President Sirisena’s UN pantomime
Posted on September 29th, 2018

by  C.A.Chandraprema Courtesy The Island

Before President Maithripala Sirisena went to the UN this time, there was some hype about a pronouncement he was going to make which would get our war heroes ‘off the hook’. What President Sirisena finally ended up saying in Sinhala in NewYork addressing the UN General Assembly was that as an independent country we do not want any foreign power to exert influence on us and that we want to appeal to the international community to give us the room to resolve the problems that we are facing so that the right of the Sri Lankan people to find solutions to their problems is respected. There are many people in this country including this writer who feel that if the foreign powers did that, Sirisena would not be the President today. The US Ambassador in Colombo Michelle Sison was up to her ears in the regime change project in Sri Lanka.

Be that as it may, one has to question whether President Sirisena’s apparent attempt to have Sri Lanka liberated from the very forces that brought him into power was an honest exercise. Firstly, Sri Lanka is not facing any issue in the UN General Assembly or even in the UN Security Council and talking to those bodies is a useless exercise. The UNGA has not passed any resolution against Sri Lanka nor is it expecting Sri Lanka to fulfill any commitments. Even though the UNGA is the body that brings all the UN member states together at the highest level, other bodies like the Security Council and the UN Human Rights Council function independently and a statement made in one body does not influence the other bodies.

Sri Lanka’s issue is with the 48 member UN Human Rights Council which has passed resolutions against Sri Lanka and is expecting us to fulfill certain undertakings and is breathing down our necks. When President Sirisena addresses his appeal to the wrong body we should assume that he does not want anything to come of his appeal but was simply trying to hoodwink the people back in Sri Lanka the way some politicians make dummy phone calls to various people in authority in the presence of gullible constituents which they never expect to be implemented. Very often there would not be anyone listening at the other end either. But the duped constituent would go away with the feeling that his MP had personally spoken to the relevant authorities on his behalf.


The UNHRC resolutions

The Obama administration in the USA sponsored three resolutions against Sri Lanka in the UN Human Rights Council in 2012, 2013 and 2014. In March 2014, during the last year of the Rajapaksa government, the US sponsored resolution failed to muster a clear majority in the 48 Member UNHRC. The US sponsored resolution received only 23 votes in favour while 12 abstained and 12 voted against it. The entire delegation of one member state had simply disappeared before the vote was taken and so only 47 delegations were present to vote or abstain. On all three occasions when the Obama administration presented resolutions against Sri Lanka, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, the countries that abstained spoke openly in the Council in favour of Sri Lanka and abstained from voting only due to US pressure. The US failed to obtain a clear majority in the Council in 2014 despite having a delegation of about 100 officials from the State Department working on rallying the vote against Sri Lanka.

The 2014 resolution passed only due to a technicality where in the UNHRC, abstentions are not counted and only votes for or against are counted. In Sri Lanka we are used to the requirement that something has to be passed with a majority of the number of representatives including those not present, which means that you have to get more than one half of the total number of representatives in that body. In our country, only the lowest order of legislation can be passed with just a majority of the MPs who may happen to be present in Parliament at the time the vote is taken. In the case of such laws, the only thing that imbues them with legitimacy is the fact that even though they may not have got a clear majority in Parliament, they have been brought by a government that does have a clear majority in Parliament.

In the UNHRC however, there is no government and resoutions should in fact have the requirement that they should be passed with a clear majority to be considered a proper resolution of that body. It was only after the yahapalana government came into power in 2015 that the Obama administration was able to salvage their self respect because their client government in Sri Lanka decided to co-sponsor along with the USA, a resolution against itself. This resolution like the resolution of 2014 which passed only due to a technicality was called “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka” and was adopted without a vote on October 1, 2015.

