Barely few days ahead of the United Nations Human Rights Council session in Geneva, Sri Lanka has begun a no-holds-barred attack on its “enemies”, is making fervent appeals to countries it considers friends, and is galvanising support back home in a bid to cash in on the siege mentality it is trying to create.
The issue at the Rights Council relates to Sri Lanka's unwillingness to admit to civilian deaths during the end stages of Eelam War IV (January-May 2009). While one pro-Sri Lanka academic, Rohan Gunaratne, put the number killed at around 1,500, a few in the Sri Lankan hierarchy have admitted to deaths being in the range of 2,800 to 3,000. The United Nations Secretary-General's Expert Panel on Accountability in Sri Lanka has said that upwards of 40,000 civilians were killed. The second issue relates to Sri Lanka delaying any kind of political solution to the Tamils of the Northern Province, where the Tamil Tigers held sway for over three decades.
The UNHRC session will witness a resolution against Sri Lanka, which will cite the lack of progress on the promises it had made earlier on a political solution to the Tamils of the Northern Province, and also on make adverse comments on the complete absence of accountability and respect for human rights during the end stages of the war. The United States has made it clear that it will support a resolution of this nature. Canada, United Kingdom, and most of Europe, are likely to demand greater accountability for war crimes.
In Geneva, Sri Lankan Foreign Minister G.L. Peiris warned on Wednesday that any adverse resolution on Sri Lanka will impede the process of reconciliation at this crucial juncture. He held consultations with a wide range of diplomats, while another Minister, and President Mahinda Rajapakasa's Special Envoy on Human Rights, Mahinda Samarasinghe, revealed ahead of leaving for Geneva that a task force would be set up to expedite the human rights action plan. Mr. Samarasinghe, the head of the delegation in the last session of the UNHRC, came under attack for his proposal from the opposition though. The Opposition Leader in Parliament, Ranil Wickramasinghe, asked how such a national action plan could by-pass Parliament and reach Geneva.
On another plane, stopping short of accusing United States of mischief, Sri Lankan Permanent Representative to the United Nations Tamara Kunanayakam said on Wednesday that an e-mail “purporting to have originated from the Mission of the United States to the United Nations and other International Organisations at Geneva, signed by one Miriam Shahrzard Schive had been sent to Member States of the Human Rights Council and Diplomatic Missions in Geneva”.
She said that the e-mail “creates the impression that diplomatic officials of the U.S. have been in close contact with the Government of Sri Lanka, as well as this Mission, to work, “collaboratively on issues of accountability (in Sri Lanka) and the implementation of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission's Report”. She said that Sri Lanka had “continued to openly and comprehensively brief the international community in Geneva and elsewhere of all recent developments… We have received wide spread support on the endorsement of the principle, that a domestic mechanism must be given the time, space and given the necessary impetus to achieve its objectives.”
Meanwhile, in a widely publicised move, Mr. Rajapaksa met Tamil National Alliance Leader R. Sampathan, in a bid to find some common ground. The talks between the government and the TNA on finding a political solution had all but stalled, and both have since reworked their positions, after meeting with representatives from the U.S. and India.
Keywords: Sri Lanka human rights issue