The vote on the US-led resolution on Sri Lanka at the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council produced a predictable outcome, not very different in terms of numbers from the result in 2012, when a similar resolution was adopted. This time it was 25 in favour, 13 against, and eight abstentions – just one [...]


US has its way in a divided Human Rights Council


The vote on the US-led resolution on Sri Lanka at the 22nd session of the Human Rights Council produced a predictable outcome, not very different in terms of numbers from the result in 2012, when a similar resolution was adopted. This time it was 25 in favour, 13 against, and eight abstentions – just one vote more in support of the US, two less against, with the number of abstentions remaining the same. The new numbers could be accounted for by changes in the composition of the 47 member Council, where elected member states hold three-year terms. 
The newly-constituted Council saw Sri Lanka lose five supporters whose term ended in 2012 (China, Russia, Bangladesh, Saudi Arabia and Cuba), and gain three newly-elected ones (Pakistan, UAE, Venezuela). Among those who abstained in 2012, four had exited (Djibouti, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Senegal). They were replaced by four others (Ethiopia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Kenya).

The US, while losing eight who had supported its resolution last year (Norway, Belgium, Cameroon, Hungary, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Uruguay) gained nine out of the Council’s 17 new members (Argentina, Brazil, Cote d’Ivoire, Estonia, Germany, Ireland, Montenegro, Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone).

All seven members of the ‘Western European and other’ group within the Council, and all six members of the ‘Eastern European’ group, voted for the resolution. While this was perhaps predictable, a failure in diplomacy was reflected in Sri Lanka’s inability to muster support among its natural allies in the global South. In the African group (13 seats) and Latin American/ Caribbean group (eight seats), the votes were divided. In the Asian group all but India and the Republic of Korea voted against the resolution. Korea nevertheless made some comments sympathetic to Sri Lanka, and was the only state to acknowledge the success in rehabilitation of child soldiers.

White House spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement welcomed the adoption of the resolution saying the US co-sponsored it “as part of a cross-regional group,” and that it “sends a clear message that the international community is committed to working with the Government of Sri Lanka” to promote peace and stability. This claim to ‘cross-regional’ and ‘international community’ support is disingenuous. The 40 co-sponsors mainly fall within the sphere of influence of the US and the European Union.

The list includes many of the breakaway Russian republics, and newly-formed Balkan states that need to be in the good books of the EU. It includes the Principalities of Liechtenstein (62 sq miles, population 35,000) and Monaco (0.78 sq miles, population 36,000).It would seem that many of these states could have no compelling reasons to support a fiercely resisted resolution against Sri Lanka, other than to oblige their powerful benefactors.

Those who spoke against the resolution by contrast are important players in their respective regions and spoke with conviction, arguing on the basis of principle. Pakistan made the strongest statement, saying the disproportionate attention given to Sri Lanka in the Council did not reflect ground realities. The resolution would set an unhealthy precedent that could have a negative impact on all states, Pakistan’s delegate said. He noted that the parameters of resolution 19/2 (last year’s resolution) had “considerably shifted” in resolution 22/L.1 (the present one). He described the resolution as “intrusive, arbitrary and of a political nature.” 

Venezuela said it categorically rejected the selectivity and double standards of resolutions like this, which were being used against developing countries without their consent. Its delegate warned of the danger posed by the biased, interventionist nature of the resolution, and pointed out that it was not founded on cooperation and dialogue. It turned a blind eye to the efforts of the government and violated the Council’s principles of universality, impartiality and objectivity.

A statement to the press at the end of the 22nd session by US representative Eileen Donahoe reflected the disproportionateness of US attention to Sri Lanka. In her comments on what she called some ‘priority areas’, Sri Lanka was lumped together with Syria, North Korea (DPRK), Mali and Iran. Out of the 1,007 words devoted to developments in these states -some of whom have caused concern over their nuclear weapons programmes- 448, or 44%, were on Sri Lanka.

The tone and content of the HRC resolution was very much in line with the report on Sri Lanka to the 22nd session by Human Rights Chief Navi Pillay. A critical statement on this report was made by the Russian Federation on behalf of 14 countries – Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Iran, Kenya, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Pakistan, Russia, Sudan, Uganda, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. Russia noted that although resolution 19/2 (of 2012) mandated the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) to provide “advice and technical assistance” in implementing the resolution, and to report on such assistance, the High Commissioner had exceeded this mandate by making “substantive recommendations and pronouncements.” Russia further highlighted her report’s repeated allusions to the Secretary General’s Panel of Experts report, which was not mandated or endorsed by any intergovernmental process. This not only went beyond the scope and mandate of 19/2, but revealed the report’s inherent bias he said.

The range of comment on the HRC proceedings in relation to Sri Lanka by member states would seem to show that though the resolution had a numerical majority in its favour, the US position did not command the moral high ground. The Council was in fact deeply divided, with members expressing reservations not just about the resolution, but the manner in which the rights body was being used, disregarding its founding principles.
It has been observed by some analysts that the Sri Lanka resolutions implicitly seek to consolidate the concept of ‘R2P’ (Responsibility to protect) that is being deployed to serve a neo-imperialist agenda. Dharshan Weerasekera writing on the first resolution in Foreign Policy Journal, April 2012 said, “The significance of the resolution is that it allows the US to continue its assault on, and undermining of, some of the core concepts and foundational pillars of international law. This assault is part of a new direction or focus in US foreign policy, though of course not in an explicit or overt way.”

More recently, this line of thought was echoed by a speaker at a discussion on Sri Lanka’s foreign policy organized by the Liberal Party. The panel included two dynamic former UN ambassadors, Dayan Jayatilleke and Tamara Kunanayakam. Addressing a packed auditorium of the Organisation of Professional Associations, Kunanayakam argued that the US resolution had nothing to do with human rights or Sri Lanka or the lives of Tamil, Muslim or Sinhalese people. The US has a strategic interest in the region, she said. We are being used for a different purpose. In the new architecture (of international relations that the US was trying to bring about) what was ‘wrong’ or ‘out of date,’ was the existing multilateralism in the UN system, which the US sought to dismantle. It had to find ways to re-colonise the world in order to gain control of its resources.

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