The 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) was held in Geneva, Switzerland
It is worth recalling the exemplary leadership of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in resisting pressures and influences of powerful western nations
The new resolution adopted by the UNHRC on March 23 has been hailed by Amnesty International and the Tamil diaspora
The voting pattern makes a fact clear that there is a division of opinion among the member countries with a majority of 25 member-states either opposing or remaining silent
Sri Lanka gained independence from the British at the end of World War II that saw the onset of the decolonisation process. What was significant in Sri Lanka’s independence is that, unlike India, Pakistan, and many other nations, Sri Lanka remained loyal to the British government until it became a Socialist Democratic Republic in 1972 under Prime Minister Sirimavo Bandaranaike’s coalition government comprising the Sri Lanka Freedom Party, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party. Mrs. Bandaranaike was the widow of the late Prime Minister S.W.R.D Bandaranaike (1956-1959) and the world’s first woman Prime Minister.
The dominant role she played in national and international politics needs to be recalled, especially in the context of the United Nations Human Rights Council allegations of war crimes and human rights violations said to have taken place during the last stages of the Civil War against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), one of the ruthless terrorist outfits in the world.
It is worth recalling the exemplary leadership of the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa in resisting pressures and influences of powerful western nations. Equal to the task was the then Defence Secretary Gotabaya Rajapaksa, the present president and younger brother of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
New Resolution on Sri Lanka
Against this backdrop, let me focus attention on recent UNHRC sessions in Geneva. Subsequent to Sri Lanka’s withdrawal from the co-sponsorship of Geneva Resolution 30/1 following a decision by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, a new resolution had been presented by a core group of nation led by Britain, obviously with the renewed intention of referring the matter to the International Criminal Court. It aims to penalise high ranking officers of Sri Lanka’s armed forces and the Head of State for “sins uncommitted”.
The new resolution adopted by the UNHRC on March 23 has been hailed by Amnesty International and the Tamil diaspora. Of the 47 member-states in the Geneva Council, 22 voted in favour of the resolution while 11, including China and Russia, opposed it. Fourteen member-states abstained.
The voting pattern makes a fact clear that there is a division of opinion among the member countries with a majority of 25 member-states either opposing or remaining silent.
The deliberations during the Geneva sessions and the views expressed by the delegates implicitly indicate an emerging conflict between Geneva and Colombo. The stand taken by President Rajapaksa and Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena exemplifies Sri Lanka is a sovereign independent state, although this cannot be said of the poor presentation made by the Sri Lankan delegate in Geneva. His presentation indicated that Sri Lanka has failed in the art of diplomacy. It is not out of place here to recall what renowned political analyst Harold Nicolson wrote on diplomacy. He said diplomacy needs “tact and intelligence”. No wonder, Sri Lanka, unlike in the past, has been suffering setbacks in the conduct of foreign affairs in contrast to the “foreign policy golden era” during which foreign policy was aptly handled by eminent ministers such as A.C.S. Hameed and Lakshman Kadirgamar and professional diplomats like H.M.G.S. Palihakkara, academics turned diplomats like Prof. Shelton Kodikara, Prof. Stanley Kalpage, Dr. Malalasekera and Dr. Gamani Corea. They reaped the benefits of what they sowed in the field of international relations. In fact, Sri Lanka’s relations with the international community were on a strong footing beginning from the SWRD Bandaranaike era. It had always been a WIN-WIN situation.
These observations are made with the intention of highlighting a salient feature in the strategies followed the Sri Lankan government during the Presidency of Mahinda Rajapaksa.
He never gave in to or wilt under pressures from Western nations. With academic integrity, I could say I happened to be an eyewitness of the final battle which was rightly dubbed a “Humanitarian Mission” by Mahinda Rajapaksa. It is unfortunate that the world view differs from the truth. There is a big gap between the reality and the allegations. One of those who saw the defeat of LTTE terrorism in the proper perspective is Lord Naseby of Britain. Based on diplomatic dispatches from the British High commission, he revealed that no more than 4,000 LTTE rebels had lost their lives at the final stage of the battle, although the allegation was that up to 40,000 had been killed. We saw on television how thousands of civilian had been rescued from the LTTE which was using them as human shield.
This is only a brief sketch of the ground situation which most Sri Lankans witnessed. Nevertheless, the video clips taken by terrorists and pro-LTTE non-governmental organisations depicted a wrong picture of the humanitarian mission undertaken by the Sri Lankan armed forces.
Without much ado, it is suffice to say that the Geneva Resolution is depicting a picture not acceptable to the Sri Lankan government and 25 members of the UNHRC.
The passage of the Geneva Resolution explicitly indicates the division of opinion in the apex world forum on human rights, amidst strong protests from Sri Lanka, nuclear powers China, Russia, Pakistan and others, with India, Japan and several countries remaining silent.
What matters here is not the counting of the heads as to who voted in favour or against or abstained but the implementation of the resolution that threatens to undermine Sri Lanka’s sovereign independent status and the unitary state concept. With the betrayal of the previous Yahapalana Government – the duo, Little Boy and Fat-Man, (the codenames of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki) who went to the extent of co-sponsoring the Geneva Resolution against their own country have been rejected by the people in two major elections in 2019 and 2020. The Rajapaksa government is now back with Gotabaya Rajapaksa as president and Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister.
In this, there is a strong message for political leaders: They should not commit treacherous acts even if they come under severe external pressures. The ground situation in Sri Lanka speaks of the fact that there is every possibility of people taking to the streets, if the UNHRC attempts to implement the proposal without the consent of the Rajapaksa government. President Gotabaya has already declared that Sri Lankans will never allow any power to interfere with our sovereign independent status. When addressing the issue I raised above, the Geneva Resolution seeks to create troubles again in Sri Lanka by putting the country. Conflicting situations are likely to arise with China, Russia and Pakistan supporting the Sri Lankan government’s stand while India will take an opposite stand. The situation emerging from attempts to implement the Geneva Resolution is not going to be a win–lose or lose-win one.
Hence, the Present direction of the Geneva Resolution needs to be re-directed towards a Win-Win outcome and it can come only with the consent of the Sri Lankan Government. Such a move requires “tact and intelligence”. We need to handle the Geneva Resolution through experts trained in international relations and diplomacy. Misfits either in Geneva or Colombo would likely to make the resolution more complicated beyond imaginable level. What I am trying to emphasise here is that the resolution from the outset has been misguided, misdirected and handled mostly by misfits on both sides. As an academic and professional, I propose that we need to make attempts to turn back the wheel to achieve a WIN-WIN outcome through a friendly dialogue or negotiations acceptable not only to the parties concerned but also to the international community.
(The writer is Former Senior Professor of History and International Relations, University of Colombo. He was also a former diplomat and attorney-at-law)