UNHRC’s message rings loud and clear | Sunday Observer

UNHRC’s message rings loud and clear

Sri Lanka emerged from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva this week relatively unscathed, with the Council granting the country’s request for a two-year time period to implement the recommendations of a resolution it co-sponsored.

This is despite strenuous efforts from the Eelam lobby to exert more pressure on Sri Lanka by wooing Western nations and the United Nations hierarchy- and the lack of a cohesive policy in Colombo where two factions of the Government were pulling in different directions.

Ever since the Eelam War ended decisively ten years ago, Sri Lanka had been fighting a different kind of war, battling it out with the Eelam lobby which has cleverly used its influence with Western nations to attack Sri Lanka for what it called were deliberate human rights violations in the final phase of the war.

The previous Government under then President Mahinda Rajapaksa was successful in passing a resolution at the UNHRC shortly after war ended but since then opposed resolutions critical of Sri Lanka which were principally sponsored by the world’s only super power, the United States.

To add to Sri Lanka’s woes, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) at the time was Navanethem Pillay, a Tamil of South African origin whose bias against the Sri Lankan Government was obvious. Pillay did not even attempt to hide her prejudices in her public statements, despite the high office she held.

That equation changed slightly when the United States pulled out of the UNHRC. Now however, other countries such as the United Kingdom which sees themselves as universal defenders of human rights- despite many skeletons in their own cupboards- have taken up the United States’ task of trying to influence Colombo into expediting what it calls the process of reconciliation.

The Rajapaksa Government’s way of dealing with this was to oppose the resolutions outright. It was a flawed strategy. Countries vote at the United Nations in ‘blocs’ and little Sri Lanka, however right its stance may be, does not have the diplomatic clout to counter countries that vote according to the dictates of the United States. A succession of resolutions hostile to Sri Lanka were therefore endorsed.

This Government had a different strategy. That was to engage, initially with the United States and then with other nations and co-sponsor resolutions at the UNHRC. This gave Colombo the opportunity to modify these resolutions, so they wouldn’t be inimical to the country’s interests. Opposition parties however maintain that, in this exercise, Sri Lanka has been yielding too much to the UNHRC.

It was against such a backdrop that the sessions in Geneva unfolded this year. It doesn’t need a genius to know that Geneva would have been best handled by a united approach from Colombo, aimed at snuffing out the demands of Eelamists. Alas, that was not to be as the two factions in Government began a political tug-of-war, most likely with the intention of winning brownie points with the majority community in an election year.

The President announced that he would be sending his own delegation to Geneva and named its members. Opposition parliamentarian, Mahinda Samarasinghe, who had headed many delegations to Geneva when Rajapaksa was President, was also named in the President’s team. From public statements it was apparent that this delegation was likely to pursue a confrontational stance.

For a few days it appeared as if Sri Lanka would have two delegations. One, nominated by the President and the other, nominated by the Government’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thankfully, saner counsel prevailed. At the eleventh hour, it was agreed that having two delegations would not be in Sri Lanka’s interests. Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana was tasked with heading the team.

What was apparent at the session was that the UNHRC has not ceased its holier than thou attitude towards Sri Lanka. There was the new High Commissioner, Michele Bachelet, a former Chilean Defence Minister and President, lecturing Sri Lanka on what it should do and what it should not do.

Bachelet even took the liberty of casting aspersions on the appointment of Major General Shavendra Silva as the Chief of Staff of the Sri Lankan Army who, she claimed, was “implicated in alleged serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”. As a former President of a country and Defence Minister Bachelet must surely have known that such matters are the prerogative of the nation concerned- and not for the UNHRC to meddle with.

Bachelet also suggested that reconciliation measures suggested in the UNHRC resolution be implemented within a timeframe, knowing full well that it would be impossible to set a timeframe for such complex tasks.

Endorsing the request for a ‘time bound’ implementation strategy was the United Kingdom- and that is laughable because it is coming from a country whose Prime Minister has now got her knickers in a twist trying to implement a ‘time bound’ Brexit deal for her own country!

Bachelet was also ‘deeply concerned’ about reports of the death penalty being implemented in Sri Lanka for drug related offences- when it is still available for ‘special crimes’ in her own country, Chile, and was so when she was President of that country. Such is the hypocrisy of the High Commissioner! Bachelet’s report also demanded the appointment of a ‘hybrid’ court to inquire into alleged atrocities during the war obviously because it felt our courts could not manage that task- while at the same time being complementary of our judicial system for the manner in which the constitutional crisis late last year was resolved with the intervention of the courts.

We must hope that, at least now, the message from the UNHRC is received loud and clear in Colombo- the Council and its officials are biased against Sri Lanka, possibly the only nation which successfully prosecuted a war against terrorism and won.

It is obvious that the UNHRC’s efforts are one-sided: Sri Lankan troops are called upon to be accountable when the actions of its adversary are not being questioned at all!

As for the Human Rights Council, we must leave the last word to Nikki Hayley, United States Ambassador to the United Nations, who, explaining the decision of her country to quit the Council called it ‘a cesspool of political bias’.

The United States got that one right and Sri Lanka must learn to deal with the UNHRC as it does with a cesspit- manage it the best way it can, knowing that the stink it raises will never go away.