Columns - From The Sidelines

Geneva resolution - showdown or damp squib?
By Lasanda Kurukulasuriya

As discussions proceed at the 19th sessions of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, it becomes evident that the US may not have as much support as it anticipated for its disputed resolution against Sri Lanka. While the draft has reportedly been circulated to member states of the HRC, clearly there are divisions of opinion in the Council over the US and EU backed move.

While the Sri Lanka government's lobbying efforts may have had their effect, it would appear that opposition is being expressed towards the resolution for reasons that go beyond a mere desire to show solidarity with Sri Lanka. There seems to be a sense that this country-specific resolution would possibly undermine the cooperative, dialogue-oriented workings of the HRC, politicize the intergovernmental body and set a precedent for interfering in the internal affairs of sovereign member states.

Tamara Kunanayakam - Sri Lanka's UN Ambassador

On the same day as the speech by US Under Secretary of State Maria Otero, who called for the Council to act with regard to Sri Lanka, statements were made by delegates on behalf of both the Non Aligned Movement (NAM) and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), mentioning Sri Lanka and expressing opposition to external pressures being brought to bear on its domestic reconciliation process. Both are large blocs of states representing the majority world and it is significant that in their brief statements Sri Lanka was mentioned by name. Both groups acknowledged and welcomed the Sri Lankan government's commitment to a domestic reconciliation process.

The Egyptian delegate speaking on behalf of the NAM said any action by the Council with regard to Sri Lanka was "unwarranted," and that a "functioning domestic mechanism should not be circumvented" until it came to a conclusion. Pakistan speaking on behalf of the OIC expressed the view that "Sri Lanka must be provided with the time and space required" to achieve its objectives "without external pressure."
China's delegate Xia Jiangge mentioned the need to respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states and to "resist the tendency to politicize human rights issues." China too asked that Sri Lanka "should be given the time and space" to realize its national reconciliation process "free from external pressure," adding that "Any assistance from the international community should be provided only with the consent of Sri Lanka."

Cuba concluded its statement flatly saying, "We are not in agreement with selective and discriminatory treatment with regard to Sri Lanka." Cuba expressed concern over an "increase in the treatment of country specific situations" and said priority should be on "thematic treatment." It said it rejected most of the country specific resolutions submitted.

The tenor of these statements would seem to indicate concerns on the part of the HRC's member states that the Council's spirit and ideals are in danger of being subverted by the US's proposed resolution on Sri Lanka, and by implication, similar moves that may follow. These responses represent a formidable challenge to those who have systematically sought to internationalize the Sri Lankan conflict for years, for their own ends, and who have canvassed for a UN resolution not with the aim of promoting reconciliation but in order to give themselves a launching pad for externally based agitations against the state. Other member states who stood against the proposed resolution were Russia, Algeria, Philippines, Indonesia and Thailand, according to the BBC.

India's stand on Sri Lanka at the HRC still remains something of a mystery, and a subject of speculation. India has stood rock solid with Sri Lanka in its fight to defeat the LTTE, with the central government constantly having to juggle its regional priorities with the need to manage pressures from Tamil Nadu. The Congress-led government needs to be mindful of easily inflamed emotions in the southern state which is an important coalition partner. India has till now shown consummate diplomacy, fine-tuned over the troubled years, in its bilateral relations with its small neighbor. At the HRC sessions in Sept 2009, it was among the most outspoken critics of an attempted resolution against Sri Lanka.

At the current sessions the regional power has not ventured to commit itself to anything beyond a general disapproval of the "recent spate of country specific resolutions." But significantly, it stated that the "Council must be guided by prudence rather than strategic expediency." This was possibly a hint at the US's maneuverings.

Within the UPFA government, none are perhaps as keenly aware of the US's double standards in its dealings with the rest of the world as its Muslim representatives. There is no doubt that the fallout of US military intrusions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan resonates within the Sri Lankan Muslim community, as elsewhere in the Muslim world. Hence protest demonstrations against the US resolution such as that led by Western Province Governor Alawi Moulana opposite the Devatagaha Mosque, acquire a kind of traction that goes beyond local politics. In the context of the resolution, UPFA's Colombo Municipal Council Member Azath Sally recently questioned the logic by which the killing of Osama bin Laden was considered a "heroic act," whereas the killing of Prabhakaran was a "human rights violation." He exclaimed "Meka harima neethiyak ne!" ("This is a funny kind of law!")

Sri Lanka's UN Ambassador Tamara Kunanayakam's hard hitting statement in the Council laid bare the risks entailed in endorsing the US resolution. She said, "A dangerous precedent is again sought to be established by way of a debate on the recommendations of a domestic process, which Sri Lanka condemns as a retrogressive step that undermines the constitutional parameters of this Council."

The United States' Sri Lanka resolution seems to have stirred up debate over issues deeper and more far reaching than simply the implementation of the LLRC report's recommendations. Luckily Sri Lanka is not alone in realizing the dangers that lie concealed in the western-backed US move. But the international clout wielded by the world's superpower is not to be underestimated. As the possibility of a vote on the resolution draws nearer, as Kunanayakam said in a recent interview, "the battle will have to be fought to the very last minute."

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