The decision by the Sri Lankan Government to commence work on a country report to be presented to the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for its Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in November takes on greater emphasis given the possible implications it would have on foreign relations as well as reconciliation within the country.
The Government has assigned Plantation Industries Minister and the Special Envoy of the President on Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe to undertake initial work for Sri Lanka’s participation in the second cycle of the Universal Periodic Review that begins in October 2012.
It was also reported that Sri Lanka’s review will be held on 1 November while adoption of the report on Sri Lanka is scheduled for 5 November.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a unique process which involves a review of the human rights records of all 192 UN Member States once every four years. The last UPR for Sri Lanka was held in 2008.
The Government has insisted that it has prepared a comprehensive report that includes the work carried out by the country with regard to human rights between the period of 2008 to March 2012. The country’s report had to be submitted to the UNHRC by March 2012 to be taken up for discussion in October 2012.
The UNHRC has appointed India, Berlin and Spain to the troika that is scheduled to review Sri Lanka; countries that voted in support of the UN resolution on Sri Lanka, sponsored by the United States and adapted by the UN Human Rights Council at the 19th sessions of UNHRC in Geneva on 22 March.
India’s involvement in particular, could have serious consequences for relations between the two countries, especially since it was reported in a local newspaper that Defence Advisor Menon is expected to arrive in the island for a one-on-one discussion with the President on the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) recommendations.
The support of Sri Lanka’s neighbour is important as is the favourable progress in implementing important changes to effect reconciliation. Even though Presidential Secretary Lalith Weeratunga told media heads at the beginning of the month that an action plan would be presented by the Government in June, there is little indication of when it will be released to the public.
Sri Lanka at the last review conducted before the end of the war, had accepted to investigate all allegations of extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings and bring the perpetrators to justice in accordance with international standards.
Since the end of the war in May 2009, in addition to allegations Sri Lanka has faced on war crimes, a UN Panel of Experts appointed by the UN Secretary-General found that there was credible evidence that a number of serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law committed by the Government of Sri Lanka. Despite the Darusman report being strongly discredited by the Government it could still be presented before the UN.
Sri Lanka at the 2008 review rejected the recommendation to allow the Office of High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) to strengthen its presence in the country in order to reinforce its cooperation and monitoring on human right situation and extending standing invitations to the special procedures.
While measures to protect the country’s sovereignty have been largely successful true reconciliation is still a long road to travel on.