Sri Lanka

Acid test UNHRC resolution beckons for Sri Lanka

Voting on resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC session today is likely to delay by few hours, according to sources in Geneva said. Voting on Sri Lankan resolution will be taken mid morning, Geneva time sources said.

Widely viewed as an acid test for the Sri Lankan President, the resolution is set to take place today at 09:00 CET (GMT+1), 1.30 pm Colombo time March 23.

Analysis

The vote on a critical resolution against Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva was postponed to Tuesday, as Colombo stepped up efforts to garner international support ahead of the voting which is being seen as an acid test for President Gotabaya Rajapaksa.

The Sri Lanka resolution will be actioned at 09:00 CET (GMT+1), March 23. You will be able to watch, with a 2 minute delay, here: http://webtv.un.org/live/ .

The vote on the draft resolution titled ‘Promotion of Reconciliation Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ was to be taken on Monday but officials in Geneva said it has been postponed to Tuesday owing to some scheduling issues, the Daily Mirror newspaper reported on Monday.

Sri Lanka was defeated at three consecutive resolutions at the UN rights body when Mr. Gotabaya’s elder brother and incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa was the country’s president between 2012 and 2014.

The government of Gotabaya Rajapaksa had officially withdrawn from co-sponsoring the previous resolution undertaken by the previous government. It had called for an international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both the government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the final phase of the near-three-decade-long civil war that ended in May 2009.

Potential prosecutions

The passage of a UN resolution could open the door for prosecutions of military and government figures over their roles in ending a 37-year separatist war that ended in 2009.

In January, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet called for the International Criminal Court to investigate the conflict and urged sanctions against top generals and others accused of war crimes.

Bachelet accused Sri Lanka of reneging on promises to ensure justice for thousands of civilians killed in the final stages of the war.

Call for support

Sri Lanka has been assured of support from China, Russia and several Muslim countries including Pakistan, officials said.

Ahead of the voting on the resolution, President Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda made phone calls to world Muslim leaders.

President Gotabaya spoke to Secretary-General of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) Yousef A Al-Othaimeen while Prime Minister Mahinda telephoned Bahrain’s Deputy King Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa on Sunday.

The Jeddah-headquartered 57-nation bloc of Muslim-majority countries is the second-largest inter-governmental body after the UN.

Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena told reporters over the weekend that the whole resolution was politically motivated particularly by the U.K..

“Sri Lanka has made progress with preserving human rights with our own programme of work hence the international community must assist us,” he said.

“We are trying to defeat the false accusations levelled against us, and many friendly countries have joined hands with us in this. We hope that India too, will support us this time,” Mr. Gunawardena said.

The draft resolution calls upon “the (Sri Lankan) government to ensure prompt, thorough and impartial investigation, and if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international human rights law”.

Failed domestic initiatives

Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights, in her report on Sri Lanka last month indicated that nearly 12 years after the end of the armed conflict, “domestic initiatives had repeatedly failed to ensure justice for victims and promote reconciliation. Despite commitments made in 2015, the current Government, like its predecessor, had failed to pursue genuine accountability processes.” 

The Indian position on elections to Sri Lanka’s north and eastern provincial councils has been reflected in the draft resolution; “to ensure that all provincial councils including the northern and eastern provincial councils are able to operate effectively in accordance with the thirteenth amendment to the constitution of Sri Lanka”.

There are expectations among the officials in Colombo that India would opt to abstain from voting.

On March 13, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Sri Lankan President Gotabaya had a telephonic conversation during which they reviewed topical developments as well as ongoing cooperation between both the countries in bilateral and multilateral forums.

Tamil Nadu factor

Ahead of elections in Tamil Nadu next month, major political parties in the State urged Prime Minister Modi on Sunday to take a stand against Sri Lanka in the UNHRC session vis-a-vis the accountability and reconciliation resolution.

Pointing to news reports that Sri Lanka was hopeful of India’s support at the UNHRC session in connection with the resolution, DMK president M K Stalin said Prime Minister Modi’s ‘silence’ over it has caused a big ‘shock’ among the Tamil diaspora and people in Tamil Nadu.

MDMK and PMK also sought India’s support to the resolution.

Mr. Stalin said India must not take a stand favouring Sri Lanka, which would be “an injustice” to Lankan Tamils.

In a statement on the UN rights Commissioner Bachelet’s report on Sri Lanka during the 46th session of the UNHRC last month, India said the assessment of the High Commissioner regarding developments nearly 12 years from the end of the conflict raises important concerns.

