Image: Sri Lanka FM Dinesh Gunawardana’s speech at HRC is based on statement made by him on 20 Feb 2020.
- In May 2009, following the end of the 30 year-long internal armed conflict with the defeat of the LTTE, a terrorist organization proscribed by 32 countries, the government led by the then President Mahinda Rajapaksa, of which the current President GotabayaRajapaksa was the Secretary to the Ministry of Defence, initiated a sustainable reconciliation process in Sri Lanka to bring about ‘healing and peace building’, taking due cognizance of the ground realities at that time. This incremental process made considerable progress in all aspects of post-conflict restoration of civilian life and in the country’s return to normalcy. The citizens in the Northern Province were able to use their franchise after a lapse of 25 years, in 2013 strengthening democracy. In parallel, several local mechanisms/commissions were established to address the post-conflict issues of concern, including those related to accountability, rule of law and human rights. More importantly, the end of the brutal conflict restored one of the fundamental human rights – the ‘right to life’ to all Sri Lankans.
- Notwithstanding the inclusive and locally designed measures/actions, a group of UNHRC members, failing to recognize the GoSL’s endeavors in defeating terrorism and bringing about stability, humanitarian relief and lasting peace through a carefully balanced reconciliation process, enforced consecutive country-specific resolutions at the UN HRC on Sri Lanka in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
30/1 UNHRC Resolution
- The government elected in January 2015 jettisoned the home-grown reconciliation process progressing at the time, and in an unprecedented move in the Human Rights Council, and in contrary to Sri Lanka’s foreign policy stance on country specific resolutions, co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution 30/1 on the situation of the country . This was done without the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers, the Parliament and the people of Sri Lanka, overruling the reservations expressed by professional diplomats, academia, media and the general public. The then President Maithripala Sirisena also stated that he was not consulted on the matter at that time.
- Resolution 30/1 conceded a false narrative of both the circumstances of the 30-year separatist conflict and also the number of causalities. This was done despite an abundance of evidence to the contrary contained in domestic reports such as of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commisison (LLRC) and the Presidential Commisison of Inquiry into complains of abductions and disappearances (Paranagama Commission) and those produced in the UK Parliament by Lord Naseby, reports of other States, the UN and other international agencies, including the ICRC, as well as exposed diplomatic cables.
- It undermined national interest, compromised national security including weakening national intelligence operations and related safeguards, which may be deemed to have contributed to the lapses that resulted in the Easter Sunday attacks. It also placed Sri Lanka under a host of international obligations which could not be delivered on due to constitutional and institutional limitations. Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship of Resolution 30/1 remains to date a blot on the sovereignty and dignity of the country.
Implementation of Resolution 30/1
- The ensuing period (2015-2019) saw little progress being made on the pledges to the HRC by the previous government. The operationalization of resolution 30/1 was extended (roll-over) twice, through Resolution 34/1 in March 2017 and through Resolution 40/1 in March 2019, inorder not to expose the misjudgment and low delivery of the previous Government that co-sponsored it.
- Through Resolution 30/1, severe impositions were cast and the Sri Lankan State and particularly its security forces were vilified to appease the extremist sections of the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora and certain media, INGOs/CSOs with vested interests. It also negatively affectedethnic and religious harmony, already challenged by the ravages of the divisive conflict.
- However, during the UNHRC session in March 2019, belatedly, the former Government itselfsought to qualify the parameters of co-sponsorship. It questioned the Resolution 30/1’s characterization of the nature of the conflict and the estimated number of deaths, pushed back on the alleged culpability of the security forces, curtailed the effect of security sector reform demanded and asserted that the Sri Lanka Constitution precludes involvement of foreign judges and prosecutors in the judicial mechanism proposed. Notwithstanding this admission, the former Government continued its co-sponsorship, which fully supported the operationalization of Resolution 30/1.
New Mandate given by the people of Sri Lanka
- During the November 2019 election, President Gotabaya Rajapaksa received an overwhelming mandate to charter a sustainable path for the country, to follow a non-aligned, neutral foreign policy and to find home-grown solutions to overcome contemporary challenges. Accordingly the government will forge ahead with its agenda as envisaged in the National Policy Framework ‘Vistas of Prosperity and Splendour’, ushering for the country an era of security and development in the interest of all Sri Lankans.
Recommendations for the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers
- In view of the foregoing, the approval of the Cabinet of Ministers is sought for the following, in relation to the GOSL’s approach to the upcoming 43rd Session of the Human Rights Council and to undertake diplomatic initiatives necessary to realise this strategy:
- To announce Sri Lanka’s decision to withdraw from co-sponsorship of Resolution 40/1 of March 2019 on ‘Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights in Sri Lanka’, which also incorporates and builds on preceding Resolutions 30/1 of October 2015 and 34/1 of March 2017.
- To continue to work with the UN and its agencies, including the regular human rights mandates/bodies and mechanisms and seek as required, capacity building and technical assistance, in keeping with domestic priorities and policies.
- To declare the Government’s commitment to achieve sustainable peace through an inclusive, domestically designed and executed reconciliation and accountability process, including through the appropriate adaptation of existing mechanisms, in line with the Government’s policy framework. This would comprise the appointment of a Commission of Inquiry (COI) headed by a Justice of the Supreme Court, to review the reports of previous Sri Lankan COIs which investigated alleged violations of Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL), to assess the status of implementation of their recommendations and to propose deliverable measures to implement them keeping in line with the new Government’s policy.
- Through due democratic and legal processes, address other outstanding concerns and to introduce institutional reforms where necessary, in a manner consistent with Sri Lanka’s obligations including the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda (SDGs). Demonstrate in good faith the policies rooted in the Government’s commitment to the people by advancing individual and collective rights and protections under the law, ensuring justice and reconciliation and addressing the concerns of vulnerable sections of society.
- To announce the intention of the GoSL to work towards the closure of the Resolution, in cooperation with the members of the UN.