A clash with UNHRC in the making

M S M Ayub (Daily Mirror)

Situation points to a future clash between Sri Lankan Government and the UNHRC as prevailed during the last Government

  • Govt. will have to cater to both these extremisms
  • President says one; Premier another and FM another
  • Government is facing a threat of isolation by the local masses as well

Considering the contradictions between the Government’s dealings with the international players in respect of human rights and its media statements issued for local consumption, one would wonder whether it is the international community or the people of this country or both or itself that the Government is going to hoodwink.

Last week the Government cosponsored another resolution on Sri Lanka at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) as it did in 2015. This year’s resolution was nothing but a move to give two more years to the Government to implement the commitments of the 2015 resolution. Therefore it was a very short resolution as the first resolution on Sri Lanka adopted in 2012 calling for the implementation of the recommendations of Sri Lanka’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Establishing a special court with foreign judges among others, was the major recommendation that had been made in the 2015 resolution.

Hence it must be very clear to anybody that the Government has again ensured its commitment to institute a legal mechanism for accountability with the participation of foreign judges, including those from the Commonwealth countries, as specified in the 2015 resolution by cosponsoring this year’s resolution.

However, it is amazing and in a way puzzling, to understand the statements made by the leaders of the Government, including President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe against the participation of foreign judges in the accountability process, while Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera was requesting more time for the implementation of the resolution.

Leaders of the Government seem to presume that the people before whom they assure that no foreign judges are allowed in the accountability process do not have access to the information about the goings on in Geneva or that the international players do not hear what they pledge to the local populace with regard to the accountability process.

When the UNHRC passed the resolution in September 2015 not a single politician in the Government opposed or disowned it. Neither Foreign Minister Mangala Samaraweera nor Ambassador Ravinatha Aryasinha, who led the Sri Lankan delegation at the UNHRC in Geneva, did agree with the US or the other countries that initiated the resolution to institute a mechanism with foreign judges, without the sanctions of the leaders of the Government.

On September 24, 2015, the day the resolution was adopted, Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe attended the 50th Anniversary celebrations of the Sri Lanka Chapter of the CIMA.

The Prime Minister in his speech said he had exchanged views with the Sri Lankan delegation in Geneva over the content of the resolution. He told the audience that Sri Lanka would co-sponsor the resolution and the inquiry would be held under the current legal framework of Sri Lanka.

However, the Prime Minister had said even while the UNHRC was in session this time that there was no room in the Sri Lankan Constitution for the inclusion of foreign judges.

When the resolution was adopted in 2015, the Government argued that it upheld the dignity of the security forces by singling out only the culprits in those forces, who violated international human rights and humanitarian laws.

When President Maithripala Sirisena returned to the country after participating at the United Nations General Assembly in the same year the Maithri faction of the SLFP had put up posters in Colombo praising him for upholding the dignity of the security forces, which apparently implied the resolution that was passed in the UNHRC a few weeks ago.  However, the situation has now changed.

One might think that Foreign Minister Samaraweera had acted on his own or gone against the wishes of the President and the Prime Minister, when he cosponsored the two UNHRC resolutions.

Whatever the contradiction between statements made by the leaders then and now, the international community would expect the Government to implement the commitments of the resolution that had been reassured by the Government this year as well.

Leaders of the Government have to institute and set in motion an Office on Missing Persons (OMP), a mechanism for “truth seeking, justice, reparations and guarantees of non-recurrence”, introduce “security sector reforms ensuring that no scope exists for retention or recruitment into the security forces of anyone credibly implicated in serious crimes involving human rights violations”, investigate all alleged attacks by individuals and groups on journalists, human rights defenders, members of religious minority groups and other members of civil society, as well as places of worship, and to hold perpetrators of such attacks to account and to take steps to prevent such attacks in the future, review the Public Security Ordinance and review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act (PTA),among others.

As the President’s faction in the SLFP faces tough competition in securing the power within the party from the faction led by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, which is playing the patriotic card, the Government would face difficult times ahead in implementing these commitments.

Already the President seems to have given in and irritated the civil society groups that helped him at the Presidential Election by expressing sympathy towards the security forces personnel arrested in connection with various crimes committed during the last regime.

However, while speaking at the Defence Services School in Kurunegala on Wednesday he said that he was not ready to make a war hero, even a suspect of the charges levelled against the security forces on the alleged violation of human rights during the war.

The situation points to a future clash between the Sri Lankan Government and the UNHRC, as prevailed during the last Government, while the Government is facing a threat of isolation by the local masses as well.

One incident involving former President Chandrika Kumaratunga, who is tasked with the reconciliation process points to the threat of isolation.

She last week told a Jaffna audience that although those who killed civilians hiding behind the war would not be condoned, the war heroes who safeguarded the country from the terrorists would not be hauled before courts and punished.

Interestingly some newspapers from both the north and south had taken her to task for her remarks.

Tamil papers highlighted her reference to the “war heroes” and one paper editorially lashed out at her describing her remarks as racist, while some in the south highlighted, what she said about those who killed civilians in the name of the war.

The Government will have to cater to both these extremisms to save itself from isolation.