Geneva drama shakes Indian government also; it tried to toughen the draft to please the DMK, but failed
Pakistan works hard to win the support of Islamic countries for government, but our own EAM still indulging in DPL harakiri
By Our Political Editor
Perhaps never before has a resolution at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva brought a government to the brink of collapse or allowed a country facing accusations to relax whilst others did diplomacy for it.
That in essence is the action-packed saga of the second US-backed resolution approved by the Council on Thursday. Twenty-five countries voted in favour, thirteen against, eight abstained and there was one absentee from the 47 member Council. The table on this page shows how the countries fared during a General Assembly session of the HRC. It was watched live by Sri Lankans through a UN webcast also downlinked by a local TV channel.
Some 48 hours ahead of Thursday, changes in the final US draft saw an ostensible moderation. A few foreign diplomats in Geneva described it as only a chocolate coating over the tough and bitter clauses. It was the result of behind-the-scenes diplomacy between a world power, the United States, and a regional power, India. Diplomats of the two countries were locked in close dialogue. For India, the need for re-phrasing and even exclusion of provisions that seemed “intrusive” was important in its own national interest. It did not want such provisions to become instruments to be used against it someday. The seemingly beneficial fallout was for Sri Lanka.
Seizing on that action which appeared to him as a “watered down” resolution was the Dravida Munnetra Kazhakam (DMK) of Muthuvel Karunanidhi. Angered by it, he decided that 26 DMK MPs in the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, including cabinet ministers should withdraw. They quit on Tuesday. This was notwithstanding three cabinet ministers – A.K. Anthony (Defence), P. Chidambaram (Finance) and Ghulam Nabi Azad (Health) – rushing on a flight from New Delhi to Chennai to plead. The DMK leader who accused the Congress Government of “watering down” the resolution refused to change his mind. He wanted a reference made to investigating “genocide,” clearly a transparent political ploy. With that action, Karunanidhi appears to have not only outsmarted his Tamil Nadu political archival Jeyaram Jeyalalithaa. Above all, he has also placed the government of the world’s largest democracy, India, a lame duck administration.
In marked contrast, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Hina Rabbani Khar set in motion a diplomatic campaign for Sri Lanka. On her directions, Zamir Akram, Pakistan’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, arranged for meetings in the Swiss city of diplomats from the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and what are described as “like-minded” groups. During at least three different sessions, Akram lobbied for Sri Lanka. Consequently, OIC countries Kuwait, Mauritania, Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE) voted against the resolution.
This was besides Pakistan. Another member, Burkina Faso abstained. Libya and Sierra Leone were the only two OIC members to support the US move. If not for the seven Islamic countries, vote in favour of Sri Lanka would have been only six. Their support was despite lobbying by US diplomats about the issues Muslims were facing from the Bodhu Bala Sena (BBS) and a line in the resolution which expressed concern, among other matters, on “discrimination on the basis of religion or belief.”
That seemed the scene setter for two days of talks between Sri Lanka and Pakistan on April 4. Pakistan’s Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas will be in Colombo for the event with External Affairs Ministry Secretary Karunatilleke Amunugama. A gamut of bilateral and regional issues is expected to figure in the talks, an EAM official said. Abbas will also call on External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris and President Mahinda Rajapaksa.
As for Sri Lanka itself, Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe, President’s Special Envoy on Human Rights, was picked with less than three days to go for the Human Rights Council sessions. The earlier plan was to leave matters in the hands of Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva. Rajapaksa, though in favour, later changed his mind and was not happy leaving it in Aryasinha’s hands alone. If Samarasinghe had little time to work on strategy, it was spelt out to him by President Rajapaksa only on Monday, March 11, just a week before the voting, as revealed in these columns last week. Contrary to wild speculation, Samarasinghe did not have a trump card up his sleeve from Rajapaksa to play in Geneva. Parachuted into the diplomatic battlefield, the ground for an assortment of more than fifty Sri Lankan delegates last year, he had to hold the reins with Ambassador Aryasinha. Yet, there are volumes of lessons to be learned from the aftermath in Geneva. This is at a time when all and sundry are being blamed for the outcome. Nothing is being said about the conduct of Sri Lanka’s foreign policy if indeed there is one.
