders.
But after three months he dropped a bombshell by saying during an interview with BBC Sinhala Service, Sandeshaya that he was against foreign judges participating in the accountability process.
The mind change was contagious. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe also said at an international seminar in Colombo in the same month that Sri Lankan law did not have provision to have foreign judges.
Unlike during the previous regime, the slackness could be seen within the ranks of the Tamil leaders as well. The main Tamil coalition, the TNA did not protest against the Government seeking more time for the implementation of its commitments for the second time, this month.
Therefore the situation might go on as it is now, with similar annual rituals, so long as the Government maintains a rapport with the UNHRC as well as the Tamil leaders.
It must be noted that despite the fact that the High Commissioner in her latest report called on the member states of the UNHRC to “Prosecute Sri Lankans suspected of crimes against humanity, war crimes or other gross violations of human rights, in accordance with universal jurisdiction principles,” the latest resolution tabled on Tuesday in the council did not include such a request to the member countries.