The request came despite the standoff between Washington and Colombo over the United States moving a resolution last Thursday at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva over Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes. US diplomats were at the External Affairs Ministry this week meeting officials. They were seeking Sri Lanka’s support for a proposed US resolution [...]



Ukraine: Sri Lanka’s abstention diplomacy


The request came despite the standoff between Washington and Colombo over the United States moving a resolution last Thursday at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva over Sri Lanka’s alleged war crimes. US diplomats were at the External Affairs Ministry this week meeting officials. They were seeking Sri Lanka’s support for a proposed US resolution at the UN General Assembly.

Needless to say the resolution was to take Russia to task, if not pointedly at least indirectly, for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula. Though Sri Lankan officials did not formally respond, the request itself put the EAM in a bind. Just weeks ago, External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris issued a statement which was supportive of Russia’s action.

Russia staunchly backed Sri Lanka against the US resolution in Geneva last Thursday. This was together with China, Cuba, Pakistan and Vietnam. They were among the twelve countries that voted for Sri Lanka on Thursday. They say “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” is a longstanding backhanded principle of friendship and reciprocal favours. At an international level, it also applies to protecting each other at the United Nations and its affiliated political bodies.

Fast forward to New York, where on the same day there was a UN General Assembly resolution implicitly critical of Russia for intervening in Ukraine, and more importantly, guaranteeing Ukraine’s sovereignty and condemning the Russian “ännexation” of Crimea. Surprisingly, and in violation of diplomatic reciprocity, Sri Lanka did not return the favour to Russia by voting against the resolution. But it only abstained (in the company of 57 others).

Perhaps Sri Lanka did not want to be identified with the 11 countries that voted against that US-inspired resolution, including Cuba, North Korea, Syria, Sudan and Bolivia, among others. We wonder what the Russians thought about Sri Lankan style diplomacy? Perhaps abstentions, in the doctrine preached by External Affairs Minister, G.L. Peiris could be counted as being supportive.

President tells Police Chief to continue

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has asked the Inspector General N.K. Illangakoon to continue to function in his office. The request came after the Police Chief offered last week to retire on April 12 when he reaches the age of 58.

A bronchial ailment was to see him out of action during yesterday’s polls. However, he returned to his desk after being on leave earlier, in time to be on hand for the polls period and thereafter. It was only weeks before that the Government delivered a brand new state-of-the-art Mercedes Benz for his official use.

Sajin runs the Geneva show

It was the External Affairs Ministry’s monitoring MP, Sajin de Vass Gunawardena, who literally ran the Sri Lanka show when the 25th UN Human Rights Council sessions were under way.

External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris, designated the Sri Lanka delegation leader, was there only for his opening address to the high level segment. Ministers Nimal Siripala de Silva and Mahinda Samarasinghe were only assigned the task of speaking to regional groups.

During the sessions, Sri Lanka delegation members heard how Mr. de Vass Gunawardena was upset about the many NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations) and INGOs (International Non-Governmental Organisations) which were busy mustering support for the US-backed resolution on Sri Lanka.

He made many calls to VIPs in Colombo to complain and lamented to delegates about what he called the shortcoming. That was not all. He said that when he returns to Colombo, he would take steps to immediately bring the NGO Secretariat under the Ministry of External Affairs. That would help him to get pro-Sri Lankan NGOs to Geneva the next time.

The NGO Secretariat now comes under the Ministry of Defence and Urban Development.
Mr. de Vass Gunawardena also played the master of ceremonies at a reception Ravinatha Aryasinha, Sri Lanka’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva, hosted at a reception centre. The catering order went to a Chinese owned company run by a husband and wife combination. The MP invited the male counterpart to visit Sri Lanka and see the beauty and joked that even girls were beautiful.

Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in New York Palitha Kohona and Deputy Labour Minister Sarath Weerasekera were also in Geneva. The latter had gone there earlier to attend an International Labour Organisation (ILO) event.

MIA’s multimillion dollar middle finger
Sri Lankan born rapper Mathangi “Maya” Arulpragasam, who goes by the stage name MIA, has been hit by the National Football League (NFL) for an additional $15.1 million as penalties for displaying her middle finger (meaning “screw you” in polite language) during her performance at the 2012 super bowl.

