TEXT OF RESOLUTION L.2 PROMOTING RECONCILIATION AND ACCOUNTABILITY IN SRI LANKA
MARCH 22, 2012
Human Rights Council 19th Session
Agenda item 2
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
United States of America: draft resolution
19/… Promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka
The Human Rights Council,
Guided by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other relevant instruments,
Recalling Council resolutions 5/1 and 5/2 on institution-building of the Human Rights Council,
Reaffirming that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights, refugee and humanitarian law, as applicable,
Taking note of the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of Sri Lanka and its findings and recommendations, and acknowledging its possible contribution to the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka,
Welcoming the constructive recommendations contained in the Commission’s report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extra-judicial killings and enforced disappearances, demilitarize the north of Sri Lanka, implement impartial land dispute resolution mechanisms, re-evaluate detention policies, strengthen formerly independent civil institutions, reach a political settlement on the devolution of power to the provinces, promote and protect the right of freedom of expression for all and enact rule of law reforms,
Noting with concern that the report does not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international law,
1. Calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and to take all necessary additional steps to fulfil its relevant legal obligations and commitment to initiate credible and independent actions to ensure justice, equity, accountability and reconciliation for all Sri Lankans;
2. Requests the Government of Sri Lanka to present, as expeditiously as possible, a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps that the Government has taken and will take to implement the recommendations made in the Commission’s report, and also to address alleged violations of international law;
3. Encourages the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and relevant special procedures mandate holders to provide, in consultation with, and with the concurrence of, the Government of Sri Lanka, advice and technical assistance on implementing the above-mentioned steps; and requests the Office of the High Commissioner to present a report on the provision of such assistance to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-second session.
Human Rights Council adopts a resolution on reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka
Human Rights Council
27 March 2014
Requests High Commissioner to Undertake a Comprehensive Investigation into alleged Serious Human Rights Violations in Sri Lanka
The Human Rights Council in its midday meeting adopted a resolution in which it requested the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka.
The Council adopted by a vote of 23 in favour, 12 against and 12 abstentions, a resolution in which it requested the Office of the High Commissioner to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission, and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders.
The Council also adopted a decision in which it decided to postpone the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances until its twenty-seventh session.
France, United States, Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia and Mauritius spoke in the introduction of resolutions.
Speaking in general comments were Italy (on behalf of the European Union), Montenegro and the United Kingdom.
Speaking in explanation of the vote before or after the vote were Pakistan, Venezuela, China, Russia, Maldives, Indonesia, Cuba, Montenegro, Mexico, Republic of Korea, Japan, and Brazil.
The United Kingdom and Pakistan spoke in right of reply.
Sri Lanka spoke as the concerned country.
The next meeting of the Council will be at 3.15 p.m. this afternoon when it will continue to take action on remaining decisions and resolutions.
Action on Decision under Agenda Item on Organizational Matters and Decisions
Action on Decision on Postponement of Renewal of Mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances
In a resolution (A/HRC/25/L.4) on the postponement of the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, adopted without a vote, the Council decided, in an effort to synchronize schedules for resolutions, mandates and the presentation of reports by the special procedures of the Council, to postpone the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances to its twenty-seventh session, and, for that reason, to extend, on an exceptional basis, the mandate of the Working Group until that session.
France, introducing draft decision L.4 on the postponement of the renewal of the mandate of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, said that its aim was to postpone the renewal to the twenty-seventh session of the Council when the Council would have to deliver an opinion on a new three-year renewal. France restated how important the mandate of the Working Group was. It had done some exceptional work. The sponsors thanked all delegations that had supported the text. It was hoped that the draft decision would be adopted by consensus.
Draft decision L.4 was adopted without a vote.
Action on Resolution under Agenda Item on Annual Report of the High Commissioner, Reports of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
Action on Resolution on Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability, and Human Rights in Sri Lanka
In a resolution (A/HRC/25/L.1/Rev.1) on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, adopted by a vote of 23 in favour, 12 against and 12 abstentions, the Council requests the Office of the High Commissioner to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders.
The resolution also requests the High Commissioner to present an oral update to the Council at its twenty-seventh session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-eighth session. The Council reiterates its call upon the Government of Sri Lanka to implement effectively the constructive recommendations made in the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission; and calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to release publicly the results of its investigations into alleged violations by security forces, including the attack on unarmed protesters in Weliweriya on 1 August 2013, and the report of 2013 by the court of inquiry of the Sri Lanka Army.
The result of the vote was as follows:
In favour (23): Argentina, Austria, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Montenegro, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Sierra Leone, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
Against (12): Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, Kenya, Maldives, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Viet Nam.
Abstentions (12): Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Morocco, Namibia, Philippines, and South Africa.
Before the vote on the resolution, the Council voted on a no-action motion on the resolution, rejecting it by a vote of 16 in favour, 25 against and 6 abstentions.
The Council also voted on a motion to delete operative paragraph 10 L./Rev.1 (Rule 129), and voted to keep the paragraph in the resolution, by a vote of 23 in favour, 14 against and 10 abstentions.
The result of the vote was as follows:
In favour (23): Argentina, Austria, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Montenegro, Peru, Republic of Korea, Romania, Sierra Leone, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom, and the United States of America.
Against (14): Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Maldives, Pakistan, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Venezuela and Viet Nam.
Abstentions (10): Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gabon, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Morocco, Namibia, Philippines, and South Africa.
