By Jehan Perera
The report on Sri Lanka of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has been much stronger than anticipated. It has shattered the belief that Sri Lanka was too important a country, in geopolitical terms, for the international community to use to prove a point. In her report, the High Commissioner has stated that Sri Lanka’s disregard of the commitments that it had made should not become an excuse for other countries to follow suit. The recommendations made in the High Commissioner’s report are dangerous. They include a call for targeted economic and travel sanctions on those suspected of human rights violations. The report has recommended the launch of criminal proceedings at the International Criminal Court and an international mechanism to gather evidence. In addition, there is an invitation to countries to take independent action against those deemed to be human rights violators on the basis of universal jurisdiction.
This latter recommendation, in particular has the possible consequence of opening the floodgates to a whole host of law suits filed by aggrieved individuals and human rights organisations. The High Commissioner’s report is therefore a document that cannot be ignored but needs to be responded to with due attention to detail. If the issues raised in it are not dealt with, it can place members of the government and security forces vulnerable to having legal cases and summons placed before them while they are in transit in foreign countries. The legal field in relation to universal jurisdiction is particularly well developed in Western countries.
The doctrine of universal jurisdiction allows national courts to try cases of crimes against humanity and war crimes even if these crimes are not committed in the national territory and even if they are committed by government leaders of other states. The concept is not new, though states have shown an increasing willingness to enlarge the zone of their jurisdiction and to prosecute or extradite those in high places. (See https://www.globalpolicy.org/international-justice/universal-jurisdiction-6-31.html)
One of the main cases of the practice of universal jurisdiction comes from Chile. The present High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet herself comes from Chile where she became President for two terms. Her father Alberto Arturo Miguel Bachelet Martínez was a Brigadier General of the Chilean Air Force. He opposed the 1973 coup of General Augusto Pinochet, and was imprisoned and subject to torture for several months until his death in 1974 while in prison. After ending his eight- year term as president, former President Pinochet got himself appointed as Senator for life in Chile with immunity for any crimes he may have committed. The arrest of Augusto Pinochet in London after being indicted by a Spanish magistrate in 1998 signaled changing international norms in the late 1990s.
As a result of the precedents of the Pinochet case, other leaders who were alleged to have committed well-documented crimes have been pursued; the former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and Prime Minister Ariel Sharon of Israel. Although an influential and respected person in the US, Henry Kissinger has had to restrict his international travel, because he was wanted in so many jurisdictions either for trial or as a prosecution witness. He served both as Secretary of State and National Security Advisor under the presidential administrations of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford during the Vietnam War in which large numbers of war crimes took place.
The UN Human Rights High Commissioner’s report gives its analysis and recommendations under the topics of “Emerging threats to reconciliation, accountability and human rights; Militarization of civilian government functions; Reversal of Constitutional safeguards; Political obstruction of accountability for crimes and human rights violations; Majoritarian and exclusionary rhetoric; Surveillance and intimidation of civil society and shrinking democratic space; New and exacerbated human rights concerns; Assessment of the implementation of resolution 30/1; Transitional justice and confidence-building measures; Impunity in emblematic cases; Conclusions; Recommendations.” The first indicators of the government’s response to this UN report is that it will respond strongly and show up flaws, biases and weaknesses in the report.
It is likely that the government’s response will be strong as this would be the expectation of the majority of people who voted it to power to put a stop to what they see as excessive international intervention in the internal affairs of the country. However, a strong response to the High Commissioner’s report does not preclude the government from reaching an accommodation with the UN Human Rights Council (which is a separate body and consists of 47 countries which have been elected to sit on it) on the issue of a follow up to its resolutions 30/1 of 2015 and 40/1 of 2017. Reaching accommodation with this body would be a better strategy to follow than one of full scale confrontation as occurred during the period 2011-14 which proved to be costly to the country.