“The Sri Lankan government has articulated its position on these issues as well, in evaluation of these, we should be guided by a commitment to find a lasting and effective solution to this issue,” the statement said.

Articulating New Delhi’s stand, Ambassador Indra Mani Pandey, Permanent Representative of India in Geneva, had said it rests on two pillars: Support for Sri Lanka’s unity and territorial integrity, and abiding commitment to aspirations of the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, peace and dignity.

“These are not either-or choices. We believe that respecting the rights of the Tamil community, including through meaningful devolution, contributes directly to the unity and integrity of Sri Lanka.

“Therefore, we advocate that delivering on the legitimate aspirations of the Tamil community is in the best interests of Sri Lanka,” he said.

Sri Lanka minorities warn Muslim nations ahead of UNHRC vote

Minority community leaders in Sri Lanka have urged the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) members to consider the discrimination faced by minorities on the island nation ahead of a key vote on its human rights record.

The warning comes as the UN’s top rights body prepares to vote on Tuesday on a draft resolution expressing “serious concern” over the “deteriorating” human rights situation in the country.

Sri Lanka’s government has faced a slew of criticism from rights groups and regional governments over alleged discrimination against its minority Muslim population.

Of the 47 states set to take part in the vote in Geneva, several have Muslim-majority populations, including Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In particular, Sri Lanka’s decision last year to mandate that all victims of COVID-19 should be cremated sparked a backlash, with international human rights groups and UN rights experts condemning the move.

Muslim groups protested against the decision, which they say prevented them from following the burial traditions of their Islamic faith. Muslims make up about 10 percent of Sri Lanka’s population.

In February, the government ruled that the bodies of those who died from COVID-19 could be buried.

The U-turn was welcomed by the heads of some Muslim nations including Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, who visited Sri Lanka last month.

Jaffna University lecturer Mahendran Thiruvarangan said the Sri Lankan government’s decision to allow burials of the bodies of COVID-19 victims, after nearly a year, showed its “hypocrisy”.

“Muslim member countries of the UNHRC should not fall for this trap,” he said, adding that discrimination against minority groups, and polarisation of the minority community from the country’s majority- Sinhala Buddhists- have intensified since the new regime came into power.

Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa recently engaged in a two-day official tour in Bangladesh (19-20 March) where he met his Bangladeshi counterpart Sheikh Hasina.

On Sunday, the Organization of Islamic Cooperation in a statement said its Secretary-General Dr Yousef A. Al-Othaimeen received a phone call from Sri Lankan President Gotabaya Rajapaksa and discussed the ‘situation of the Muslim community and the relations between the OIC and Sri Lanka.

“Al-Othaimeen praised the Sri Lankan President’s phone call and his willingness to open up and reach out to international organizations and welcomed the decision of the Government of Sri Lanka on the right of Muslims to bury their dead in accordance with the Islamic rites,” it further stated.

Hilmy Ahamed, vice president of Muslim Council of Sri Lanka, said that the Sri Lankan government’s attempts to lobby to get support from the Muslim nations ahead of the UNHRC voting tomorrow could be successful.

“After all traditionally Islamic nations themselves are the biggest violators of human rights in the world,” he said.

Burqa ban a ‘proposal’

The government has also faced criticism from regional allies and Muslim groups after Public Security Minister Rear Admiral Dr. Sarath Weerasekara said earlier this month he signed a cabinet paper approving the banning of the burqa. He also said the government would “definitely” ban the item of clothing, which covers the body and the face and is worn by some Muslim women.null

Shortly afterwards the country’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying the call to ban the burqa was a “proposal”, that was based on the “precautionary measures” to ensure “national security”, after investigations of the Presidential Commission of Inquiry (PCoI) on Easter Sunday attacks, and that the government would take time to consider the proposal.

Minister Weerasekara told Al Jazeera that he put forward the proposal for “national security” and that the proposal was to ban all facial coverings.

“If people say that the minority groups are discriminated that is all false. Everyone- the Sinhalese Tamils and the Muslims- are living like brothers and sisters. About 52 per cent of the Tamils are living amongst the Sinhalese. Where is the discrimination here?”

“A Muslim or a Tamil can buy land anywhere and start a business but on the other hand a Sinhalese can’t go to Jaffna and settle there. So there is a sense of discrimination against the majority,” he said adding that most of the allegations of discrimination levelled against the government were “made up stories”.

Inputs from The Hindu and Al Jazeera

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