UN 51st session – “Zero draft remains Zero to victims”!  

By SV. Kirubaharan in France  

The United Nations definition of ‘victims’ is as follows: “Victims” means persons who, individually or collectively, have suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that are in violation of criminal laws operative within Member States, including those laws proscribing criminal abuse of power…..”     

If this is the case, then who is not a victim in Sri Lanka? From top to bottom, I mean from so-called executive presidents to normal citizens everyone remains a victim. Here, I can quote several examples but to be brief – the President, the Chief Justice, members of civil society (human rights defenders, journalists, parliamentarians, lawyers, religious leaders, academics and others) are/were victimised in Sri Lanka.    

A Tamil proverb says:  “One will know the effect of a fever and headache only when he/she gets it”.  (காய்சலும் தலை வலியும் அவர் அவருக்கு வந்தால் தான் அதன் தாக்கம் விளைவு தெரியும்!). In Sri Lanka, we have experienced the fact that victims have become horrendous violators of human rights and then again become victims.      

In an earlier session of the UN Human Rights Council – UNHRC, I have listened to a representative of Sri Lanka as he related in meetings how at one time he had been in hiding in Sri Lanka because the security forces were looking for him. Unfortunately, later he was defending the state violations to the maximum in the same forum – the UNHRC.     

This is to say that Sri Lanka should learn to take the grievances of victims seriously and with sincerity. Victims vary from the youth uprising to capture the whole of Sri Lanka, to the failure of thirty years of non-violent struggle to achieve political aspiration that consequently turned into an armed struggle. Today, where is Sri Lanka? It has become an international arena for super-powers, the regional super-power and peace-loving states and groups.      

Socrates said, “Mankind is made of two kinds of people: wise people who know they’re fools and fools who think they are wise”. The stubborn, ego-centred attitude of politicians, under the pretext of patriotism, led Sri Lanka to today’s situation.   

Impending resolution    

Now let me discuss the impending resolution in the 51st session of the UNHRC in Geneva. The damning comprehensive report of the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights – UNHCHR was published. As part of the follow-up procedure, the member countries of the UNHRC are now working on a resolution on Sri Lanka. The first draft dated 12 September 2022 known as ‘zero’ draft, is in circulation. Well and good. This present draft is not very different to the last resolution (46/1).     

For the victims who have waited since the independence of Sri Lanka or since the end of Mullivaigzhal in May 2009, this zero draft does not give any encouraging messages. For those who organised demonstrations against the government in various venues including in Galle Face Green and brought a change of government in Sri Lanka – this draft is not giving any good message either. Some of the demonstrators travelled to Geneva to find justice for their call and cause.   

The zero draft has 23 preamble paragraphs (PPs) and 18 operational paragraphs (OPs). The Core group on Sri Lanka – (UK, USA, Canada, Germany, North Macedonia, Montenegro and Malawi) who drafted it, find it very difficult to accommodate every request by the government of Sri Lanka, their pied pipers and the victims. When drafting a resolution, countries have to consider many factors; otherwise it may end up in a disaster.   

I still remember why neither the European Union countries nor Canada tabled a resolution on Sri Lanka, until the United States became a member of the UN HRC in 2012. I don’t want to elaborate more on this matter.     

‘Informal consultation meetings’ on the zero draft, organised by the Core group, have taken place in the UN building on 16th Friday. These have been well attended by the concerned country Sri Lanka, several other countries and various members of civil society. Here I should say that not all members of civil society are working genuinely to strengthen this zero draft. We are finding it difficult to understand what they say and what is in their mind. The reason is that they have a deep link to any government in power in Sri Lanka. Therefore, their presence in the UN HRC is to observe what is happening there. In the UN, this style of work goes on, not only with Sri Lanka, but with many other countries. They are known as Government NGOs – or Gongos.     

