China, Pakistan, Russia and the Philippines were among the countries that firmly stood by Sri Lanka during the informal discussion that took place on March 8.
The supporters of the resolution are not prepared at any cost to agree to any domestic mechanism to deal with the issues at hand.
The US which, not a member of the UNHRC participated in the discussion and proposed changes to the Preamble Paragraph (PP) 6 to reflect the importance of power devolution.
Informal consultations were in progress up until yesterday at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on the modification of the text of the draft resolution on Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka’s rejection of the resolution sparked a debate leading to informal consultations. The core group of countries –the United Kingdom, Germany, Canada, North Macedonia and Malawi- raised voice further with steps for strengthening the language of the resolution. These groups, amply backed by the other western countries, tried to reinforce their arguments for the empowerment of the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor and report on what they called ‘accountability and human rights process’ in Sri Lanka.
On the contrary, the countries that stand by the position of the Sri Lankan government presented countered the UK-led group and proposed changes to the resolutions to recognize steps taken by Sri Lanka and to reflect its opinion. China, Pakistan, Russia and the Philippines were among the countries that firmly stood by Sri Lanka during the informal discussion that took place on March 8.
China, once again, appeared to be a key supporter of the Sri Lankan government. During the session, China asked for changes to both preamble paragraphs and operative paragraphs in a manner that would fall in line with Sri Lanka’s stand
But, on the crux of the resolution, the countries divided on Sri Lanka’s case won’t come to a common position with a vote being called in at the end. As per the practice, the UK opened the discussion on March 8 and invited comments from the states and the civil society organizations. The revised text of the resolution was put forward for discussion both on Preamble Paragraphs (PP) and Operative Paragraphs (OP) of the resolution. The supporters of the resolution are not prepared at any cost to agree to any domestic mechanism to deal with the issues at hand. Nevertheless, they are not even ready to initiatives taken by the government.
For example, as far as the changes OP 5, the UK has agreed to some minor changing in wording only. The section of the resolution refers to the commission of inquiry appointed by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.
The OP 5 says in the first draft, “Notes the persistent lack of accountability through domestic mechanisms and regrets that thedomestic Commission of Inquiry announced on January 22, 2021 lacks independence and does not include a mandate to pursue accountability for past gross violations of human rights, or for serious violations of international humanitarian law,”
But, on the crux of the resolution, the countries divided on Sri Lanka’s case won’t come to a common position with a vote being called in at the end. As per the practice, the UK opened the discussion on March 8 and invited comments from the states and the civil society organizations.
Following a proposal by Japan, the word ‘regret’ has been moved out in this instance. The UK says it made the wording more factual in this case.
In the revised text, the core group has included a few other aspects in the list of matters envisaged areas of concerns in Sri Lanka. They are primarily memorialization and freedom of expression listed among the areas of concerns envisaged under the OP 7. In this respect, memorialization is obviously a reference to cite the crackdown on war- related commemorative activities in the north as an infringement of rights. The demolition of such a memorial glorifying the LTTE within the premises of Jaffna University has created the opening for the lobby groups concerned to include this in the resolution. In this manner, the text of the language is modified by the supporters of the resolution to reflect on some incidents that happened, not during the war time alone, but during the past one year term of the present government that was formed after the presidential elections in November, 2019. The UK said it believed it was their prerogative to include such recent developments in a paragraph which express the range of concerns by recent developments.
While the UNHRC process is underway in virtual mode this time, Sri Lankan government took some initiatives to blunt criticism from the western world and to secure the support of some other countries. The reversal of mandatory cremation policy is one such step. However, the UK and others supportive of this resolution do not sound ready to recognize Sri Lanka’s approach.
The OP 8 of the draft resolution raises concerns about the burial of COVID-19 Muslim victims. It says , “Expresses further concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on freedom of religion or belief and exacerbated the prevailing marginalization and discrimination suffered by the Muslim community and that the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to mandate cremations for all those deceased from COVID-19, has prevented Muslims and members of other religions from practicing theirown burial religious rites, and has disproportionately affected religious minorities and exacerbated distress and tensions,”
The UK is not ready for the deletion of the entire paragraph except some minor changes to wording despite Sri Lanka’s insistence to do it. Sri Lanka says that this paragraph is now redundant because of the reversal of the policy in keeping with health guidelines.
US calls for reference to devolution in resolution
The United States which is not a member of the UNHRC participated in the discussion and proposed changes to the Preamble Paragraph (PP) 6 to reflect the importance of power devolution. This paragraph takes note of the enactment of the 20th Amendment to the Constitution and calls for strengthening local governance including the conduct of provincial councils.
China, once again, appeared to be a key supporter of the Sri Lankan government. During the session, China asked for changes to both preamble paragraphs and operative paragraphs in a manner that would fall in line with Sri Lanka’s stand.
Pakistan called for the inclusion of suggestions made by Sri Lankan Permanent Secretary C.A. Chandraprema in the text. Pakistan mentioned about the commission of inquiry appointed by Sri Lanka and called it a renewed commitment by Sri Lanka for promoting accountability and reconciliation. Pakistan insisted on the need to recognize them in the resolution.
All in all, the core-group is seeking through this resolution increase monitoring and reporting by the OHCHR on Sri Lanka’s situation. The UK insists that the independence of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights her office be recognized. Also, it calls for the implementation of recommendations in the reports submitted by the Special Rapporteurs who visited Sri Lanka after 2015.
However, Sri Lanka and likeminded countries view it as intrusive and against the UN resolution 60/251 that created the UNHRC. It calls for ensuring universality, objectivity and non-selectivity in the consideration of human rights and the elimination of double standards and politicization. Sri Lanka refers to this principle in presenting its case.