The 2015 UNHRC resolution against Sri Lanka which is popularly known as Resolution 30/1 contains the following undertakings which Sri Lanka has accepted by co-sponsoring it. The first thing resolution 30/1 does is to accept the report prepared by the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights on Sri Lanka which accused our armed forces of war crimes and the government undertook to implement the recommendations contained in the OHCHR report. The specific undertakings given were as follows:

1.      To establish a commission for truth, justice, reconciliation and non-recurrence, an office of missing persons and an office for reparations. Each such mechanism was to have the freedom to obtain financial, material and technical assistance from international partners, including the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

2.      To establish a judicial mechanism with a special counsel to investigate allegations of violations of human rights with the participation in a Sri Lankan judicial mechanism, including the special counsel’s office, of Commonwealth and other foreign judges, defence lawyers and authorized prosecutors and investigators.

3.      To reform Sri Lanka’s domestic law to ensure that it can implement effectively its own commitments including the trial and punishment of those most responsible for the full range of crimes under the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations relevant to violations of human rights.

4.      To introduce effective security sector reforms to ensure that no scope exists for retention in or recruitment into the security forces of anyone credibly implicated through a fair administrative process in serious crimes involving human rights violations, including members of the security and intelligence units.

5.      To review the Public Security Ordinance Act and to review and repeal the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and to replace it with anti-terrorism legislation in accordance with contemporary international best practices.

6.      To bring about a political settlement by taking the necessary constitutional measures to fulfill its commitments on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population; and to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the Thirteenth amendment to the Constitution of Sri Lanka

Absence of a Battaramulla style proclamation

Even though Resolution 30/1 has given undertakings of such a serious nature, President Sirisena has never condemned it in public. One may ask how he can condemn something that was done by his own government. However as he has done exactly that on many occasions and he can always claim that he was not kept informed about what the foreign minister at the time was doing. It was this newspaper that exclusively reported that the Sinhala translation of Resolution 30/1 which was posted on the foreign ministry website at the time had been deliberately doctored to keep out the most harmful parts.

In 1987, it was Prime Minister Premadasa who presented the Provincial Councils Bill in Parliament even though he opposed the Indo Lanka Peace Accord of which the PCs Bill was an integral part. Yet as soon as he became President, he demanded that the Indian troops leave Sri Lanka in what became known as his Battaramulla proclamation. He did not do it diplomatically via the usual channels but at a public meeting.

We have not heard a Battaramulla style proclamation from President Sirisena with regard to UNHRC Resolution 30/1. He has not even sent a diplomatically worded letter to the UN Human Rights Commissioner about it. Indeed he has not even taken the matter up with the UNP even though he has gone on record stating that the UNP destroyed the economy. Why can’t he say publicly that the UNP messed up the UNHRC matter as well? It is a manifest fact that his faction of the SLFP had little or nothing to do with that UNHRC resolution so he can make such a pronouncement with minimal political harm to himself. If he genuinely wants Sri Lanka to be left alone to manage her own affairs, the first thing he should do is to see how Resolution 30/1 can be defanged and removed from the UNHRC agenda.

The main sponsor of this resolution, the USA, is no longer in the UNHRC and they have even cut off funding to that body. When they left the UNHRC, the USA condemned it as a “cesspool of political bias”. The very thing Sri Lanka has been saying for years when the USA was sponsoring resolutions against us in that body and twisting the arms of vulnerable countries to vote against Sri Lanka. The UNHRC was a cesspool that was well liked by the Obama administration.

Since he is still the President, Sirisena should force the UNP to put forward a counter proposal to defang Resolution 30/1 and since there is a question whether the UNP can be trusted to do it properly, he could perhaps replace the UNP foreign minister with one of his own Ministers to see that the job is done properly. We all recall that when UNP minister Arjuna Ranatunga was stalling the privatization of the Hambantota Port, President Sirisena moved him out him and appointed Mahinda Samarasinghe in his place who carried out the privatization of the port.

