By Tush Wickramanayaka –
EQUALITY, JUSTICE, HOPE – The UN Charter begins by affirming “faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small.”
Sri Lanka lost the vote on the UNHRC Resolution Item 2: L.1/Rev. 1 ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights” by 22 States in Favour, 11 Against and 14 Abstained on 23rd March 2021.
This is NOT a victory as foolishly and comically declared by Minister of Foreign Affairs, Dinesh Gunawardena. His sense of logic and mathematics is not to be envied. This is downright defeat of the current Government, disheartening of the callous disregard of the repeated warnings and disgrace to the people of Sri Lanka.
This vote is NOT against the people of Sri Lanka albeit Government allies are trying to misdirect the people’s frustrations as a verdict against our sovereignty and independence labeling it as politicizing the UN Council and trying to play the same old trump card of racism. The resolution reaffirms that all individuals in Sri Lanka are entitled to the full enjoyment of human rights without distinction of any kind such as religion, belief or ethnic origin and the importance of a peaceful and unified land’. So, please stop playing the broken record!
The United Nations (UN) consists of 193 independent member States. It has six main organs. Five of them: the General Assembly, the Security Council, the Economic and Social Council, the Trusteeship Council and the Secretariat are based at UN Headquarters in New York. The sixth, the International Court of Justice, is located at The Hague in the Netherlands. The peoples of the UN determined that to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.
The four areas or pillars of the UN: Peace and Security, Human Rights, The Rule of Law and Development. These four pillars are all interconnected. You can’t fully achieve one without achieving all of them.
Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights since 2018 released the report on January 27, 2021, declaring that she was “alarmed” by Sri Lanka’s deteriorating human rights situation and set out steps that the Human Rights Council should take to confront the growing risk of future violations.
The Human Rights Council (not to be confused with United Nations Human Rights Committee, United Nations Commission on Human Rights, or Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights), whose mission is to promote and protect human rights around the world consists of one President and four Vice Presidents appointed annually and 47 member States elected every three years on a regional group basis via direct and secret ballet of the General Assembly. A member State cannot be re-elected for a period of three years after two consecutive elections.
This is a day of mourning for all Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnicity or religion …
Fact 1 – Sri Lanka was a member State of UN Human Rights Council from 2006-2008. It is true that we have an egocentric, inexperienced, toddler as Head of State but surely the entourage of experienced senior members should have warned of the impending doom when the Government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa withdrew its support for the 2015 consensus resolution seeking justice and reconciliation, and shown general disregard for upholding basic human rights. They should have known the consequences of their superiority complex; that the UN Council WILL act to protect those most at risk. We live in a country governed by a bunch of incompetent senile citizens who deserve to be in a retirement home.
Fact 2 – Since 2020, the President has appointed at least 28 serving or former military and intelligence personnel, some alleged of war crimes, to key administrative posts and has formed several Presidential task forces with vague, overbroad or overlapping mandates with existing institutions. The Defense Secretary justified the extra judicial killings of the Mahara Prisoners. If ever there was any doubt of these “alleged” war crimes, his recent stance has fortified these allegations. We live in a country where our problems can be resolved and our voices silenced with a State sponsored bullet.
Fact 3 – The 20th Amendment to the Constitution changed the balance of power between the different branches of the Government, vastly expanding the scope of presidential and executive powers and reversing many democratic gains introduced with the 19th Amendment. It fundamentally eroded the independence of key commissions and institutions, including the HRCSL, the Election Commission, the National Police Commission and the judiciary in terms of procedure for the selection, appointment and dismissal of senior judges and other high-ranking officials. The Constitutional Council was abolished like a puff of smoke. The result is the whole sale dismissal of all cases relating to members of Government and their cronies. We live in a country where absolute power corrupts absolutely and ordinary citizens may never be able to seek justice.
Fact 4 – Militarization and commercialization of the Covid-19 operations to endorse the majoritarian and exclusion rhetoric by forceful cremations of the Islamic and Catholics, naming and shaming individuals and refusal to allow our overseas labor force to repatriate is a direct violation of human rights. Playing politics with the victims of Easter Sunday massacre, enticing ethnic conflict by destroying Buddha statues, burial sites and monuments of the Tamil people are deplorable. Unlawful lengthy detention of Muslims, Sinhalese and anyone else considered a threat is a common phenomenon. Ramzi Razeek and Hejaaz Hizbullah are victims of injustice, the latter lamenting in jail without charge since April 2020. We live in a country where the ICCPR and Prevention of Terrorism Act is misused in controlling our thoughts, speech, writing and even the use of social media.
