UNHRC triumphs over Lanka

Friday, 22 March 2013 01:23 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

  •  Resolution against Sri Lanka adopted in UN Human Rights Council with 25 votes in favour
  • India supports move; pushes for 13th Amendment and more
  • Pakistan and 12 nations including 7 Muslim countries vote in favour of Sri Lanka
  • Samarasinghe slams resolution as intrusive, warns of dangerous precedent

By Dharisha Bastians

For only the second time in its history as a UN member state, a resolution against Sri Lanka was adopted at the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva with 25 votes in favour yesterday, signalling that the country would remain on the international agenda for some years to come.

The UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev.1 aimed at pushing the Government in Colombo to make good on post-war reconciliation, devolution of power and investigating allegations of violations of humanitarian law during the final stages of the war with the LTTE, was co-sponsored by 41 countries, including the United States.

Twenty-five of the Council’s 47 member states, including India voted in favour of US-sponsored draft, with 13 states voting against and eight abstentions when the resolution came up for voting around 11.30 a.m. Geneva time.

One delegation – Gabon – was absent during the vote. Japan, which welcomed commitments made by Sri Lanka during President Mahinda Rajapaksa’s recent visit there and said it had engaged in negotiations about the language of the draft at informal meetings, abstained from voting for the US-backed resolution.

Pakistan and 12 other UNHRC member states, including Thailand, Qatar, Venezuela and Indonesia voted against the resolution.

Sri Lanka’s Head of Delegation to the UNHRC in Geneva Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe slammed the resolution as being ‘intrusive’ and ‘overwhelmingly pessimistic’. Samarasinghe said the operative paragraphs of the text were indicative of an initiative based on a politicised process.

“Our concern is: Why this preoccupation with Sri Lanka? Why is this inordinate and disproportionate level of interest in a country that has successfully ended a 30-year conflict against terrorism and has demonstrated so much progress in a relatively short space of time?” the Sri Lankan Head of Delegation charged.

He said that the resolution had “smuggled in” elements of the UN Panel of Experts report that was unsubstantiated and had been rejected by the Sri Lankan Government.

Presenting the resolution to the Council, US Head of Delegation Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe said Sri Lanka must take meaningful action in reconciliation and accountability, and address the growing concerns over the deteriorating human rights situation.

“Through this resolution, we encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), and the recommendations in the High Commissioner’s report, to take additional measures to fulfil its obligations and commitments, on accountability and reconciliation, and to address concerns on issues of rule of law and human rights in Sri Lanka. The United States stands ready to assist with this vital work,” Ambassador Donahoe said.

Also addressing the Council during the debate on the Sri Lanka resolution, the Delegation of India called on the Government in Colombo to move forward on its public commitments, including on the devolution of political authority through full implementation of the 13th Amendment and building upon it. “We note with concern the inadequate progress by Sri Lanka in fulfilling its commitment to this Council in 2009,” India’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva Dilip Sinha said.

India also reiterated its call for an independent and credible investigation into allegations of human rights violations and loss of civilian lives and urged Sri Lanka to take forward measures to ensure accountability.

Pakistan called the resolution unacceptable and said the parameters of the resolution had been completely shifted in comparison with the 2012 version. Also speaking against the resolution, Venezuela rejected what it called selectivity and double standards of the resolution initiative and said they had become increasingly frequent against developing countries. “We regret that the main co-sponsors of this resolution have turned a blind eye to the major efforts made by Sri Lanka to achieve reconciliation and its obligations to human rights.”

Minister Samarasinghe warned that the action against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC could set a dangerous precedent for other member states.

“We call upon members of this council to safeguard the paramount principles this Council stands for; which are: universality, impartiality, objectivity, non-selectiveness, constructive dialogue and cooperation and predictability, among others. Today it is Sri Lanka; tomorrow, it may be any other country in this Council which does not adhere to the political objectives of some who profess to promote and protect human rights the world over, but pursue agendas other than human rights,” he charged.

The UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka is non-binding and is referred to as a procedural resolution but brings pressure to bear upon the Government to make progress on reconciliation and accountability issues. The draft was modified at least twice before the final adopted version was tabled at the Council.

The 2013 resolution acknowledges some progress in infrastructure building and resettlement and demining but also recognises that much work lies ahead. It also welcomes the Government’s commitment to holding the Northern Provincial Council poll by September 2013. The watered down draft no longer demands ‘unfettered access’ for UN rapporteurs. The 2013 resolution is more extensive than its briefer 2012 draft.

The resolution tabled by the US is co-sponsored by Austria, Canada, Croatia, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, Finland, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malta, Monaco, Montenegro, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, St. Kitts and Nevis, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and United States of America. Nine more co-sponsors to the resolution were inserted on the floor.