UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka & The Tamil People

UN Human Rights Council, Sri Lanka & The Tamil People

Colombo Telegraph

By Brian Senewiratne –April 10, 2017

Sri Lanka recently co-sponsored a resolution at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), allowing Sri Lanka two more years to implement the recommendations made in Resolution 30/1 of 2015. The outrageous decision is devastating for the survival of the Tamil people in the North and East of Sri Lanka and also calls into question the credibility of the UNHRC.
On the very day it was passed in Geneva, President Sirisena in Colombo promoted a war criminal to a senior position in the Armed Forces, sending a clear message to the international community in general and the UNHRC in particular that he had not the slightest intention of doing what Sri Lanka undertook to do in Geneva. It was all a joke, not to be taken seriously. It has reduced the Human Rights Council to irrelevance.
There is talk of the “slow progress” made the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL). Where the Tamils North & East are concerned, it is “no progress”. The North – East continues to be under the heel of the brutal Sri Lankan Armed Forces that has committed all these atrocities and continues to do so. So where is the progress – ‘slow’ or otherwise?
The Tamils in the N&E are not concerned with the ‘benefits’ to those in the rest of the country from the change in Government from the dreadful Rajapaksa regime to that of Mahinda Rajapaksa’s friend and former colleague, Maithripala Sirisena. Their problem is an entirely justifiable fear – fear of the Armed Forces that control the area and who treat the area as ‘conquered territory’ and the inhabitants as the ‘spoils of war’. For them the change from Rajapaksa to Sirisena is only a name-change of no consequence.
Of serious concern is the extensive relocation of Sinhalese from the South to the Tamil areas – ‘Sinhalisation’. This is proceeding at such a pace that the Tamils will become a minority in the only area where they are a majority. Sri Lanka will be a Sinhala-Buddhist nation – the Mahavamsa mind-set – that Buddha ‘gave’ Lanka to the Sinhalese to foster his doctrine.
If Sri Lanka is a Sinhala-Buddhist country, what then happens to those who are not Sinhalese and not Buddhists? There are only 4 things that can happen – 1) to leave the country – as a million Tamils already have done, 2) to involuntarily ‘disappear’ 3) to become ‘non-people’ with no land, no occupation, and no rights 4) to die – slowly but surely, which is genocide of the Tamil people.
There are scores of publications on this disastrous situation. Countries in the HRC are fully aware of all this, or should be aware, since it is common knowledge. To claim that they are unaware is nonsense.
The HRC is an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights around the globe.
To claim that ‘promotion and protection’ of human rights of the Tamil people in the N&E has been done by the United Nations (UN) or the UNHRC, is arrant nonsense.
Let us look at the past activities of both the UN and the UNHRC. The current (March 2017) decision of the UNHRC to give another two years for the GoSL (to continue to do what it has done all these years – to make Sri Lanka into a Sinhala-Buddhist nation) is simply a continuation of what has gone on for years. To claim that this is “Promoting reconciliation, accountability and human rights” is not only nonsense but dangerous nonsense. It is a gross irresponsibility by both the UN and the UNHRC.
The only thing that has changed is that Ban Ki-moon, the worst Secretary General the UN has ever had, has been replaced by Antonio Guterres, the former High Commissioner for Refugees (2012-2015) and prior to that the Prime Minister of Portugal (1995-2002). Whether Guterres will be better than Ban Ki-moon, is too early to tell. He certainly cannot be worse.
May 2009 – A UNHRC disaster
On 27 May 2009, just a week after the end of the slaughter of Tamil civilians in Sri Lanka’s N&E, the UNHRC passed a deeply flawed resolution at a ‘Special Session’ on Sri Lanka. It praised the GoSL whose Armed Forces were responsible for the repeated indiscriminate shelling of civilians. There was not even an expression of concern for the thousands of Tamil civilians killed and the 350,000 men, women and children locked up in the largest open air detention centre in the world. The gross violation of human rights and humanitarian law committed by the Government Armed Forces was ignored. The crucial message that the GoSL needed to hear – to ensure access to displaced civilians and uphold human rights – was not sent. This undermined the very purpose of the Council.
The majority of Council members, including China, South Africa and Uruguay, ignored a call for accountability and justice for the victims made by the then High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navanethem Pillay. She called for an independent international investigation into violations of international human rights and humanitarian law. Here is what she said: “The images of terrified and emaciated women, men and children fleeing the battle zone ought to be etched in our collective memory. We must act”.
Instead the resolution reaffirmed the principle of non-interference in the domestic jurisdiction of States, a backward step by the Human Rights Council.
Human Rights Watch in a Report released on the same day (27 May 2009): “Sri Lanka: UN Rights Council Fails Victims. Member States Ignore Need for Inquiry into Wartime Violations” expressed serious concerns.
The Report rightly blamed Ban Ki-moon: “Secretary General Ban Ki-moon regrettably undercut efforts to produce a strong resolution with his recent comments on Sri Lanka. Ban publicly praised the Sri Lankan government for “doing its utmost” and for its “tremendous efforts” while accepting government assurances, repeatedly broken in the past, that it would ensure humanitarian access to civilians in need”.
Ban Ki-moon also distanced himself from the entirely appropriate warnings by the UN Under-Secretary for Humanitarian Affairs, John Holmes, April 2009, that the fighting in Sri Lanka could result in a “bloodbath”. Unlike the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, Ban Ki-moon failed to press for an international inquiry.
The Report ended with: “Secretary General Ban shares the blame for the Human Rights Council’s poor showing on Sri Lanka. This adds to a crisis of confidence in UN bodies to speak out clearly on pressing human rights issues”.
As recently as March 29, 2017, Nikki Haley, U.S. Permanent Representative on the U.N. Security Council, dismissed the UNHRC as “so corrupt”. Addressing a meeting on Foreign Relations in New York she said,: “I mean, the Human Rights Council is so corrupt that it includes ‘bad actors’ who use it to protect themselves”.
Geoffrey Robertson
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