The United States, introducing draft resolution L.1/Rev.1 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, said that the resolution highlighted that the human rights situation in Sri Lanka had continued to deteriorate, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual violence, repression to human rights defenders and violence against religious minorities. The international community was also concerned at the lack of progress by Sri Lanka to ensure accountability for serious human rights and humanitarian law violations. The resolution requested that the Office of the High Commissioner undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights by both parties during the period covered by the report of the Government’s own Lesson Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, also introducing the resolution, said that Sri Lanka had yet to make significant progress to ensure reconciliation and accountability. Human Rights Defenders were harassed in Sri Lanka. The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia was committed to cooperating with Sri Lanka to implement this resolution as well as recommendations made in the report by the Office of the High Commissioner.
Mauritius, also introducing the resolution, said that it had a consistent position regarding the need for promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. The draft resolution called on Sri Lanka to respect its commitments and would help the national reconciliation process in Sri Lanka.
Italy, in a general comment on behalf of the European Union, said that despite positive elements, limited progress had been made in addressing reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka. It urged the Government to uphold its international obligations and implement the recommendation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission. It shared concern that domestic investigations to date into allegations of serious violations and abuses of international human rights and humanitarian law had lacked credibility and had been insufficient. All Members of the Council were called upon to support the adoption of the resolution.
Montenegro, in a general comment, said that it was aware of the need to address accountability, justice and reconciliation in the aftermath of a conflict and prerequisites were to establish the facts, and re-establish mutual trust. Montenegro strongly believed that it was imperative for the international community to support this process. By adopting the resolution, the Council would express the need for necessary steps to be taken and serve as a reminder of past human rights violations that had yet to be addressed.
The United Kingdom, in a general comment, said that it was committed to supporting long term peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka and welcomed positive steps taken by Sri Lanka so far. However, there was an important gap in those steps, a genuine process to determine the truth regarding allegations of war crimes and serious violations and abuses that took place during the conflict. It was regretted that Sri Lanka had failed to take domestic action itself, despite two previous resolutions by the Council on doing so. In the absence of action by the Government, the international community should support the clear call by the High Commissioner for an international investigation.
Sri Lanka, speaking as the concerned country, stressed that there was no urgent situation in Sri Lanka that warranted the Council’s continued attention. It was ironic that with extensive domestic mechanisms in place, a resolution had been brought to the Council. The draft resolution, if adopted, would not only constitute a serious breach of international law but would create a dangerous precedent in the conduct of international relations and could pose a threat to the sovereignty and independence of Member States. The resolution was also highly intrusive and politicised and did not give due regard or recognition to significant progress made by Sri Lanka in different aspects of the reconciliation process, or the domestic mechanisms underway. In the key operative paragraph, the resolution vested the Office of the High Commissioner with an investigative mandate in violation of Council resolution 60/251 and the institution-building package. In addition to not having the mandate to conduct an investigation, the Office also lacked the capacity and resources to do so. With the deliberate failure to specify a time period in operative paragraph 10 (b), the draft resolution may confine its ambit between 2002 and 2009, thus completely excluding the atrocities and violations of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam prior to 2002.
The operative paragraph 10 (b), furthermore, as presently constituted, was structured in such a partisan manner as to exclude the alleged atrocities committed over the entire duration of the conflict. Sri Lanka was disappointed to note that a key imperative driving this resolution was not genuine concern for the welfare of its people but electoral compulsions of some States at the behest of certain extreme elements with links to the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. Sri Lanka appealed to the conscience of the Member States and, irrespective of the outcome, reiterated that the democratically elected Government of Sri Lanka would never countenance any return to armed conflict or terrorism. The Government was committed to continue its ongoing process of reconciliation and nation-building. The resolution eroded the sovereignty of the people of Sri Lanka, and the core values of the United Nations Charter, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and the basic principles of law that postulated equality among all people. Sri Lanka requested members of the Council to reject the resolution by vote.
Pakistan, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that this approach on the situation in Sri Lanka was counter-productive and that any initiatives had to be taken with Sri Lanka’s cooperation. Sri Lanka had a long tradition of democracy and had succeeded in putting an end to terrorism. Interference to the internal affairs of Sri Lanka was intolerable and in contradiction with the Charter of the United Nations. An international investigation by the Office of the High Commissioner was a clear violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka and had unfortunate budget implications. If this investigation should be funded by the countries supporting this resolution, this would be a serious breach of its impartiality. Furthermore, the time period covered by this investigation was unclear and biased against Sri Lanka as it would not include abuses perpetrated by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam prior to 2002. Pakistan called for a vote for the deletion of operative paragraph 10 of this resolution.
India, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that the end of the conflict in Sri Lanka had provided an opportunity for peace and security. India was supportive of Sri Lanka’s efforts for truth and reconciliation, as well as Sri Lanka’s cooperation with the United Nations. Sri Lanka had made significant progress in the field of reconstruction and resettlement. Sri Lanka had, however, failed to ensure accountability for all violations of human rights and humanitarian law. India called for an investigation of all these allegations, including on cases of enforced disappearances. India and Sri Lanka had a long cooperation history. In asking the Office of the High Commissioner to investigate, the resolution ignored progress already achieved in this field. Sri Lanka should be provided all the cooperation it deserved. Any external mechanism would not reflect the spirit of dialogue and cooperation of the Human Rights Council. India would therefore abstain in the vote.
