UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Can Now Visit Sri Lanka With Authority
“The significance of the US draft is the establishment of an international mechanism to monitor an internal process.” – Tamara Kunanayakam, Sri Lanka’s representative at the UN Geneva, 2011-2012, in an interview on 17 March 2013
* The resolution gives monitoring powers to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights – OHCHR. An external mechanism is mandated to monitor the Government of Sri Lanka!
* With this resolution, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights – HCHR can insist that a team from her office be allowed into Sri Lanka.
* The OHCHR has the right to have many human rights officers in Colombo, for monitoring future violations.
* This resolution allows the HCHR to visit Sri Lanka with authority, not once, but as many times as she likes. Therefore, ironically, Sri Lanka’s fervent wish that she visit the country will be accomplished at the earliest. Though it will be to scrutinise Sri Lanka’s human Rights record – rather than bolster its human rights image, as the government had wanted.
* The visit of the UN HCHR to Sri Lanka in the near future will be completely different to the visit made by her predecessor, Louis Arbour, which was in response to an invitation that was not backed by any UN resolution.
* If Sri Lanka says to the HCHR that she cannot visit and monitor, this will be clearly interpreted as bad faith. The Office of the High Commissioner already has an officer in Colombo, and will send more people to monitor and is mandated to do so.
Now let me go into details of the latest resolution – A/HRC/CC/L.1,Rev1 on Sri Lanka.
The effects of this resolution can be underestimated if various factors are not properly analysed. There is no point, however understandable it might be, in mixing the demand for immediate fulfilment of political aspirations (as some Tamils are tending to do) with the resolution process in the Human Rights Council – HRC.
With 23 years of experience behind us, it is our duty to explain the depths of this resolution. If anyone still has doubts, they need only to look at the Sri Lankan’s government response to the resolution, which shows how worried and upset they are by it. To please their voters, of course, they make bold and defiant statements.
In the eyes of Sri Lanka
Rajapaksa’s envoy to the HRC rejected the resolution outright, condemning it as “highly intrusive.” He claimed that the government had “rehabilitated 12,000” Tamil detainees and that the Northern Province had experienced 27 per cent economic growth last year.
The economic growth claim simply refers to construction of roads and bridges in the north built to attract investment and tourists. All those figures are subject to independent verification.
Who are the real beneficiaries of this construction work? Certainly not Tamils. It is all for Sinhalese businessmen and contractors who employ Sinhala workers. Under military occupation, most of the people who have been devastated by war are living in poverty in the North and East.
In reality, those who have been so-called ‘rehabilitated’ and others have been placed under constant monitoring by military intelligence. The number of ex-combatants released is exaggerated. The government does not have the actual figures.
Sri Lanka never uttered a word about those who surrendered to the security forces in May 2009. Thousands of youths and men surrendered, witnessed by their family members. But the government says that it does not have any information about them. The way 11-year-old Balachandran was brutally murdered, however, gives us a clue about the fate of others. It is strongly believed that under direct orders from the Secretary of Defence, they were all summarily executed.
Enough is enough. The HRC resolution is actively endorsed, guaranteed, by the international community. Let’s concentrate on the positive side of this resolution, rather than, in effect, joining hands with the Rajapaksa’s government by rejecting it.
High Commissioner for Human Rights
The report (A/HRC/22/38/Add.1) of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, on advice and technical assistance for Sri Lanka, dated 11 February 2013, was widely appreciated. But many never realized that this report was the outcome of the Resolution passed on Sri Lanka in March 2012. In other words, without that resolution, the HCHR wouldn’t have had the authority to issue a special report on Sri Lanka. This example shows how practical and far-reaching benefits can result from a resolution.
Of course, some people would like impractical issues to be included in the resolution in the UN Human Rights Council – HRC. As I said in the past, the HRC has its limitations. Of course, reference to International investigations can be included in the HRC resolution. The US and other supporting states are cautiously moving towards this. The US has already said that an ‘international investigation’ must be the next step.
However, under any circumstances, the demand for a referendum on Independence and the imposing of an economic embargo will not be included in a HRC resolution. The HRC is not the right forum for any country resolutions on these issues.
