ERASING THE EELAM VICTORY Part 25c
Posted on August 30th, 2021

KAMALIKA PIERIS

The Eelam victory has led to an interesting development in United Nations policy at the United Nations Secretariat. The failure to control Eelam War IV in Sri Lanka   has led the UN to adopt a new global policy called Rights up Front”, which places human rights at the center of the UN’s work.

In 2012, the UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon, appointed an Internal Review Panel on United Nations Action in Sri Lanka ,  known as  the Petrie Report (2012). The Petrie Report found a systemic failure” in the UN response during the final months of Sri Lanka’s conflict, evoking comparisons to UN failures in Rwanda in 1994 and Srebrenica in 1995.

In 2013, in direct response to the Petrie Report, the Secretary-General launched the Human Rights Up Front (HRuF) initiative with a detailed Action Plan (updated March 2014). This called on the UN system to play a strong role to prevent human rights crises. https://interagencystandingcommittee.org/system/files/detailed_hruf_plan_of_action.pdf

The Rights Up Front initiative calls for collective responsibility across the whole UN system to prevent serious human rights violations. It calls for identifying risks of human rights violations at an earlier stage, leveraging the wide range of UN mandates and capacities to respond, and ensuring senior UN officials at the country level are supported by UN Headquarters (UNHQ). 

This could be interpreted as a license to meddle.  It could be considered a way of getting round chapter 7 of the UN Charter which says that the UN shall not intervene in matters that are within the domestic jurisdiction, except upon a Security Council finding that       there is a threat to peace, breach o peace or act of aggression.

This new initiative led to changes in the core human rights responsibilities of the Resident Coordinators functioning in UN member countries.   The Resident Coordinator was originally linked to the United Nations Development Fund activities in that country. But in 2014, the Resident Coordinators job description was revised to match the new policy for Human Rights set out in the Secretary-General’s Human Rights up Front initiative.

The Guidance Note on Human Rights for Resident Coordinators &UN Country Teams gives a list of the main Human Rights violations, the RS should look out for. This booklet was issued by UN Development Group.  See https://unsdg.un.org/sites/default/files/UNDG-Guidance-Note-on-Human-Rights-for-RCs-and-UNCTs-final.pdf

This new role has permitted the UN representative to intervene in purely internal matters of Sri Lanka.  UN Resident Representative Hanaa Singer wrote to Prime Minister in November 2020, asking him to end the cremation of all Covid-19 victims. Singer criticized Sri Lanka for what she called a discriminatory policy adopted as regards disposal of bodies. She said she had heaps of requests from the Muslim community, as well as others.

 The letter was copied to Foreign Minister, Justice Minister and Health Minister. The media also received copies of the letter hours after it was delivered to Prime Minister and Cabinet ministers. The letter received significant international media coverage.  Eelamists thought the matter would be useful at the March 2021 sessions of the UNHRC.

Leelananda de Silva has commented on this matter. There has been a new development in the role of the UN Resident Coordinator, observed Leelananda de Silva writing in October 2019. For the past 50 years or so, the UNDP Resident Representative has also been the UN Resident Coordinator. It was an office involved with development”. The UNDP funded the post of UN Resident Coordinator in all developing countries where they were present. 

A few months ago, the UN Secretary General delinked the role of the UN Resident Coordinators from the UNDP and brought it under Secretary General. The office of Secretary General of the UN is a political one. By changing the role of the RC, the Secretary General has now a largely political representative in Colombo.

Sri Lanka needs to be more aware of this changed role of the UN Resident Coordinator. What does this official do? And what kinds of reports does this official send to the Secretary General?

I understand that recently there was a request from the UN Human Rights office in Geneva, to appoint a representative in Colombo, and that was turned down by the Government. Now with this appointment, the UN has got a political office on the ground here. The government should be aware of his precise role in this country, observed Leelananda.

Leelananda also looked at protocol. UN personnel in Colombo are expected to meet government officials at an appropriate level. In the 1970s, when I was Director of Economic Affairs in the Planning Ministry, I met the UN Resident Coordinator and the UN Resident Representative in my office from time to time. The Resident Coordinator hardly met the Permanent Secretary or a Minister.  The Prime Minister they never met unless on some ceremonial occasion. In New York or Geneva, High level UN officers   meet our Ambassador. They do not meet first or second secretaries of our Embassy.

Now, the practice has changed. Recently I saw some photographs of the UNDP Resident Representative (not the UN Resident Coordinator) meeting Sri Lanka‘s President and Prime Minister. This UNDP representative is a mid-level official of the UN. He does not have official access to President and the Prime Minister. This means that   High level UN officers do not need to seek an appointment with Head of state, the junior officials can attend to the matter for them.

There is another problem when protocol is discarded, said Leelananda. When UN officials in Colombo can conduct their business at the ministerial level, why should they bother with government officials? They can go above their heads.

Those interested in using Human Rights for political purposes are now asking that the UNHRC, based in Geneva, be elevated to a higher rank so that it could attack countries more strongly.

Universal Rights Group”, said in 2016 that    the UNHRC should be elevated to the status of a main UN organ. At present there is no primary UN organ dealing directly with human rights issues. The work of the Council is not well known or understood in New York at present.  Universal Rights Group  is a small, independent think tank based in Geneva, dedicated to strengthening global human rights.

Universal Rights Group  asked Bichet and Rutz (2011) to study the relationship between the UN Human Rights Council and the UN Security Council. Bichet and Rutz reported that contact between the two was very limited. UNHRC must be better connected to UNSC to fulfill its role,  they said.  UNHRC needed to link more strongly with its parent body, UN General Assembly and the UN Security Council.  

Bertrand G. Ramcharan, former Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, pointed out in 2016 that at present the UNSC is reluctant to interact formally with human rights investigators. He suggested that the Human Rights Council Special Procedures Group should communicate directly with the UN Security Council,  when there are violations of human rights that might threaten international peace and security.

The UNHRC special committees are at present able to meet the UN Security Council informally and brief the group. This is taking place at present under the Arria formula. , but this is not sufficient, said HR devotees. Arria-formula” meetings are convened at the initiative of a member of the Council not the President and do not constitute an activity of the Council. They are not held in the Security Council Consultation Room. Not all UNSC members attend the briefings, and there is no official record.   (continued)

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