Cuba, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that it supported the request made by Pakistan on operative paragraph 10. Sri Lanka had shown genuine commitment to the promotion and protection of the human rights of its people. Cuba said that some pretexts had been used to induce a need to submit the draft resolution. Unfortunately, during this session the imposition of this and other biased initiatives had been seen and this was not needed. A spirit of dialogue and cooperation was needed. Cuba supported efforts made by the Government of Sri Lanka to press ahead for reconciliation and the promotion and protection of human rights. Cuba could not support this politically motivated draft resolution and would vote against it.
Venezuela, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, categorically rejected initiatives such as this one. They tarnished the work of the Council and were most often used against developing countries. It was regretted that the co-sponsors had simply ignored the demonstrated efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka to comply with its human rights obligations since peace was restored in 2009. Venezuela believed that the interventionist attempts into Sri Lanka’s domestic policies were unjustified and attempted not based on cooperation or genuine dialogue, the cornerstones of the work of the Council. It raised a warning about the very serious risk posed by resolutions such as this one. The Universal Periodic Review was the appropriate forum for such discussions. Venezuela would vote against the resolution.
The Maldives, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, welcomed the efforts by Sri Lanka, adding that the Maldives respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. It noted with appreciation that Sri Lanka cooperated constructively with the United Nations. It was important that the international community refrained from taking any initiatives that would have a negative impact on reconciliation in Sri Lanka.
Indonesia, in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said that reconciliation had to be undertaken openly and constructively. Indonesia welcomed Sri Lanka’s efforts and cooperation with United Nations human rights mechanisms. Indonesia believed that Sri Lanka had to make efforts toward accountability and improve its human rights situation with the support of the international community. This draft resolution would undermine the efforts of Sri Lanka. Indonesia would therefore abstain.
Pakistan repeated that the funding for the resolution was significant and it was not clear where it was coming from; if it was coming from a country that sponsored the resolution then that would taint the whole process. If funding was not available, then no action on the resolution should be taken.
The President then read out appropriate provisions from the rules of procedure on the no-action motion. The President then gave the floor to two countries supporting the no-action motion and two countries against it.
Cuba said it was in favour of the no-action motion. No satisfactory response had been received indicating that resources were available for the implementation of the resolution, and there was no doubt that this would require significant funding, millions in fact. Cuba supported the no-action motion.
Russia supported the proposal of Pakistan to postpone the action on this resolution.
United States said it opposed the no-action motion, and said that the procedure for this resolution’s budget implications was the same as for all other resolutions. The main sponsors of this resolution had organized open consultations and had taken a range of views into account, including Pakistan. The Office of the High Commissioner had the full mandate to carry out investigations as it had already done in the past. The investigation would be carried out on a time period that had been set by the Government of Sri Lanka itself. The no-action motion was an ill attempt to oppose this resolution.
Montenegro said it opposed the no-action motion. The Office of the High Commissioner had already carried out similar investigations on other situations. Montenegro fully rejected the position of Pakistan regarding the lack of budget. This resolution had been presented in full compliance with the Council’s rules of procedure and had been negotiated openly. Members who opposed this resolution were free to vote no or to abstain, but there was no reason to postpone its consideration.
The Council then rejected the no-action motion by a vote of 16 in favour, 25 against and 6 abstentions.
In a separate vote on the operative paragraph 10 L./Rev.1 (Rule 129), the Council decided to keep the paragraph in the resolution, by a vote of 23 in favour, 14 against and 10 abstentions.
China said that Sri Lanka had made significant progress in the promotion and protection of human rights and the promotion of stability and this deserved recognition and acknowledgement by the international community. People had the right to choose their own path to development. (President interrupts). China requested a vote on the draft resolution L.1/Rev.1.
The Council then adopted the resolution with a vote of 23 in favour, 12 against and 12 abstentions.
China, speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that it profoundly regretted that it could not make an explanation of the vote before the vote. In the view of China, Sri Lanka had spent more than a decade in conflict and had made commendable efforts to promote development for its people. Co-sponsors of this resolution were interfering in the process of reconciliation and in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka. Furthermore, the draft went against the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner. China, therefore, had voted against this resolution.
Mexico, speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said it had engaged in the negotiations constructively to ensure that the text was balanced. Mexico, therefore, had voted in favour of the resolution, which would deepen the cooperation of Sri Lanka with the Office of the High Commissioner and the Human Rights Council. The nature of the Office of the High Commissioner would ensure the independence and impartiality of its investigation of alleged violations in Sri Lanka. Mexico called on Sri Lanka to fully cooperate in the implementation of this resolution.
The Republic of Korea, speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that Sri Lanka had made important efforts on reconstruction and resettlement, which had to be appreciated. The Republic of Korea underlined, however, that there was still room for improvement in terms of accountability, which was a necessity for true national reconciliation. This resolution would support Sri Lanka in these efforts. The Republic of Korea called on Sri Lanka to fully cooperate in the implementation of this resolution.
South Africa, in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that it had abstained from the vote. South Africa had encouraged Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and had also supported the establishment of an efficient, inclusive and transparent mechanism to deal with human rights violations. The people of Sri Lanka should speedily agree on a process that would allow for a meaningful political process that would bring about a constitution acceptable to all Sri Lankans.
Japan, in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that it had maintained bilateral dialogue with Sri Lanka and believed that its continued engagement with this country had resulted in a number of commitments such as to hold the elections, to release the final report of the Presidential Commission on missing persons, and others. It was unfortunate that the discussions on this resolution did not promote confidence-building between parties. Sri Lanka should do it utmost to cooperate with the international community, improve the human rights situation and achieve national reconciliation.
