SL wants reference to forced cremations of COVID-19 deceased removed in UNHRC resolution

Thursday, 4 March 2021 02:35 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  • Govt. says reference is “obsolete” because policy was reversed
  • Debate raging over burial site for COVID-19 dead after Iranaitheevu protests
  • China, Russia, Pakistan, The Philippines, Iran support Lanka at informal discussion on draft
  • Lanka wants operative paragraphs 5, 6, 7 scrapped in toto  
  • Govt. lambasts Bachelet’s office, expresses scepticism about funding, staffing
  • UK asserts independence of OHCHR
  • India mum; Japan says resolution prejudges Sri Lanka’s PCoI to review other commissions

The Government has demanded sweeping changes to the draft resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council, including the deletion of the reference to forced cremations of coronavirus deceased during informal discussions on the draft text this week.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva C.A. Chandraprema insisted that the co-sponsors remove the reference to mandatory cremations, because it was “obsolete” after Government had reversed its policy.

The Government also demanded the removal of operative – or actionable – paragraphs 5, 6 and 7 of the draft resolution to Promote Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka that will be put to a vote at the 47-member UN Human Rights Council later this month.

The Sri Lankan Delegation participated in a virtual informal consultation on the draft resolution, on Monday (1) and Tuesday (2) on the sidelines of the Human Rights Council’s 46th Session.

Operative Paragraph 5 notes persistent failures of domestic mechanisms in Sri Lanka to achieve justice, while Operative Paragraph 6 of the draft resolution calls on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to consolidate, preserve and analyse evidence of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law for future accountability processes. The Government also took strong objection to Operative Paragraph 7 of the draft resolution which expresses grave concern about emerging trends of a deteriorating situation for human rights in Sri Lanka.

Observers said that together, Ops 5, 6, 7 represented the most substantive parts of the draft resolution and were unlikely to change based on Government demands.

During the informal session, the Government also launched into a scathing attack on the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). Slamming High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s office as lacking in independence, Ambassador Chandraprema said the OHCHR got two thirds of its funding from member states sponsoring the resolution on Sri Lanka, and 50% of its staff were also drawn from these countries. The Sri Lankan delegation maintained that Bachelet’s stinging report was entirely based on false information in the media.

The remarks drew a sharp response from the UK, the main sponsor of the resolution, which asserted that the OHCHR was an independent office.

The Chinese delegation made a strong intervention on Sri Lanka’s behalf at the informal consultation. The Chinese delegation blasted Bachelet’s report for being a ‘remote assessment’ without reliable information from the ground in Sri Lanka.

However, the OHCHR has a presence at the UN HQ in Sri Lanka. Inputs from the ground in Bachelet’s report came from the OHCHR’s own in country team in Colombo, UNHRC observers noted. China also criticised the draft resolution for over-emphasising accountability rather than reconciliation.

The Japanese delegation expressed serious concerns about the cost of building capacity at OHCHR to gather evidence on Sri Lanka’s violations without access to the country. Instead, Tokyo proposed monitoring of Sri Lanka’s human rights situation by a joint UN program – including UNDP and other UN agencies based in Colombo. Japan also criticised the draft resolution’s Operative Paragraph 5, saying it prejudged a presidential commission of inquiry only recently established to review the findings of former commissions looking into human rights violations.

Daily FT learns that India remained silent throughout the two informal sessions on the Sri Lanka resolution.

Pakistan, Russia, The Philippines, and Iran expressed support for Sri Lanka without going into specifics about the text of the draft resolution.

Denmark, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Norway and Lichenstein expressed strong support for strengthening the language of the draft resolution. The Denmark delegation responded to Japan’s concerns about an additional cost burden to OHCHR, saying that the best solution would be to set up an evidence gathering mechanism independent for Sri Lanka of the OHCHR with a separate mandate and separate funding.

Responding to China’s concerns about reconciliation not featuring heavily in the draft resolution as the text currently stands, the UK delegation noted that since 2012, UNHRC resolutions on Sri Lanka, accountability had been an area of focus.

A third informal consultation on the UNHRC draft resolution will take place early next week, Daily FT learns.