By P.K.Balachandran/Daily Express
Colombo, March 2: Despite the exchange of angry words, there is an underlying consensus among the Sinhala majority political parties in Sri Lanka on the controversial UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s resolution 30/1 of 2015, which prescribes ways to address war crimes allegations against the Sri Lankan armed forces.
The ruling Sri Lanka Podujana Permuna (SLPP)-led coalition and the opposition United National Party (UNP)-led coalition are now engaged in a slanging match on who was responsible for co-sponsoring the resolution and whether withdrawing the co-sponsorship (done in 2015) is a good thing for the country or not.
The “differences” have come to the fore because of the April parliamentary elections in which the “Sinhala nationalist” SLPP is taking on the “pro-West” and “pro-Minorities” UNP. Or to put it the other way round, where the “adventurous and rash” ruling SLPP is up against the more “rational and international” UNP.
However, under the differences are common views on the resolution which will enable the government’s decision to implement only those parts of resolution 30/1 of 2015 which can be implemented given the constitutional and political realities in Sri Lanka.
The common elements are as follows:
(a) Both the SLPP and UNP have been opposed to the hybrid or semi-international judicial mechanism to try cases of alleged war crimes. The Lankan case against the institution of a judicial mechanism with foreign judges was succinctly presented by the previous (UNP) Foreign Minister Marapana. He said that including foreign judges in a Lankan judicial mechanism will require a constitutional amendment with a two thirds majority and a referendum to boot.
(b) Both parties have found the sweeping allegation of war crimes against the entire Lankan armed forces from the bottom to the top on the basis of “command responsibility” to be baseless, gross and unjust.
(c) For both, dragging “war heroes” before an international tribunal or any tribunal for that matter for “war crimes” would be a political “hot potato”.
(d) In the past as well as now, the one-sidedness of the allegations (almost entirely absolving the terrorist LTTE) has been unacceptable across the Sinhalese political divide.
(e) Like the previous government, the present government too has no objection to the Office of Missing Persons (OMP) or the Office of Reparations (OR). The commitment to return lands seized by the military during the war is there as before. Economic development is continuing to be extended to the war zones in the North and East of the island nation.
However, there is a major difference between the Wickremesinghe regime and the Gotabaya regime. While the former was hesitant and not honest about its inability to deliver on promises, the latter is honest and forthright and says clearly what it can and what it cannot.
As stated by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena in the UNHRC last week, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa government has decided to implement only those parts of the resolution which it can implement, and ignore the rest, given the constitutional provisions and the political reality in the country.
Dr.Palitha Kohona, former Lankan Foreign Secretary who had also worked in the UN, said that there is no provision for withdrawing from or amending the said resolution. But Sri Lanka can do what some other countries have done, which is to refrain from implementing the resolution in whole or in part.
“The UNHRC has no power to enforce its resolutions, though members have a moral duty to implement the resolutions. In Sri Lanka’s case the responsibility is a bit more because it had co-sponsored the resolution. However, it is not legally bound to implement it,” Kohona explained.
In his view, by withdrawing from co-sponsorship, the Lankan government has already indicated that it will not implement the resolution in toto.
“There are valid grounds for not implementing it in toto. Some of the prescribed mechanisms have no place in the constitution of Sri Lanka, and there is no political sanction for them either, taking into account the fact that 6.5 million votes were cast against the resolution in the last Presidential election,” he said.
However, as Sri Lanka is wedded to human rights, it will implement those clauses of the resolution which are up its street and for which there are constitutional provisions as was made clear by Foreign Minister Gunawardena in the UNHRC last week.
Gunawardena said: “Sri Lanka remains committed to engaging with the High Commissioner and her Office in achieving sustainable development, peace and reconciliation, within the national framework overwhelmingly approved by the people of Sri Lanka during the Presidential Election last November, where President Gotabaya Rajapaksa was elected with an overwhelming majority.”
“Notwithstanding withdrawing from co-sponsorship of Resolution 30/1, we emphasized our commitment to achieving accountability and human rights within the framework of our Constitution, towards sustainable peace and reconciliation – through the appointment of a domestic Commission of Inquiry (COI), by implementing policies rooted in the Government’s commitments to operationalize the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), and by continuing to work with the assistance of the UN and its agencies.”
“To those who have expressed disappointment on Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw from co-sponsorship of Resolution 40/1, (which includes 30/1 of 2015) despite the Government’s re-assurance to this Council of our commitment to achieving the goals set on accountability and human rights, towards sustainable pace and reconciliation, it is clear that they are privileging a superficial facade which has failed to deliver for four and half years, over the genuine possibility of reconciliation, underpinned by a people’s mandate.”
“In keeping with our consistent policy of continued engagement with the Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka wishes to respond to the current Report of the High Commissioner and engage in a constructive discussion with this august assembly today, with the sincere hope that this Council would recognize the realities on the ground.”
The Gotabaya government’s stand is no different from the UNP government’s stand on the issue from 2015 to 2014 December, notwithstanding its co-sponsoring resolution 30/1 in 2015 and standing by similar resolutions passed by the UNHRC since then.