Cuba, in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that it had voted against the resolution because of its political nature. Cuba was entirely against the manipulation of the voting procedures and said that the President himself had violated the procedure twice today. It was the duty of the secretariat to advise the President on the full implementation and interpretation of the rules of the procedure.
Russian Federation, in an explanation of the vote after the vote, said that this resolution interfered with Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process. The resolution went beyond the mandate of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.
United Kingdom, speaking in a right of reply to allegations made by Pakistan that it had conducted torture while countering terrorism, rejected those allegations. The United Kingdom was committed to protecting human rights while countering terrorism.
Brazil, speaking in an explanation of the vote after the vote, acknowledged the progress achieved by Sri Lanka, and recognized the enormous challenges countries faced after an armed conflict. Brazil appreciated the willingness of Sri Lanka to engage with the United Nations human rights system. Brazil however believed that steps remained to be taken in the field of accountability, reconciliation and reparation to the victims. International support and cooperation were crucial to achieving these objectives.
Pakistan, speaking in a right of reply concerning the right of reply of the United Kingdom, said that Pakistan had not made mention of any names and if delegations felt accusations were directed against them, then it was their guilty conscience talking.
India’s Vote on Sri Lanka: A Responsible Choice
Image by UN Mission Geneva (Eric Bridiers)
On March 27, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted Resolution 25/1 on Sri Lanka. India abstained in the main vote, while the resolution got the support of only 23 countries out of 47 UNHRC members. India’s decision to abstain was a sensible, responsible, and balanced choice, taking into account a host of factors.
Human rights groups had alleged that war crimes were committed by the Sri Lankan military and the rebel Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the Sri Lankan civil conflict (1983-2009), especially during the final months of the conflict in 2009. The alleged war crimes include attacks on civilians and civilian buildings by both sides, executions of combatants and prisoners by both sides, and enforced disappearances and child recruitment by the LTTE. An expert group appointed by the United Nations Secretary-General (UNSG) found “credible allegations” which, if proven, indicated that war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by the Sri Lankan Military and the LTTE called for an independent international inquiry into the alleged violations of international law. The UNHRC has been considering this matter since 2012, and in August 2013, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights visited Sri Lanka with the cooperation of the Government of Sri Lanka. The March 2014 session of the UNHRC considered the matter once again and adopted Resolution 25/1.
The Sri Lanka government had appointed, in May 2010, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a commission of inquiry, to investigate the facts and circumstances which led to the failure of the ceasefire agreement of February 2002, the lessons that should be learnt from those events, and the institutional, administrative, and legislative measures which need to be taken in order to prevent any recurrence of such concerns in the future; and to promote further national unity and reconciliation among all communities. The LLRC report was made public in December 2011. The commission has been heavily criticized by international human rights groups, the UN Group of Experts, and others due to its limited mandate, alleged lack of independence, and failure to meet minimum international standards or offer protection to witnesses.
During the discussion, in a procedural motion tabled by Pakistan, India had voted for a “no action” motion, and against operative paragraph 10(b) calling for an investigation process by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), on the grounds that there were no budgetary resources for such an activity. Both these moves failed, and the resolution itself was carried by 23 for, 12 against, and 12 abstentions. The voting was along predictable lines, with the US and European countries lining up as a solid block, while the developing countries were split. Argentina, Austria, Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Chile, Costa Rica, Côte d’Ivoire, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Montenegro, Peru, the Republic of Korea, Romania, Sierra Leone, the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, United Kingdom, and the United States of America voted in favour. Voting against Algeria, China, Congo, Cuba, Kenya, Maldives, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Venezuela, and Vietnam. Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Gabon, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Morocco, Namibia, the Philippines, and South Africa abstained. Significantly, the Resolution managed to secure only one vote from the Asian region. The gap between the positions of Sri Lanka and the sponsors of the Resolution proved too wide to reach a consensus.
India’s position is seen as critical, being the closest neighbour to Sri Lanka with the greatest engagement and influence on Sri Lanka. India was opposed to the inclusion of the operative paragraph 10(b) which, for the first time, called on the OHCHR
to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties in Sri Lanka during the period covered by the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission [LLRC], and to establish the facts and circumstances of such alleged violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability, with assistance from relevant experts and special procedures mandate holders.
The Indian view is that such a decision is highly intrusive and undermines national sovereignty, and would not be a constructive approach. That the period covered by the LLRC was limited to crimes committed between 2002 and 2009 was also criticized by the Sri Lankan government as seeking to leave out crimes committed in the period of 1983-2002 when a number of terrorist attacks were committed by the LTTE.
Should India have voted for the resolution as demanded by groups in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu? This would have damaged India’s relationship with Sri Lanka further. India’s substantial programme of assistance to the Tamil community in Sri Lanka needs the cooperation of Sri Lanka’s government to succeed. India is the one country that can make a big difference in the lives of the Tamil population in Sri Lanka through its direct assistance and through its constructive engagement with the Sri Lanka government. Keeping this effort going must be a top priority, and Tamil groups in India and elsewhere should appreciate this. India’s votes on the two procedural motions clearly indicate its opposition to the intrusive mechanism suggested. Its abstention on the main vote was, therefore, an attempt to strike a balance. An early benefit has been the release of over 100 Indian fishermen detained in Sri Lanka.
Much media attention has focused on the question of India’s vote being a strategic choice to avoid losing ground to China and Pakistan, who have been strong supporters of the Sri Lankan government position. But clearly, India’s relationship with Sri Lanka has its own dynamics and cannot be hyphenated with any other country. Pro-LTTE elements in the Tamil diaspora have been strongly lobbying governments, especially in the UK, Canada, and Australia, to condemn Sri Lanka’s government in the UNHRC. Despite this, Australia, a non-member of the UNHRC, has taken a stand similar to India against the international enquiry process.