It may occur to some that Mahinda Samarasinghe may be the ideal candidate to do Sirisen’s bidding as the foreign minister. But there is the suspicion in many quarters that Mahinda Samarasinghe may join the UNP at the next elections, once Sirisena’s time runs out because President Sirisena’s political career will come to an end after the next presidential election. So Samarasinghe may not be the ideal candidate. Be that as it may, President Sirisena should not try to hoodwink the masses by making patriotic noises in the UN General Assembly which does not result in any concrete steps being taken to solve the problems that his government created for Sri Lanka in the UNHRC.

The fact that President Sirisena was engaging in dissimulation was clearly to be seen in the pronouncements he made before members of the Sri Lankan community in New York. While saying that he will not allow any war heroes to be hunted down he said that ‘some’ members of the armed forces have been arrested because they have been implicated in various crimes that had nothing to do with the war. However it is exactly this arrest and incarceration of armed forces personnel for long periods of time that everybody in Sri Lanka refers to as the persecution (dadayama) of the armed forces. Sirisena told the Sri Lankan community in the USA that nobody has been arrested and jailed for having fought against the LTTE.

Persecution of the armed services

It takes only commonsense to realize that if some interested parties want to arrest and jail members of the armed forces, nobody will say that they are going to be arrested because they fought the war. The allegations will always be about murders and abductions and the like. Members of the armed forces will be arrested on suspicion and kept in jail for long periods of time whether there is evidence or not. Later they are released on bail. When sessions of the UNHRC come around there are always a spate of arrests and soldiers are arrested and kept in jail for months on end on the flimsiest of pretexts. This is a matter that Sirirsena himself spoke out against when Admiral Ravi Wijegunaratne the senior most soldier in the country and the serving Chief of Defence Staff was to be arrested.

So when President Sirisena says that nobody has been arrested for fighting the war but people have been arrested on suspicion of other crimes, he is in fact justifying the arrest of those armed forces personnel. When it came to the arrest of the Chief of Defence Staff, the position taken by the President was that if there is evidence against the CDS a case should be filed against him but that he should not be arrested and kept behind bars. One would think that the very least that the President could have done was to make that the general policy when it comes to all armed forces when it comes to any matter dating from the time of the war. The ‘evidence’ that the CID has been presenting to court to have armed forces personnel arrested and jailed has been called into question in many quarters.

One does get the feeling that President Sirisena did not extend the leeway he gave Chief of Defence Staff Ravi Wijegunaratne to all armed forces personnel because this government needs to make exhibition arrests when UNHRC sessions come up in order to keep the foreign masters happy. So what does President Sirisena hope to gain by this dishonest posturing in the UN? At the commencement of his speech in the UN General Assembly, President Sirisena said that formerly, the position of executive President in Sri Lanka had the powers not of a king but an emperor and that he had reduced these powers and given them to Parliament. And that therefore the Sri Lanka of today is not the Sri Lanka of three and a half years ago.

Mercifully, he did not mention the Rajapaksas. When one heard his first few sentences, one expected to hear the name of the Rajapaksas being mentioned. In any event, whether Sri Lanka has a powerful executive or a powerful Parliament is an internal matter in Sri Lanka and not something to be discussed in any forum whether multilateral or bi-lateral. In the UN General Assembly which has been formed as a forum for all the nation states, these internal matters are specifically superfluous. By mentioning such matters in the UN General Assembly, President Sirisena has announced to the whole world that Sri Lanka is a slave state and that the government of Sri Lanka which he heads is a quisling of the West.

Another thing that President Sirisena told the Sri Lankan community in New York is that small countries like Sri Lanka cannot afford to antagonize organizations like the UN. However the UN by itself is powerless and its officials are for the most part paid servants of the West. If any sucking up has to be done it has to be to the paymasters, not to the servants. The most important paymaster is the USA. Up to now, President Sirisena has got two photo opportunities with the present paymaster Donald Trump but little else. If President Sirisena wishes to be the person who got the UNHRC matter swept under the carpet, he should have initiated a dialogue with the present powers that be in the USA. But it does not appear that any move has been made in that direction.

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