Fact 5 – While the criminal justice system in Sri Lanka has long been the subject of interference, the current Government has proactively obstructed or sought to stop ongoing investigations and criminal trials to prevent accountability for past crimes. In January 2020, the Government appointed a Presidential Commission of Inquiry to investigate alleged “political victimization” of public officials, members of the armed forces and police, and employees of State corporations by the previous Government. With its broad mandate, the commission has intervened in police investigations and court proceedings and had the effect of undermining the police and judiciary in several high profile human rights and corruption-related cases. Several high profile cases of naval officers Karannagoda and Dissanayake were freed but murder of Wickrematunge, disappearance of Ekneligoda and detention of Abeysooriya remain unresolved. We live in a country where cold blooded child murderer convicted of death penalty is released by the President without any accountability setting a precedence of violence against the true beneficiaries of our future – our children.
This is a day of rising for all Sri Lankans irrespective of ethnicity or religion…
The State party is undeterred by the reality of the resolution and seems elated that UN Council can do nothing to enforce the recommendations, hailing it as a victory because of the watered down nature of the final resolution excluding the proposed sanctions against individuals. You wanna bet?
The UN Council allocated USD 2.8million over a period of 22 months to ensure the recommendations are implemented. The Council meets again in June and September 2021 when Sri Lanka’s progress will be intensely scrutinized.
Despite the publicized last minute phone calls by the Prime Minister of Sri Lanka, except our immediate neighbors Pakistan and Bangladesh, many of the member of States of the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) abstained from voting and distanced themselves; Bahrain, Burkina Faso, Cameron, Cote D’Ivoire, Gabon, Libya, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Uzbekistan. So, anyone keen to light that inferno discriminating our Muslim community either backed by bureaucratic drama or individual social media antiques MUST stop or face serious consequences. In return, the Muslim community MUST engage with the norms and traditions of Sri Lanka rather than imbibe foreign extremisms.
All individuals in Sri Lanka are entitled to the full enjoyment of human rights without distinction of any kind such as religion, belief or ethnic origin, living in a peaceful and unified land. We cannot allow another bloody disaster to destroy our innocent people of North, East, South or West of the country. The propaganda machines continually firing in one direction is failing to heal the wounds. Thus, any attempts of division of ‘Homeland’ by any ethnic group MUST be rejected with sustainable long term solutions endorsed only by meaningful dialog and cheered by the people of the soil of the mainland.
Whilst accountability and reconciliation is paramount, we must not forget that the persistent and grave human rights violations and abuses by both parties, including extrajudicial killing, widespread enforced disappearances, arbitrary detention, torture and sexual violence that affected Sri Lankans from all communities. Thousands of children were systematically recruited and used as fighters and in other roles by LTTE and other armed groups, Muslim and Sinhala communities were forcibly expelled from the North, and civilians were indiscriminately killed in terrorist attacks on public places and transport by the LTTE. There are former LTTE terrorist members alive in Sri Lanka and overseas and they MUST be held accountable for the heinous crimes against humanity just as much as the alleged violations by the armed forces.
The countries that voted against the resolution have a history of human rights violations. Our close ally China, who set the stage almost demanding that others follow suite received a virtual slap. This is an indication that the international community is not intimidated. If GOSL is determined to protect its sovereignty and independence, Sri Lanka needs a harsh reality check that we will become globally isolated by hanging on to the tails of other nations. We MUST break the chains of dependence of our blind faith and political allegiance to a failing Government.
Although individual sanctions were not recommended in the final resolution, The UN Council noted that continuous failure to engage in the process can escalate matters to individuals being sanctioned in International Courts sponsored by the UN Council directly. Furthermore, the Council also reiterated that other member States can impose sanctions against Sri Lanka. The council has made the process crystal clear. We MUST insist that the Government overcome the arrogance and eat some humble pie before we all starve to death!
EQUALITY, JUSTICE, HOPE…for the true beneficiaries of the future – our children…
*Dr Tush Wickramanayaka – Chairperson, Stop Child Cruelty Trust