UNHRC Sessions: Three Strands in the Responses of the Sinhala Press

Item in  MEDIA ANALYSIS, February 25, 2019 – March 03, 2019

UNHRC: Positions reflecting politics …. Issue: The 40th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva commenced on February 25, 2019 and is currently underway. The Core Group on Sri Lanka, comprising Canada, Germany, (North) Macedonia, Montenegro and the United Kingdom, is yet to submit a final draft of a new resolution on Sri Lanka.

Analysis: Three major positions emerged in the Sinhala press on the resolution and the UNHRC.

Analysis: Three major positions emerged in the Sinhala press on the resolution and the UNHRC.

1) Total opposition: These arguments were advanced on the grounds that the council is

  1. a)ineffective (hence the departure of the United States), b) hypocritical (as many member states calling for an investigation into Sri Lanka have committed war crimes them-selves) and c) ill-intentioned in attempting to punish ‘war heroes’.

As in previous reporting on the UNHRC, these views appeared in the main-stream press. As explained previously in TMA (see TMA Vol.04, #05), this position draws on certain perceptions of ‘injustice’. Such ‘injustice’ is associated with the perceived illegitimacy of the UNHRC, the perception that the resolution is being driven by pro-separatist forces attempting to divide the country and the perception that the resolution targets members of the security forces who saved the country from terrorism.

2) Pragmatism: While some opposed the UNHRC resolution in general, they proposed a strategy of taking measures to ‘manage’ the international community for pragmatic reasons. Examples of such measures included imposing minimal punishment on alleged war criminals and pardoning military personnel and members of the LTTE. These views emerged from Minister Champika Ranawaka, Divaina and Lankadeepa. Such pragmatism is similar in terms of the underlying thinking that drives the position that totally opposes the UNHRC process. However, this pragmatic position differs in terms of the recommended response − strategic management of optics rather than outright dismissal.

3) Principle-based endorsement: This position endorsed the fulfilment of commitments under the resolution for the sake of advancing justice for those affected by the war. It was presented by Ravaya andDinamina and gained minimal traction.

Notably, coverage in the Sinhala press did not feature viewpoints from the TNA, JVP and civil society actors.

While the third position has remained marginal over the past few years, the currency enjoyed by the first two views has fluctuated with changes in political power. Prior to the government change in 2015, the Rajapaksa government strongly advanced the first position and nationalist-leaning newspapers widely echoed this position. Following the government change in 2015, the second position of pragmatism gained in currency. This position framed the yahapaalanaya government’s decision to co-sponsor Resolution 30/1 as a pragmatically necessary move (see TMA Vol.07, #09). At present, the pragmatic position has lost some currency and the position that totally opposes the UNHRC process has seen a resurgence in press discourse. This resurgence comes at a time when the political power balance has shifted. President Sirisena, who has denounced the UNHRC process, is widely perceived as aligning him-self with Mahinda Rajapaksa’s camp. In this context, the currency of a particular position on the UNHRC has tended to depend on larger political dynamics in the country.

Dominant view: Opposing the resolution related to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC

Countries that have committed war crimes are accusing Sri Lanka of the same crimes

■The 40th session of the Geneva Human Rights Council begins today (25). This time, five states − led by Britain − have come forward to present war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka in place of the USA. These nations are Canada, Germany, Montenegro and Macedonia. Despite the fact that these particular countries too have war crimes allegations against them, they are presenting war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka. However, there have been no Geneva resolutions on them as yet. There are no inquiries at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on those war crimes allegations either. The Government of Sri Lanka has not inquired from these countries as to how they can present war crimes allegations against Sri Lanka when there are war crimes charges present in those very countries. Against this backdrop, India has rejected a report that states that India violated human rights and has prevented a debate in the UNHRC over the particular report. But the above countries have decided to submit the Geneva resolution against Sri Lanka on March 7 though Sri Lanka is opposed to it (Keerthi Warnakulasuriya Divaina 25thFebruary)

■ At the beginning of the sessions this week, the United Kingdom’s representative, Foreign Secretary Lord Ahamed spoke about Sri Lanka with admiration. This was in regard to the release of land to the people in the North and the establishment of the Office for Reconciliation. England, Canada, Germany, Macedonia and Montenegro are to propose a resolution on the themes of Sri Lanka’s accountability, reconciliation and human rights logistics. These countries were joint sponsors of the resolution co-sponsored by Sri Lanka in 2015. A proposal to continue with the unbroken implementation of Resolution 30/1 might be passed. I will leave the final view of what will occur up to you. There are a few things to consider. America, which brought this resolution in 2015, is no longer in the human rights council. It has made allegations concerning the impartiality of the forum. The human rights council has been likened to being trapped in a hole. This is a good example of how most powerful nations act when there are accusations levelled against them (Chamindra Nisal de Silva Deshaya 3rd March)

