Colombo Telegraph

Human Rights: Can The British High Commissioner In Sri Lanka Clarify?

By Rajeewa Jayaweera

Rajeewa Jayaweera

The British Government has welcomed the decision by Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) to co-sponsor the new UN Human Rights Council resolution which reaffirms to complete during the next two years, the country’s commitments undertaken when it co-sponsored UNHRC resolution 30/1 in October 2015.

A release issued by the British High Commission in Colombo states, GoSL has demonstrated its commitment to human rights, accountability and reconciliation, all important elements for a lasting political settlement for all communities in Sri Lanka.

Whilst acknowledging some improvements made since January 2015 in the field of Human Rights, the statement further emphasize the need for further progress and improvements, especially in the restoration of important democratic checks and balances, improvements in respect for freedoms of expression and movement, the return of some military-held land, the passing of legislation to establish an Office for Missing Persons, the ratification of the Convention on Enforced Disappearances and the initiation of a process of constitutional reform. It further refers to the need for continued support and encouragement from the international community, including through the UN Human Rights Council as important factors.Welcoming the work of the Consultation Task Force on Reconciliation Mechanisms, the statement urges GoSL to give due consideration to the recommendations of CTFRM.

Under Recommendations on the Mechanisms, item 24 states, “The CTF recommends a hybrid Court with a majority of national judges as well as a sufficient number of international judges. This will ensure at least one international judge per bench and pre-empt delays due to the absence of one or more judges. It also recommends international participation in the Office of the Special Counsel of prosecutors and investigators, in addition to the provision of technical assistance. There should be clear guidelines and criteria spelt out and made public in respect of all aspects of international participation. International participation should be phased out once trust and confidence in domestic mechanisms are established and when the required expertise and capacity has been built up, nationally.”

In April 2016, current Prime Minister Theresa May, then Home Secretary in Prime Minister David Cameron’s government was a strong advocate for Britain to withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit referendum. She is on record having stated, “The ECHR can bind the hands of parliament, adds nothing to our prosperity, makes us less secure by preventing the deportation of dangerous foreign nationals – and does nothing to change the attitudes of governments like Russia’s when it comes to human rights. So regardless of the EU referendum, my view is this: if we want to reform human rights laws in this country, it isn’t the EU we should leave but the ECHR and the jurisdiction of its court.”

Member states are permitted to derogate from the ECHR in times of war or public emergency under the rules of the Council of Europe, which oversees the Strasbourg-based institution. Member states who wish to avail of the facility of temporary derogation may do so by simply forwarding a letter in advance to the Secretary General of the European Council. With Brexit approved, Britain will no longer be constrained by ECHR conventions in their future campaigns.

During her speech triggering the Brexit exit process, Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws. We are going to take control of things that matter most to us………. We will take control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice, in Britain. Leaving the European Union will mean that out laws will be made in Westminster, Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast. And those laws will be interpreted by judges not in Luxembbourg, but in courts across this country………… We will control immigration so that we continue to attract the brightest and the best to work or study in Britain, but manage the process properly so that our immigration system serves the national interest……..

Based on these statements, the views of the British government headed by Prime Minister Theresa May in terms of jurisdiction of courts, in making and interpreting laws and Human Rights is crystal clear. They need necessarily be British.

In this back drop, the statement by the British government on the developments at the recently concluded 34th session of UNHRC related to Resolution 30/1 and urging GoSL to give due consideration to the participation of foreign judges, prosecutors and investigators as recommended by CTFRM, released by the British High Commission in Colombo, is a direct contradiction of British government’s own policies and justification of Brexit.

Could the British High Commissioner in Colombo clarify, why does the British government wish for Sri Lanka, the opposite of what it wants for itself?





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