UNHRC draft resolution: Govt. playing with fire
Posted on September 26th, 2015

Courtesy Island

The government should take great care with the American sponsored draft resolution that was tabled before the UNHRC on Thursday especially because they have decided to make it a consensus resolution. Dayan Jayatilleke recently said that his father Mervyn de Silva – a notable expert in international affairs – regarded consensus resolutions as a case where if an enemy wants to pass a resolution against you saying that you are a no-good scumbag, you tell the enemy, no don’t get it passed all on your own, I’ll join you so that we both can agree that I am a no-good scumbag! With the draft resolution that is on the table in Geneva at this moment, Mervyn’s description of a consensus resolution has gained a new validity.

When the USA put out their first draft resolution, our Ambassador to Geneva, Ravinatha Ariyasinha, said at an informal consultation last Monday that “emphasizing excessively on the criminal justice aspects, makes the resolution imbalanced. It would be more helpful to have a holistic approach when making recommendations in this resolution on promoting reconciliation in Sri Lanka.” Ariyasinha also decried the use of ‘intrusive language’ in the resolution. It is very clear that the government is looking for a ‘coup’ in Geneva which they can sell in Sri Lanka and gain some political mileage among the Sinhala people by claiming that it is because of this government that the country was taken off the hook in Geneva.

In fact at the informal consultation mentioned earlier, Ambassador Ariyasinha was very forthright on this issue, telling the delegates present that what he expects is “understanding, patience, assistance, encouragement, support, trust, goodwill and faith.” And further that at a time when a new Government is adopting a different path to that which was followed before January 8, “the expectation is, naturally, that there would be a similar change in tone, tenor, and even strategy on the part of the Council as well.” That is the diplomatic way of saying ‘get off our backs and give us some breathing space’!

This writer has on earlier occasions, posed the question as to what the government wants to do, to rule this country or set their own backsides on fire and run around in a blind panic until it’s time for the next election? If we go by Ariyasinha’s representations in Genva and the claims being made by members of the government here, the government wants to do the former and not the latter and they are looking for help from their foreign friends to avoid having to upset the apple cart. However even the amended draft of the resolution is not helping them to do that. Some of the operative paragraphs in the draft resolution need closer scrutiny.

Operative paragraph 1 of the draft resolution generally calls on the government to implement the recommendations of the recently released OHCHR report on Sri Lanka. Among the recommendations in that report is the setting up of a hybrid war crimes court with the participation of foreign judges and prosecutors, making the Sri Lankan Supreme Court subordinate to the Human Rights Committee in Geneva (Not to be confused with the Human Rights Council – the Human Rights Committee is a body set up under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.) Some of the other recommendations are to purge through an administrative process of vetting, the armed forces of officers suspected to have violated human rights if there is no evidence to press charges against them in the hybrid war crimes court. Another recommendation in the OHCHR report is that Sri Lankans suspected of having violated human rights be prosecuted under universal jurisdiction by any UN member state that cares to do so. When a consensus resolution supported by Sri Lanka gives legitimacy to the recommendations made in such a report, the government too is bound by them.

Even though government politicians including Ranil Wickremesinghe and Mangala Samaraweera have been claiming that the draft resolution now tabled before the UNHRC has been watered down, nothing of the sort has really happened. Little wonder that Dayan Jayatilleke, himself a former Geneva hand, is calling the government names and suggesting that they are not friends of the West, but their slaves! There are other dangerous provisions in the resolution. The Sri Lankan government has put forward a plan to establish a range of judicial and non judicial mechanisms and all these are to have the freedom to obtain financial and material assistance from ‘international partners’ (meaning Western nations) and the OHCHR. What this means in effect is that one part of the criminal justice system in this country will be on the payroll of foreign powers.

Though the government claims that the UNHRC draft resolution has agreed to a domestic mechanism, that is not true. Operative paragraph 6 clearly calls for the participation of foreign judges and prosecutors in any judicial mechanism that the government is going to set up. This is the hybrid war crimes court without the name. The resolution also calls upon the government in operational paragraph 8 to institute ‘security sector reforms’ to remove from office any officer suspected of having violated human rights. This is the purging of the armed forces that was recommended in the OHCHR report as well. The draft resolution has also called for the review and repeal of the Public Security Ordinance and the Prevention of Terrorism Act, as did the OHCHR report before it.

Operational paragraph 18 requests the OHCHR to assess progress on the implementation of its own recommendations and to present an oral update to the UNHCR next year. When such an operational paragraph appears in a consensus resolution, it amounts to Sri Lanka being willingly being put under OHCHR supervision.