Tamil diaspora criticised for trying to accomplish separatism via the UNHRC

■People in this country were elated after the war victory feeling that the country had been liberated from separatism. But even before the passing of several years after it, dark memories of separatism surfaced again. The UNHRC in Geneva was chosen as the battlefield this time. They have not come to the battlefield alone this time. They have entered the battle with the support of several countries. The golden era of the supporters of the LTTE dawned after the change in government in January 2015. By creating a broad opinion against Sri Lanka in Geneva, with the complete sponsorship of the newly elected treacherous government, they were able to pass a series of resolutions against Sri Lanka that challenge Sri Lanka’s sovereignty. By bringing hundreds of extremist Tamil diaspora representatives to the UNHRC in Geneva and by presenting spurious allegations against Sri Lanka, they are attempting to realise the disintegration of the country that Prabhakaran could not achieve, through the intervention of the UN. Many Sri Lankans didn’t understand for a period of time that the Eelam struggle had been reinitiated with a fresh outlook through the UNHRC, after the end of the war against terrorism. This has reached its culmination now (Dr. Nalaka Godahewa Mawbima 25th February).

The government should look at minimising the pressure the country is subjected to

■Just because a UN Resolution is passed against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC, no country can impose sanctions on our country. Though the Western nations or Europe are likely to impose sanctions on Sri Lanka, this would entail a resolution being first passed at the UN General Assembly and then in the Security Council. However, countries such as Russia and China which have the veto power and which are pro-Sri Lanka can defeat them. Such a resolution will fail even if one of these two countries opposes it. Also, as we are not a country recognised by the International Criminal Court, we cannot be punished by it. But instead of angering the international community, it is better for the country to request a further period of time and do what can be done within that time period. At least now, as a county, we need to rectify the mistake of agreeing to abide by an impractical resolution. In this regard, we need to move to a process in which we would face minimal pressure. The government must make the right decision taking into account the view of the country’s majority. Acting contrary to this, based on the views of the Western nations or the Tamil diaspora, will politically cost any political party. Who has political power is immaterial for this act. All responsible parties must get together to present Sri Lanka’s decision (Janitha Seneviratne Divaina 1stMarch).

The government seen as prosecuting “war heroes” to please the UNHRC

■“The present government has encountered a huge difficulty. The government co-sponsored the resolution brought against Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in September 2015 to please the Eelamists who assisted the government to come to power. Sri Lanka will go down in history as the first nation to co-sponsor a resolution against itself. In March 2017 the imprisonment of army intelligence personnel was carried out alleging that they were involved in the disappearance of Ekneligoda, targeting Geneva. In 2018, the imprisonment of navy intelligence personnel was done targeting Geneva. As four years have passed at present, a small oblation would not suffice and there is the need for a large oblation. Admiral Wasantha Karannagoda is that offering. He was the commander of the navy that made a decisive contribution to the war victory. The government is contemplating arresting him targeting Geneva this time around” (Leader of the PHU Udaya Gammanpila Mawbima 26th February).

■“The statement made by Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe that both the LTTE and the armed forces committed war crimes will be a serious issue that would have to be faced at the 40th session of the UNHRC. There would be discussions on Sri Lanka in the human rights council from March 2. The time granted to implement Resolution 30/1 that the Sri Lankan Government signed with the US has now expired. Time would not be further extended to implement the recommendations in this session. The government has implemented all but one of the proposals in Resolution 30/1. Only the amendment of the constitution has not been implemented. Countries are not bound to implement the resolutions of the UNHRC. However the situation is different as we have co-sponsored a traitorous resolution. There is a possibility of arresting the war heroes, who have been accused of war crimes, under those charges abroad. Under a forth-coming government, we will take legal action against individuals who put the country into a situation like this” (Rear Admiral Sarath Weerasekera Divaina 28th February Mawbima 28th February)

Calling for pardon for the military and LTTE for war crimes

■As of now, the UNHRC sessions have begun. It is said that resolutions will be underway regarding Sri Lanka. All of this happened because of the war. What we ask of the government is not to make a mess of things but to go before the UNHRC and present a practical plan of what can be accomplished over the next two years. Creating more commissions just aggravates the wound without solving the problem. Therefore, we request that those who committed personal crimes be punished first. But armed forces personnel and members of the LTTE organisation who were involved in crimes committed during the heat of war are also in custody. We ask that both sides in this group be pardoned. If Kumaran Pathmanathan, Nagulan and Ram are free, keeping imprisoned those who followed their orders serves no purpose. Reconciliation can be achieved in this way (Minister of Megapolis and Western Development Champika Ranawaka Ada &Lankadeepa 1st March)

The resolution will have a negative impact on elections, judiciary and political structures

■It is very clear that the majority of MPs do not have a clear understanding of the resolution passed against Sri Lanka. They do not have the faintest idea of how harmful this resolution is to the country. Those who have a Western outlook say that if the resolution is not wrong then it should be implemented. Even the socialist parties in the country such as the JVP are silent despite being faced with an imperialist situation as this. When considering the way in which this resolution was filed, it becomes apparent that it was a well-planned and thought-out false accusation and not true in any way. There are many hidden objectives for this. There is no debate that this situation turns our country’s political sphere, court system, defence forces mechanisms, electoral systems, devolution of power and everything else upside down. It is second only to the Kandyan Convention signed in 1815. Therefore, we cannot remove ourselves from this resolution as easily as we think (Gayathri Geeganarachchi Lakbima 3rd March).

