The government has commenced its diplomatic offensive following the motion passed in the EU parliament on pushing for a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) sessions and the announcement by the US government of supporting the resolution.
The government ministers assigned the task of taking Sri Lanka’s case before the international community are looking at the possibility of getting the resolution withdrawn without being presented to the UNHRC.
They believe, with proper support from a good portion of the UNHRC member countries, the planned resolution could be delayed or withdrawn with the promise of addressing the concerns before the next sessions of the council in October this year.
Two teams led by Plantation Industries Minister and Presidential Special Envoy for Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe and External Affairs Minister Prof. G.L Peiris are to launch a diplomatic offensive to safeguard Sri Lanka’s interests at the UNHRC sessions due to commence on the 27 February.
Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva and Anura Priyadharshana Yapa will assist Samarasinghe in his meetings in Geneva. Ministers John Seneviratne and Dilan Perera will assist Prof Peiris in his visits to countries in various parts of the world.
Samarasinghe arrived in the country on 15 February after a tour to Geneva, Switzerland and is due to leave for Geneva this week with the other ministers to continue with the meetings in the Swiss capitol, which he carried out during his visit last week.
Peiris and his team travelled to South America last week to meet with members from respective governments. Peiris previously visited several African nations and Jordan in the Middle East.
The government ministers who are meeting with members of the international community are seeking for time to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
During their meetings with foreign dignitaries so far, the government has maintained that Sri Lanka was committed to implementing the recommendations of the LLRC. The government continues to maintain the LLRC is the domestic mechanism that has responded to issues on accountability raised by the international community and the first step towards reconciliation
The government ministers in their meetings with members of the international community will explain that Sri Lanka would implement the LLRC recommendations, but that it could not be done within a short span of time.
The ministers will explain that the implementation of some of the recommendations required a legislative process due to the necessity to amend the country’s Constitution, which obviously would require time.
“Some LLRC recommendations have been implemented and the rest would be implemented step by step,” diplomatic sources told The Sunday Leader.
Nevertheless, Sri Lanka has to canvass for votes from 46 member countries of the UNHRC with the absence of Libya.
Meanwhile, the European parliament last week approved a motion to call for the appointment of a UN backed commission of inquiry into the alleged crimes committed in Sri Lanka during the period of the war.
The motion taken up in the EU parliament has discussed its stance at the UNHRC and has focused on the Sri Lankan situation.
The EU continues will call for an effective process to establish accountability in Sri Lanka and implement the recommendations of the panel of experts appointed by the UN Secretary General.
Basil not canvassing
A senior government minister however maintained that Sri Lanka was not really canvassing for support at the UNHRC in the face of a resolution to be placed against the country.
He said it seemed as if some government ministers were using the opportunity to travel around the world since there does not seem to be a clear plan.
“If the government was really canvassing, they would have first canvassed with India, China and Russia,” the senior government Minister said, adding that these countries supported Sri Lanka and its efforts.
He noted the government was merely doing its part by creating awareness among other countries about the current situation in Sri Lanka and its efforts in reconciliation.
Interestingly, the government does not seem to have reached out to neighbouring India for support at the UNHRC.
“India is a close friend of Sri Lanka who has stood by us,” the Minister said.
India for its part has also remained silent without commenting on Sri Lanka’s position on reconciliation after Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna’s visit to the country last month.
The Indian government has maintained a surprising silence to the Sri Lankan government’s follow up comments to the statement made by Krishna on the political solution to the ethnic issue.
Many senior government ministers including President Mahinda Rajapaksa dismissed the statement made by Krishna that the President had assured a solution that went beyond the 13th Amendment.
It is also interesting to note that Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa who has often handled diplomatic issues on behalf of Sri Lanka with the international community, especially with India, has so far kept away from the government’s diplomatic offensive.
Basil Rajapaksa remains in the country while even government ministers with far less experience in diplomatic relations are being assigned to carry out the government’s bidding.
Rajapaksa it seems has now taken a back seat in the government’s dealings with the international community.
The latest reports received by the government are that the EU is divided in its approach towards Sri Lanka although the EU parliament has passed a motion on its stance on Sri Lanka. However, the final outcome would only be known in the event a resolution on Sri Lanka is placed before the UNHRC and the 46 member countries are called to vote on it.
Be that as it may, the government is yet unsure as to who would present the resolution to the UNHRC.
“The US has clearly stated it would support a resolution on Sri Lanka, which means it would be presented by another. Given the motion passed in the EU parliament last week, the resolution at the UNHRC could be presented by the EU,” a senior government minister said.
