Colombo, March 21 (newsin.asia): Despite the existence of sharp differences between the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the government of Sri Lanka on the rights situation in the island nation, Sri Lanka will co-sponsor the already signed resolution on the matter at UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, a top source in the government said.
Explaining the government’s stand, the source said that though High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet and the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana expressed clashing views on specific issues, the resolution gives room to Sri Lanka to do what it can and not do what it cannot.
The various provisions in Resolution 30/1 of 2015 are to be implemented fully but only “ in consultation with, and with the concurrence of,” the government of Sri Lanka.
Therefore, there is no danger of Sri Lanka being forced to take any steps deemed unsuitable to it in the context of the constitutional, cultural, and political realities prevailing here.
Thus, despite the hot words uttered on the floor of the council in Geneva, the situation as regards the resolution on Sri Lanka remains the same as before. It is to be co-sponsored.
Gist Of Resolution
The co-sponsored and signed resolution requests the Government of Sri Lanka to implement fully the measures identified by the Council in its resolution 30/1 that are outstanding. It encourages the continuation of that engagement in the promotion and protection of human rights and truth, justice, reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka.
It 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.
It requests the Office of the High Commissioner to continue to assess progress on the implementation of its recommendations and other relevant processes related 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, followed by a discussion on the implementation of Council resolution 30/1, at its forty-sixth session.
Bachelet’s Stinging Observations
Last Saturday, High Commissioner Bachelet called on Sri Lanka to implement a detailed, comprehensive strategy for the transitional process with a fixed timeline. She complained of delays in implementation and attributed them to a “lack of common vision among the country’s highest leadership”.
Deadlock on these important issues has a damaging impact on victims from all ethnic and religious groups and on society as a whole, she stressed.
Bachelet noted that there has been “minimal progress” on accountability and said the continuing impunity risks fuelling communal or interethnic violence, and instability.
Accontability mechanisms, including a specially designated court with Sri Lankan and foreign judges, was enjoined by the relevant resolution designated as 30/1 of 2015.
Bachelet said that the recent appointment to a senior position in the Sri Lankan Army of Major General Shavendra Silva, implicated in alleged serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law, is a worrying development.
The High Commissioner also said the continuing allegations of torture and other human rights violations by security forces, including sexual violence are “troublesome” and called for effective, transparent and independent investigations by the Government, as well as measures to prevent and end such practices.
Bachelet’s report also called for the application of “universal jurisdiction” to Sri Lanka and keeping Sri Lanka firmly on the agenda of the UNHRC.
Lanka’s Sharp Counter
In his speech at the UNHRC on Wednesday, the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister, Tilak Marapana, said that Sri Lanka will cooperate with the UNHRC in implementing resolution 30/1. But at the same time, he pointed out that there are parts of the resolution and the perceptions on which they are based, which cannot be accepted given the facts on the ground, and the cultural, political and constitutional conditions prevailing in Sri Lanka.
On the allegation that war crimes had been committed by the Sri Lankan armed forces and the recommendation that Sri Lanka must be subjected to “universal jurisdiction’, the Foreign Minister said: “ It must be asserted that there are no proven allegations against individuals on war crimes or crimes against humanity in the 2015 report of the OISL ( OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka) .or in any subsequent official document.”
“ It is an injustice to deprive any serving or retired officer of the Sri Lankan security forces or the police of their rights,” he added.
The Minister further said that the damaging assertions of the High Commissioner “remain in direct contradiction to independent assessments sent by Colombo-based foreign missions, UN agencies as well as other international organizations, including the ICRC, some heavily redacted accounts of which have been presented not only in the House of Lords in the UK on 12 October 2017, and in writings by academics and journalists which are found in the public domain.”
Nay To Foreign Judges
Referring to the High Commissioner’s advocacy of a hybrid court with Sri Lankan and foreign judges to try alleged war crimes cases, Marapana said: “ I wish to make it clear that the Government of Sri Lanka at the highest political levels, has both publicly and in discussions with the present and former High Commissioners for Human Rights and other interlocutors, explained the constitutional and legal challenges that precludes it from including non-citizens in its judicial processes.”
“It has been explained that if non-citizen judges are to be appointed in such a process, it will not be possible without an amendment to the Constitution by 2/3 of members of the Parliament voting in favor and also the approval of the people at a Referendum.”
Inaccurate Data on Lands
On the charge that the Lankan government and the armed forces are still holding on to large tracts of land taken from the minority Tamils during the 30 year war against the Tamil militants, Marapana said: “ The data reflected in the High Commissioner’s report in Para 35, that only 75% of the land occupied by the security forces as at 2009 has been released, is at significant variance with the actual numbers. As on March 2019, 88.87% of State lands and 92.16% of private lands have been released.”
Presumptuous Remarks On Mass Graves
On the discovery and dating of skeletal remains in a mass grave in Mannar, and the innuendoes made by the High Commissioner in this regard, Marapana said: “As for the mass graves in Mannar, referred to in para 23 of the High Commissioner’s Report, despite the fact that the test results obtained from a US laboratory have revealed that the said skeletal remains date back to 1499-1719 AD – a period when Sri Lanka was largely under European colonial rule – the report presupposes ‘other mass graves might be expected to be found in the future.’ An assumption of this nature in a public report, on a matter of this magnitude and seriousness, is not acceptable, and may even cast a doubt as regards other assertions in the report.”
Biased Approach To Facts
The Minister pointed to the considerable unevenness in the standards of proof applied to the Government of Sri Lanka, compared to those applied to the unsubstantiated allegations made by Sri Lanka’s detractors and said that this is “problematic and confounding.”
Expanding on this, Marapana said: “Conventional wisdom teaches us that when facts do not fit a theory, the theory has to change. However, conventional wisdom does not seem to be applied to Sri Lanka’s case. It seems that even if the theory is disproved through hard evidence that absolves Sri Lanka, as in the case of the Mannar graves, a matter in which some sceptics sought to implicate the Government of Sri Lanka, such facts are cast aside for further inquiry.”
“At the same time when evidence surfaces, which contests the culpability of the Sri Lankan security forces and police in having deliberately caused civilian casualties during the last phase of the conflict, this evidence is summarily disregarded.”
Denies Colonization of Tamil Areas
On the charge that the government is encouraging the systematic colonization of the Tamil areas, Marapana said: “The Government of Sri Lanka has no policy of colonization of either the Northern Province or Eastern Province, or as a matter of fact, of any province in the country.”
“As regards the contention that land owners are deprived their land by declaring their land as forest cover or as archeological projects, it must be clearly and categorically stated that the Government has not resorted to any such measures.”
“However, it must be borne in mind that the protection of forest land and archaeological projects is an obligation cast on any State in accordance with its international obligations that mandate protection and preservation of the environment and of the cultural heritage.”
“Furthermore, in identifying the relevant forest land and the cultural heritage, respective provincial administrations are also consulted.”