The new resolution could adversely affect the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka and has led to greater polarization. The Tamil National Alliance, Sri Lanka’s leading Tamil political party, has welcomed the adoption of the Resolution. Calling on the Sri Lanka government to cooperate with the UN in implementing the resolution, it said the Resolution “sends a strong message to the Sri Lankan government that the undemocratic, militarized and discriminatory trajectory on which it has set the country is unacceptable and unsustainable.” Sri Lanka’s government has banned the Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam and 15 other groups (based in the US, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Norway) under UN Security Council Resolution 1373, which sets out strategies to combat terrorism and control terrorist financing. The move would add to a climate that made it difficult to interact with Tamil groups, as it could render them vulnerable to anti-terror laws. The crackdown on activists and civil society figures is being seen as a move to discourage potential witnesses from cooperating with the UN inquiry, which was scheduled to deliver an oral report to the UNHRC in September 2014, and a written report in March 2014.
The question of human rights violations during a major counterterrorism operation is a highly sensitive matter. Violations can be and are indeed committed by government forces as well as terrorist groups. Countries such as the US, UK, Argentina, Mexico, Chile, Peru, and so on have witnessed such episodes. The international community must ensure that actions to protect the human rights of the population do not undermine the international struggle against terrorism. There is an unfortunate tendency to apply double standards and geopolitical interests in this game.
At the end of the day, the UNHRC Resolution is a Pyrrhic victory. Sri Lanka will have no incentive to cooperate with an investigation that will be literally a trial in absentia with a predetermined conclusion. If this happens, the credibility of the UNHRC will be damaged. It is unfortunate that so many Latin American states and developing countries have yielded to Western pressure in supporting such a resolution. The task of helping to heal the wounds of the 26-year civil conflict in Sri Lanka will have to be undertaken by Sri Lanka’s Asian neighbours, among which India has a prominent place. It will be a challenge for India to find constructive ways to engage with Sri Lanka to move forward toward national reconciliation.
Further Reading on E-International Relations
- Parliamentary Elections in Sri Lanka: Entrenching Democratic Change
- String of Pearls: India and the Geopolitics of Chinese Foreign Policy
- Hindutva and Citizenship in India: Helping Refugees or Building Vote Banks?
- When is Secession Justified? The Kashmir Case
- Walking the Reflexive Talk
- India and Pakistan: Formalizing the 2003 Ceasefire Agreement
Why India’s Vote Against Sri Lanka in UNHRC in 2012 and 2013 Should be Seen as an Aberration
Political parties in Tamil Nadu have decried the stand taken by the government recently calling it a betrayal of the State of Tamil Nadu and Tamil people in Sri Lanka.
India has continued its stand of supporting Sri Lanka in UNHRC and has once again abstained from the voting process on a resolution demanding a war crime investigation against the Sri Lankan government and its army. The resolution was recently accepted after the UN body approved it and asked for an investigative mechanism to investigate human rights abuses in Sri Lanka in a civil war that killed thousands of civilians, mostly Tamil.
Political parties in Tamil Nadu have decried the stand taken by the government calling it a betrayal of the State of Tamil Nadu and the Tamil people in Sri Lanka but when we see the realpolitik behind it, we can understand why India has adopted this strategy.
Because India cannot allow China to make deep inroads in Sri Lanka.
Because an increased economic dominance may allow China in future to have political and strategic dominance.RELATED NEWS
- Sri Lanka is looking to Reset Ties with India, Bridge the ‘Trust Deficit’
- How India Lost Lanka to China—Starting with Strategic Blunders during Indira Regime
An increased Chinese footprint in Sri Lanka is a threat to India as it challenges India’s influence in the Indian Ocean region and poses new security challenges to India’s naval superiority in the geo-strategic area. In 2014, when two Chinese submarines and a warship docked at the Colombo port, it sent alarm signals because it was a rare event then but now, with the frequent Chinese visits, the clear writing is on the wall that China may well soon be positioned in our immediate neighbourhood.
For Sri Lanka, India was once a close relative because of the shared history and culture but now China has become the country’s closest friend, as declared by Sri Lanka’s Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena recently.
Beijing sensed an opportunity in Sri Lanka during the civil war against LTTE, a military separatist organisation that wanted to create an independent Tamil state. Then no country including India was willing to supply arms and ammunition to Sri Lanka. While India said it would supply only non-lethal weapons, China not just extended the strong diplomatic support but also helped the country win the civil war by supplying required arms and ammunition.
The move made the existing Sri Lankan leadership heavily pro-China. It was also supported well on the ground with increased Sri Lankan public trust that it was China who finally helped Sri Lanka win the civil war.
The casualty – India-Sri Lanka relationship. India realised this emerging threat in its immediate neighbourhood. And it called for immediate reconciliatory steps to be taken.PROMOTED CONTENTBy
After winning the civil war, Sri Lanka saw a huge international pressure coming up to probe its wartime atrocities. The UN in March 2009 said that the Sri Lankan army and the LTTE both committed war crimes which killed thousands of civilians, mostly Tamil. Times newspaper reported that at least 20,000 people were killed just in the last phase of the war. There were allegations that Sri Lanka used heavy weapons to shell safe zones of civilians, hospitals and food distribution lines and conducted extrajudicial killings.