It will be wise for the government to ensure that they don’t agree to anything that would create needless political turbulence in Sri Lanka. Last week we drew attention to the fact that while the government was saying one thing in Sri Lanka about CEPA and the Hanuman bridge, the Indian press was reporting something totally different as being the position of the Sri Lankan government on those matters. We see much the same thing happening with regard to the UNHRC resolution.

UNP shortchanged

In addition to these incendiary missiles originating from the West and from across the Palk Straits, a potential volcano has been taking shape locally as well. The allocation of institutions to ministries by gazette notification last week has confirmed the marginalization of the UNP in the government. When the ministers were named it was obvious that the best portfolios had gone to President Maithripala Sirisena’s SLFP cronies and that the UNP had got only the crumbs. This point was confirmed when the institutions coming under the various ministries were gazetted last week. An analysis of the results of the last presidential election and parliamentary election taken together will reveal that of the 6.2 million votes that Maithripala Sirisena got in January, well over two thirds were solid UNP votes after discounting all the votes received by the TNA, the JVP, the SLMC, and the groups led by Rishard Baithiudeen, P.Digambaram and Mano Ganesan.

So if any ‘national government’ is being formed, it would stand to reason that the UNP should in numerical terms get at least a matching two thirds of the portfolios while everyone else should share the remaining one third among themselves. Qualitatively too, the UNP should have got the best ministries because they represent the larger body of voters in the yahapalana government and they have more people to look after not to mention the fact that they were out of power for nearly 20 years and have arrears to cover. But what we see in the present cabinet is a situation where the non-UNP ministers are in the majority with 24 members of the cabinet while the UNP has only 23 members.

It is only when the ministries and functions that the UNP has got is seen in juxtaposition with what the non-UNP ministers have got, that one notes how lopsided and unjust the distribution has been. We have tabulated for the convenience of readers, the ministries and institutions that the UNP has got in contrast to those held by non-UNP ministers. It should be borne in mind that UNP voters who were out in the cold for nearly 20 years, will not get much benefit from the ministries held by non-UNP ministers, because they have their own constituencies to cater to. On the UNP side, Ranil Wickremesinghe, Ravi Karunanayake, Kabir Hashim, Akila Viraj Kariyawasam, John Amaratunga, Tilak Marapone, Mangala Samaraweera, Lakshman Kiriella, P.Harrison, Wijedasa Rajapakshe, Malik Samarawickrema, Gayantha Karunatillake, Talatha Atukorale, Sajith Premadasa D.M.Swaminathan and even Chandrani Bandara have got passable ministries. The Ministry of Women’s and Children’s Affairs is hardly a top portfolio, but it would seem quite sufficient for a person like Chandrani Bandara. Likewise Tourism and Christian Affairs would seem adequate for John Amaratunga. On the UNP side, what is meant by getting a ‘good ministry’ means something just enough to maintain the self respect of the recipient.

Others on the UNP side were not as lucky as those mentioned above. The so called ‘primary industries ministry’ allocated to Daya Gamage seems more like a deliberate attempt to insult him. It has only the Department of Minor Export Crops under it. Gamage after all is the national organizer of the UNP and a man who kept the UNP financially afloat during a good part of its sojourn in the opposition. Sagala Ratnayake’s Southern Development Ministry which has only the Galle Heritage Foundation also looks like a deliberate insult. Why should Ratnayake have a ministry with no functions when Chandima Weerakkody of the SLFP has the petroleum ministry? With the Home Affairs and Public Administration ministry being split between Vajira Abeywardene and Ranjith Madduma Bandara, both have ended up with less than they deserve. On balance, it can be said that Madduma Bandara is the worst affected of the two. Though he has the public administration ministry, it’s kernel has been given to Vajira Abeywardene. As the president’s brother chairs the main institution coming under the Telecommunications and Digital Infrastructure Ministry, Harin Fernando too has not got a worthwhile portfolio.

In contrast to this, all the SLFP ministers have got good portfolios. There would be slight issue in the case of Navin Dissanayake who has been named the Minister of Plantation Industries but does not have any plantations under him. Instead he has a whole lot of research institutions and plantation crop development boards under him. But even he has no less than 15 institutions, which alone is sufficient to salvage his self respect. One person who has been grossly insulted and even politically undermined on the non-UNP side is Rauff Hakeem who has been named the Minister of City Planning and Water Supply and given two institutions including the Water Supply and Drainage Board. In contrast to him, Rishard Baithiudeen has been given 36 institutions under the more important Industries and Commerce Ministry. Yet the most important Muslim leader is Hakeem and not Baithiudeen. The latter got only 26,297 preference votes in the Vanni district.

To deny justice to a party representing millions of voters who had been out of power for nearly 20 years is not just unfair but downright dangerous because one never can predict how that pent up pressure and resentment will manifest itself.

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