Allegations of human rights violations as mere debates

■The co-sponsorship by Sri Lanka of Resolution 30/1 presented to the Geneva Human Rights Council in 2015 was a total about-turn of Sri Lankan attitudes toward the Geneva Human Rights Council. As a result of this the country agreed to 20 directives set out in the resolution and has successfully implemented many of these as of now. Directives such as the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons, Office for Affected Persons and signing international accords regarding disappeared persons have been complied with, while the establishment of hybrid courts and implementing political change by passing a new constitution are some of the directives that could not be implemented. Up to 2015, while Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government remained in power, the country followed the principle of rejecting any claims of war crimes directed against it by any foreign entity. Other countries that are accused of human rights violations by the human rights council retain the same counsel. Many countries use the United Nations Human Rights Council to accuse other countries of violations of human rights and the usual procedure is that this is limited to debate on proposed resolutions (Sureka Samarasena Aruna 3rd March)

Contesting view

Supporting the resolution related to Sri Lanka at the UNHRC

Taking action against human rights violations could have been a positive step for Sri Lanka

■It cannot be denied that progressive steps were not taken during the rule of Mahinda Rajapaksa in which there were serious allegations of human rights violations. The Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), the Maxwell Paranagama Commission, the Udalagama Commission and the Commission on Missing Persons can be presented as examples of that. Those commissions too issued considerable recommendations, though the recommendations were not conclusive; the recommendations consisted of identification of criminal acts for investigation. What the international community expected from the yahapaalanaya government was something beyond that; put simply, the infliction of penal sanctions on the areas identified as the beginning of a relevant process of investigation. We could have taken action considering that this is the last opportunity given internationally. Had errant armed forces personnel or non-military personnel been given relatively lenient sentences, it would have been accepted as an action that is highly recognised under humanitarian law. The problem would have ended there. But at present the situation is turning 180 degrees. Sri Lanka is attempting to withdraw from the co-sponsored Geneva resolution as per the assumption of the president that there was no violation of humanitarian law during war time. If this happens, we will be moving back to the circumstances that existed in 2015 (Senior Lecturer, Faculty of Law, University of Colombo Prof. Menaka Harankaha Lankadeepa 26th February)

Measures for reconciliation after a war as a sign of a disciplined society and a lawful state

■War crimes allegations were levelled against Sri Lanka with the 30 year war. Though the war was carried out to defeat ruthless terrorism, we are bound by various agreements to safeguard human rights. Besides, the protection of human rights is considered as an essential component of humanity. Paying attention to the grievances of the victims and facilitating reconciliation between the two parties to the conflict immediately after a war is a characteristic of a civilised society and a law-abiding state. But it is clear that Sri Lanka did not adopt such an approach immediately after the war. The present political authorities have taken steps to correct the situation after considering it a mistake. This is crucial. Acts that transgress the law may be committed in the guise of war and violence. This has happened to a greater or lesser extent in every country that has experienced conflicts. But the law-abiding society responds to them by listening to the voice of the victims. Commissions for the victims have been established in many countries that experienced war. Through this the affected people get the opportunity to share their problems, reveal the truth and deal with their grief. In addition, the accused get the chance to acknowledge the error and to request pardon .This is an opportunity given for reconciliation. Our Office for Reconciliation also has the ability to work like that (Dinamina editorial 28th February)

Justice is needed for those who disappeared during the war

■Sirisena opposes the UNHRC’s resolution on the basis that Sri Lanka has sufficiently resolved human rights violations committed during the war and that Sri Lankan armed forces personnel did not commit war crimes. Now Minister Champika Ranawaka following Sirisena’s view has stated that the government should not have cosponsored the joint resolutions in 2015 and 2017 and further goes on to say that the resolutions need not be extended. He says that the LTTE and Sri Lankan armed forces personnel should be pardoned in order to end this problem. But he does not say how justice will be granted to the many thousands of disappeared persons who were not members of either of these two groups. This matter cannot be reduced solely to the LTTE and armed forces personnel. A group of the Sinhalese diaspora which follows the above stated views of Sirisena and Ranawaka has made a written application under the name of a non-functioning non-governmental organisation, the African Haritha Foundation, to vacate Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1. Others including Sarath Weerasekera share these views (Sunanda Deshapriya Ravaya 3rdMarch)


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One response to “UNHRC Sessions: Three Strands in the Responses of the Sinhala Press

  1. Dickie Bird

    What is the validity of this resolution 30/1 when the main sponsor USA has withdrawn from the UNHRC criticising them.
    Does it not have to be a new resolution brought against Sri Lanka and also against the main sponsor USA for their violations as well by the co-sponsors of 30/1?
    UK, Germany, (N) Macedonnia & Montenegro the co-sponsors of the USA brought resolution will have to re-think of submitting the same 30/1 with new time frames and simultaneously submit a resolution against USA as well for violations levelled against them by UNHRC.
    Like wise the USA, Sri Lanka too must follow them by withdrawing from the UNHRC.
    What is good for the Goose should be applicable to the Gander as well.

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