By Sugeeswara Senadhira/Daily News
Colombo, August 26: Sri Lanka, just like any other self-respecting nation, desires to safeguard its independence and sovereignty and expects the world to respect its sovereignty. As the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) is scheduled to focus on Sri Lanka at its session next month, it is appropriate to recall the message given by Prime Minister Dinesh Gunawardena to the UNHRC Session two years ago when he was the Minister of Foreign Affairs.
At that time some parties attempted to damage the credibility of Sri Lanka in the eyes of the international community. Such irresponsible action damaged long-nurtured regional relationships, Non-Aligned and South Asian solidarity.
“The deliberate polarization it sought to cause through trade-offs that resulted in Sri Lanka’s foreign policy being reduced to a ‘zero-sum game’, made my country a ‘pawn’ on the chess board of global politics, and unnecessarily drew Sri Lanka away from its traditional neutrality,” Gunawardena told the UNHRC.
It is gratifying to learn that India too had made a similar call early this week urging the global community to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and respect international agreements.
Speaking at a United Nations Security Council (UNSC) meeting on ‘Promoting Common Security Through Dialogue and Cooperation’ on August 22, India’s Permanent Representative to the UN, Ruchira Kamboj, said that the international order depended on respect for the principle of sovereignty. Changing the status quo by force harmed common security. She also warned that the U.N. was in real danger by being superseded by more “democratic” groupings, if the Security Council was not reformed.
Although there is a demand for United Nations’ reforms, the UNSC continues to be limited to five permanent members and 10 other members chosen by rotation. Some countries with largest populations such as India, Brazil and South Africa, are not permanent members while countries with much smaller populations – United Kingdom and France are permanent members.
Indian delegate Kamboj, addressing the meeting held under the aegis of China’s presidency of the UNSC for the month of August, said that common security was based on upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by international law, premised upon respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all Member States, resolution of international disputes through peaceful negotiations, and free and open access for all to the global commons.
Terrorism and double standards
“Any coercive or unilateral action that seeks to change the status quo by force is an affront to common security,” Kamboj said, adding that common security was only possible when countries stood together on terrorism and did not practice double standards on the issue and when they did not take unilateral measures to back out of agreements. The Indian delegate told the UNSC that common security was also possible only if countries respected agreements signed with others, bilateral or multilateral, and did not take unilateral measures to nullify them.
She called for multilateral reform, particularly at the Security Council, saying common security could not be aspired for if the common good of the global south was denied representation. “The most urgent thing, therefore, for us to do, is to make the Security Council more representative of developing countries so as to reflect current geopolitical realities,” she said, suggesting that the African continent should also have permanent representation on the Security Council.
As many countries of the South repeatedly pointed out, the UN was created over 75 years ago in the aftermath of World War II, and in today’s context it is highly imbalanced and outdated.
The UN would face a credibility and confidence crisis, Ms. Kamboj said. If the Council was not reformed, there would be a real danger of the UN being superseded by more representative, more transparent, more democratic, and therefore more effective plurilateral and mulilateral groupings, the Indian representative warned.
Sri Lanka and UNHRC
Although Sri Lanka is absolutely committed to working with the UN system, it is not prepared to barter away its independence and sovereignty under any circumstance.
Sri Lanka remains committed to achieving the goals set by the people of Sri Lanka on accountability and human rights, towards sustainable peace and reconciliation, the former Foreign Minister Gunawardena said in his last UNHRC address. He elaborated the steps to be taken to achieve this end; Firstly, the Government of Sri Lanka declares its commitment to achieving sustainable peace through an inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process, including through the appropriate adaptation of existing mechanisms, in line with the Government’s policy framework. This would comprise the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, to review the reports of previous Sri Lankan COIs which investigated alleged violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), to assess the status of implementation of their recommendations and to propose deliverable measures to implement them in line with the new Government’s policy.
Secondly, the Government will also address other outstanding concerns and introduce institutional reforms where necessary, in a manner consistent with Sri Lanka’s commitments, including the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (SDGs). We will implement policies rooted in the Government’s commitment to the people by advancing individual and collective rights and protections under the law, ensuring justice and reconciliation and addressing the concerns of vulnerable sections of society.
A discussion has already been held with the UN Resident Coordinator where it has been agreed to connect the relevant UN agencies to help the Government of Sri Lanka in the implementation of the SDGs.
Thirdly, Sri Lanka will continue to remain engaged with, and seek as required, the assistance of the UN and its agencies including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms in capacity-building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.
Finally, in conjunction with all members of the UN, Sri Lanka will seek to work towards the closure of the Resolution, Gunawardena told the Council.
While speaking at the opening ceremony of the Eastern Provincial Regional Consular Office of the Foreign Ministry in Trincomalee as Foreign Minister, Dinesh Gunawardena stated: “Thirty years of terrorism has disrupted life in these areas and development had declined. However, following the defeat of LTTE terrorism, steps were taken to develop these areas. Presently, our Government is taking steps to provide facilities available in Colombo to the villages as well. We all must work together to develop the country.”
At the independence anniversary, he said: “We must also keep in mind the challenges that have arisen nationally and internationally against the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of this country. We are determined to make Sri Lanka a prosperous country, maintaining friendly relations with the nations of the world.”
Sri Lanka’s position has not changed. At the September 2022 UNHRC Session too, the request to the Council will be for the closure of the resolution on Sri Lanka. As Indian delegate told the UN Security Council earlier this week, “countries must respect each other’s sovereignty.”