In the light of confusion over how the different draft resolutions evolved, an explanation is necessary before one takes a look at other issues. From late January, the US began consulting its allies on a draft resolution and won Indian support for the move. One of the early drafts to circulate was dated February 16. The salient provisions in this draft appeared exclusively in the front-page lead story of the Sunday Times of February 17. As it continued to evolve during consultations by US with different countries, various drafts emerged. They were revealed in the Sunday Times (Political Commentary) of February 24, March 10 and March 17. At 2 p.m. on March 8, the US handed in to the UNHRC Secretariat in Geneva a draft resolution (A/HRC/22/L1) dated 12 March notwithstanding the discrepancy in the dates. Thereafter, a revised text (A/HRC/22/L.1/Rev.1) was handed over to the Secretariat at 6 p.m. on March 18. This text dated March 19, endorsed by 41 co-sponsors, both HRC members and non-members, was approved by the Council on Thursday. It reads:
Promoting reconciliation and accountability 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,
Bearing in mind General Assembly resolution 60/251 of 15 March 2006,
Recalling Human Rights Council resolutions 5/1, on institution-building of the Council, and 5/2, on the code of conduct for special procedures mandate holders, of 18 June 2007,
Recalling also Human Rights Council resolution 19/2 of 22 March 2012 on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka,
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 that States must ensure that any measure taken to combat terrorism complies with their obligations under international law, in particular international human rights law, international refugee law and international humanitarian law, as applicable,
Welcoming the announcement made by the Government of Sri Lanka that elections to the Provincial Council in the Northern Province will be held in September 2013,
Welcoming and acknowledging the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in rebuilding infrastructure, demining, and resettling the majority of internally displaced persons, and noting nonetheless that considerable work lies ahead in the areas of justice, reconciliation and the resumption of livelihoods, and stressing the importance of the full participation of local populations, including representatives of civil society and minorities, in these efforts,
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,
Taking note also of the national plan of action to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission of the Government of Sri Lanka and its commitments as set forth in response to the findings and recommendations of the Commission,
Noting that the national plan of action does not adequately address all of the findings and constructive recommendations of the Commission,
Recalling the constructive recommendations contained in the Commission’s report, including the need to credibly investigate widespread allegations of extrajudicial 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 national plan of action and the Commission’s report do not adequately address serious allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,
Expressing concern at the continuing reports of violations of human rights in Sri Lanka, including enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, torture and violations of the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as well as intimidation of and reprisals against human rights defenders, members of civil society and journalists, threats to judicial independence and the rule of law, and discrimination on the basis of religion or belief,
Calling upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments, including on the devolution of political authority, which is integral to reconciliation and the full enjoyment of human rights by all members of its population,
Expressing appreciation for the efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka in facilitating the visit of a technical mission from the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and encouraging the Government to increase its dialogue and cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner,
Noting the call made by the High Commissioner for an independent and credible international investigation into alleged violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law,
1. Welcomes the report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on advice and technical assistance for the Government of Sri Lanka on promoting reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka and the recommendations and conclusions contained therein, in particular on the establishment of a truth-seeking mechanism as an integral part of a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to transitional justice;
2. Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner, and also calls upon the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable;
3. 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 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;
4. Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to cooperate with special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to their outstanding requests, including by extending invitations and providing access;
5. Encourages the Office of the High Commissioner andrelevant 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;
6. Requests the Office of the High Commissioner, with input from relevant special procedures mandate holders, as appropriate, to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its twenty-fourth session, and a comprehensive report followed by a discussion on the implementation of the present resolution at its twenty-fifth session.”
Some claimed the resolution was “watered down.” Others said it was “softened” or “toned down.” The resolution did undergo a process of moderation from its original character of being somewhat aggressive. More often than not, it is the standard diplomatic practice to pitch a resolution on a ‘high note’ and let it ‘level off’ after consultations.
