The Global Tamil Forum (GTF) welcomes the delisting of various Tamil diaspora organisations and individuals as an important step towards achieving improved ethnic relations and economic outcomes in Sri Lanka. However, it is disappointing that many Tamil and Muslim organisations and individuals are still on the updated list, gazetted on August 1, 2022. GTF calls on the Sri Lankan government to discontinue this shambolic process of listing and delisting entities to suit the political agenda of the time.
The entire process of publishing a list of designated entities and individuals by the Sri Lankan government is arbitrary, irrational, and an outright abuse of the United Nations Regulation (Regulation 4(7) of the UN Regulations No. 1 of 2012). From 2014, it was misused by the government to suppress freedom of speech and dissent and intimidate human rights defenders – not just within Sri Lanka but also overseas.
This is best illustrated with GTF – an organisation formed after the end of war in 2009 to play a constructive role in promoting peace, justice, equality, and reconciliation in Sri Lanka. While promoting wartime accountability including at the UNHRC, GTF has maintained high level engagement with all stakeholders in Sri Lanka, including politicians, civil society activists and media personnel, with the intention of working towards a durable political solution acceptable to all communities. GTF was also involved in targeted activities related to rehabilitation, medical emergencies and development initiatives in many regions and communities across Sri Lanka.
Despite its notable openness, transparency, and international recognition, and remaining unchanged in its philosophy and approach, GTF found itself in and out of the ‘list’ twice – listed in 2014, delisted in 2015, re-listed in 2021 and delisted in 2022.
GTF is grateful that the international community and many Sri Lankan stakeholders (including the media) ignored this listing for what it truly is. In fact, our diplomatic engagements, including the crucial meetings in the US in November 2021 and March 2022, also meeting with the Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations, and South Asia at the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and various other important engagements including the United Nations (UN) were not affected by the listing, but the ban’s impact on reconciliation, rehabilitation and economic progress in Sri Lanka was significant.
There is no doubt the timing of the recent delisting is to bolster Sri Lanka’s credentials as its human rights record is about to be reviewed at the UNHRC next month for the eighth time since the war ended in 2009. This action only confirms the time-tested pattern of Sri Lanka doing the bare minimum just in time for the next UNHRC session – and presents an eloquent argument for increased international scrutiny over Sri Lanka’s human rights and governance record.
UNHRC session of September 2022 is hugely important for the Tamil people and indeed for the entire country to move forward. Sri Lanka’s record on implementing the key aspects of the UNHRC resolutions since 2012 (the last one passed in March 2021) is truly appalling. Despite few token initiatives, such as the establishment of the Office of the Missing Persons and the Office for Reparations, the country is yet to make any meaningful progress that would provide effective relief, justice, and closure for those directly impacted by the war. Further, some of the high handed measures being taken against the protesters who agitated for progressive changes are deeply concerning. All of these call for increased international oversight of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.
The nascent transformation Sri Lanka presently undergoing is significant. The successful protests that deposed Gotabaya Rajapaksa presidency has created an environment where an unaccountable government will be under increased scrutiny. In addition to wartime accountability, legal, financial, and other governance accountabilities are also under intense focus. This emerging trend needs to be conscientiously promoted by the international community, which is possible only with the adoption of a well-targeted UNHRC resolution. The new resolution needs to build on the key aspects of the March 2021 UNHRC resolution (A/HRC/RES/46/1) which empowered the High Commissioner’s Office to further advance wartime accountability.
Any argument Sri Lanka may put forward leveraging its economic difficulties for lowering the international scrutiny of its human rights record – as attempted by Sri Lanka during the UNHRC session in March 2022 – has no legal, moral, or political basis. The struggle for justice, rule of law, human rights and accountability could be strengthened by the UNHRC taking a principled stance at the Council’s upcoming 51st Session.