By Thambu Kanagasabai –
The UNHRC Sessions in March 2021 assume a greater political importance for the war victims of Sri Lanka and above all for the relevant roles of United Nations and UN Human Rights Council regarding their commitments to uphold Human Rights, Accountability Justice and Rule of Law in countries which have been subjected to UN and UNHRC Resolutions like Sri Lanka which is facing four UNHRC Resolutions commencing from 2012, the most important being the Resolutions 30/1 of 2015 and 40/1 of 2019 which were co-sponsored by Sri Lanka and the United States of America which sponsored the 30/1 of 2015 Resolution. The present Co-Group members of the UNHRC Resolution 40/1 of 2019 are United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Montenegro and North Macedonia who shoulder the prime duty and obligations to ensure the compliance and implementation of the core recommendations in those Resolutions which number 25.
More than five years have elapsed since the 30/1 of 2015 Resolution which Sri Lanka pledged to implement. Up to now, Sri Lankan Governments have been adopting the usual delaying tactics and the present Rajapaksa’s Government is run by the accused war criminals as revealed by the United Nations Rapporteurs and other Human Rights Organizations. Sri Lanka however has now nailed the death coffins for those Resolutions along with their Recommendations.
President Gotabaya Rajapaksa‘s speech on 18th November 2019 at the Ruwanwelisaya Buddhist Temple in Anuradapura has sealed the fate of Tamils lock, stock and barrel without any room for reconciliation, accountability and justice, As he stated, he has reinforced his power and position as a President by his Sinhala Buddhist people to serve the interests of the Sinhala Buddhists as a Sinhala Buddhist President while deserting and allowing the Tamils and Muslims to live as citizens outside the mainstream and distinctively with their own identities. The President has thus entrenched the polarization and unofficial division of country based on religion, race and language.
His following forthright statement without any iota of doubt more than confirms his intention. He also further stated that “Majority of Sinhalese voted for me to prevent the threats of extinction of Sinhalese race, our religion, natural resources and the traditional rights by forces within and outside Sri Lanka”.
On the contrary while the Buddhists and Sinhalese are well secured and protected by the State, which is accelerating its agenda to make Sri Lanka a PURE SINHALA BUDDHIST NATION. Therefore the extinction threatened communities with their religions; language and tradition are the Tamils and Muslims who are continuing to be the victims of genocide including structural genocide.
The United Nations failure to act during the genocidal war has been admitted by the former UN Secretary General Ban-ki-Moon in 2016 when he said “Something more horrible seems happened in the past in 1994, in Rwanda, there was a massacre, more than one million people were massacred, United Nations felt responsible for that”. We said repeatedly ‘NEVER AGAIN NEVER AGAIN”. It happened just one year after Srebrenica; we did again in Sri Lanka.
Former US President Barack Obama in his book “Promised Land” released on November 20th 2020 has stated that “UN member states lacked either the means or the collective will to reconstruct failed states like Rwanda or prevent the ethnic slaughter in places like Sri Lanka”.
There is not an inch of doubt that the Sri Lankan Tamils who are the victims of genocide are carrying the war scars and continuing to be victims of structural genocide openly being committed and pursued by the present dictatorial Government. The present Government by Rajapaksa clan has taken a stand defying the United Nations, UNHRC including their Resolutions while pouring scorn at attempts and suggestions of the International Community.
Even the basic rights of a citizen to pay homage to his killed family member have been snatched by this Government when it banned memorial services by relatives for those who were killed during the genocidal war in 2009. Being left in the lurch, the patience of brutalized and traumatized Tamils is wearing out and reaching its limits, the saying “JUSTICE DELAYED IS JUSTICE DENIED’. Is closer to reality and could make way for the rise of militancy. However, there is still a lingering hope for the victims who are anxiously pinning hopes on the UNHRC’s 46th Session in March 2021 when a final Resolution is expected to be presented on Sri Lanka’s progress towards the implementation of the Recommendations passed in 30/1 of 2015 and 40/1 of 2019.Resolutions. As Sri Lanka has withdrawn its commitments and rejected those Resolutions, UNHRC is expected to deal with Sri Lanka’s defiance and non-compliance of these recommendations after a lapse of five years. It is fully hoped that UNHRC will rise to the occasion to vindicate and entrench its credibility and standing by adopting a fitting Resolution with mandatory Recommendations including imposition of political, economic and diplomatic sanctions. A Recommendation with referral to International Criminal Court and enforcing sanctions under MAGNITSKY clause by countries United Kingdom, Germany, USA and Canada is what is needed to ensure accountability for those accused of war crimes.
It is suggested that UNHRC consider the following recommendations:-
1. An independent international investigation into the war crimes and crimes against humanity amounting to genocide.
2. Refer Sri Lanka to the International Criminal Court
3. Impose diplomatic, political and economic sanctions.
4. A referendum in the North and East including the Diaspora Tamils living all over the world to decide the question of right of self-determination as allowed in the UN Charter.
5. Establish United Nations Offices to monitor the human rights situation and actions of the security forces in the North and East to oversee acts of Sinhalisizaton and Buddhisization in the traditional and historical homeland of the Tamils.
It has to be stated that while Australia is prosecuting the 19 soldiers accused of unlawfully killing 39 unarmed civilians and prisoners in Afghanistan after holding a Commission of Inquiry, Sri Lanka is busy releasing accused criminals from prisons on bail like the Presidential Pardon to Sunil Ratnayake on March 26, 2020, a former Sri Lankan surgent of Sri Lankan Army convicted for the brutal murder of eight Tamil civilians including three children. By the granting of bail to Pilliyan alias Sivanesathurai Chandrakanthan on November 24, 2020 [accused for the killing former MP Joseph Pararajasingam] Sri Lanka is exhibiting its own brand of tainted accountability and justice.
It would be like chasing a mirage in the desert as water, if anyone can obtain justice from Sri Lanka for the plethora of crimes committed including war crimes, crimes against humanity etc. from the perpetrators of those crimes when most of them are in the control of the present Government with a judiciary which is now subservient to the President after the passing of the 20th Amendment,
The last hope for the victims of war lies with the United Nations and UNHRC who should rise up to the occasion and enforce their commitments detailed in their Charters failing which United Nations and UNHRC will remain as emaciated organs and as talking shops without any blood and teeth to function as protectors of human rights and rule of law among the world community. While Sri Lanka can withdraw from the Resolutions, it can never withdraw from accountability and justice enforced by UNHRC and United Nations.
*Thambu Kanagasabai, LLM [London} Former Lecturer in Law, University of Colombo