Lanka unfazed by UN rights
resolution By Amantha Perera
COLOMBO - As the UN Human Rights Council
(UNHRC) on Thursday voted in a resolution asking
Colombo to act on recommendations made by its own
Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission
(LLRC), Buddhist prayers reverberated through the
Sri Lankan capital.
"It is a resolution
that encourages Sri Lanka to implement the
recommendations of its own LLRC and to make
concerted efforts at achieving the kind of
meaningful accountability upon which
efforts can be built," United States ambassador to
the Council, Eileen Chamberlain Donahoe, said in
As expected, Sri Lankan leaders
rejected the resolution. Minister Mahinda
Samarasinghe, head of the Sri Lankan delegation in
Geneva, termed it as misconceived, unwarranted and
ill timed. "Shouldn't we be given more time and
But, two years and 10 months have
elapsed since the Sri Lankan military decisively
ended this island's three-decade-old civil war,
and the majority of UNHRC members thought it was
time Colombo acted to safeguard the rights of the
Tamil minority on the island.
civilians died as the war ended in 2009 with a
bloody offensive into the northern areas of the
country where the militant Liberation Tigers of
Tamil Eelam (LTTE) was then entrenched.
The US-led resolution was passed with 24
voting in favor, 15 against and eight abstaining
in the 47-member UN body.
"It is a matter
of great satisfaction to us that 15 countries
voted with Sri Lanka, despite the intensity of
pressure, in a variety of forms, exerted on them
all," said GL Peiris, Sri Lanka's foreign
minister, in a statement.
"As far as Sri
Lanka is concerned, our policy in respect of all
matters will continue to be guided by the vital
interests and wellbeing of the people of our
country. It hardly requires emphasis that this
cannot yield place to any other consideration,"
Peiris' statement said.
Lanka's ally and influential neighbor, India,
voted in favor of the resolution. Prime Minister
Manmohan Singh had indicated to Indian parliament,
on March 19, a shift in stance by a country that
had stood with Colombo against US and European
moves to bring the war before the UNHRC in 2009.
An Indian official statement said the Sri
Lankan government had committed at the UNHRC in
2009, to "forge a consensual way forward towards
reconciliation through a political settlement
respecting all the ethnic and religious groups
inhabiting the nation".
India urged Sri
Lanka to "take measures for accountability and to
promote human rights that it has committed to. It
is these steps, more than anything we declare in
this council, which would bring about genuine
reconciliation between all the communities of Sri
Lanka, including the minority Tamil community."
"As a neighbor with thousands of years of
cordial relations with Lanka, with deep-rooted
spiritual and cultural ties, we cannot remain
untouched by developments in that country," the
Indian statement said
Rights activists in
Sri Lanka told IPS that the UNHRC resolution's
impact on the country would be symbolic.
"The symbolism is that many countries have
expressed their assessment that the country has
not lived up their expectations in terms of
international human-rights obligations," Ruki
Fernando, head of the human rights in conflict
program at the national advocacy and research
body, the Law and Society Trust, told IPS.
Fernando said much now depends on "whether
the government is willing to move ahead with the
LLRC recommendations and work with the council as
suggested in the third recommendation in the
Established in September 2010
by President Mahinda Rajapaksa to look into the
conduct of the war from 2002 till May 2009 when it
ended, the LLRC handed over its final report with
the recommendations last November.
Indications, in the build up to the vote
in Geneva, suggest that the government is unlikely
to cooperate. Samarasinghe told the Council that
the country would inform it periodically on
progress and development, voluntarily, as it had
done even before the war.
Barely 24 hours
before the vote, President Rajapaksa told a public
meeting in the northwestern town of Puttalam that
he would not allow any form of foreign
Wimal Weeravansha, minister
for housing and a strong proponent of anti-Western
action, told another packed rally in Colombo on
March 13,"This is the second battle we are facing,
after the war [against the LTTE]."
Weeravansha has been leading public
protests against what he terms as attempts by West
to interfere, and started what was supposed to be
a fast to the death in mid-2010 at the doorstep of
the UN office in Colombo, which ended only when
the president intervened. He called on Sri Lankans
to boycott US products, including Coca-Cola and
The overwhelming sense at public
rallies is that Sri Lanka and the Rajapaksa
government are being targeted by Western powers
for independent policies and alignment with powers
like China, Russia and India.
political leaders have a completely different view
and support the UN resolution.
National Alliance (TNA), the largest party
representing minority Tamils in parliament, said
that it was pushed to support the resolution
because of the government's lethargy in acting on
power devolution and feels that only international
prodding will help.
"The government has
not done anything towards finding a solution [to
power sharing] but has been going on according its
own agenda. We have no option but to ask for
international support," TNA parliamentarian Suresh
Premachandran told IPS.
"The LLRC is the
government's own baby. It has not even implemented
the interim recommendations of the LLRC. We
strongly feel that these issues cannot be solved
without international participation," he added.
The resolution, however, avoids reference
to war crimes or an international investigation,
as called for by international rights groups like
Amnesty International, the Human Rights Watch and
the International Crisis Group.
draft said assistance from the UNHRC will be
obtained "in consultation with, and with the
concurrence of, the Government of Sri Lanka" -
reportedly through Indian influence.
nuances are, however, no reason for a change of
heart from the supporters of the government on the
"This is a veiled attempt to
influence our country, to make sure that they [the
West] can set up a proxy administration here,"
said Waragoda Premarathana, a Buddhist monk who
had taken part in the March 19 rally.