She not only showed her middle finger but also mouthed the words: “Ï don’t give a s–t” at a half time performance during the finals of an American football game, which is one of the most widely watched in the United States.

Originally, the NFL hit her with a $1.5 million fine. Last week it was seeking an additional $15.1 million bringing the total to $16.6 million.
Responding to the charges, MIA has dismissed it as “transparently an exercise by the NFL intended solely to bully and make an example” of her for daring to challenge and ridicule the football league.

MIA has continued to be one of the most controversial rappers in the United States. She once displayed the cut-out of a tiger when she performed on an open stage at New York’s Central Park. That was a couple of years ago. Known to be a supporter of the LTTE, she openly backed the Tigers. The New York based weekly “India Abroad” ran her NFL story with the arresting headline: “Is a middle finger worth $16.6 million?”


UNP uses GL formula to claim victory
External Affairs Minister G.L. Peiris’ claim at a news conference that Sri Lanka has won at the UN Human Rights Council voting over the US resolution has drawn a sharp rejoinder from the main opposition United National Party (UNP).

Dr. Peiris said the victory was when the votes received by Sri Lanka (12) and those who abstained (12) were added. That would be 24 as against the 23 votes received in favour of the US-backed resolution. The UNP said if Dr. Peiris’ claims were correct, it should be in power today. A statement by the party said there were 14,088,500 registered voters at the parliamentary elections in 2010. Of this number, 8,360,689 had cast their votes whilst 5,457,811 did not vote.
The UNP had received 2,357,057 votes. If the number who did not cast their votes is added, that would total 7,814,868 votes. This was much more than the 4,846,386 secured by the UPFA, the statement points out.


UN official gives instances of OHCHR probes
During informal consultations convened by the United States in Geneva on March 18 on the resolution on Sri Lanka, it was a British diplomat who took considerable time to give examples of previous investigations carried out by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).Yesterday, a UN official in Geneva who did not wish to be identified, elaborated on the issue. Broadly speaking there are four main types of situations when OHCHR has carried out investigations with a specific mandate to do so, the official said. They are:

n When requested to do so by the UN Secretary General as occurred in Abkhazia in 1993. It was an investigation into extrajudicial killings, torture, rape and other violations. More recently in Cote d’Ivoire in 2004 at the request of the then Government of National Reconciliation for alleged atrocities connected to a planned march in the country’s capital.

nUnder its general mandate derived from General Assembly Resolution 48/141. Examples here include an OHCHR investigation in the Choco region of Colombia in 2002 at the invitation of the government, and investigations into allegations of violations in Darfur in 2004, Andijan 2005, and Togo. In all of these cases, the OHCHR carried out investigations.

n Following a request/mandate to do so by the inter-governmental system. This has been UN practice for some time now. For example, with regard to Afghanistan in 1998 the UN Security Council requested the OHCHR to begin an investigation. This was later followed by a resolution of the General Assembly which requested the continuation of investigations into alleged mass killings as well as forced displacement.

Recent examples specific to the HRC: In 2009 in relation to Honduras. The HRC requested the OHCHR for a comprehensive report on violations of human rights in Honduras and then in April 2011 in relation to Syria the HRC specifically requested the Office of the High Commissioner to “investigate all alleged violations of human rights law and establish the facts and circumstances of such violations and of the crimes perpetrated with a view to avoiding impunity and ensuring full accountability”.

n The final set of situations when the OHCHR has carried out investigations is as part of its work through its field offices under host country agreements. A recent example of this is the substantive investigation the OHCHR carried out into enforced disappearances in Bardiya in Nepal where the OHCHR carried out investigations into allegations of disappearances by both the Nepalese army and by the Maoists during the conflict. However, in the latter instance Sri Lanka, as a host country, has neither given consent for such an investigation nor concurred over the text of the resolution.

The country’s official position was articulated by Ambassador Aryasinha who said it eroded the “sovereignty of Sri Lanka” and the “core values of the UN” Charter.”

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