Leaving this never-ending Gongos business to one side, the world should know what has happened in the last two informal consultations. On the morning of Friday 16th, the first informal consultation regarding the zero draft took place. It focused mainly on the ‘Preamble paragraphs – PP1 to PP23’ and general comments. The UK representative, Mr. Bob Last, presided over the meeting on behalf of the Core Group and read out the zero draft. He said that it is based on the last resolution on Sri Lanka. Also, he made a note of the crisis in the country, demonstrations and change of government. The Sri Lankan representative then expressed the opinion of the concerned country.     

So, the Sri Lankan representative read a statement which presumably was received from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Colombo. The statement said that Sri Lanka rejected the zero draft and Sri Lankan will not accept any resolution other than a resolution passed by consensus. This surprised everyone because even the resolutions passed in 2015, 2017 and 2019 by consensus in the UN HRC were not implemented.      

The statement also said that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ report goes beyond her mandate and that in the past two High Commissioners have visited Sri Lanka. Yes that’s true, but what happened to the reports that they published after their visit to Sri Lanka? The SL representative also said that the UNHRC is always moving the goalposts and requested the member countries to reject this resolution. This raises the serious question as to whether there is any ground in Sri Lanka to find justice – I mean are there any visible goalposts? However, the speech of the Sri Lankan representative is as usual like that of any other concerned country when facing a resolution addressing their human rights violations. 

Attending UN H/R Forums for 32 years    

Following this, many countries spoke generally about the zero draft. Some were supportive of the resolution and some were not. There were a few countries against the resolution, out of which only China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, Venezuela are current members of the UN HRC. At the same time, countries supportive of the resolution were mostly members of the council. This gives a clue to the eventual outcome of this resolution.     

Before the closure of the morning session, some members of civil society had an opportunity to make their remarks. These people were mostly those who had come directly from Sri Lanka. They were – Mr Ameer Faaize, Attorney at Law; M. A Sumanthiran M.P. and Attorney at Law; Santhiya Elaniyagoda, spouse of missing journalist (2009) Prageeth Elaniyagoda  and Bhavani Fonseka, researcher and Attorney at Law. Faaize touched on the issue of Muslim burials and displacement of Muslims.      

M.A. Sumanthiran went into the history of the resolution on Sri Lanka in the UNHRC. He recalled how the present President then Prime Minister co-sponsored the resolution in 2015 and then Sri Lanka’s co-sponsorship was withdrawn in 2019. Sumanthiran reminded in the meeting that then Minister of Justice is the present Minister of Justice – so there shouldn’t be any problem in accepting this resolution. Sumanthiran also talked about the failure in implementing their own recommendations of the LLRC. He spoke further about the PTA, impunity and requested that this resolution be made stronger than it is at present.    

Santhiya Eelaniyagoda’s speech was translated from Sinhala to English. She said that she has attended the UNHRC for the last ten years and she asked how many more years does she have to attend the UNHRC to find justice for her disappeared husband. Also she said that an international mechanism is the right solution for the situation in Sri Lanka.      

In fact, when Santhiya was speaking about her ten years in the UNHRC, I was thinking about my thirty-two (32) years attending all UN Human Rights Forums – from UNHR Commission, Sub-Commission, Treaty bodies, Working Groups, UPR, all UN human rights conferences, seminars etc and I am still here without finding any justice for the victims. In fact, on many occasions I have become a victim myself, because of my active commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights in Sri Lanka.     

When Bhavani Fonseka spoke, she reminded those present that even after thirteen years since of the end of the war, there is no credible justice, no political solution, no abolishment of the executive Presidency, impunity prevails and there are economic crises. With their interventions, the morning session on general comments and discussion on preamble paragraphs was brought to an end.   

Hypocrisy about the PTA  

In the afternoon, the informal discussion started on ‘Operative Paragraphs’ OPs from 1 to 18. As usual, the Sri Lankan representative who rejected the resolution started to make comments on every paragraph. The main countries supporting Sri Lanka: China, Pakistan, Russia and Venezuela also gave their input on every paragraph. If we put all their interventions together, the message is to delete the whole resolution. One by one Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, Russia and Venezuela wanted different operative paragraphs to be deleted.     

