THE BLOG

Is the U.S. Resolution on Sri Lanka Justified?

Sri Lanka faces its second United States sponsored resolution in as many years at the ongoing United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.

The Sri Lankan government has declared that it will not accept the new resolution, describing it as country specific and unsupportive of the regime. INGOs and foreign governments concerned over the apparent lack of progress in Sri Lanka have been campaigning to have this resolution passed in an attempt to force the government in to action.

Are these resolutions in the best interest of the country or targeting the ruling regime of Sri Lanka as the government claims?

The upcoming U.S. sponsored resolution is, in actuality, a follow up to the first resolution titled "Promoting Accountability and Reconciliation in Sri Lanka." That resolution was tabled at the 19th session of the UNHRC and was passed with 24 votes in favour, 15 against and 8 abstentions.

This original resolution, which saw widespread protests in Sri Lanka, addressed three main points. It first called upon the government of Sri Lanka to implement its own appointed "Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission" (LLRC) report. This was to ensure accountability and reconciliation is achieved in the country. The resolution also requested the government to produce a comprehensive action plan detailing the steps they will take in implementing the LLRC report. Finally it encouraged the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to provide advice and assistance and the government to accept it when implementing its action plan.

A year since the adoption of the previous resolution has seen little in the way of meaningful steps towards implementing a sustainable plan of reconciliation. The action plan produced by the government has been criticised domestically and internationally as having ignored key LLRC recommendations.

The UNHRC and numerous foreign governments continue to remain concerned over the apparent disregard by the government to the promises it had undertaken at the passing of the previous resolution.

In the past year the situation in Sri Lanka, regarding its human rights record, has deteriorated. The continual harassment of free speech and the encroachment of the executive over the independence of the judiciary are just a few examples.

In July last year a prison in the North of the country, Vavuniya, was a scene of a hostage crisis following a riot by the inmates over the transfer of a fellow prisoner. However, the real issue did not arise until after the situation was brought under control by the police. Following the resolving of the hostage crisis several inmates, all suspected Tamil tigers, were transferred to a hospital in the South of the country having sustained injuries during the showdown. Ganeshan Nimalaruban, one of the injured inmates, died from the injuries sustained leading to numerous unanswered questions over his treatment. No meaningful investigations were held in to this incident.

Similarly in November of 2012 another prison riot broke out at the maximum security prison in capital Colombo. After several hours of a standoff between police and armed inmates the army was deployed resulting in the death of 23 inmates and a further 43 injured. Despite claims that investigations had been undertaken by the authorities in to the incident, no one has been found responsible for the blatant overuse of force by the army. Furthermore the use of the army in this situation is in contradiction to the LLRC's suggestion to reduce the role of the military.

Similarly media freedom in the country has continued to be downtrodden with journalists being assaulted and armed assailants attacking them in their homes. The authorities have failed to arrest anyone in connection to these assaults, raising questions over the sincerity of the government to uphold media freedom.

In fact, the government has gone one step further towards unopposed rule. For the first time in the country's history the President successfully impeached a Chief Justice (CJ) of the Supreme Court. The CJ, Dr. Shirani A. Banadaranayke, was accused of improper conduct and influencing the process of the delivery of justice. Despite the Supreme Court ruling that the process followed by the government in their impeachment motion was illegal, the CJ was removed from office.

Incidentally the impeachment came about following the CJ's decision to rule against a controversial bill aimed at increasing the powers of the Economic Minister and brother of the President. Whether the impeachment of Dr. Banadaranayke and her over-ruling of the bill are linked remains to be decided. However, the government has shown no hesitancy to encroach upon the independence of the Judiciary.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report earlier this month calling upon the government to continue to take steps forward in dealing with the issues of human rights and reconciliation. This hard hitting document outlined the shortcomings of the government in abiding by its promises made last year.

While the details of the pending U.S. resolution remains unknown for the time being, it is expected that it will once again call on the Sri Lankan government to work towards reconciliation and open up its doors to international monitors.

Judging by the continued downward trend of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and lack of reconciliation, there seems to be little evidence to strengthen the government's declaration that it will not accept the new resolution.

With the U.S., Europe and India expected to support the new resolution, it is highly likely that this new resolution will also be adopted. What impact it will have on the situation in Sri Lanka remains to be seen.

Subscribe to the World Post email.