UNHRC resolution to give breather to Lankan govt

Wednesday 20th March 2019 02:51 EDT

New Delhi: India's desire to give some breathing space to Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe found a sympathetic ear in the international community. His government is to be granted a further extension of two years to carry out key pledges on transitional justice and accountability.

Just before the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) session ends mid-week, the Geneva-based body will adopt by consensus a new resolution - proposed by the UK, Canada and Germany - that will give time till 2021 for the Sri Lankan government to fully implement commitments it made four years ago.

Sources said that India had been kept informed "at every stage" about the drafting of the resolution by the UK. This is the first time that the US is not taking the lead, since it withdrew from the HRC last year. This is the first regular session that India will participate as a member of UNHRC, after a mandatory gap in 2018 of one year following two consecutive terms.

According to sources, various countries were aware of the very recent turbulent political history and the fraught ties between President Maithripala Sirisena and Wickremesinghe. "It was felt that the government required a break and this was not the right time to impose any stringent strictures," said an Indian government official.

However, some Nordic countries with large Sri Lankan Tamil diasporas, had tried to introduce stronger language in the text. This was when India intervened to "remind" the international community about the current circumstances in Sri Lankan polity, sources noted.

However, officials said that there was largely not much intervention required, as there was consensus among the international community about the need to give the government some breathing space. "We didn't have to do too much," said the official.

This will certainly be good news for Wickremesinghe, who has been embattled domestically, with presidential election due in Sri Lanka within a year. This agreement came despite Sri Lanka not having a good record of meeting its assurances on reconciliation and transitional justice.

According to a Sri Lankan think-tank, Verite Research, Colombo has fully implemented only six out of 36 commitments made by the government in resolution 30/1. There has been no progress on the creation of a judicial mechanism with foreign elements, but the Office of Missing Persons was set up last year in February.

The UN human rights commissioner's report on Sri Lanka, which will be discussed, has acknowledged some of the steps taken by the government, but continued to be critical about the pace of accountability reforms. However, with Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the resolution, as it had done with two previous iterations, officials said that the text would be adopted without the need for a vote.

After the adoption, India's statement will include references to the need to take into account the sentiments of the Tamil population. There could also be a rare public mention of the full implementation of the 13th amendment that decentralises power to provincial councils. India had been a key advocate for the 13th amendment, but it has largely been absent from recent statements.

The scenario would have been different if President Sirisena had gone ahead with his proposal to send a separate delegation on his behalf to the Palais de Nations in Geneva.

On March 6, Sirisena informed heads of media organisations that he will be sending a three-member team on his behalf, led by former foreign minister Mahinda Samarasinghe. He also indicated that Sri Lanka will not co-sponsor the resolution and would instead ask the international community to abandon plans for investigation into alleged atrocities. "I want to tell them [the UN] not to pressure us...what I want to tell them is don't dig the past and reopen old wounds," he said.

Observers had felt that Sirisena, who has been unable to convince the joint opposition to field him as their presidential candidate, had been hoping to earn some brownie points by advocating a Sinhala nationalist position against the prosecution of security personnel over alleged incidents of war crimes during the civil war. Leader of opposition Mahinda Rajapaksa has been opposed to Sri Lanka co-sponsoring the resolution.

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