Photo credit: Government of Finland - Photo: 2021

Majority of UN Members Refuse to Fund UNHRC’s Sri Lanka Probe

But would the West Respect the Majority Will?

Viewpoint by Sugeeswara Senadhira

COLOMBO (IDN) — Majority of members of the UN, especially from the Global South, have refused to donate funds to the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC’s) move to set up a separate secretariat to enforce matters relating to the Resolution it passed on Sri Lanka in March this year. The inability to raise sufficient funds is a major setback to UNHRC plans to implement the Resolution, but there are fears here that the West will not respect the will of the majority in the international community, and may chip in with funds to implement their project.

The UNHRC chief Michelle Bachelet had sought to set up a 13-member Secretariat with a budget of $ 2,856,300 for the current year to give effect to the establishment of the Secretariat on Sri Lanka as required in the UNHRC Resolution, Sri Lanka launched a major campaign in New York to lobby against the fund.

Under the campaign spearheaded by Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena, Sri Lankan delegates urged the UN members not to provide funds for unilateral plans of the UNHRC to implement a Resolution from which Sri Lanka had already withdrawn. Expressing satisfaction at the response or lack of response from UN members, Minister Gunawardena said that he has learnt that the UN Headquarters has cut down the amount the Council sought, by more than 50 percent. Now the only option for the UNHRC is to seek the balance from the Western Co-Sponsors.

The UNHRC Resolution wanted Sri Lanka to cooperate with the proposed Secretariat, which Colombo has rejected outright. Such cooperation entails freedom of movement throughout the territory; unhindered access to all places and establishments; freedom to meet and interview representatives of national, local and military authorities, community leaders, non-governmental organizations and other institutions, and any such person whose testimony is considered necessary for the fulfilment of its mandate; and free access to all sources of information, including documentary material and physical evidence.

Sri Lanka is not at all prepared to allow such investigations to take place on unsubstantiated and cooked-up charges. Furthermore, the UNHRC has called for cooperation from other Governments on whose territory the Secretariat may interview victims, witnesses and sources and gather information.

No wonder the sane governments refused to provide funds to set up an unwanted Secretariat to collect evidence for use by countries that exercise universal jurisdiction.

The UNHRC announced that the Secretariat was to comprise investigators and lawyers, among others. The Office of the Human Rights High Commissioner has already advertised, calling for applications for the identified new positions. This included one senior legal advisor with experience in criminal justice and/or criminal investigations and prosecutions to coordinate the team.

The advisor’s responsibilities included the development of a central repository to consolidate, preserve and analyse information and evidence; coordinate the processes of reviewing and sharing of information with national authorities for universal jurisdiction and extraterritorial jurisdiction cases and other accountability purposes in line with relevant United Nations guidelines.

The advisor’s other responsibilities include developing an accountability strategy and engaging with accountability mechanisms including specialized investigators, prosecutors, judges, and other legal practitioners for information sharing purposes, to promote accountability and advice on the development of accountability strategies; and liaise with other Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), other independent mechanisms and other UN systems to ensure coordinated approach.

Although the new Secretariat was to function under UN Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, she has not specified how the investigations would be carried out without cooperation from the Government of Sri Lanka.

Immediately after Sri Lanka’s 2009 victory over LTTE terrorism, the West commenced a protracted campaign against Sri Lanka. It was the then UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who took the initiative to bring this human rights situation back to the UN institutions. He established an ‘international expert group’ in order to pave the way for an accountability process in accordance with international standards. The Panel of Experts was asked to collect the available information and to submit the report in April 2011.

Sri Lanka refused to allow the so-called expert group to visit the country. After a one-sided investigation, the Panel concluded that there was credible information that could meet the criteria of war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the panel did not disclose any details of the names of the victims, if any, and the proposed charges. It was a strange way of handling a probe and there was no transparency at all in the investigations. Even those whose “evidence” was quoted were unnamed and their identities were not to be revealed for 20 years.

That was followed by another move by the Canadian Government, which presented a Draft Resolution at the 18th regular UNHRC session in September 2011. The draft requested the Government of Sri Lanka to submit the report of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to be discussed during the 19th session of the UNHRC in March 2012 in the Council’s Plenary.

The Resolution claimed that the UNHRC should have been enabled to make an assessment of both documents and conclude how far international standards on accountability had been met. However, in a strange twist of events, the Canadian Government later dropped the draft without any further explanation.

Then the United States took the lead and presented Resolution 30/1 and arm-twisted the then Government led by President Maitripala Sirisena in Colombo to co-sponsor it. In subsequent developments, the US withdrew from the UNHRC under the Presidency of Donald Trump claiming UNHRC bias over a planned war crimes investigation against Israel, and the mantle was then passed to Britain and Canada, with the support from Norway and several other mainly European nations.

In 2019, after the election of the present Government under President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, Sri Lanka withdrew from the Resolution and in the last March UNHRC Session, the UNHRC announced the proposal to set up a new Secretariat to investigate and sought additional funds.

Now that the required total has been denied by the UN members, the UNHRC will have to seek funds from co-sponsors Canada, US, UK and Norway for the balance requirement. As the agenda of the co-sponsors is to ‘punish’ the current Government in Sri Lanka, these countries are likely to open their purse strings to achieve their objective.

The so-called champions of democracy overlook the fact that the Gotabaya Rajapaksa Government was elected with a vast majority of votes in a free and fair election. The general elections that followed in August 2020 saw a significant swing against the LTTE-leaning Tamil National Alliance (TNA) in Tamil dominated areas of the north and east of the country.

The UNHRC Resolution makes a reference to a ‘traditional Tamil homeland’. This is a misrepresentation of historical facts as well as present-day realities. This is a deliberate attempt to give recognition to the illegal, unconstitutional claim of a homeland, the so-called ‘Eelam’ of the LTTE, the terrorist outfit banned in many Western countries themselves and in India. Thus, the UNHRC Resolution encourages separatism and condones terrorism.

On June 7, Maldives Foreign Minister Abdulla Shahid was elected as President of the UN General Assembly, which is noteworthy in the current political climate, in which blatant attempts to mislead and misuse UN bodies by interested parties are visible.

While congratulating his Maldivian counterpart, Foreign Affairs Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said Sri Lanka looks forward to working with him at the 76th Session of the General Assembly, with a view to furthering the interests and priorities of the Global South. [IDN-InDepthNews – 16 June 2021]

Photo: Sri Lanka’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Dinesh Gunawardena at the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on February 23.

IDN is the flagship agency of the non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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