To rebut these allegations and to justify its action in the civil war, Sri Lanka moved a resolution in the UNHRC in May 2009. Resolution S-11/1 stressed that Sri Lanka had a sovereign right to act to defend its unity and territorial integrity and appealed for financial support in post-war reconstruction.
To counter the increasing Chinese footprint, India supported this Sri Lankan resolution which was later passed by the UNHRC with 29 votes in its favour and 12 against it. India, along with Brazil and Cuba also helped Sri Lanka by preventing the passage of another strong anti-Sri Lankan resolution presented in the UN by some countries. For India, respecting Sri Lanka’s unity, stability and territorial integrity were the main counterpoints. Also, Sri Lanka needed support now to move onwards on the path of reconciliation and reconstruction.
But Indian Tamils were greatly peeved with it. Tamil Nadu’s Chief Minister M. Karunanidhi, whose party DMK was in the ruling alliance at the Centre, wrote to then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh that the Sri Lankan resolution was against the interests of Sri Lankan Tamils. AIADMK’s Jayalalithaa wanted Sri Lanka’s constitution to be amended and the UN and human rights organisations to be given access to the areas ravaged by the war.
So, in 2012, India took a stand that was more in line with the concerns of its domestic politics. It voted against Sri Lanka in a UNHRC resolution. Resolution 19/2 was drafted by the US against Sri Lanka. Manmohan Singh said it was a way to express the Indian concern on the situation of Sri Lankan Tamils.
China-backed Sri Lanka in rejecting this resolution. The country said the resolution was an interference in Sri Lanka’s domestic affairs, and could in fact, affect the reconciliation process ongoing in the country.
In 2013, repeating its 2012 stand, while voting for the UNHRC Resolution 22/1 on war crimes which were drafted again by the US against Sri Lanka, India, in fact, used some pretty strong words. Dilip Sinha, the Indian envoy to the UN, called for an independent investigation into Sri Lankan war crimes.
By that time, China had made deep inroads in Sri Lanka. The country has got Chinese loans and grants worth $4 billion since 2009 with China funding and developing 70% of the infrastructural projects in the country including the deep-sea Hambantota port.
A Sri Lanka getting more and more financially dependent on China was a warning message to India that China, through its financial expansion, could finally push its ‘string of pearls’ policy in Sri Lanka. Through its ‘string of pearls strategy, China aims to develop commercial and military establishments in the Indian Ocean Region, especially in India’s neighbourhood.
It was time for India to do a course correction on this matter, and at the same time, it had to be a balancing act to address its domestic concerns or the inevitable backlash from Tamil Nadu.
And abstinence was the only way to show that India, in fact, was friendly towards all the stakeholders here, Tamils in India, Tamil in Sri Lanka and Sri Lanka itself. It was coupled with the fact that India was a major financial stakeholder in the Tamil settlement process in the island nation.
In March 2014, UNHRC Resolution 25/1 against Sri Lanka’s War Crimes, India abstained arguing that the resolution ignored the reconciliation steps taken so far by Sri Lanka. India opposed the resolution’s demand that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should investigate the human rights situation in Sri Lanka. India called it an intrusive approach that undermined Sri Lankan sovereignty.
The next three UNHRC resolutions, Resolution 30/1 in 2015, Resolution 34/1 in 2017 and Resolution 40/1 in 2019, were adopted without a vote and every time India supported Sri Lanka.
With the 2015 resolution, India hoped for consensus to evolve and backed Sri Lanka’s opposition to foreign judges to probe war crimes. India again decided to go with the consensus in the 2017 resolution respecting Sri Lanka’s commitment against the expectations made. During an interactive session of the 2019 resolution, India highlighted the reconciliatory steps taken so far and appreciated the progress made by Sri Lanka.
And following the same approach with the recent resolution presented in the UNHRC. While abstaining from the voting process on March 23, India said it respected both Sri Lanka’s unity, stability and territorial integrity and Sri Lankan Tamils’ equality, justice, dignity and peace.
The stand taken by India was appreciated by both, the Sri Lankan government and the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), a political alliance representing the Tamil community of the country. Tamil Nadu’s political parties called it a betrayal but that can be seen more like an electoral statement just before the State Assembly election on April 6.
While Gunawardena thanked India for abstaining from voting, TNA said that the Indian statement ahead of the vote, of respecting both Sri Lankan governments and Sri Lankan Tamils considerations, greatly encouraged us.
UN Rights Council: Crucial Vote on Sri Lanka Inquiry
International Investigation a Pivotal Step for Justice
***Update: On March 27, 2014, the UN Human Rights Council passed the Sri Lanka resolution by a vote of 23 to 12, with 12 abstentions.
“The broad council support for the Sri Lanka resolution is a huge step forward for justice for all Sri Lankans,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director, Human Rights Watch. “It’s now up to Sri Lanka and other countries to work with the UN human rights office to put this resolution into motion.”
(Geneva) – Members of the United Nations Human Rights Council should vote for a resolution calling on the UN’s human rights office to investigate allegations of war crimes by all sides during the final months of Sri Lanka’s civil war, Human Rights Watch said today. The vote on the resolution is expected this week.
The Sri Lankan government has failed to seriously respond to two previous Human Rights Council resolutions seeking national investigations into violations of international human rights and humanitarian law during the last stages of fighting with the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), which resulted in the deaths of as many as 40,000 civilians.