However, in this instance, the ‘levelling off’ was to meet the needs of Indian interests. Yet, the resolution did not lose its salient features. Compared to the previous draft (the Sunday Times Political Commentary of March 17), the final document (above) which was approved has only a few changes in language with additions and deletions.
They are :
Like in previous drafts, the resolution recalls resolution 5/1 of 18 June 2007 on institution building of the Human Rights Council. There is an addition which recalls resolution “5/2, on the code of conduct for special procedures mandate holders of 18June 2007.” The latter will apply to those mandate holders who plan to visit Sri Lanka sequel to the resolution being adopted.
The name Sri Lanka has been substituted with the words “each State” in reaffirming that it is their responsibility to “ensure the full enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms of its entire population.”
A new addition says “Welcoming the announcement by the Government of Sri Lanka that elections to the Provincial Council in the Northern Province will be held in September 2013.”
A new addition has been made to the paragraph that welcomes and acknowledges the progress made by the Government of Sri Lanka in rebuilding infrastructure��. It stresses “the importance of the full participation of local populations, including representatives of civil society and minorities, in these efforts.”
A new addition says “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.”
A re-wording and addition has been made to a previous paragraph. The new one reads: “Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations made in the report of the Office of the High Commissioner and also calls upon the Government to conduct an independent and credible investigation into allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, as applicable.
A new addition says: “Re-iterates 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 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;
The use of the words “unfettered access” has been dropped in the provision which reads “Encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to co-operate with special procedures mandate holders and to respond formally to their outstanding requests, including by extending invitations and providing access;
The change in the outlook of the resolution could be broadly classified into two main categories. One is largely the references made to both recommendations and matters arising from the Government’s own Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC). Even the references to Chief Justice 43 Shirani Bandaranayake or the ‘independence of the judiciary’ has been dropped. In doing so, secondly, the resolution also addresses Indian concerns.
A reference to the conduct of Northern Provincial Council elections in September this year is an example. Another is a call for the participation of minorities in rebuilding infrastructure. Yet another is taking “note of LLRC findings and recommendations, and acknowledging its possible contribution to the process of national reconciliation.” US diplomats believed, with India happy and on board, basing most of the resolution on matters arising out of the LLRC, would make it possible to have most countries support it. Yet, there were those that were in principle opposed to country-specific resolutions. Some of them abstained. Thailand, which is facing an insurgency in the country’s southern Yala Province, also declared it was opposed to country specific moves and voted against the resolution.
However, behind-the-scene Indian diplomatic moves threatened the survival of the UPA government with the DMK’s pull-out. In a bid to woo the southern party, more so when it has offered support from outside, Congress leaders embarked on emergency measures. It was also prompted by the prospect of a Congress tie up with DMK should there be elections. One was to undo what their diplomats had done in Geneva and call for a “tougher” resolution.
The deadline for amendments was 1 p.m. on Monday March 18. It was well past that time when Dilip Sinha, the Indian Ambassador to the UN in Geneva returned there after a hurried trip to New Delhi for consultations with his government in the wake of the DMK pull-out from the Congress led government. He talked to his US counterpart Eileen Chamberlain Donahue about moving oral amendments as is allowed by Council procedure. According to diplomatic sources in Geneva, it was felt that the move was highly risky and would endanger the passage of the resolution. No details of these amendments were available. Most delegations had already obtained instructions from their capitals on the final draft resolution dated March 19. Fresh instructions on oral amendments, it was feared, would not arrive on time. Hence, those countries may be forced to abstain. Thus, the move had to be abandoned. The US felt this was risky business.
Even if Indian diplomats were trying to undo what they did before, a claim denied by Congress ministers, it would not have pleased the DMK. It was demanding that the resolution make specific reference to investigating “genocide” in Sri Lanka, a claim that has not been made by any country or international human rights watchdog groups, and more than three years after the insurgency had ended. The impossible demand made clear the DMK had its own political agenda for pulling out of the UPA government.
