ISSN: 1391 - 0531
Sunday March 23, 2008
Vol. 42 - No 43

Lanka faces loss of seat at UNHRC

By From Neville de Silva in London

Human Rights Council: Lanka faces tough battle with Bahrain

Sri Lanka is in danger of being ousted from the United Nations Human Rights Council when it re-contests for an Asian seat at the next election schedule for May.
At the time of writing Sri Lanka has been able to garner only about half the required votes from the UN’s 192 members who vote by secret ballot, informed sources said.

According to first-past-the post voting system, Sri Lanka will need at least 125-130 votes to get a seat. Unless Sri Lanka is able to muster this number by the time of the election around mid-May when the Council will be reconstituted it will be ousted from one of the Asian seats it now holds, the sources added.

Sri Lanka was one of the 47 members of the UNHRC when it was first established two years ago and was elected to a two-year term at the first election held on May 9, 2006. The membership of the Council is staggered with members being elected every two years. Its term now ends in May but Sri Lanka wants to continue for another two-year term as permitted by the Council’s constitution.

It has put its name up for re-election to one of the four seats for Asia but faces a challenge from Japan, Pakistan, South Korea and Bahrain. The first three countries are already Council members and go out with Sri Lanka in May unless re-elected. Bahrain is not a serving member. Under the resolution setting up the Council, members are elected directly by the general membership of the UN meeting in New York.

Since the first election was held in May 2006, the next election is due around mid-May this yea, diplomatic sources in New York said. When Sri Lanka was elected two years ago the Ceasefire Agreement of 2002 was in operation, peace talks had been held and the war was on hold. This time round Sri Lanka is seeking re-election with the CFA abrogated and facing a barrage of international criticisms from some powerful members of the UN and human rights organisations worldwide and also from within the United Nations itself for what they see as the persistent violation of human rights, disappearances, attacks on journalists and threats to the media and the perceived support of the government to paramilitary groups operating particularly in the north and east.

Diplomatic sources pointed out that the Resolution establishing the UNHRC passed by the UN membership specified that “members elected to the Council shall uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of Human Rights.” Though some of the members who serve in the Council may not live up to the standards required by the Council, there has been a concerted attack on Sri Lanka and its conduct in this regard has been subject to review at the Council itself.
Sri Lanka’s best chance of re-election is if Bahrain fails to muster enough votes from the 192-member body required for election. Since the election is by secret ballot it is difficult to assess how the voting will go unless countries have gained firm commitments from members, often done on a quid-pro-quo basis with candidates agreeing to support members on other issues.

Meanwhile a delegation of British MPs from the All-Party Group on Sri Lanka is due to arrive in Sri Lanka this week on a fact-finding tour sponsored by the government. They are expected to be here for a week during which time they would meet President Mahinda Rajapaksa and also visit the east where the government is expected to brief the MPs on development.

The British delegation’s visit coincides with the release of the British government’s human rights report on Sri Lanka. The report to be released by Foreign Secretary David Miliband is likely to be critical of Sri Lanka’s record, diplomatic sources said.' International Trade Minister G L Peiris who was in London last week met with MPs of all three major parties in the All-Party Group and briefed them on the progress made in bringing democracy back to the eastern province among other developments.

He also met Conservative Party MP Liam Fox who had played a facilitation role in the Sri Lanka conflict some years back and who is also due in Colombo for a visit early this week independent of and before the MPs from the All Party Group.

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