“The Human Rights Council needs to step in and act for justice because Sri Lanka has failed to do so,” said Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director. “Instead of investigating those responsible for atrocities, the Sri Lankan government has cynically absolved its forces of any wrongdoing and lashed out at those seeking accountability. Passing this resolution will send a strong message to all victims of Sri Lanka’s war that they have not been forgotten.”
Under the current draft of the resolution, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is directed to undertake a comprehensive investigation into alleged serious abuses of human rights and related crimes by both parties and establish the facts of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring accountability.
Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war came to an end in May 2009 with the defeat of the LTTE. According to the report by a panel of experts appointed by UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, government forces engaged in widespread abuses, including indiscriminate shelling of civilians, summary executions, and rape. The LTTE held civilians as human shields, used child soldiers, and killed families who tried to flee.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay reported in February that the Sri Lankan government’s failure to undertake a credible national process to address abuses “can no longer be explained as a function of time or technical capacity, but that it is fundamentally a question of political will.”
Although the conflict has been over for nearly five years, the government continues to use war era legislation, such as the Prevention of Terrorism Act, for political purposes – most recently to detain two human rights activists without charge. Those who speak out publicly on human rights abuses face harassment and threats and have been subject to campaigns of intimidation in the government-backed media.
“This resolution provides Sri Lanka with a real opportunity to move forward on an issue of increasing international concern,” said de Rivero. “Sri Lanka should seize the moment and work with the UN to deliver what the victims of the war need: justice.”
US-backed UNHRC resolution puts Sri Lanka on notice
26 March 2021
On Tuesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) passed a new resolution on Sri Lanka and called on the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to monitor human rights violations in the country.
The resolution was presented by the UNHRC’s “Core Group on Sri Lanka,” whose members include the UK, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi. The US State Department issued a statement declaring that it was a co-sponsor.
Entitled “Promoting reconciliation, accountability, and human rights in Sri Lanka,” the purpose of the resolution is to pressure President Gotabhaya Rajapakse’s government to break relations with China and more actively integrate with Washington’s military-strategic preparations against China. The resolution was supported by 22 countries, with 11 in opposition and 14 abstention.
Senior Sri Lankan leaders, including President Rajapakse himself, heavily lobbied the UNHRC members to oppose the resolution. The US and UK intensely campaigned to isolate and reduce support for Colombo. The media reported that it was the lowest number of votes for Sri Lanka when similar UNHRC resolutions were first moved against the country.
Washington backed a 2009 resolution a month after Colombo’s ended its bloody war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), and sponsored all UNHRC resolutions on Sri Lanka between 2012 and 2017.
This week’s 16-point resolution called for the devolution of power, protection of human rights, and a “review” of the prevention of terrorism act, accountability, respect of religious freedoms and protection of human rights defenders. It also expressed concerns about the militarization of the civilian government.
In formulating the resolution, its sponsors have cynically exploited the anti-democratic measures of the Colombo government. Accountability is a reference to the crimes committed during the final months of the war against the LTTE when at least 40,000 civilians were killed, including surrendering LTTE leaders. The Tamil population has continuously demanded Colombo provide information about the hundreds of young men who disappeared after surrendering to the army.
In recent months, the Rajapakse regime has inflamed anti-Islamic sentiment and alienated the community with the forcible cremation of Muslims killed by COVID-19. It has also stepped up the militarization of his administration with the elevation of retired generals into key government positions. Foreword to the German edition of David North’s Quarter Century of WarJohannes Stern, 5 October 2020After three decades of US-led wars, the outbreak of a third world war, which would be fought with nuclear weapons, is an imminent and concrete danger.
Significantly, the resolution calls on the OHCHR “to collect, consolidate, analyse and preserve information and evidence and to develop possible strategies for future accountability processes for gross violations of human rights or serious violations of international humanitarian law in Sri Lanka to advocate for victims and survivors, and to support relevant judicial and other proceedings including in the Member States with competent jurisdiction.”
According to media reports, the establishment of a relevant database for “future accountability processes” would cost $US2.8 million over an 18-month period. The body would be staffed by 12 personnel, including three legal advisors, two analysts, two investigators and human rights officers. It is the first time a UNHRC resolution has outlined specific measures for international intervention in Sri Lanka.
Concerns about war crimes, suppression of democratic rights and militarisation of the government by sponsors of the UNHCR resolution are utterly hypocritical.
In the last three decades alone, the US, UK, Canada and Germany have unleashed neo-colonial military interventions killing hundreds of thousands of people and committing countless war crimes.
The ruling elites in these imperialist countries have responded to the economic and social crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic by promoting extreme right-wing and fascistic forces. A sharp expression of this extreme-rightward turn was the Trump-led fascistic coup attempt in Washington on January 6.
The UNHCR resolution has nothing to do with exposing war crimes or defending human rights but is another expression of intense US efforts to undercut Beijing’s influence in the region by putting Colombo on notice over its relations with Beijing.
The US and its strategic ally India are concerned about the Rajapakse government’s increasing financial dependence on Beijing. Teetering on the brink of default, the cash-strapped government last week obtained a $1.5 billion swap loan from the People’s Bank of China to boost its falling foreign reserves.
In 2015, Washington orchestrated a regime-change operation against former President Mahinda Rajapakse, the brother of the current president, after “human rights” resolutions at the UNHCR failed to persuade Colombo to distance itself from Beijing.
Last week, Beijing, well aware of Washington’s political manoeuvres, campaigned against the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka. China’s envoy in Geneva urged UNHCR members to oppose the resolution and condemned the “double standards and politicisation of human rights.” He called on the UN body to “promote and protect human rights through genuine dialogue and cooperation” and “respect the sovereignty and independence” of other countries.
