The United Nations Human Rights Council has issued harshest ever warnings to Sri Lankan leaders over the implementation of its previous resolutions. The resolutions mainly demanded Sri Lankan government to investigate into the allegations of war crimes and other human rights violations allegedly committed by both the security forces and the LTTE.
The demands were first put forward by the former UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon - six days after the end of the war in May 2009. Then, in 2012 the first resolution required Sri Lankan government to implement the recommendations of its own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Now they are coming with warnings of sanctions and investigations by the International Criminal Court (ICC).
The report presented by the United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to the UNHRC on last Wednesday has recommended the harshest ever measures since 2012 against Sri Lankan authorities. She recommends that the “member States can apply targeted sanctions, such as asset freezes and travel ban against State officials and other actors credibly alleged to have committed or be responsible for grave human rights violations or abuses.”
Apparently responding to the demands made by the Tamil leaders in December, the report further recommends the member States to “take steps towards the referral of the situation in Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court” while requesting, as done earlier in 2019, to “actively pursue investigation and prosecution of international crimes committed by all parties in Sri Lanka before their own national courts, including under the principles of extra territorial or universal jurisdiction.”
The government’s response to the latest threat is not clear. Foreign Secretary Professor Jayantha Colombage had told during an interview with the Daily Mirror that the government was awaiting the text of a consensual resolution which is being worked on by the core group in Geneva - the UK, Canada, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro. He also has stated that Sri Lanka had agreed that the text of such a consensual resolution would be decided by both sides - the core group and Sri Lanka.
Given the fact that Sri Lanka has withdrawn its co-sponsorship to the 30/1 resolution last year, the government cannot be expected to agree upon contents of a similar resolution. Similarly, it is unlikely that the UNHRC would back down from its stance on investigation into human rights violations by both belligerent parties during the war, after coming such a long way from 2009 when the Sri Lankan government first committed for accountability during a meeting between the President Mahinda Rajapaksa and the UN Secretary General. Hence, unless one party or both parties compromise their stances, possibility of passage of a consensual resolution which seems to be a co-sponsored resolution is minimal.
Prof. Colombage is correct when he alleges that the UNHRC was talking much about what happened during the past year rather than what happened during the war. Also it is true that some powerful countries use the UNHRC to coax smaller countries to toe their line using human rights. The claim by the Sri Lankan authorities that the country had to engage in a battle with the LTTE, the most ruthless terrorist outfit in the world, which had been designated by the same powerful countries as an international terrorist organization is also true. Their claims that seats of democracy are being attacked in so-called powerful countries and allies of those countries violate human rights unabated are too undeniable. But the reality is that once those countries target another country they would proceed with it.
What if there wouldn’t be any agreement between the Sri Lanka and the UNHRC, leading to the UNHRC and its member countries proceed with the punitive actions against the Sri Lankan authorities? That would sometimes be helpful for the current administration in local politics, but country would be humiliated internationally. Therefore, steps that the government is going to take are decisive.