Prioritising challenges

Thursday, 21 February 2013 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Events are moving apace as the countdown for the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) begins. The release of the latest Channel 4 movie has sparked strong reactions from all parties and has set the stage for a diplomatic battle ahead.

Predictably the Sri Lankan Government has insisted that the events shown in this third Channel 4 video are inaccurate and fabricated insisting that it is a ploy by pro-LTTE organisations to discredit the army. Even former Army Commander Sarath Fonseka has gone on record stressing that former LTTE leader’s family, especially his son, was never in Army custody. Several LTTE groups will also protest at the UNHRC and there were reports that arrangements have been made to screen the documentary during the sessions, which will likely elicit a very emotional response.  

India’s belligerent south has insisted that these pictures demand further investigation by an international committee while the central government is yet to decide on its stance at the UNHRC.  

The US has reiterated its concerns over Sri Lanka’s human rights record and plans to proceed with a second resolution against Sri Lanka. Perhaps the most positive element in this is that it will not be a punitive resolution, as the US has already announced and will only be a “procedural” measure to strengthen the previous document that called for the Government to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).  

The only silver lining in this otherwise growing dark cloud is that the European Union has not yet clearly stated whether it will vote for the US resolution. True, the EU foreign ministers have placed Sri Lanka among a group of countries including Sudan, Mali, Iran and Syria that has concerns over human rights. And the EU has pledged to push for greater accountability at the UNHRC. But the document released on Monday does not at any point specifically outline EU support for the US resolution. This has also been confirmed by the EU head of delegation Ambassador Bernard Savage.  

So far the Government has given every indication that the team to UNHRC will be low key. So far Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN Ravinath Ariyasinghe has been given the responsibilities of representing the country with a group of about 10 people, but the External Affairs Ministry and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe are reported to be working extensively behind the scenes.

However given the mounting tide of events, it may be prudent to take stronger diplomatic measures, particularly since it is very likely that the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CMAG) will be heavily influenced by the events that unfold at the UNHRC. The Government is aware that the real fight is not at UNHRC but in not losing the opportunity to host the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) and the prestige that comes with it. So far most of the Government’s measures have been targeting CHOGM rather than the UNHRC.

Dealing with the dual challenges of CMAG and UNHRC will test the Government’s diplomatic capacity to the limit and put Sri Lanka’s international reputation on the line. It can only be hoped that by concentrating more on retaining CHOGM the Government has not put the cart before the horse.