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Post Geneva Challenges and the way forward

Javid Yusuf 
It would be unwise to brush aside the resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council last month in Geneva as being of no consequence to Sri Lanka. We could choose to ignore it only at our own peril.

The attempt to paint it as an innocuous resolution with the sole objective of ‘encouraging us to implement the LLRC recommendations’ was belied by the vigorous nature of the campaign that was carried out by the sponsors of the resolution and its supporters not only in Geneva but also in several capitals with high officials of the US and the European Union visiting such capitals. The high powered nature of the campaign was totally disproportionate to the ‘innocuousness’ of the resolution and should alert us to the fact that there may be more to it than meets the eye.

Be that as it may, on the face of it, the resolution has succeeded in keeping Sri Lanka under international scrutiny at least until March next year. With the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights mandated by the resolution to submit a report to UNHRC next year and the Universal Periodic Review on Sri Lanka scheduled for the latter part of this year, Sri Lanka will remain in the international spotlight for sometime longer.

While it was legitimate for Sri Lanka to argue that it was premature to bring a resolution relating to the implementation of the LLRC a few months after the handing over of the report to the President, now that the resolution has been adopted we cannot continue to rely on that argument in the future. Nor can we rely on the argument of double standards and selective targeting of Sri Lanka by the US and the West. We have to accept that in international politics there is no level playing field and have to factor in such handicaps when dealing with the world.

Equally, we cannot be overly reliant on countries that are well disposed towards Sri Lanka, like India, Russia and China, to bail us out of difficult situations given the framework of operation of nations in a system of international politics. Illustrative of the trappings of international politics and relations is the recent decision that precluded India from supporting Sri Lanka (due to domestic pressures from Tamil Nadu) in Geneva. Hence, it is apparent that countries the world over, and quite understandably, support another country or countries only to the extent that it will not hurt their own interests, internally and internationally. For instance, Russia and China’s approach to non interference coincided with Sri Lanka’s stand in this instance, yet putting all our eggs in the Russian/Chinese basket on every occasion is not prudent.

An encouraging feature of the vote in Geneva was the fact that out of the 15 countries that voted for Sri Lanka, seven were from the Islamic bloc with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar even attempting to persuade the US to withdraw the resolution against Sri Lanka while four others from the Islamic bloc abstained from supporting the US resolution.

The Foreign Ministry will also have to reflect on why the United States which welcomed the LLRC as ‘showing promise’ (Hillary Clinton) changed course to put pressure on Sri Lanka within a few months of the completion of the report.

The Government must also take note of the fact that a substantial section of the international community (the 24 who voted for the resolution together with the co-sponsors) has a particular perception of Sri Lanka. What needs to be done to clear the misconception is a speedy effort on the domestic front to make National Reconciliation a reality; inevitably our image will improve internationally.

This should spring from a genuine desire to improve the lot of our people who have suffered the consequences of a debilitating war rather than an effort to respond to the UNHCR resolution. Such a ‘home grown’ approach will be more sustainable, help heal the wounds of conflict and provide dignity to the Tamil and Muslim communities living in the North and East.

Post-Geneva, the National Interest demands that the Government clarify its stand vis-à-vis the implementations of the LLRC recommendations. A lack of uniform positions and public statements has left the public confused. The first step towards implementation would be a clear pronouncement on the official stand of the Government on the matter. Further, this would be invaluable to our diplomats abroad to take up a consistent position and keep the international community briefed.

The Government’s achievements in the field of reconstruction, rehabilitation and resettlement have been commendable, though not sufficient to rebuild the lives of the victims of the conflict. Specific efforts to provide healing, dignity and equality are critical to ensuring that the dividends of post-war efforts materialize in the lives of all Sri Lankans.

The LLRC recommendations address many of these needs. Speedy implementation in the firm knowledge that the majority of the Sri Lankan people will render their support is possible for most of the recommendations. Other recommendations calling for political reform might need more time but the process needs to be activated without delay. As pointed out by the LLRC ‘the critical importance of making visible progress with regard to this subject cannot be overemphasized.

The process of implementing the National Human Rights Action Plan needs to be done parallel to the process of implementing the LLRC recommendations, as it carries the potential of significantly improving the lives of victims of conflict.

Another aspect requiring immediate attention is the strengthening of the Rule of Law. Such will provide confidence in the citizenry of legal redress within the legal system, while contributing to the positive image that Sri Lanka wants to build for itself internationally.

There is a reason for the Government to give priority to the implementation of the LLRC recommendations. This year is likely to see many challenges for the country on the economic front, many of which, like the world oil prices, result from situations not within our control. It will require all the skills of governance to meet such challenges.

Hence, before the country is confronted with a set of challenges not within its control, it is prudent that the issues of governance which are in fact within the control of Government be addressed. Reconciliation and healing is the case in point.

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