eid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, has recommended that the Council defers its consideration of his ‘comprehensive report on the implementation of Resolution 25/1’, i.e. the one on Sri Lanka and allegations of rights abuse in the final phase of the war which ended in May 2009. The deferment request is ‘for one time only,’ the High Commissioner interjects in his plea.
Now this is good news to Sri Lanka, at least when one considers the pressure exerted in consecutive sessions of the Human Rights Council over the past few years. It gives breathing space, one could argue. Most importantly, the request comes consequent to a lengthy appeal made by Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera to Al Hussein where his attention is drawn to various election pledges made by President Maithripala Sirisena as well as additional promises regarding the setting up of a domestic mechanism to investigate abuse-claims.
The Minister’s letter in effect binds Sri Lanka to a course of action which can yield far-reaching and positive results with respect to restoring a rights-environment that enhances the value of citizenship. This has to be applauded. Most importantly the letter mentions actions envisaged on matters that are even broader than what has largely been the focus of anti-Sri Lanka moves in Geneva in recent years. One might liken it to painting the country into a corner, internationally, but this is a corner that successive governments have avoided for several decades, all to the detriment of the citizens. Again, applause is called for.
There are however two matters that are cause for worry, over and above Al Hussein’s foreboding ‘one time’ clause. The first is the promise of a virtual carte blanch for anyone and everyone interested in subverting Sri Lanka’s national interest in the guise of ‘Good Samaritanism’ in investigating and reporting. We are talking after all of a post-conflict context where former supporters of terrorism are engaged in a sabre-rattling mood and moreover a context where self-acclaimed pundits on Sri Lanka strut around and make noises clothed as journalists and rights advocates.
South Asia is a volatile region as big powers jostle for the control of a region. Terrorism is always a threat that countries can pooh-pooh only at their peril. Foreign Minister Samaraweera has a long history of feigning naiveté about such things. He doesn’t have much to lose, but the country cannot afford to deliberately walk into a cul-de-sac where it is left with little or no security options.
Admittedly, these concerns are not easy to incorporate into this kind of letter, but the conspicuous absence of mention in pre and post election statements is worrying. Countries have paid dearly for complacency. We need not.
The second problem with this letter is the failure to pledge a full investigation on all allegations of all manner of rights violation from the beginning of the conflict to the end. Insertion of such a time-caveat would have strengthened Sri Lanka’s case in Geneva because no one can raise reasonable objection. Truth and justice are important. Imposing a ‘period’ for review implies that violations that took place before and after are less serious and that the victims are lesser citizens and therefore less deserving of truth, justice and closure.
Samaraweera’s letter and Al Husseins response notwithstanding, the lacuna referred to above can still be addressed and indeed should be addressed so that Sri Lanka’s ‘rights cover’ is more comprehensive and as inclusive as it can get. Anything less will leave both citizen and national interest vulnerable to attack, from within and without. The new Government can ill afford to be careless. It has to move quickly to fill the relevant deficits.