By Jehan Perera –
The bitterness of the pill that the government was forced to swallow once again at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva was assuaged somewhat by the support that Sri Lanka received from significant parts of the world. Despite eloquent speeches by the Sri Lankan representatives and supportive countries such as Pakistan, Sri Lanka lost the vote by an increased margin of 25 to 13 compared to the previous year. But Japan broke ranks with its fraternal Western allies to abstain from the vote. The government has also been able to take consolation from the 13 countries that voted along with it in opposition to the resolution titled “Promoting Reconciliation and Accountability” sponsored by the United States. The government has much to be grateful to the Muslim countries that voted along with it.
Pakistan’s representative in Geneva is reported to have actively lobbied with other member countries on behalf of Sri Lanka. His speech also brought out the inequitable treatment being meted out to Sri Lanka. He pointed out that the UN High Commissioner’s report went beyond the scope and mandate of last year’s UNHRC resolution and therefore any action based on it could not be conceived as “a reasonable basis for a further engagement of that country in a constructive manner.” The last resolution of March 2012 only called on Sri Lanka to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfill its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans.
The present resolution signifies a hardening of the international community’s stance on human rights issues in Sri Lanka. In comparison to last year’s resolution there is a shift away from a focus on reconciliation to a focus on accountability for past human rights violations and war crimes. The resolution noted the call made by the UN High Commissioner for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law. The resolution also stated that it “Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner, and also calls upon the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable.”
The countries that voted against the resolution, particular those from the Muslim world, would have noted that the preamble to the US-sponsored resolution affirmed that “States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law as applicable.” The Muslim countries would be most aware of how these obligations are being violated internationally when anti-terrorist and regime-change actions are taken in their parts of the world. The Sri Lankan government has taken the position that it ended the scourge of terrorism that had plagued the country for three decades in the only way that was possible. It further argues that this involved less civilian casualties than some of the international operations against terrorism by countries that are calling it to account.
By and large the majority of the Sri Lankan population would also view the UNHRC resolution as being against Sri Lanka and meant to punish it for defeating the LTTE in battle. This is the interpretation that is dominant in the country’s media and intellectual discourse. A very large proportion of Sri Lankans would see the elimination of the LTTE as being in the national interest and they would validly say that life in the country has improved dramatically as a result. Those who take their memories back to 2006, and to the first few months of the Rajapaksa presidency, would remember how the LTTE created a situation in which war became the only option. The watershed came earlier during the Norwegian-facilitated peace process when the LTTE rejected it, walked out of peace talks and rejected even the bold offer of federalism made by the previous government.
However, what is now lost sight of in Sri Lanka is that the elimination of the LTTE was not only due to the efforts of the Sri Lankan people, the valour of the soldiers and the leadership of the President and the Rajapaksa family as is claimed on political platforms. The war victory was also made possible because of military support given to the government by the international community, the intelligence they shared with it and sanctions they adopted against the LTTE especially after it walked away from the Norwegian-facilitated peace process. The entire spectrum of the international community, including the countries that now seem to oppose Sri Lanka, supported the government’s war effort on account of the government’s promises and commitments regarding post-war reforms and solutions.
The UNHRC resolution contains the promises and commitments that the government made to the international community and to its own people during the war. These include the devolution of power to the provinces, ensuring the rule of law, putting an end to extra-judicial killings and disappearances, resettling and rehabilitation of all displaced persons and ending military interventions in civil administration. It is unfortunate that these promises and commitments have not been kept. The most obvious failure has been with regards to the devolution of the power which was made repeatedly in person by the President himself especially to Indian leaders including Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then subsequently denied in cavalier fashion. This has been most deplorable and would account in substantial measure for the Indian decision to vote against Sri Lanka.
It is important that Sri Lanka does not repeat this mistake with Japan, whose abstention from the vote in Geneva has been most gratifying to the government. The Japanese support followed President Rajapaksa’s visit to Japan in the immediate run up to the Geneva vote where he met with Japanese leaders including its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Once again the President gave a series of promises to his Japanese hosts which have been documented in the official website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan. In particular, the President made four promises. The first was to continue to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission; the second was to hold elections to the Provincial Council for the Northern Province in September this year; third was to commence the political dialogue on constitutional reforms through a Parliamentary Select Committee process; and fourth to take necessary measures regarding human rights and accountability.
The special relationship that Sri Lanka enjoys with Japan is also evident in the Japanese foreign ministry communiqué. It mentions that the Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Prime Minister Nobushike Kishi, visited Sri Lanka on his first official tour abroad after World War 2. To this day the Japanese political leadership has warm memories of Sri Lanka’s intervention on their behalf after the end of World War 2 when the Soviet Union and other countries were trying to punish Japan. Instead Sri Lanka’s representative J R Jayewardene asked for magnanimity towards the defeated and renounced Sri Lanka’s claim for compensation. The spirit of magnanimity that the then Sri Lankan government showed to Japan has been paid back manifold as the eternal spiritual and moral teachings have promised. It is very important that this goodwill must not be lost, and the promises that President Rajapaksa made during his visit to Japan are kept.
Likewise the other countries of the world that the Sri Lankan government now sees as its enemies have been its good friend in the past, donating much aid and also sharing warm human memories. What they are all looking for are promises that are kept. We too, as Sri Lankan citizens, must look to our government to keep its promises which are for the good of all Sri Lankans.