The usual pattern in the UN is that even though the concerned countries do not agree with the resolution, they prefer to contribute to the discussion.     

What was surprising was Russia said in this meeting that “this is interfering in the affairs of other counties”. I think Russia has forgotten what they are doing in Ukraine. Also, China seems to have forgotten that they are part of the present problem in Sri Lanka, when the representative said: “not to interfere in any internal affairs”.      

During the first week of the 51st session, a meeting took place outside the UN. It was about the PTA. In this meeting, two speakers who justified the PTA when they were the Minister of Justice and a Sri Lankan representative to the UN in Geneva, now spoke about the difficulties and dangers of the PTA. This is called hypocrisy. Shame on them.  

   If Sri Lanka ruled the country according to the constitution, there would be no need for any resolution by the UNHRC. Sri Lanka complains that the UNHRC resolutions are against their constitution. Many issues/affairs in the constitution for decades have never been implemented by Sri Lanka.    

When they talk about external involvement being against the constitution, how about the appointment of the International Independent Group of Eminent Persons (IIGEP) by President Mahinda Rajapaksa and led by former Indian Chief Justice P.N. Bhagawati? Also regarding foreign judges, what about the Commission of Inquiry appointed by Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1963 to inquire into the political aspects of the Bandaranaike assassination? Two out of the three judges were foreign. They were Justice Abdel Younis from Egypt and Justice G.C. Mills-Odich from Ghana.     

In the same case, the first and the second accused: Buddharakitha Thero and H.P. Jayawardene, were represented in the Supreme Court by Phineas Quass, QC from the United Kingdom. Was this against Sri Lanka’s constitution? Come on… Please look at the grievances of the victims in a polite, decent and cultured way rather than all the time rejecting them blindly.     

In conclusion, victims seriously wonder why Sri Lanka should be given two (2) year period as an extension by the Core group, knowing very well that for the last many years – Sri Lanka has not implemented and is not going to implement the resolution. The operating paragraph (PP18) reads as follows:    

“Requests the Office of the High Commissioner to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability, and on the human rights impact of the economic crisis and corruption, and to present oral updates to the Human Rights Council at its fifty-third session (June 2023) and fifty-fifths sessions (March 2024), and a written update at its fifty-fourth session (September 2023)  and a comprehensive report that includes further options for advancing accountability at its fifty-seventh session (March 2025), both to be discussed in the context of an interactive dialogue. (46/1 OP16)”.  

Those who understand the rulers in Sri Lanka well, will understand that Sri Lanka will do wonders in the North and East for the demography of those regions. Do wake up! 

Once the Core group finalises the draft, they will table it by the third week of the session (26-28 September). During the fourth week of the session (4-6 October) voting on the resolution will take place.

1 COMMENT

  1. 18.09.2022

    Sriyani Mangalika

    Panadura
    Sri Lanka

    Your Excellency

    High Commissioner
    United Nations Human Rights Council

    Challenges by UNHRC to Sri Lanka for the incidents at last stages of war in 2009 regarding the part of
    the Sri Lankan Government [GOSL]

    Voluntary Solution forwarded by a by a Patriotic Citizen of Sri Lanka.

    with a kind appeal
    Basis for the writing below

    This letter was forwarded to Secretary UNHRC recently with a intension to be considered at the next United Nations Human Rights Council Sessions [September 2002] at the time of taking up relevant Sri Lanka issues. This is a voluntary request made to UNHRC to relieve GOSL from War Crime charges and related charges, that has been there for more than 10 years. Sri Lanka is in a severely problematic situation today. I have elaborated the issue and forwarded all the member countries as convenient. Please help. I wrote according to my perception.

