By Santo D. Banerjee

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) – While nearly 1.1 billion people escaped extreme poverty between 1990 and 2013 because of strong economic growth that benefited the world’s poorest, "the number of people living in extreme poverty remains unacceptably high, with nearly 800 million living on or below US$1.90 per day," according to a new UN document.

In view of this, "the road to 2030 will not be easy because economic growth alone will not be sufficient to help those remaining in extreme poverty to move out," warns the document prepared for the 2017 High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development which kicked off on July 19 and concludes on July 19 after the three-day ministerial meeting.

- Photo: 2021

Tough Going for Sri Lanka in Geneva

Viewpoint by Neville de Silva

A veteran Sri Lankan journalist, Neville de Silva was Assistant Editor of the Hong Kong Standard before working in London for Gemini News Service. Later he was Deputy Chief-of-Mission in Bangkok and Deputy High Commissioner in London.

LONDON (IDN) — Thankfully it was only a verbal update on Sri Lanka by United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet. Had it been an extensive report on the country’s performance since the UN human rights body passed a highly critical resolution in March, then Sri Lanka might have well ended up like our struggling cricketers at the Premadasa Stadium in Colombo—eating humble pie.

Still, High Commissioner Bachelet’s brief update carried enough barbs to turn this Geneva interlude which saw Prof G.L. Peiris donning his previous garb as foreign minister, not that he improved on the performance of our cricketing maestros back home.

What is galling is the attempt by those parading as the foreign ministry’s leading panjandrums trying to mislead the public each time the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) punches our blundering bureaucrats in the solar plexus.

It might be recalled that in March this year when Sri Lanka was defeated on a vote on Resolution 46/1 at the Geneva sessions of the UNHRC, a mathematical genius or two in ministerial ranks came up with the amazing equation that Sri Lanka had actually emerged victor.

The voting on that resolution initiated by the Sri Lanka Core Group led by the UK—in the absence of the US which had been pulled out of the UNHRC by another practicing genius called Donald Trump who was later trumped at the presidential election—was 22 for the resolution, 11 against it and 14 abstentions.

If I remember correctly, it was Peiris, then Education Minister, who came up with the astounding calculation that Sri Lanka was actually victorious because a majority of member states did not vote for the western states-led resolution.

So, 11 plus 14 added up to 25 which is more than 22. Hurrah! We won, they almost said in jubilation. But they did not say how it came about that the resolution is recorded as having been passed.

Why does Foreign Minister Peiris say in his response to Bachelet’s update “We reject the proposal for any external initiatives purportedly established by Resolution 46/1 while vigorously addressing the relevant matters”?

Does he still doubt the legality of Resolution 46/1 and wants to question it while “vigorously” addressing other matters which is to stretch the language to its maximum elasticity? So how vigorous is “vigorously” and which are these matters, pray?

Such dubious language is hardly likely to convince an international community, especially when its own diplomats based in Colombo have their eyes and ears to the ground. They report back to their capitals on developments in their host countries as our own diplomats are expected to do.

So, if our politicians and bureaucrats believe they could hoodwink seasoned diplomats with long briefing notes covering a world of make-believe, they are living in cuckoo land as many leaked diplomatic cables by Wikileaks, for instance, from around the world have demonstrated.

“We held firm to our democratic traditions and elections were held at regular intervals,” Peiris said in response to Michelle Bachelet, with apparent pride. Surely, the learned professor should know that there is much more to democracy than holding regular elections.

There are personal freedoms and rights, the rule of law and judicial independence, the freedom of association and speech guaranteed by the constitution that should never be compromised if democracy is to be practised and preserved.

As though the shenanigans before and after the UNHRC sessions last March were not enough of a belly blow to the country’s reputation and image, we now find Foreign Secretary Rear Admiral (Rtd) Jayanath Colombage providing comic relief to this continuing tragedy over human rights and accountability.

At a media conference in Colombo, the foreign secretary was cited by the President’s Media Division as saying that Bachelet had commended the measures taken by the Sri Lanka Government on a number of issues.

The foreign secretary has apparently not read her update, has problems of comprehension or is deliberately trying to mislead the public. The public would surely appreciate if he would please quote the specific remark or remarks where Bachelet does so?

He was also cited as saying that 15 countries including Japan “have joined hands with Sri Lanka in condemning the interference in its internal affairs.” If Japan did so perhaps Colombage could quote exactly what the Japanese delegate said that would buttress Colombage’s conclusion. Would he do that?

Some of the 15 countries that defended Sri Lanka are the same ones that voted against Resolution 46/1 in March and are hardly noted for their adherence to human rights and personal freedoms. Among them are China. What it is doing to Hong Kong, which was promised a “one country, two systems” form of governance for 50 years, tells a tragic story.

Finally, Colombage unashamedly claims that “Sri Lanka’s foreign policy is non-aligned”. What on earth happened to his “India First” policy that he touted in the early days of his tenure, followed by the much-trumpeted policy of “neutrality” which was nothing more than a sick joke in the face of the obeisance that recent governments paid—and continues to pay—to China.

During the Colombage days at the foreign ministry, non-alignment seemed to be considered passé. Now he is clinging to it like his family boodelay. If he has learnt that abandoning longtime friends is a costly exercise in international diplomacy, then he has learnt something. [IDN-InDepthNews — 22 September 2021]

Photo: A meeting of the Human Rights Council in Genev. Source: UNHRC

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