Posted on May 22nd, 2021


Resolutions against Sri Lanka are not a new phenomenon at the UNHRC said Pathfinder Foundation. Sri Lanka was handled at the UNHRC by Canada in the 1980s and by USA and UK in the present century.

Way back in 1987, while the armed conflict against the LTTE was at its infancy, Sri Lanka had to face a hostile resolution in the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), the forerunner to HRC. On that occasion, the initiative to take Sri Lanka before the CHR was made by Argentina at the bidding of India. Sri Lanka had voted in favor of the UK in the United Nations General Assembly on the Falklands issue and Argentina was angry. Sri Lankan delegation headed by H.W.  Jayewardene and Ambassador Jayantha Dhanapala succeeded in amending the resolution and allowed it to be adopted, said Pathfinder.

For many years, thereafter the Sri Lanka issue was dealt with out of public sight, by a professional Foreign Secretary and professional Ambassadors acting together under an agreed plan of action, said former diplomat Sarala Fernando.

In 2006 when the UK first broached the notion of a resolution against Sri Lanka , as Permanent Representative in Geneva, my instructions from Colombo were to make sure there was not even a reference in the official records, continued Sarala.  I remember briefing all the regional groups and the OIC on Sri Lanka’s fight against terrorism. I remember ending my statement with the words: if any draft on Sri Lanka was tabled, my instructions are to call for a vote and vote against”. No draft was officially tabled and all the lobbying done out of the public gaze.

Today, Sri Lanka is represented in both New York and Geneva by first time political Ambassadors who despite fine speaking competency, have little experience of how the UN works. The need for useful contacts and compromises, concluded Sarala.

USA was very displeased when Sri Lanka won the Eelam war.USA wished to retaliate and also negate the victory. USA therefore brought war related Resolutions against Sri Lanka at the   UNHCR. Resolutions were passed in 2009, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2021.

The Resolution of 2009 set the tone. ((A/HRC/S-11/2) It said, Reaffirming the respect for sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence  of Sri Lanka and its sovereign right to protect its citizens and combat terrorism, Welcoming the conclusion of hostilities and the liberation of hostages, Welcoming recent reassurance given by the President that he does not regard a military solution as a final solution,  and his commitment to a political solution with implementation of the 13th Amendment to bring about lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka, UNHRC welcomes the resolve of the Sri Lankan authorities to begin a broader dialogue with all parties  to bring about a political settlement  and lasting peace based on respect for the rights of all the ethnic and religious groups inhabiting it and invites all stakeholders concerned to actively participate in it.

The Resolutions put forward at the UNHRC sessions got stronger and stronger and there was much resentment, but Mahinda Rajapaksa and his team did not take up this matter of adverse resolutions forcefully in Geneva, said critics. Sri Lanka never had the muscle to combat these said Palitha Kohona.  But Sri Lanka did not give in, either.

UNHRC’s lovingly prepared Resolutions met with fierce resistance in Sri Lanka .When the first USA backed Resolution was passed in 2012, there was an immediate uproar in Sri Lanka. The public strongly objected to the west to meddling in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka, under cover of Human Rights.

 Committee of Vice Chancellors of Sri Lanka condemned the Resolution as interference in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. Ceylon Petroleum Corporation Engineers Association also condemned it.

There were demonstrations.   Media reported that the ‘cream of the business community’ thronged to Nelum Pokuna roundabout to condemn the Resolution. There were representatives from John Keells Holdings, Aitken Spence, Sri Lanka  Telecom, Mobitel, Lanka Bell, Dialog, Etisalat, Hilton Colombo, Mount Lavinia Hotel, Commercial Bank, Hatton National Bank   and others.

Rev Cyril Fernando,  of the Archdiocese of Colombo, said that the action was tantamount to a direct intervention against Sri Lanka’s  independence and sovereignty and an insult to the intelligence of the people.  

