UNHRC Debate: Majority Of Countries Spoke In Favor Of Sri Lanka – OpEd
Posted on February 25th, 2021

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At the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) debate on Sri Lanka on Thursday, 21 countries spoke for Sri Lanka and 15 against, a Sri Lankan diplomatic source said.

The debate was on the Core Group’s resolution lambasting Sri Lanka for alleged rights violations and absence of accountability during the war and to date.   

China, Pakistan and Russia were among the countries which spoke unequivocally for Sri Lanka, the source said. Sri Lanka had wanted the council to reject the resolution in-toto.  India was neutral, the source said without giving details. Bangladesh was silent. But Australia made some constructive suggestions avoiding the harsh indictment which characterized the West-led Core Group’s contentions.  

The 15 countries which supported the resolution were all from the Western bloc, the source said.

This is a major achievement, from the Sri Lankan point of view. Sri Lanka has been making no bones about the fact that it has become a victim of the Big Powers’ arm twisting for achieving their geo-political objectives. Based on this understanding, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena had twice asked the 47-member Council to reject the Core Group’s resolution.

He had dubbed the resolution a tissue of lies based on unsubstantiated material largely based on the testimony of shadowy, biased and motivated sources and mere surmises.  What Gunawardena found particularly galling was the equation of a legitimate State having a democratically elected government, with a terrorist group widely known to be the most ruthless one with assassinations and senseless bombings as its hallmarks.

Gunawardena had also warned that the West, led by the US, has been using human rights as a cover to destabilize States, a tendency that has to be halted if sovereign States have to survive. He also lambasted the US-led West’s tendency to meddle in the internal affairs and institutions of sovereign States going beyond the mandate of the council and violating the UN Secretary General’s instruction to maintain credibility by eschewing bias.

Here is the operative portion of the Zero Draft of February 19, on which the resolution is based:

The resolution notes the persistent lack of accountability through domestic mechanisms and regrets that the domestic Commission of Inquiry announced on 22 January 2021, lacks independence and does not include a mandate to pursue accountability for past gross violations of human rights, or for serious violations of international humanitarian law.

It recognizes the importance of preserving and analyzing evidence relating to violations and abuses of human rights in Sri Lanka with a view to advancing accountability and decides to strengthen the capacity of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to consolidate, analyze and preserve information and evidence and develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law; to advocate for victims and survivors; and to support relevant judicial proceedings in Member States with competent jurisdiction.

It expresses serious concern over emerging trends over the past year, which represent clear early warning signs of a deteriorating human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including the accelerating militarization of civilian government functions, erosion of the independence of the judiciary and key institutions responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights, ongoing impunity and political obstruction of  accountability for crimes and human rights violations in emblematic cases” policies that adversely affect the right to freedom of religion or belief, surveillance and intimidation of civil society and shrinking democratic space, arbitrary detentions, allegations of torture and other cruel, inhuman degrading treatment or punishment and sexual and gender based violence, and that these trends threaten to reverse the limited but important gains made in recent years and risk the recurrence of policies and practices that gave rise to the grave violations of the past.

It expresses further concern that the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on freedom of religion or belief and exacerbated the prevailing marginalization and discrimination suffered by the Muslim community, and that the Government of Sri Lanka’s decision to mandate cremations for all those deceased from COVID-19 has prevented Muslims and members of other religions from practicing their own burial religious rites, and has disproportionately affected religious minorities and exacerbated distress and tensions.

It calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to ensure the prompt, thorough and impartial investigation and, if warranted, prosecution of all allegations of gross human rights violations and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including for longstanding emblematic cases.

It also calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka: to ensure the effective and independent functioning of the National Human Rights Commission, the Office on Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations; to protect civil society actors, to investigate any attacks and ensure a safe and enabling environment in which civil society can operate free from hindrance, insecurity and reprisals.

It requests the Government of Sri Lanka review the Prevention of Terrorism Act, and ensure that any legislation to combat terrorism complies with its international human rights and humanitarian law obligations.

It urges the Government of Sri Lanka to foster religious freedom and pluralism by promoting the ability of all religious communities to manifest their religion, and to contribute openly and on an equal footing to society.

It encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to continue to cooperate with special procedures mandate holders, including responding formally to outstanding requests. It also encourages the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant Special Procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the abovementioned steps.

It requests the Office of the High Commissioner to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka, including progress on reconciliation and accountability, and to present a written update to the Human Rights Council at its forty-ninth session, and a comprehensive report including further options for advancing accountability at its fifty-first session, both to be discussed in interactive dialogues.

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