    Important point to be stressed about Sri Lanka

    I observed that the continuous issues in Sri Lanka has identified by UN as mainly due to impunity. I have been continuously in Sri Lanka as a professional engineer. I observed when there are severe charges there are behavioral changes though they have not been proved. This shaken mentality for more than 11 years changed the country. I am quite clear of that. May be with other solutions abandoning this war crime charges in this session would only help Sri Lanka. I understand impunity as without continuing up to punishment particularly considering war crimes if any. I know situation in my country is different. I have elaborated the issue below. Therefore as a citizen of my country I kindly request to abandon the war crime charges this time itself. Today most of the Sri Lankans do not have a present or future.

    My back ground {You may read the 2 paras below ]

    I am a lady professional, engineer 60 years old and having 27 years’ experience as a BSc Engineer. I am at 349/25, Nisal Uyana,Perera Mawatha, Alubomulla, Panadura, Sri Lanka. I am holding a Master of Science degree. My first Degree and MSc both I received from UOM a renowned University in Sri Lanka. I had been in Government service for 27 years and am a Sinhala Buddhist. I always try to be disciplined with five percepts. I have a service record without any lapse of duty and my superiors always appraise me for my performance. I resigned as a Chief Engineer from a Statutory Board to help my son in his GCE Ordinary Level Examination. My husband had been a Medical Practitioner and passed away when my son was just 4 years old. I live in my own two stored house within 20 perch off the town. I love my country and people unconditionally. I enjoy in helping people at no cost, My mother Seelawathie was an excellent Buddhist devotee. My brother who is a PhD holder enjoy helping people. My sister is holding a high position in health sector. I have 20-year experience on Tenders and Contracts there by I have a sound analytical knowledge. In school too I had a high knowledge in Mathematics. In this context I intend to write my personal observations on the challenges made by UNHRC against Sri Lanka regarding the last stages of war ended in 2009 against the terrorists ending 30-year dreadful fear by all Sri Lankans. I have confidence that my appraisal would successfully workout. My patriotism made me write this without any benefit or recognition.

    UNHRC has been reiterating that Sri Lankan Government should be subjected to investigate into the war crimes happened at the last stages of war in 2009. This war was the last resort to a severe conflict and agony of 30 years when any other solution did not work. Surely a war should have to be within a frame work of Law for just to prevail and devoid of inhuman activities and may be unnecessary torture.

    Agony of 30 years by all Sri Lankans

    During the 30 years before the end of war, we all Sri Lankans including all the communities were under dreadful fear of terrorists including suicide bombers. We experienced many severe tragedies consequently. Persons may be around groups of 30 were bombed and were on the spot died. Among those who lost to us included High ranks of Armed Forces including Major General Kobbekaduwa and Political leaders such as President R Premadasa, Ministers Gamini Dissanayake, Lalith Ethulathmudali. Then Executive President Chandika Bandaranayaka’s eye was diseased amidst presidential securities. “Sri Maha Bodhiya” the Sacred Bo tree that was protected for more than 2500 years and “Dalada Maligawa” where our Sacred Tooth Relic of Lord Buddha has been protected for thousands of years were attacked by blasting bombs. Under the shades of these Noble places, Buddhists chant “Karineeya Meththa Suthraya” where compassion was spread to all the beasts in a manner similar to that spread to one’s own children. That is the way of religious rituals. Shooting the devotees in that tranquil mentality who were devoid of arms, how grave those crimes be evaluated? Groups of priests and places of importance of economy were severely attacked. Buddhist Priests are a community dedicated to protect our Buddha Dhamma maintaining a hard life. When parents went outside in that period, they were used to go by two vehicles so that even one would remain without being destroyed by a bomb to protect their children. Tamil children who were under age were taken by these terrorists. For all 30 years all Sri Lankans not only Sinhala Buddhists, but Tamils. Muslims and Christians were in dreadful fear. We as Sri Lankan Buddhists always place the motherhood in respectful dignity. Our then Army Commander was attacked by a suicide bomber covering under the guise of motherhood taking advantage of our courtesy. Even least developing projects in North and East during that 30-year time.

