By Dayan Jayatilleka –
There’s good news and bad news. Going by the media, Sri Lanka is to be represented by a Committee at the crucial Geneva UNHRC session and Rear Admiral (retired) Dr Sarath Weerasekara is on it. That’s good news if you are a critic or opponent of Sri Lanka and bad news if you are the foreign Minister who is (hopefully) leading the team.
This is how boorishly Weerasekara views and addresses the matter.
“…We would like to tell the UNHRC in the light of the current global pandemic – the Covid 19 – please let us to do our own business and not to interfere with Sri Lanka’s internal affairs. Besides, it will not be a wise move to pass a resolution criticizing or dictating to Sri Lanka on what to do. At the current UNHRC session, there is no doubt that a resolution against Sri Lanka will definitely split the 47 member countries participating in the sessions at a time when the world is going through one of the most dreaded and unprecedented health challenge.”
Does Weerasekara not know that in this time of pandemic, indeed a week or so ago, both the UNHRC and the UN Security Council passed resolutions on Myanmar, against the military coup and calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, with no adverse effects visible on either UN body?
If Sarath Weerasekara’s notion of “not to interfere with Sri Lanka’s internal affairs” were to be taken seriously, there would be no UN Human Rights Council. Why does Sarath Weerasekara think that Mahinda Rajapaksa and Vasudeva Nanayakkara packed suitcases full of documents and headed for the UN Human Rights Commission in Geneva during the Premadasa Presidency? Was their lobbying in Geneva not a call for “interference with Sri Lanka’s internal affairs”? What Weerasekara fails to recognize is the obvious: there are far worse crimes than interference in internal affairs and far more important things than absolute non-interference in internal affairs. The UNHRC is one of the places established (among the others being international courts) in which such matters can be aired which why Mahinda Rajapaksa went there as an Opposition MP.
Weerasekara takes his cue from the disgraced Donald Trump:
“The UNHRC is doing nothing on human rights but entirely entangled with politics. That is why the US withdrew from the world body in June 2018 charging that it was a pool of cesspit with politics. When the US quit the UNHRC, the US ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said UNHRC was a “cesspool of political bias” that targets Israel in particular while ignoring atrocities in other countries and added that the UNHRC was the world’s most inhumane regimes continue to escape scrutiny. “The council continues politicizing and scapegoating of countries with positive human rights records in an attempt to distract from the abusers in their ranks. For too long the human rights council has been a protector of human rights abusers and a cesspool of political bias,” she charged.
Should I say anymore to justify our decision to withdraw from the 30/1 UNHRC resolution when its co-sponsor, the US quit the UNHRC. The departing comments that have been made by the US run along with the assessment of Sri Lanka on the UNHRC. It also gives a legitimate right to Sri Lanka to withdraw from the world body.” (ibid)
Doesn’t Weerasekara know that Trump is no longer the President of the USA and the arguments of his ambassador Nikki Haley have been utterly rejected by the Biden-Harris administration and most especially by the new US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken? Doesn’t Weerasekara know that quoting the Trump line would only discredit and isolate Sri Lanka internationally, since it has no traction and indeed has generated an allergic reaction as it were in Washington DC itself?
He also says that the Trump-Haley line “[It] also gives a legitimate right to Sri Lanka to withdraw from the world body.” Which obviously means withdraw from the UNHRC. Does Foreign Minister Gunawardena know that his Cabinet colleague is advocating such a suicidal line for Sri Lanka?
Weerasekara trashes the 13th amendment and the Provincial Councils at a moment when India’s support is vital for Sri Lanka at the UNHRC. Furthermore, he does so on the basis of utter ignorance:
“No one including the Tamils or Muslims in Sri Lanka demanded Provincial Councils until the 13th Amendment to the Constitution was thrust upon us under the Indo – Sri Lanka accord in 1987. As you rightly said, my personal opinion is that the PCs are a waste of public funds and a kindergarten to political aspirants to ride the political ladder at the cost of public funds. Our basic law or the Constitution must be applied to the entire country under the concept of ‘One Country – One Law’. If the 13th Amendment enacted in full, there will be 9 separate laws to 9 provinces in addition to Police, land and monetary power. This not only violates Sri Lanka’s Constitution but compromises the territorial integrity, national security and affects the economy.”
He obviously does not know the history of devolution/autonomy-based attempts at settling the Tamil issue, PRIOR to 1987 and the 13th amendment, ranging from the Bandaranaike-Chelvanayakam pact of 1957 which enabled Regional Councils to be set up across district boundaries and amalgamating districts, through Annexure C of 1983/84, up to the Political Parties Conference of June-July 1986.
Despite the explicit statement of the Indian Minister of External Affairs Dr Jaishankar on his visit to Colombo, Sarath Weerasekara displays an attitude that is quite unhelpful as Sri Lanka lobbies India for support at the UNHRC.
“…Therefore, we have no reason to believe that India will poke into our domestic affairs in anyway. I have no doubt that India would under no circumstances ignore to take into account that Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and capable of taking care of its domestic affairs. The proposed new Constitution will address the issue of power devolution in a rather meaningful and beneficial manner.” (ibid)
What if India takes his statement at face value and asks Sri Lanka to find support for itself, without India’s help, because India recognizes that “Sri Lanka is a sovereign country and capable of taking care of its domestic affairs”? He also signals that the forthcoming Constitution will put an end to the 13th amendment and the system of Provincial Councils, which is a negative signal to give India and the UNHRC.
Sarath Weerasekara is obviously unaware of what President Mahinda Rajapaksa pledged in the two Joint Statements of May 21st and 23rd 2009, with the Government of India and the United Nations Secretary-General respectively. It was quite precise and quite unlike what Weerasekara thinks it was.
This is what Weerasekara says about what President Rajapaksa pledged:
“Not indeed (sic). President Rajapaksa did not give any such undertaking to Premier Modi or Ban Ki Moon when they visited Sri Lanka after the conclusion of the war but he indicated Sri Lanka’s willingness to look into any grievances exclusively affect the Northern Tamils if there is any. There is no MoU or a pledge as such given to any party by Sri Lanka to go beyond the 13th Amendment but GoSL is more than willing to address any grievances that affect only the Tamils or any other community for that matter.”
But this is what President Rajapaksa actually promised, as per the official (GoSL) record:
“…President Rajapaksa expressed his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, as well as to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, to further enhance this process and to bring about lasting peace and development in Sri Lanka.”
“…Sri Lanka reiterated its strongest commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, in keeping with international human rights standards and Sri Lanka’s international obligations. The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law. The Government will take measures to address those grievances.”
What does Weerasekara think is meant by “his firm resolve to proceed with the implementation of the 13th Amendment, AS WELL AS to begin a broader dialogue with all parties, including the Tamil parties in the new circumstances, TO FURTHER ENHANCE THIS PROCESS…? (my emphasis -DJ) What happens when you “proceed with the implementation of the 13th amendment” and “further enhance this process”?
What does Weerasekara understand by “The Government will take measures to address those grievances”, when that sentence immediately follows and is the response to the preceding sentence, namely “The Secretary-General underlined the importance of an accountability process for addressing violations of international humanitarian and human rights law”?
The saying goes “with friends like these who needs enemies?” With Ministers with this level of understanding on the Sri Lankan team going (virtually) into the UNHRC session this time, does Sri Lanka need adversaries?