President Rajapakse spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, appealing to him to oppose the resolution. India, however, abstained from the UNHRC vote. New Delhi maintains close contact with the Tamil nationalist parties in Sri Lanka who are pressuring Colombo for a power-sharing arrangement.
Pawan Kumar Badhe, India’s envoy in Geneva, called on Colombo “to address the aspiration of Tamil community… [and] engage constructively with the international community to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens.”
Addressing parliament on Thursday, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena ludicrously declared that the resolution “will have an adverse effect on the ongoing efforts to maintain peace, reconciliation and economic development in the country.”
Conscious that Colombo is under immense pressure from Washington, he insisted, however, that “Sri Lanka will continue to engage constructively with the UN and its agencies in the same spirit of cooperation…”
Sajith Premadasa, leader of Samagi Jana Balavegaya, the main opposition party, told parliament that the reason the UNHRC resolution had been passed was “because the government has adopted policies that have led to disunity and mistrust among different communities in the country.” In the same breath, Premadasa declared that his party “is willing to support the government to take forward a domestic mechanism.”
Leading Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) member Bimal Ratnayake said that the government “has betrayed the country for its vicious and dictatorial power. Even now we should admit our mistakes without being conceited. We urge the government to respect human rights, abolish the 20th amendment to the Constitution, stop militarisation and we will win at the UNHRC next time.”
These organisations have consistently downplayed the geo-strategic issues underpinning the UNHCR resolution. The SJB leadership, previously in the United National Party, and the JVP fully backed the war and deny that the military committed any war crimes. Like Rajapakse’s ruling party, they depend on the military and know that it will be needed to defend the ruling elite against the mass eruption of social tensions.
The UNHRC resolution is not just about Sri Lanka but is another indication of the intense pressure being exerted by Washington on its allies in preparation for US-led military operations against China. A war between these nuclear-armed nations would rapidly escalate into a catastrophic global conflagration.
Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka
Document Type: Final Resolution
Date: 2019 April
Session: 40th Regular Session (2019 Feb)
Agenda Item: Item2: Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
Topic: Sri Lanka, Peace and Transitional Justice
- Main sponsors5
Human Rights Council Fortieth session
25 February–22 March 2019 Agenda item 2
Resolution adopted by the Human Rights Council on 21 March 2019
40/1. Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka
The Human Rights Council,
Reaffirming the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations,
Guided by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights and other relevant instruments,
Reaffirming Human Rights Council resolutions 30/1 of 1 October 2015 and 34/1 of 23 March 2017 on promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka,
Recalling Human Rights Council resolutions 19/2 of 22 March 2012, 22/1 of 21
March 2013 and 25/1 of 27 March 2014,
Reaffirming that it is the responsibility of each State to ensure the full enjoyment of
all human rights and fundamental freedoms of its entire population,
Reaffirming also its commitment to the sovereignty, independence, unity and
the territorial integrity of Sri Lanka,
Recognizing the strong role played by democratic institutions in Sri Lanka in the peaceful resolution of the political situation that arose in Sri Lanka from October to
Welcoming the establishment of the Office on Missing Persons in September 2017
and the appointment of its commissioners in February 2018, and the assumption of its work to fully implement its mandate,
Welcoming also the visits made by the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and
protection of human rights while countering terrorism, from 10 to 14 July 2017, 1 the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrence, from 10 to 23 October 2017, the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, from 4
to 15 December 2017,2 and the Independent Expert on the effects of foreign debt and other related international financial obligations of States on the full enjoyment of all human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, from 3 to 11 September 2018,3
1 See A/HRC/40/52/Add.3.
2 See A/HRC/39/45/Add.2.
3 See A/HRC/40/57/Add.2.
United Nations A/HRC/RES/40/1
Noting with appreciation the return of some private land previously occupied by the
military to civilian ownership, while recalling the repeated public commitments made by the Government of Sri Lanka to release all private land occupied by the military to enable local populations to resume their livelihoods,
Noting other steps taken by the Government of Sri Lanka to implement Human
Rights Council resolution 30/1, including the progress made towards establishing an office on reparations and the submission to the cabinet of a concept paper on a bill to establish a truth and reconciliation commission, the proposed repeal of the Prevention of Terrorism Act of 1978 and the preparation of a draft counter-terrorism act, while reiterating in this context the need for further significant progress and encouragement in this regard the adoption of a time-bound implementation strategy,
1. Takes note with appreciation of the comprehensive report presented by the
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights to the Human Rights Council at its fortieth session,4 pursuant to the request made by the Council in its resolution 34/1, and requests the Government of Sri Lanka to implement fully the measures identified by the
Council in its resolution 30/1 that are outstanding;
2. Welcomes the positive engagement of the Government of Sri Lanka with the
High Commissioner and the Office of the High Commissioner since October 2015, and
with relevant special procedure mandate holders, and encourages the continuation of that
engagement in the promotion and protection of human rights and truth, justice, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka;
3. Requests the Office of the High Commissioner and relevant special procedure mandate holders, in consultation with and with the concurrence of the Government of Sri
Lanka, to continue to strengthen their advice and technical assistance on the promotion and protection of human rights and truth, justice, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka;
4. Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to continue to assess progress on the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes relating to reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka, and to present a written update to the Human Rights Council at its forty-third session, and a comprehensive report, to be followed by a discussion on the implementation of Council resolution 30/1, at its forty-sixth session.
21 March 2019
[Adopted without a vote.]