Time is Expiring for Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council
The US has made it very clear; they will table a resolution against Sri Lanka at the Human Rights Council’s (HRC) 19th session in Geneva. Unsurprisingly, the government of Sri Lanka is asking for more time. The Sri Lankan government knows that this might be the most pressure they ever face at the HRC. When it comes to national reconciliation, the government’s strategy continues to revolve around delay, prevarication and even outright lies. President Rajapaksa told critics to be patient because he had appointed a national body, the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) to handle questions related to national reconciliation and accountability.
The LLRC’s final report has been out for months and, almost shockingly, the report actually contains some good recommendations. But the government thought it imprudent to even begin to consider implementing any of those. More recently, the government’s entire strategy seems to involve linking all questions of accountability and human rights to the country’s participation in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which will take place this October. President Rajapaksa knows that the passing of time only strengthens his hand.
It does seem odd that the Sri Lankan government thinks that the UPR is an appropriate time to deal with its obvious human rights issues. After all, Rajapaksa’s administration has spent most of the past four years ignoring almost all of the recommendations made during the government’s 2008 UPR review.
The Sri Lankan government wants to wait until the UPR in October because no binding commitments will come out of that process, just another long list of recommendations. On February 25, External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris, said that “the government was mainly concerned about the timing of this resolution.” The government of Sri Lanka is concerned with the timing of the US resolution because it knows there is actually enough support for it to pass this time. They would be crazy not to be concerned. For President Rajapaksa, the danger of a resolution (of any kind) at the HRC’s 19th session is that the government of Sri Lanka might actually have to commit to something that would be binding. The Sri Lankan government might even have to report back to the Council and provide updates as to how well it is complying with the resolution that the US has been calling for.
People are fed up with the Sri Lankan government. It is unlikely that the US would be pushing so publicly for a resolution on Sri Lanka if they did not think they could get the votes in Geneva this March. Observers have every reason to believe that the votes are already there. Now it is just a question of how much the language of the draft resolution will be modified before it is put to a vote. A resolution calling for the government of Sri Lanka to implement the LLRC recommendations is one thing; members of the HRC could go much further. Major international NGOs have already said that they would like to see an “independent international accountability mechanism” come out of Geneva.
The Sri Lankan government’s requests for more time cannot be taken seriously. They have had plenty of time. In an obvious move to deflect international pressure, the Sri Lankan Army recently announced that it had just created a “court of inquiry” to probe the extensive allegations of war crimes committed during the civil conflict. If one is actually trying to find out whether violations of international human rights law or international humanitarian law occurred during the civil war, it seems like having the Sri Lankan Army examine its own behavior is not the greatest idea.
Sri Lanka is a small and relatively unimportant country when it comes to international politics. It is incredible that the Sri Lankan government has been able to get away with so much. But its time has run out. No matter what type of resolution is passed in Geneva, President Rajapaksa and others will be busy talking about how its sovereignty has been violated and that the entire process it is some sort of neo-imperialist plot which has been orchestrated by the LTTE. Yet few people will be listening. As of now, it is hard to say whether there is a lot of support at the HRC for a resolution that is stronger than the one the US and other countries have recently been talking about. Regardless, Sri Lankan diplomats will leave Geneva in disgrace.