Having failed in his efforts for a stronger resolution, Ambassador Sinha made a statement ahead of the vote on the resolution. He called on Sri Lanka to “move forward on its public commitments, including the devolution of political authority through full implementation of the 13th Amendment and building upon it.”
Among the highlights of his speech: “We call for effective and timely implementation of all the constructive recommendations contained in the LLRC report, including those pertaining to missing persons, detainees, disappearances and abductions, reduction of ‘high security zones’, return of private lands by the military and withdrawal of the security forces from the civilian domain in the Northern Province. We reiterate our call for an independent and credible investigation into allegations of human rights violations and loss of civilian lives. We urge Sri Lanka to take forward measures to ensure accountability. We expect these measures to be to the satisfaction of the international community.”
The second move by the Congress government was to adopt a resolution in the Lok Sabha on the lines of the one in Geneva but more strongly worded. Indian Ministers tried hard but the main opposition Bharatiya Janatha Party (BJP) said it was strongly opposed to country-specific resolutions. The BJP felt this was an internal problem of the UPA coalition and was asking why they had to be called in to discuss a resolution against Sri Lanka as a result.
On Wednesday night, Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar chaired a meeting of political parties represented in Parliament. It transpired that there was no appetite for a resolution on Sri Lanka. The main opposition BJP flatly refused to support an anti-Sri Lanka resolution in the Indian Parliament. The issue is in limbo as fears of an early poll, ahead of a scheduled date in April 2014, gathers momentum. This was while a DMK leader remarked that it is not only the doors of a return to the UPA government that had been shut, but also the windows. Political analysts say that DMK sees its alliance with the Congress a hindrance. With Congress’s popularity waning, the DMK wishes to keep its options open come the next elections.
The official Sri Lankan government response to the resolution came from External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris. He told Parliament: “On the first occasion when a representative of the United States met me and indicated that a resolution would be moved in Geneva, I was categorically told that this is a procedural resolution. It is a not a condemnatory resolution and a balanced one. I was told reference would be made to the positive developments.In the draft there was not one word about the positive developments.
“Nobody can maintain there were no positive achievements. Subsequently it was due to immense pressure that was brought to bear on the mover of the resolution by a large number of countries, due to the intensity of the pressure that grudgingly, a lukewarm reference was made to the positive developments. A large number of countries spoke to the mover of the resolution and said this is not fair at all, this does not make sense ,we cannot support it, this is entirely one sided. By all means criticise what warrants criticism but you must have not only the largesse or generosity of heart, but a basic sense of justice and fairness. It was because that point of view was so persistently and vigorously expressed by a large number of countries that belatedly and grudgingly some words were added to make reference to the positive achievements. That is not the spirit in which we would like our friends to work. It is not a hallmark of goodwill. In our lives, from our friends, those who mean well, we expect that kind of attitude. This is very distressing, the manner in which events have moved in the past few weeks.
“I would in all earnestness request the mover of the resolution to ask themselves, are they really pleased about the consequences they have produced, not only within shores of Sri Lanka but neighbouring India? Their resolution has triggered a whole sequence of events that have played out in the past few weeks. Those who made the calculated decision to move the resolution, when they look back in retrospect, when they assess their own conduct, do they really feel they have reason to feel pleased, are they satisfied with the consequences they have produced on the ground? Has the resolution helped? Has it played a benign, constructive role or has it been a positive influence? Is it not the case it has really served as catalyst for dissension, for discord, for polarization and more regrettably a catalyst for violence? We have all seen what has happened in the past few days. I am not saying these tragic events were intended but they were clearly foreseeable.”
