By Kusal Perera –
Coming March Sessions of the UNHRC is now said and accepted to be tough going for the Rajapaksas. Latest news reports say, the lead role played by President’s special envoy on human rights, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe who served in that capacity for well over half a decade, has been dropped from the list of delegates attending the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions in Geneva next month (March). A clear indication, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Prof Peiris has taken over the task of handling the UNHRC Sessions all by himself. A clear indication too, that there is division within the Rajapaksa government in how it could face the sessions this year, after it lost last March, 24 voting in favour of the US sponsored Resolution with 15 voting against and 8 abstaining.
What ever the capability of the Rajapaksa regime in handling foreign relations reasonably well, while MP Rajiva Wijesinghe, once a very close confidante of President Rajapaksa in addressing human rights issues and peace building, sounding critical of the present foreign ministry dabbling with its own people, pressure keeps building against the Rajapaksa regime in the international arena. There is stronger lobbying all round for a more “operative”, a step ahead than last year’s Resolution at the UNHRC and widespread lobbying to have the CHOGM out of Colombo.
A hurried stopover in London by Foreign Minister Prof Peiris and his supervising MP Vas Gunawardne’s troubleshooting trip to London a fortnight ago, to brief the British government on the ground situation here in diffusing pressure building up against the Colombo CHOGM, seems to have had no impact. Both former prime minister Gordon Brown MP and Foreign Secretary David Miliband went ahead with their addresses at the inaugural conference of the new Tamil alliance, the GTF held at the Commons, to urge the Sri Lankan government to embark on a “genuinely inclusive political process”. That implies, the Rajapaksas are “not genuine” in their claimed reconciliation efforts.
This is perhaps the reason, why the Tamil Diaspora and international human rights groups want an independent, international investigation into Rajapaksa government’s role in the war that was declared over, 03 years and 09 months ago. In the past months, this call has been consistently growing. A collage of media reports show, what pressure is being built around the present SL regime.
“The (UN) Secretary-General has consistently underlined the critical importance of addressing accountability in Sri Lanka through a genuine and comprehensive national process and achieving national reconciliation. We are obviously aware of the video footage and the reports about that video footage (the most recent on Prabhakaran’s son), but I don’t have any specific comment on that,” Ban Ki-moon’s spokesman Martin Nesirky said on 21 February, at a UN media briefing.
Tamil Nadu will not host the Asian Athletics Championships scheduled for July, Chief Minister Jayalalithaa said on 21 February. Sri Lanka’s participation would hurt people’s sentiments in Tamil Nadu, she said, also referring to Delhi’s responsibility in having an economic embargo on SL.
In Malaysia, its parliamentary caucus on the Sri Lanka conflict has resolved to pressure the Commonwealth to “boot out the South Asian country (SL) from the organisation and to tell the Malaysian government to boycott this year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo” said a news report.
Here in SL, for the first time, there is a surge of protest from the affected people themselves, represented by Bishop Dr. Rayappu Joseph and some 133 Christian and Catholic religious leaders. An extremely large collective in terms of Sri Lanka’s size and numbers, these religious leaders signed a letter to all 47 members of the UNHRC. They want the UNHRC to use last year’s UN resolution on LLRC to check government action on the ground.
The US State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said 20 February, the US was “deeply concerned about allegations of violations with regard to humanitarian law and human rights” and reiterated it would introduce a follow up resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. One that is expected to have more focus on how the LLRC recommendations should be implemented.
A very confident Tamil parliamentarian said, “The resolution this time, is as good as passed.” Voting at the UNHRC is not like voting at our presidential elections, said another Opposition parliamentarian. “Its free, fair and voluntary” he added in lighter vein. How will the voting go this time ?
Definitely and for certain, the Jacob Zuma government in South Africa (SA) is with the US Resolution, though they have gone totally against Israel on the Palestinian issue. How much can they influence countries around them is also a crucial factor for the Rajapaksas.
SA marked 15 years of official diplomatic relations with China. “The South Africa-China bilateral relationship is one of the most dynamic partnerships of its kind”, is how SA political establishment term their “China link”. China at present is South Africa’s largest trading partner. South Africa’s historical link with India is also there to work, while Japan, Malaysia and Taiwan already rank among the foremost sources of foreign direct investment in SA. Another new trend is that China has started cultivating a link with the TNA. A TNA delegation visiting Beijing and the Chinese Ambassador visiting Jaffna, is definitely a new intrusion into the domain that was given over to the Rajapaksas, as their own. China would still vote for the Rajapaksas no doubt. But for the future, the important question is, “will they pull their weight” to bail out the Rajapaksas ?
Meanwhile India, the loner from Asia that voted with the US sponsored resolution last March, would not work to be alone this March. Delhi is under pressure to work towards Asian company. Malaysia that abstained, is tipped to follow India this time, while Bangladesh that voted with the Rajapaksas is no more in the UNHRC. India’s influence with Indonesia is another to keep a tab on. Last March, the Indonesian delegation in an explanation on their abstaining at voting said, they “deeply regret that the delegation was not able to support the resolution” because they think prior technical assistance should have been provided by the sponsors of the resolution to the SL government, in implementing post conflict measures. This March, they don’t have “reasons to regret” on those grounds.
With the US taking it upon them to have the resolution at the UNHRC, the Latin American and Caribbean region may leave Cuba alone, with Rajapaksas. A similar trend has been provoked by the Rajapaksas themselves in Middle Eastern countries that are clumped into a large Asian region. The Saudi Arabian kingdom recalled their Ambassador to SL as tit for tat, in the fallout on the Rizana Nafeek murder. The latest round of very aggressive and violent campaigning against Muslim business and publicly ridiculing and insulting Islam, said to have the tacit support of section of the Rajapaksa government and a “nod” by the Rajapaksas themselves, will have its own negative projection in most Muslim countries.
Western Europe & Other States and also the Eastern European States may not have much change, except for the fact that EU has already declared they would go with the US resolution.
Last March the voting was;
Austria, Belgium, Benin, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Italy, Libya, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, United States and Uruguay, (24) in favour of the US sponsored resolution.
Bangladesh, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritania, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Uganda, (15) against it.
And Abstentions (8): Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Senegal.
This March, if Angola, Botswana and Malaysia that abstained last year, fall in line as expected with Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries including Indonesia, turning against the Rajapaksa regime, the tally may go beyond 30 countries out of the 47 members in the UNHRC voting for the US resolution and against SL and the Rajapaksas.
As the Geneva sessions get going, can the Rajapaksa regime’s hand picked team with Prof Peiris leading it, handle this lobbying effectively and deliver what the Sinhala constituency would wish to have, or will they come back with the slogan, “Imperialist conspiracy against our Sinhala nation” and to a lobby that would want Prof Peiris removed as a failure ? That most probably is the outcome next March. The Opposition would be slandered as “traitors and conspirators” too. But, will India also be labelled an “imperialist stooge” ? The JVP once called for a boycott of Indian products, from a very Sinhala racist platform. The regime would have to have its own answers for the most probable defeat for now. Its any way not a long wait, for UNHRC Sessions to conclude and the final count to be had.