It probably will be easier to reach a compromise agreement with the Human Rights Council which consists of the governments of 47 countries. Already some ambassadors of foreign powers who are expected to be playing a lead role in the deliberations that will take place in Geneva have offered conciliatory messages. US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz has said in an interview that “The support for human rights is absolutely not an effort to bully Sri Lanka or to diminish its sovereignty.” German Ambassador Holger Seubert has tweeted that an “Important UNHRC session coming up in Geneva soon. Hoping that a consensual resolution will be possible.”
Not only are human rights one of the many considerations that governments have, they also consider geopolitics including what is happening in other countries. The latest news is that Myanmar has suffered a military coup and democracy icon Aung San Suu Ki and many of the democratically elected government are under arrest. This is a matter that will necessarily occupy the attention of the Human Rights Council and the secretariat including the High Commissioner. Also, unlike in 2012 and 2013 when it lost in voting at the Human Rights Council in 2021 the balance of global power has shifted and its allies China and Russia much more important on the global stage. However, a confrontational strategy would still pit Sri Lanka against powerful countries, and those who have courts that practice universal jurisdiction, and this is best avoided.
The possibility of a consensual resolution has been a subject of discussion within the government. Foreign Secretary, Prof Jayanath Colombage, a former Admiral of the Sri Lanka Navy, who was part of a team that designed the cooperative naval strategy with foreign powers that overcame the LTTE at sea, including the US and India, has been quoted as saying that a consensual resolution was under consideration. This would provide the government with an opportunity to set out its roadmap for reconciliation and obtain international support for it without going to a divisive vote.
The High Commissioner’s report has noted that the government’s path to reconciliation will be through the two prongs of reparations and development. The governments of the 47 countries represented in the UN Human Rights Council might be more amendable to this government strategy for reconciliation if they see it is in the process of being implemented. Such a strategy cannot remain only a promise but needs to be seen implemented on the ground right away. While development is a long term process whose visible impact may not be seen immediately, there are several act of reparation that can be done with immediate visibility impacts.
These include increasing the quantum of reparations given to families of the missing from the present sum of Rs 6,000 per month, amnesty for LTTE suspects held for over a decade without indictment or trial and resettlement of the war displaced with housing and livelihoods being provided to them. In her recent media interview, US Ambassador Alaina Teplitz has also given some suggestions regarding what the international community is looking at. She said that “it would be good to see more progress in terms of finalizing the last of land returns, in terms of looking at the independent institutions that had been established previously to address the missing, to address the cause of reparation and finally an institution that was not established for looking at the need for some truth telling so that people can kind of examine the past and move ahead.” Another important symbolic reconciliatory action that can be taken at this time would be to sing the national anthem in Tamil also at the Independence Day celebrations on February 4 particularly in the Tamil majority areas.
An island of Pain and Destruction?
When there are several ‘tivus’ in the North, why was Iranativu selected for Muslim Covid burials? Why select an island with people living there, with Catholic priests, too? Why not an island with no humans at all: Is that so difficult for the Burial Experts in the Covid management?
Looks like the disposal of dead bodies, if they happen to be of Covid-infected Muslims, is the biggest problem Sri Lanka is facing today. This is bigger than any economic issue, or any other aspects of development the country and people may be facing. It looks like there is no possibility for a “Saubhagye Dekma” or Vision of Prosperity & Splendour if any Covid Muslims are buried in this Sinhala Bauddha Dupatha.
We tried to send these bodies all the way to the Maldives, on an official request. But failed. This time it is Iranativu – and once again a failure. So why not keep trying at Neduntivu, Sampaltivu, Vidataltivu or any other ‘tivu’ in the North or East; and till a suitable place is found, keep the dead bodies frozen at taxpayer expenditure?
Now that the US has decided to take some un-Trump moves about Saudi Arabia, why does not the former and present US citizens that rule Sri Lanka, think of sending all Covid Muslim corpses to Saudi Arabia, for sacred burials? With the Saudi leaders thinking of new plans for investment, Sri Lanka could become a new target of Saudi funds pouring in. But will this lead to the Sri Lankan Muslims getting any stronger than they are now?
