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Sri Lanka goes all out against resolution in UNHRC

The Sri Lankan government held a series of protests on Monday against what it calls “international conspiracies against the government” even as it sent a monster 52-member delegation to Geneva for the 19th convention of the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC).
At the core of this angst is a US-sponsored resolution that seeks to draw attention to Sri Lanka’s absence of accountability in the aftermath of the war against the LTTE.

The convention has inspired a whipping up of media frenzy and national outcry, with the government portraying the resolution as a Western ploy to interfere with the sovereignty of the country.

But Sri Lankan civil groups say that the resolution has just proved to be a handy means for the government to divert attention from growing discontent within the country.

“I don’t really understand what all the fuss is about. The Geneva resolution is not a billah (demon). The government is trying to evade the real issues in Sri Lanka by making a big deal about the resolution,” said Ruki Fernando, the head of the Human Rights in conflict programme at the Law and Society Trust in Sri Lanka.

He said,”They should actually welcome the resolution as an opportunity to show the international community how much progress they have made. They should only be scared if they have something to hide or are scared of what they have not done.”

The resolution is likely to take a critical look at the government’s failure to implement recommendations made by the Lessons Learned and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC), a government body set up to address grievances in the aftermath of the war.

It is also likely to ask the government to present the commission with a road map of how it plans to implement those recommendations by the next UNHRC meeting in June.

Meanwhile, Sri Lankan civil rights groups are also hoping that mention will be made of the continuing violation of Human Rights and Rule of law in the country, which has seen an alarming rise of abductions and politically motivated killings in recent months.

And according to Fernando, the convention will also give civil society the chance to make their voices heard.

“Conventions such as these are always a good space for civil society to air their concerns, especially as there is very little formal space for groups to engage with the government in Sri Lanka”, he said.

Civil society groups do not get more than ten minutes of every three hours to air their views at the Geneva convention, but can try and influence the opinion of member states through holding side events in which they can hold discussions, show films and hand out material.

The resolution itself is more symbolic than anything else. It has, in fact been criticized for not going far enough against the Sri Lankan government.

The US has called it only a tool with which to engage the Sri Lankan government and send a warning signal.

Foreign minister GL Peiris has warned an adverse resolution in the UNHRC could affect the reconciliation process. Reuters
 However, it will definitely be an important bellwether of who Sri Lanka’s allies are on the international stage. India’s role in particular will be of great interest.

“How India votes will be crucial. The US will not go ahead with a resolution unless there was an understanding that India won’t oppose it. India is getting increasingly frustrated with the pace of developments in Sri Lanka and cannot continue to blindly support Sri Lanka,” said Fernando.

India has been silent on their stand on the issue so far, but popular opinion is that it might abstain from voting. This in itself will be a big blow to Sri Lanka which relied heavily on Indian support to escape censure at the Human Rights convention in 2009.

Meanwhile, Sri Lanka is involved in heavy lobbying at Geneva, with Foreign Minister GL Peiris going so far as to warn that an adverse resolution against Sri Lanka would impede the process of reconciliation.

It is hoping that China will be be able to influence some African countries, as it is widely expected that the African bloc will vote as one body.

The resolution will need 24 votes to pass in the 47-member council. It is not yet clear if the resolution will be passed, but the Sri Lankan government is unsure and worried.

“The government is sensitive about pressure coming in from the international community. They say they are not concerned, but if they were not, would they send a 52-member delegation to Geneva at the tax payers expense?” asks Fernando.

But more than anything else, Fernando feels that the timing of the convention has become a handy means for the government to distract public attention from protests over massive fuel price hikes and land acquisitions in the South.

For instance, the anti-fuel protests are being portrayed as the work of Western government NGOs.

“This is a very smart way of diverting attention and I wish some elements of the media knew what the real issues were before reporting everything the government says”, says Fernando.

 Ayeshea Perera Feb 27, 2012
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