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SL heading for diplomatic face-off in Geneva

20 Feb 2020 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      


 The Government of Sri Lanka intending to do away with the resolution 30/1 adopted by the UNHRC and  adopted in 2015 is likely to trigger an outcry from  human rights groups



  • Then President Maithripala Sirisena also held similar views and took a swipe at the decision

  • Still, its policy on Sri Lanka’s human rights issues has not changed though the U.S. officials emphasise less on it



Foreign Relations Minister Dinesh Gunawardane will fly to Geneva next week to indicate the Government’s interest in doing away with the resolution 30/1 adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC). This is a resolution   adopted on October 1, 2015 with co-sponsorship of Sri Lanka under the then regime headed by former President Maithripala Sirisena and former Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe;   committing to probe allegations of rights abuses during the civil war. 

It says, “The UNHRC welcomes the recognition by the Government of Sri Lanka that accountability is essential to uphold the rule of law and to build confidence in the people of all communities of Sri Lanka in the justice system, 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,’ 

Sri Lanka   co-sponsored the resolution in 2015   committing to fulfill a range of measures dealing with human rights, accountability and transitional justice.

The previous Government’s approach to the UNHRC process was a clear departure from the practice followed by the 2010/2015 Government headed by present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa as the then President.  

Sri Lanka’s decision to cosponsor the resolution was sharply criticised not only by the then main force of the opposition led by present Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa, but also by certain bigwigs of the then administration.  

Critics of the resolution within the Government pinpointed the then Foreign Affairs Minister Mangala Samaraweera, and said co-sponsorship was his own decision taken without proper internal consultation.  Then President Maithripala Sirisena also held similar views and took a swipe at the decision which he termed as making ‘unrealistic commitments’ to the UNHRC.       

No reversal now
Besides, then Foreign Affairs Minister Tilak Marapana, who succeeded Samaraweera in the Cabinet reshuffle, also took a stance somewhat different to that of Samaraweera though both are Cabinet colleagues. Criticism was mainly about the commitment to establish a judicial mechanism with the participation of commonwealth or international judicial personnel.  This is something that warrants the amendment of the Constitution. It is not an easy task at all to bring about constitutional changes.  As such, Samaraweera came under sharp criticism for committing to do something not permissible in terms of the supreme law of the country. 

The opposition legislators who, at times, demonstrated in the Well of Parliament against the enactment of some laws such as the Office of Missing Persons Act envisaged in this resolution are back in power today.  It is obvious that they will seek a departure from the practice of the previous Government in its approach to the UNJHRC process. 

The UNHRC has extended time till March, 2021 for the Government of Sri Lanka to review the implementation of the provisions of the resolution. In between, a new Government is in place in Sri Lanka.   

The Government leaders had a special meeting on Monday to discuss the way forward

The Government leaders had a special meeting on Monday to discuss the way forward. Finally, it decided to absolve itself from commitments made by the previous rule to the UNHRC process.  The Cabinet was to ratify this decision yesterday. There is no procedure in the UNHRC process for a country to withdraw  from co-sponsorship of  a resolution.     It means that Sri Lanka now cannot seek any reversal of its co-sponsorship under the previous Government. 

Instead, it will seek the closure of the original resolution that keeps Sri Lanka under the radar of the UNHRC every now and then.  

This is perfectly setting the stage for another international battle regarding the issue. The Government is yet to   confirm its decision officially. The moment it is done, it would trigger an outcry from the co-group of countries that brought this resolution in 2015, the NGO lobbyists for human rights and the Tamil Diaspora groups that are currently active in the 
western world. 

The western countries, particularly those within European Union, await the new Government’s stand to be announced formally. Once that is done, they would get activated setting the stage for a diplomatic struggle for Sri Lanka to present its case and dispense with the resolution. 

The United States, which is the prime force behind the 2015 resolution 30/1, is no longer a member of the UNHRC. In fact, the U.S. under the administration of President Donald Trump withdrew from the UNHRC in 2018.

Still, its policy on Sri Lanka’s human rights issues has not changed though the U.S. officials emphasise less on it.  As such, one cannot expect the U.S. to back Sri Lanka in its attempt for closure of the resolution. 

Against the backdrop, the Government of Sri Lankan would launch its diplomatic lobbying spree with likeminded countries. It will primarily turn to Russia and China in this case.  The matters pertaining to the UNHRC process were discussed with Chinese Foreign Minister Wan Yi and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov when they visited Sri Lanka last month. These two ministers pledged their support to the new Government in this regard. 

Like, during the 2010/2015 period, Sri Lanka is, once again, heading for a diplomatic   face-off.  It will count on the support of the likeminded countries to succeed in the process.