Or, will we wait till we discover or develop a new “Gotativu or Nandasenativu” off Sri Lanka, an Isle of Saubhagya?
Are the Indian Aircraft flying in the special 70-year celebrations of the Sri Lanka Air Force an assurance of new Indian warmth in Sri Lanka-India relations? Did the power of the Indian Air Force, displayed over Galle Face Green, make the government take a quick pro-Indian decision on the West Container Terminal (WCT) in the Port of Colombo?
Can President Gotabaya or PM Mahinda give any explanation why handing over the development of the WCT to the same Indian company, involved in the ECT, could be any better for Sri Lanka? Apart from the Port Trade Unions that are likely to launch a new protest, will the Weerawansa-Gammanpila-Vasudeva team also carry out protests about the WCT? Or, will they be silenced by the realities of pro-Gotabaya Politics?
Has Gotabaya Team’s new position that the Provincial Council elections will be held under the new Constitution, an assurance given to India that the 13h Amendment will remain part of the structure of governance in Sri Lanka? What happened to all those voices of the Pohottuva political players who had virtually written off the 13A? Have they been silenced by the flight of Indian aircraft in the Air Force celebrations?
The Nandasena Gotabaya Team of the Rajavasala had better think of how the yellow robes of sections of the Maha Sangha would react to the WCT deal with India?
The problems of Iranativu and the WCT or Muslim burials and the Port of Colombo are certainly pushed back by the realities of Geneva. The Sri Lankan TV stations that have been very strong in their criticism of Michelle Bachelet, the UN Human Rights Commissioner, about her handling of Human Rights, have given big coverage to her statements critical of the Myanmar coup and its military leaders. Will Michelle Bachelet have a big score against Sri Lanka? Keep guessing.
The issues facing Sri Lanka in Geneva are more about the policies of the present Gotabaya-Mahinda Rajavasala, than issues involving the defeat of the LTTE and matters of responsibility and accountability in the post-war period.
The Easter Carnage that took place, long after the end of the war against LTTE terror, and under the previous Sirisena-Wickremesinghe Yahapalana regime, is certainly at the height of the Rajavasala problems today. Having promised the people that the truth about this carnage will be found and revealed, and the planners and manipulators identified and punished, the Rajavasala is trying to escape its promises and responsibilities.
This is certainly no easy task as it involves the hopes and expectations of many thousands who voted for the Gotabaya and the Pohottuva at the last Presidential and General Elections. Just look at the thousands in the Wattala-Negombo area who turned away from the UNP, did not support the Sajith Premadasa – Telephone, – and voted for the Pohottuva. It was the biggest Catholic turn away from the UNP, as took place in votes for the left in 1956.
We are now moving to a Black Sunday, when Catholics have been asked to wear black in protest at church services, seeking divine intervention to reveal and punish the Easter Sunday killers nearly two years ago. The response that divinity will provide remains to be seen, but with the voice of the Catholic Cardinal echoing the pain of hundreds who have suffered in this carnage, we are certainly moving to a period of much sorrow and even disaster.
Black Sunday may come and go, but by April this year, when black flags are to fly over houses, mainly Catholic, throughout the country, we certainly face a new rise of a major Majority/Minority conflict. Do we have to think of the possible revival of all the pains of the war against the LTTE terror, or think more in terms of peace and cooperation among people, with or without divine intervention.
This will certainly not be easy in the coming months, as we see so much of nature destroyed, forests cut down, sand mined and transported without permits, the greenery of the country rapidly vanishing and only hearing the call of a painful Saubhagya!
Will the call for Divine Help bring us to be an Isle of Peace and Understanding, and not a large Isle of Pain and Destruction?
Go forth boldly against global enemies
At the UNHRC meeting the true friends of Sri Lanka emerged to speak and defend the country battered mercilessly for defeating the world most brutal terrorist organization, i.e., Tamil Tiger terrorists in 2009, who held 20 million Sri Lankans to ransom for well over 25 years.