Peiris’ lament raises more questions than it answers. In the national interest, the question that begs an answer is why his Ministry of External Affairs failed to foresee these “tragic events” in the months and weeks ahead of Thursday’s UN vote. Surely, the EAM would have known the consequences on the ground which Peiris is now complaining about. All it would have taken is a close study by his Ministry with the help of the country’s diplomatic missions overseas, especially Washington. Have they abdicated that task? He flew round the globe to both Brazil and Argentina to canvass their support for the resolution. His press releases spoke in the strongest terms about the support Sri Lanka would receive. These two countries voted in favour of the resolution, certainly not a “benign, constructive role” by Peiris’ own judgement. That was tragic too. In addition, his External Affairs Ministry in the recent past lined up official visits for President Mahinda Rajapaksa to Kazakhstan, South Korea and recently to Japan. Whilst Kazakhstan and Japan abstained, South Korea voted for the resolution.
A significant aspect of the passage of Thursday’s resolution is that it has been welcomed both by the White House and Secretary of State John Kerry. This is a signal that the Sri Lankan issue is high on the US agenda and will not fade away. The National Security Council, White House “welcomes the passage of a resolution on Sri Lanka sponsored by it at the UNHRC.” They said the vote sent a clear signal to Colombo that the international community is committed to promote peace and stability in the country. “Today’s (last Thursday’s) vote sends a clear message that the international community is committed to working with the Government of Sri Lanka to promote greater peace, stability, and prosperity for all of the people of Sri Lanka,” Caitlin Hayden, spokesperson of the National Security Council, the White House, said in a statement on Thursday.
“This resolution, which the United States co-sponsored as part of a cross-regional group, calls on the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its commitments to promote meaningful reconciliation for all Sri Lankans,” she said. The resolution also encourages the Government to credibly investigate allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law as Sri Lanka continues to heal from more than two decades of conflict,” Ms. Hayden added.
Secretary John Kerry said, “Today’s (last Thursday’s) vote in the UN Human Rights Council encourages the Government of Sri Lanka to continue on the path toward lasting peace and prosperity following decades of civil war and instability. This resolution, which builds on a similar 2012 resolution, reaffirmed that Sri Lanka must take meaningful action on reconciliation and accountability in order to move forward. The United States, together with international partners, calls upon the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfil its public commitments to its own people on these longstanding issues.
“While some important progress has been made, there is much work still to be done. We look to the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and to reverse recent negative developments on rule of law and human rights. The United States stands ready to assist with this vital work. I look forward to continuing our engagement with the Government of Sri Lanka and strengthening our friendship with the Sri Lankan people.”
In Colombo, US Ambassador Michele Sison explained to a group of journalists on Friday the United States’ rationale behind the second resolution.
Ambassador Sison reflected on the aftermath of the resolution. She told the Sunday Times yesterday, “As we move forward from Geneva, we are committed to discussing building international consensus to ensure a thorough investigation of alleged international law violations and action for those accountable. International mechanisms can be appropriate where states are either unable or unwilling to meet their obligations. Options are in the Human Rights Council and beyond.”
Thursday’s Human Rights Council sessions began with a statement by Pakistan’s Ambassador Zamir Akram. He said,”Pakistan believes that the OHCHR Report has no nexus to the principal objects of resolution 19/2, which was to report on the provision of technical assistance, and has sought to make recommendations which are outside its scope and mandate. These include substantive recommendations made on Sri Lanka’s reconciliation process which are intrusive, arbitrary and of a politicised nature. It is, therefore, the considered view of my delegation that a draft resolution which bases itself on a Report, whose credibility is so blatantly questioned by many including the country concerned, cannot be conceived by this august body as being a reasonable basis for further engagement of that country in a constructive manner.
“More importantly, we regret to note that the substantive amendments which were proposed on the draft text by my delegation, and supported by several other delegations, during the informal sessions, specifically on OPs 1 and 2, (reference is to informal meetings) to bring some semblance of balance to this text, have been disregarded.” He called for a vote on it. Other speakers included diplomats from Ireland on behalf of the European Union, Montenegro, Sierra Leone, Brazil, Venezuela and Ecuador.
In his summation, President’s Human Rights Special Envoy, Minister Samarasinghe, said those genuinely concerned about the future and well-being of the people of Sri Lanka, should encourage the country in its on-going reconciliation process, rather than single it out for disproportionate attention in the Council.