Dew Gunasekera observed that UNHRC, unlike the Security Council, is only a talk shop. And I do not think this resolution will have any major effect on us. The US has passed so many resolution against Cuba and they have complete ignored them, he said. India also joined in. Indian newspaper Daily Pioneer said that Sri Lanka owes explanation to none.

Resolution 30/1 of 2015, which followed, was hooted at in Sri Lanka.  It was unheard of,      said critics, for a state to actually co-sponsor a resolution which said that its  own  army had committed war crimes. The resolution was ridiculed so much that Yahapalana government was unable to act on it.

 The next government, Pohottu, quickly withdrew from the Yahapalana   position. Pohottu  completely rejected allegations of “war crimes” leveled against the armed forces.

At the 43rd Session  in 2020 Sri Lanka told UNHRC that in co-sponsoring Resolution 30/1, the previous Government violated all democratic principles of governance – it declared support for the resolution even before the draft text was presented – it sought no Cabinet approval to bind the country to deliver on the dictates of an international body – there was no reference to Parliament on the process, undertakings and repercussions of such co-sponsorship – more importantly the Resolution itself included provisions which are undeliverable due to its inherent illegality, being in violation of the constitution, the supreme law of the country”.  

Pohottu then faced Resolution 46/1, which came up for   approval in Geneva in February 2021. Sri Lanka said   that the Resolution violated Article 2(7) of the United Nations Charter, and also went beyond the mandate given in United Nations Resolution 60/251. UNHRC has no right to interfere in the affairs of a sovereign country in this manner.   Pohottu also observed  that UNHRC  cannot collect evidence relating to International Humanitarian Law or to support judicial proceedings in any member state.  It lacks both the authority to do so and also the competence.

HR officials found  Sri Lanka  a hard nut to crack. The   sponsors of the  2021 resolution  saw that though a horse could be led to water, it couldn’t be forced to drink, admitted Don Manu.  

Chandraprema observed that when   Commissioner Zeid Al Hussein presented his report to UNHCR in September 2015, in Geneva, he was aggressive, judgmental and arrogant but   when he visited Sri Lanka in Feb 2016 he took ‘a humble and flexible position.’  He made a ‘tail between the legs speech’ and left. Probably because he saw that public opinion was against Yahapalana government. Ban KI Moon who visited in Sept 2016 dodged questions at the press meeting. He uttered platitudes and fled when the awkward question started coming in, said Chandraprema.

Sri Lanka had considerable support at the UNHRC. Cuba became a member of UNHRC in 2013.  Cuban ambassador to Sri Lanka told the local media, that is would support Sri Lanka at the UNHRC sessions. Cuba will remain with Sri Lanka. We will co-operate with Sri Lanka and help in the best possible manner. Sri Lanka needs co-operation and support. Sri Lanka has better social development indicators than other countries, said  Cuba.

 In 2013, 14 nations including Russia, China, Venezuela, Iran issued a joint statement objecting to the report on Sri Lanka (A/HRC/22/38) issued by the UNHRC in that year. We are of the view that the High Commissioner has clearly exceeded her mandate in this report by making recommendations and pronouncements. These recommendations are arbitrary, intrusive and of a political nature”, the group said.

When the 2014 resolution on Sri Lanka came up for discussion, at Geneva, the representative for Pakistan had said that that no self respecting country would agree to the intrusive measures advocated in this resolution. He wanted to know how this resolution was to be funded and whether the funders were the same as those who had sponsored the resolution.  If so the whole process will be tainted. He got no   answer to his inquiry.  India had also warned that an intrusive approach would undermine national sovereignty.

In 2015 Pakistan and Russia spoke against Resolution 30/1. They could not oppose the resolution as Sri Lanka had accepted it.  In 2021    Philippines said the text of the Resolution was driven by simplistic generalizations of complex conditions on the ground”. Pakistan said that the draft resolution fails to acknowledge the long struggle of the Sri Lankan people and government against LTTE (Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam),” and shies away from a call for accountability of the LTTE and its sponsors and financiers”.  (Continued)

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