Leading the Sri Lanka bashing were the UK. Germany. Canada, Switzerland, the Netherlands. Belgium and the USA, all of them having a chequered history in violating human rights at different times. India, our friendly neighbour, while thankfully taking a fair distance from the punitive stance of others, opted to emphasize on “the rights of Sri Lankan Tamils and their ‘aspirations’ insisting on the FULL implementation of the 13 A”. India should be requested to point out whether any Tamil person in Sri Lanka is deprived from enjoying a basic right because he or she is being purely a Tamil. On the 13th A, which was thrust on Sri Lanka along with the so-called Indo-Sri Lanka agreement, most Sri Lankans are of the view that it was a faulty restructuring effort of Sri Lanka’s government by India, and the Police and Land powers under the 13 A are a direct threat to the sovereign Sri Lanka. Further, the Provincial government system has not benefited Sri Lanka in any measurable manner, and has been an exercise in colossal wastage of hard-earned funds of the central government.
As regards aspirations, we are amazed how we can consider ONLY the aspirations of Tamils, as all other ethnic groups and the individuals too have aspirations, and it will be impossible to walk that talk. We need further training in the recognition of aspirations of different groups from India, and we pray for further comments from the HR specialists in India how they have reconciled the aspirations of other than Hindu religious groups — Sheiks, Kashmiris and other minority groups in Northernmost India.
But, many nations at UNHCR rejected the proposition of the Sri Lanka bashers who directly and indirectly were supportive of the LTTE armed insurrection and the separatism, threatening the unitary Sri Lanka. They also rejected the ‘the preventive prescription’ of the Secretary General Bachelet. The nations who supported Sri Lanka stood for the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of a democratic country. Any weaknesses in Sri Lankan affairs should be allowed to be rectified domestically, in keeping with the constitutional provisions of the country, rather than to be dictated and decided upon by the holier than thou sloganeers. Most of the nations who attempt to foist their plan on Sri Lanka are from the Western bloc who killed and maimed millions of persons living in the colonized countries and subsequently destroyed other nations as pawns of the world power games. Their “adherence”to human rights are completely at variance with their practices on the ground.
Now, Sri Lanka should re-examine their directions and resolve to work with the friendly nations who supported her to extricate from the trap laid out by the countries who desire an unstable Sri Lanka. The Government and the people should resolve to reduce our dependence on Sri Lanka bashers, and re-design our imports to suit the geo-political reality and to avoid any plot to impose sanctions by the wounded nations. Time has arrived to consider the nation’s priorities by curtailing the luxuries even for a given period. We should try to get our requirements from the friendly nations, and try to improve our trading relationship with our friends.
This the ONLY way to extend our hand to REBUILD a new world order, to be less dependent on the predatory countries who always insist on their pound of flesh from the developing nations. While we thank the President, the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and the Government for having rejected co-sponsorship of resolution 30/1 at UNHRC, we urge the Government to plan to reshape our trade and foreign relations, to play our role as an independent member of the international community.
Gama Samaga Pilisandara Round 2
Gotabaya Rajapakse’s election manifesto “Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour” says on its page 4, “This policy document tilted ‘A Vision for a Resurgent, Prosperous Country’ is the result of a series of discourses, ‘interaction with the village’, conducted in 25,000 villages throughout our country during the past one year. We have identified the requirements of housing, electricity, drinking water, access roads, and irrigation facilities in every village”. That is about 65 villages per day and as we have only about 14,000 Grama Niladhari (GN) divisions, coverage would have been about 100 GN divisions in a day. Whatever it is, why did the President decide to repeat this discourse? Is it because he does not accept what was given in his Manifesto as true or is he trying to restore the trust people had in him which is fast dwindling? President may also be thinking that as most of the masses in urban areas who voted for him have become disillusioned with his government’s performance, it would be more prudent to resolve some minor issues in the villages and keep them still faithful to him.
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