For these issues to be incorporated into a UN resolution, either the particular demands should be made to the UN General Assembly – UNGA or to the UN Security Council – UNSC in New York. It should be noted that the UNGA has 193 states and the UNSC has five permanent members with veto powers: China, Russia, France, UK and USA. This indicates the difficulty in materializing these demands.
An economic embargo and a boycott of Sri Lankan products are two different things. For a long time, the boycott of Sri Lankan products has been a talk-show among Tamils. Regarding an economic embargo by the international community, we will have to wait until the UN enforces it. But if the will existed in the diaspora and amongst Tamils globally, Sri Lankan products can be successfully boycotted.
In 2005, in a public meeting in Strasbourg, France, I spoke about the boycott of Sri Lankan products. The media covered this speech widely. The following day, I was blamed and criticized by Tamil shop-keepers who asked me whether I would pay for the stock of Sri Lankan products lying in their stores. Knowingly or unknowingly, every member of the Tamil diaspora contributed to the Sri Lankan economy, and it’s prolonging and winning the war. Today things are going from bad to worse. If a person walks into any Tamil shop in any country, he/she can see that more than 50% of the items in those shops are from Sri Lanka. Who are the consumers of these items? Why are we demanding the UN to impose an economic embargo on Sri Lanka, and not doing what we can ourselves?
Recently I saw a news item that some activists went into a market in Canada, demanding that clothes made in Sri Lanka should not be sold. This may be right, but before going into the market, shouldn’t they have walked into Tamil shops in Canada and demanded that goods produced in Sri Lanka should not be sold?
Do the politicians who take the line of the Sri Lankan government on the UN resolution understand the value of the boycott of Sri Lankan products? Does the Tamil diaspora understand the pain, hardship, suffering of our fellow Tamils living in the North and East? If so, why are they pumping their money into the Sri Lankan economy?
Therefore, before we demand the United Nations impose an economic embargo on Sri Lanka, we need to put our own house in order. Otherwise, this will be seen as a silly demand, bullying the international community.
Here I would like to re-call Mahatma Gandhi’s non-violent, civil disobedience and Swadeshi policy during the Indian Independence struggle. Mahatma Gandhi maintained the swadeshi policy, a boycott of goods made by the British. He wore the traditional Indian dress, woven with yarn, boycotting British textiles. During that period there was neither the United Nations nor any other international institution to enforce an economic embargo. Mahatma Gandhi’s policy played a part, along with crucial contribution of Subash Chandra Bose to the Independence of India.
Also we should take into account what happened during the apartheid regime in South Africa. A massive international campaign to boycott South African goods and events eventually played a significant role in bringing down apartheid and shaping political changes.
An interesting question is, why don’t Tamil shop-keepers in the West and the diaspora sell and consume good quality food items available from countries other than Sri Lanka? Why is it that food and other items in large quantities are imported from Sri Lanka?
On the other hand, many talk about Tamil refugees, victims abducted, raped and tortured by the Sri Lankan security forces, flocking into various countries. In the meantime, every day hundreds of Tamils from the diaspora visit Sri Lanka, using the Sri Lankan airline and giving much foreign exchange to Sri Lanka. Why can’t we implement a boycott which is fully within our control?
Today, Australia is not at all bothered about anything concerning the Tamils in Sri Lanka, because they were disturbed by the number of Tamil refugees reaching Australia by boat. Has Australia ever realized that the transporters of these refugees were none other than Rajapaksa’s family and friends?
India’s silence broken
After more than two decades of silence on Sri Lanka, the Indian permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva gave a forceful speech in the last session of the HRC. This was not a surprise to anyone. Since the end of the war, Sri Lanka had consistently duped everyone, including India.
On 21 March 2013, India’s permanent Representative Dilip Sinha said, “We reiterate our call for an independent and credible investigation into allegations of human rights violations and loss of civilian lives.”
Commenting on the need for political solutions he went on to say, “We note with concern the inadequate progress by Sri Lanka in fulfilling its commitment to this Council in 2009. Further, we call on Sri Lanka to move forward on its public commitments, including on the devolution of political authority through full implementation of the 13th Amendment and building upon it.”
“India has always been of the view that the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka provided a unique opportunity to pursue a lasting political settlement, acceptable to all communities in Sri Lanka, including the Tamils,” Sinha said.
