Message in refusal to vote for Western nations

Sri Lanka Votes for India and Kenya at UNSC, but not for Canada, Norway or Ireland

A UN Security Council Meeting in progress

While voting for India at the United Nations for the Security Council seats, Sri Lanka refused to vote for Norway, Canada or Ireland. The vote for India was a foregone conclusion as the bilateral relations between the two countries are at an all-time high, but the refusal to vote for a Western country was indeed a signal to the West that the small island-nation was not appreciative about the undue interference in internal affairs of this country.

Sri Lanka abstained from voting for any of the three contestants, Canada, Ireland and Norway for a seat reserved for the Western European and Other States Group (WEOG) in the UNSC’s non-permanent seats.

Sri Lanka, together with other 183 UN members out of the total of 192 countries, voted for India to be the representative of the Asia Pacific Group. Kenya was elected as the member for Africa Group, and Sri Lanka voted for the friendly African nation without any hesitation. The seat for the Latin America and Caribbean Group went to Mexico uncontested.

The WEOG is the most powerful of the five UN regional groups and it has 28 member States, mainly from Western Europe, but also from Oceania, North America and West Asia.

The non-permanent seats of the UNSC rotate among various regional blocs into which UN member States traditionally divide themselves for voting and representation purposes. There is one seat for Africa, one for the Asia-Pacific Group, one for Latin America and the Caribbean and two for the WEOG. India, Mexico, Ireland, Norway and Kenya were elected this year.

Although, one could say a single vote of Sri Lanka was of no consequence, the importance of a vote was evident as Norway could get only two votes more than Ireland, though both got elected as the Group has a two seat allocation. Norway polled 130 against Ireland’s 128 and they edged out Canada as the North American country finished a poor third with 108 votes.

Furthermore, Sri Lanka’s intention was not to prevent anybody from getting elected to represent the Western nations, but to give a clear signal that this country does not appreciate their lopsided attitude and emphasize the need to recalibrate their position taking into account the progress made in Sri Lanka towards communal harmony, coexistence and improvement of human rights.

The Foreign Ministry conveyed the reasons for the decision to the three countries. They were made to understand that a relationship between countries could not be one-sided. There should be a give-and-take attitude and they also need to rethink the way they do business with Sri Lanka, though it is a small developing nation it has self-respect. “It was an important way to make our vote count. There is a need for recalibration of our relationships, and a serious re-evaluation of how all three countries deal with us in the international arena,” was the message given.

The decision taken at the UNSC voting was an extension of the foreign policy announced at the time of the withdrawal from the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolutions 30/1 and 40/1 titled ‘Promoting Reconciliation, Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ co-sponsored by Sri Lanka 2015 and 2019 respectively.

One of the salient points in favour of withdrawal was that approval for these resolutions had not been obtained either from the Parliament or Cabinet of Ministers before they were co-sponsored in 2015 and 2019.

As Foreign Minister Dinesh Gunawardena said at the UNHRC Session in Geneva, the resolutions envisaged devolution of power beyond the present constitutional framework. Furthermore, the approval for these resolutions had not been obtained either from the Parliament or Cabinet of Ministers before they were co-sponsored in 2015 and 2019.

The UNHRC resolution also resolved the establishment of hybrid courts to try military personnel accused of human rights violations, the abolition of executive presidency, repealing of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and establishment of an Office of Missing Persons (the latter was already established by the previous Government). The international human rights organizations cannot interfere in Sri Lankan affairs. It cannot interfere outside the Constitution of Sri Lanka. There is no provision in the Constitution to allow foreign judges to hear cases against acts of any human rights violation or any other violations of the legal code. As proven again and again, the Sri Lankan judiciary is quite capable and has the required capacity.

The Government’s position is that, even if Sri Lanka had voted in favour of a WEOG candidate, the same country would have turned around and voted against Sri Lanka at the next international forum.

A membership in the Security Council is of highest importance as the UNSC resolutions are typically enforced by UN peacekeepers, military forces voluntarily provided by Member States and funded independently of the main UN budget.

Sri Lanka has had only one opportunity in its six decade old UN membership to serve in the Security Council and that was way back in 1960-61. This country, then known as Ceylon, was not only elected in 1960 but our Permanent Representative, Sir Claude Corea became the President of the prestigious body.

Although there was a second opportunity when Sri Lanka and South Korea were the two favourites for the Asian seat in 1995, the then Government ‘sold’ the seat and withdrew from the contest. The deal with Korea was to give the seat to them in return for a promise by the Seoul Government to give employment to a few hundreds of Sri Lankans. Thus Korea became the UNSC member that year which considerably helped the Korean Permanent Representative Ban Ki-moon to later become the United Nations Secretary General.

India has been on the Security Council six times and Pakistan four times and even Nepal once. Sri Lanka lost the opportunity in 1995 and the country could not even become a potential nominee during the last 25 years.

The tragic loss of the prestigious position once enjoyed as UNSC President in 1961, reflects the decline in Sri Lanka’s image in the international arena over the last six decades. It is high time Sri Lanka show its pride as an independent sovereign nation and the foreign policy thrust displayed at the UNHRC Session in March 2020 and the UNSC vote last week is an excellent beginning towards the restoration of this pristine glory.

Sugeeswara Senadhira

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