Samarasinghe flew from Geneva to the Ecuadorian capital of Quito after Thursday’s voting. There, he will join a delegation led by Speaker Chamal Rajapaksa who is taking part in the 128th General Assembly sessions of the Inter Parliamentary Union (IPU).
After the passage of the resolution, Goro Onojima, Secretary of the Council reported that additional UN funding to the tune of $ 105,000 (over Rs. 13 million) would be required for just five months for work related to the resolution. This includes carrying out substantive research, liaise and consult with relevant stakeholders, produce draft texts and co-ordinate the submission, editing and publication of requested reports and conference services for translation of the report.
The Government’s headaches are not over. Another area where the adoption of Thursday’s resolution would be felt is the plan now under way for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in November this year. Last Tuesday, members of the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group (CIMAG) together with Britain held a strictly informal tele-conference ahead of their scheduled meeting in mid-April. The member countries are Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Jamaica, the Maldives (now suspended), Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Trinidad and Tobago and Vanuatu. According to diplomatic sources, the speakers at the tele-conference noted that there was still no agenda formulated for the CMAG meeting. They also noted that the CMAG had no mandate to decide on cancellation of a venue for CHOGM. They deal with only serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth’s fundamental political values enshrined in Harare and the Latimer House principles.
Different sections of the Government have blamed different parties for the passage of the UNHRC resolution. Whilst some accused the overseas remnants of Tiger guerrillas or their supporters, others said this was an ‘international conspiracy’ against Sri Lanka. Yet others directed their anger at the United States, and India. On Thursday, the National Freedom Front (NFF) whose leader Wimal Weerawansa is a cabinet minister, staged a protest outside the US Embassy at Kollupitiya. Joint portraits of President Barrack Obama and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which some protestors carried bore two lines. One called them ‘Idots’ (presumably ‘Idiots’), but the other is unprintable. To say it more politely, it challenged the paternity and maternity of the two leaders.
Other than the flak the Government has been forced to take, some brought upon by a literally non-functioning External Affairs Ministry, one of the lessons from the recent events in Geneva is the need for an urgent self-appraisal of the situation.
The focus, in the absence of what has remained a cohesive strategy, would be to identify where things went wrong. That would, among other matters, no doubt, reveal that a clear foreign policy initiative is absent. Instead, the domestic practice of naming and shaming those not in agreement with the official view, whether right or wrong, has extended to external affairs. Delegation leader Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe cast serious aspersions on the integrity of UN High Human Rights Commissioner Navi Pillay in his main speech. As a result, the US and its allies tightened some provisions of the resolution to acknowledge Ms.Pillay’s initiatives. It was only last year that she began her second four-year term. According to government sources at least one member of the Sri Lanka delegation to Geneva, described as a speech-writer, has now come under close scrutiny. Checks are being made to ascertain whether he obtained official approval before departing Colombo.
There are also other domestic political compulsions as a result of the passage of the resolution. According to highly placed government sources, legal advisors are working on a 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Contrary to earlier plans where it related to restricting the term of the Chief Justice, these sources say, the purpose now was different. It was to make provision to enable a President to contest after he had completed three years in office instead of the existing requirement of four years. Such amendments, if the draft now being worked on is accepted, would also seek to reduce the term of President from the current six years to five. A number of other provisions are also being worked on.
If indeed these amendments are passed, the sources say, Presidential elections are likely early next year. The latest US resolution would mean that in September, at the UNHRC 24th sessions an oral update will be given by the High Commissioner for Human Rights. By March, next year, it will be followed by a discussion at the 25th session. It would be the time when the US and its allies would embark on their next move at the Council. Accusations that provisions of the resolution have not been implemented may force another resolution calling for punitive action. The challenges that lay are many.
Former Foreign Minister Rohitha Bogollagama says that diplomacy is not one of switching on and switching off. That no doubt is a moot point. He underscores the need for engagement with not only those friendly but perceived enemies. There are definitely no alternatives to diplomatic hara-kiri or grand standing through press releases. It is Sri Lanka and its people that will suffer most.