“We call for effective and timely implementation of all the constructive recommendations contained in the LLRC report, including those pertaining to missing persons, detainees, disappearances and abductions, reduction of ‘high security zones’, return of private lands by the military and withdrawal of the security forces from the civilian domain in the Northern Province,” he stated.
“We urge Sri Lanka to take forward measures to ensure accountability. We expect these measures to be to the satisfaction of the international community,” the Indian Permanent Representative said.
“We encourage the Government of Sri Lanka to expedite the process of a broad-based, inclusive and meaningful reconciliation and political settlement that ensures that all communities live in dignity with equal rights and equal protection of the laws,” he said.
“As a neighbour with thousands of years of relations with Sri Lanka, we cannot remain untouched by developments in that country and will continue to remain engaged in this matter,” the Indian Permanent Representative said.
Has this speech been seen as a positive step by the Mickey mouse organisations of the diaspora?
The next (23rd) session of the HRC will start from 27 May and will continue until 14 June. As far as the question of Sri Lanka is concerned, this will be a session with a few interventions by NGOs and maybe by some states.
The next move will depend on the impending monitoring oral and written reports by the High Commissioner to the HRC during the 24th session next September and during the 25th session in March 2014.
The 24th session will start on 9 September and conclude on 27 September. The most import session will be 25th session in March 2014. Those who are calling for international investigation should continue their lobby.
We should keep in mind that in the 25th session there will be some new good and bad states. There is no need to worry about any new pro-Sri Lankan members in the HRC, because when the 1st resolution was passed on Sri Lanka, Champions of human wrongs – China, Cuba and Russia were all members.
The international community wrongly perceives that any government other than the present one in Sri Lanka may agree on accountability and reconciliation. This is wrong! Various successive Sri Lankan governments were responsible for a range of Commissions, but none found any justice for the victims. On some occasions, the commission reports were never even published. The International community should realise that the ethnic problem in Sri Lanka is more than 60 years old.
Sri Lanka’s delaying tactics, until either the pressure subsides or the group or individuals who give pressure are suspended or terminate their services should be taken into account by the international community.
The International Independent Group of Eminent Persons – IIGEP and former High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louis Arbour are two good examples of this.
Now we understand that Sri Lanka is waiting for a change of government in US and the end of term of the present High Commissioner for Human Rights, which is due in September 2014.
Is this how any Sri Lanka government should see accountability and reconciliation after the island’s long bloody conflict?
As the HCHR visit to Sri Lanka is impending at any moment, it is the duty of members of civil society, to get in touch with her office in Geneva. An important task is to arrange for the victims to meet the High Commissioner during her visit.
R2P – Responsibility to Protect
R2P – Responsibility to Protect was originated by the Canadian government through the creation of the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS). This commission also included members from the UN General Assembly. It was the ICISS Report that set out the concept of “Responsibility to Protect”.
R2P triggered the military action to protect civilians. Darfur was the 1st case of R2P. Sudan demonstrated its inability to protect the people of Darfur.
Directly or indirectly, sooner or later, the resolution on Sri Lanka will be connected to R2P. This is the reason that Sri Lanka rejected this resolution through and through. Without realising this fact, some Tamils have objected to the resolution.
R2P is the newest international security and human rights norm to address the international community’s failure to prevent and stop genocides, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.
Under R2P, sovereignty no longer exclusively protects states from foreign interference.
It consists of three pillars:
1 – A state has a responsibility to protect is population.
2 – The international community has a responsibility to assist a particular state to fulfill its responsibility.
3 – If a state fails to protect its citizens, the international community has the responsibility to intervene
through economic sanction and as a last resort military intervention can be considered.
At the World Summit held in New York in 14 to 16 September 2005, member states included R2P in the outcome document (A/RES/60/1) in paragraphs 138, 139 and 140.
Responsibility to protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity
138. Each individual State has the responsibility to protect its populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity……………….
139. The international community, through the United Nations, also has the responsibility to use appropriate diplomatic, humanitarian and other peaceful means, in accordance with Chapters VI and VIII of the Charter, to help protect populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity. In this context, we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity…………..
140. We fully support the mission of the Special Adviser of the Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide.
Hope this summary will give some knowledge regarding what happened in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory coast), Libya and what is going to happen in Syria.