Way forward after cosponsoring US resolution

Monday, 28 September 2015 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Sri Lanka’s decision to cosponsor the US-backed United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution over the country’s human rights record is both timely and a mark of the statesmanlike acumen the public have come to expect from the Yahapalana Government and its leadership – the administration’s myriad shortcomings notwithstanding.

In a significant shift from its hitherto antagonistic position on Sri Lanka, vis-à-vis its conduct towards the latter part of the war against a brutal terrorist organisation, the international community has softened its stance on the issue with the tabling of a fresh draft of the resolution, last Thursday, entitled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka.’

That the reason for this shift was the unexpected change in Government earlier this year to one which promised reconciliation and good governance was not lost on anyone. The original draft of the resolution says, “This report is being presented in a very different context to the one in which it was mandated. The election of a new President and Government on a platform centred on good governance, human rights and the rule of law provides a historic opportunity for Sri Lanka to address the grave human rights violations that have wracked its past.”

And a historic opportunity is exactly what it is. The tabled resolution contains, among other things, several key amendments to the initial draft, going as far as to drop the controversial talk of a hybrid court, even though the final document remains firmly committed to its call for an international role in the recommended domestic mechanism to address issues of accountability. 

This is a far cry from the more hands-on approach by the international community that had been previously recommended and is a golden opportunity for Sri Lanka to set the record straight – on its own terms.

Even a cursory glance at the document reveals that it could be beneficial for Sri Lanka in the long term. The draft endorses the creation of independent judicial and prosecutorial institutions within Sri Lanka, noting the “importance of participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the Special Counsel’s office of the Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorised prosecutors and investigators”. 

Of special significance is the resolution’s stance on the Sri Lankan military. The draft notes that “a credible accountability process for those most responsible for violations and abuses will safeguard the reputation of those, including those within the military, who conducted themselves in an appropriate manner with honour and professionalism”. While far from ideal, it is nevertheless a victory for Sri Lanka’s armed forces in the face of a relentlessly venomous propaganda campaign carried out by certain sections of the Diaspora community following the end of the war.

Sri Lanka’s decision to cosponsor the resolution will, therefore, it is hoped, silence critics and extremists on both sides of the ethno-political divide and help the country finally move on from the horrors of war as a free, pluralistic and, above all, sovereign nation.