    Last stages

    The last stage of war was the ending of 30 years devastation by the severe terrorist group. Being a small country, we have less resources to confront a serious situation compared to all powerful developed countries which were blessed with full of resources. Throughout the 30 years people were under dreadful fear of suicidal bombers. At the last stage of war terrorists were restricted to a small plot of land with shrubs and forestry having only limited access. Terrorists were keeping innocent Tamil people, civilians as a shield. Any responsibility of attack to those Tamil civilians should be taken by the Terrorists. Being a furious terrorist group prepared to die at any moment they were very difficult to be caught alive. The Terrorist Leader was depicting retaliating statements at his residence. Sri Lankan Armed Forces are a humanitarian group. Sri Lanka has been reluctant to enforce Capital Punishment for even serious offences. That was our mindset. It was the last opportunity with us to end up the 30-year dreadful fear from severe terrorists including suicidal bombers. There was a risk that Terrorist leader may go away escaping through sea as I know. Performance at a time such as last stages of war should me aimed at ending war under many several restrictions. Last stages is only a trivial part of the process baring high weightage on Armed Forces performance at ending fear. Isolated incidents by one party may not be dealt since it is unjust considering the whole 30 years. Law is adopted in case-by-case basis. But in a process like this justice should prevail for all 30 years for both parties if investigating is essential. The information against Sri Lanka may fall the country in to many practical difficulties by degrading images of dignified authorities. I am not aware of the exact incidents occurred in war or who have received charges. My point is tofollow a holistic approach for all 30 years to both parties.

    After ending war

    We, Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka won the war successfully defeating the most severe group of terrorists and gained recognition of the world in 2009. Soon after we had to face the challenges by International and now it is almost 12 years, we have had serious repercussions due to instability and sort of devoid. My country suffered last 12 years due to these allegations. That itself is a severe punishment. Because you may consider mind shutters though long undue pressure. We are not culprits. I mean you have to consider even strong mentalities become vague may be though without reason. Sri Lanka which is a sovereign country and it is us, who have to make stable. We called our war as Humanitarian battle. Really our Armed forces are a set of balance personalities. Armed forces are strong as well as humanitarian. They are performing a great service by helping the Government to quarantine persons suspected to have Covid virus in their body during this period. It is our Armed Forces who could take over such a challenge.

    My solution as an Appeal

    If this process by UNHRC is surely considered to improve the humanitarian situation of Sri Lanka, I cannot imagine how person/ personalities could be punished after 12 years those who shed their blood on this soil and some may have dedicated their lives and others have become diseased?? There are few armed officials having both arms and legs amputated, I am confident the proposal by UNHRC would never help improve the humanitarian situation of my country. But it would further separate people and shuttle the whole country. Do not you feel we all were punished for these 12 years being in an unstable mind. Yet it would make further division of the country. The lowering morale of people would be violent to my country. My personal observation is one major reason for today’s calamity is UNHRC charges since 2010.

    I kindly urge the UNHRC, if it is essential to investigate the humanitarian situation of my country regarding the war which was there 12 years back, please do not take up few incidents occurred within last few months of war. Instead, please investigate the whole process of the dreadful period of 30 years up to the end of war at 2009 May and the unlawful incidents by both parties GOSL and terrorists. If that holistic approach for 30 years is not adopted please abandon all the charges against GOSL regarding war concluded in 2009 in Sri Lanka.
    I consider it is practically impossible to consider the whole process as above. Therefore, please leave this 12 year fear towards us by UNHRC challenges regarding 2009 war in Sri Lanka.

    I hope you would take my solution seriously with compassionate mindset very soon considering the present status of Sri Lanka. Though I am not aware the details of above charges I am sure my approach is right regarding the path and the effective results.

    I wish the Blessings of the Noble Triple Gem to the whole world.

    With Best Regards,

    Sriyani Mangalika.

    A patriotic Sri Lankan

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