Any resolution to be presented before the UNHRC during sessions has to be included in the agenda and is usually taken up during the third week of the sessions.
The Sri Lankan team is also hopeful of getting a draft of the resolution before the sessions.
US bidding for TNA
The visit of US Undersecretary for Democracy and Human Rights, Maria Otero and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake to the country last week has left the political circles wondering about the US government’s approach to Sri Lanka.
The two US government officials during their two-day visit to Sri Lanka met only with members of the TNA out of the opposition political parties.
They did not have any official meetings with the main opposition UNP during last week’s visit. The US has always maintained close ties with the UNP and the US officials in their previous visits have also not met with the main opposition party.
The US embassy in Colombo was tightlipped when inquired if Otero and Blake met only with TNA members from the opposition political parties.
The meeting with TNA representatives was one of the first meetings held by the two US officials during their visit. The decision by the US officials to first meet with the TNA representatives was met with protests by the government.
The President who initially decided against meeting with the US officials later met with Otero where the latter informed the head of state of the US stance.
The fact that Otero and Blake met only with the TNA out of the opposition political parties in the country has sparked off suspicion on whether the US was supportive of the TNA. In such a scenario, India seems to have taken a back seat to the US.
The TNA for its part has continued in its stance of calling for a political solution based on a meaningful devolution of power and an internationally backed mechanism to probe the accountability issues.
The TNA has informed the US officials about the stalling of the talks between the government and the TNA and the delay in finding a political solution to the ethnic issue.
Otero and Blake were also briefed about the LLRC recommendations and the need for the international community to place pressure on the Sri Lankan government.
Meanwhile, the TNA, which protested against the government’s withdrawal from the talks on finding a political solution and vowed to take their grievances to India has been quite silent.
The TNA’s initial plans of travelling to India with their grievances before the UNHRC sessions have been shelved. The loss of urgency to call on India to carry out its bidding gives the impression that it was the US that was now going to carry out TNA’s bidding in the international community.
US and India
The government is also keeping a close watch on the Indo-US relations that seem to include the Sri Lankan situation also in its cards.
Otero’s meeting with Indian Foreign Secretary Ranjan Mathai in Washington DC a few days prior to her visit to Sri Lanka and her return visit to New Delhi has caused suspicion among the government ranks on India’s role.
Otero’s visit to New Delhi soon after her meetings in Colombo was believed to have been centered on the situation in Sri Lanka and the official announcement by the US that it would support a resolution on Sri Lanka.
Although reports stated that US and India were engaged in a dialogue on the sanctions imposed on Iranian oil, the meetings between Otero and the Indian government is expected to be more focused on Sri Lanka’s accountability issues and the reconciliation process.
The Indo-US link on Sri Lanka has now pushed the US to assume the role of whip cracker in relation to Sri Lanka.
The TNA however maintains that India should also support the resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC since it has also continuously called for the implementation of the LLRC recommendations.
“The Sri Lankan government should view the resolution positively as an opportunity to explain to the international community of its action plan towards reconciliation,” a senior TNA member said.
India however has assumed the role of the silent actor and is now prompting the actors on the main stage from behind the curtains.
Opposition and Resolution
The government has also taken several steps to justify its stance that certain LLRC recommendations have been implemented.
The expedition of the Human Rights Action Plan and the appointment of a commission of inquiry to inquire into matters of concern raised by the LLRC are some of the steps the government has hurriedly taken to save face at the UNHRC sessions.
Opposition political parties meanwhile maintain that it is the misdoings of the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration that has made way for the international community to interfere in Sri Lanka’s affairs.
The UNP says the government needed to commence the implementation of the LLRC recommendations and move forward in the reconciliation process.
The government according to the UNP needs to be more aware of global politics and not alienate itself from the international community.
The JVP observes the government has failed to bring normalcy to the North almost three years after the end of the war.
The issues faced by the re-settled people in the North and the delay in establishing a civil administration in the North has worked to the detriment of the government.
The opposition has always maintained the government’s failure to safeguard democracy and human rights in the country has given the necessary loophole for the international community to intervene in Sri Lanka.
The recent incidents that have taken place in the country would also not help Sri Lanka’s case before the UNHRC.
The use of brutal force to suppress the protests against the increase in fuel prices resulting in the death of a fisherman would undoubtedly have an adverse impact on the country when the Sri Lankan delegation tries to defend the country before the Human Rights Council.