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World Sri Lankan Association highlights human rights situation in SL, Resolution 30/1 concerns

(Courtesy of Daily FT)


Dr.Nalaka Godahewa (centre) briefing on Sri Lanka’s human rights situation in UN headquarters in Geneva

On 24 September, the World Sri Lankan Association conducted a press briefing at the UN headquarters in Geneva to brief the UN accredited Press Club on the human rights situation in Sri Lanka and the concerns on Resolution 30/1.

The briefing was done by Dr. Nalaka Godahewa, Dr. Prathiba Mahanamahewa and Professor Mahmet Sukru Guzel. WSLA members Nimala Liyanapatabadi, Madhushan Harindra, Aruna Warushahennadige and Roshan Weerapura also participated in the panel discussion.

Dr. Godahewa explained the background of UNHRC Resolution 30/1 on Sri Lanka: “The three-decade-long battle between the Sri Lankan armed forces and the LTTE, one of the most brutal terrorist organisations that the world has ever seen, came to an end on 19 May 2009. Immediately thereafter, a number of Western countries, sympathetic to the LTTE’s cause for reasons known only to them, began a campaign against Sri Lanka.

“On 19 May 2009, in other words the same day that the war ended, 17 nations, led by Germany, called for a special session of the Human Rights Council to discuss the situation in Sri Lanka, alleging that war crimes had been committed during the last phase of the war. A special session was held on 26 and 27 May 2009, during which the majority of the countries participating rejected the resolution tabled by the Germany-led group, and instead adopted a counter-resolution, which commended Sri Lanka’s victory against terrorism and wished the country well in its post-war challenges.

“Among other things, the Resolution welcomed ‘the conclusion of hostilities and the liberation by the Government of Sri Lanka of tens of thousands of its citizens that were kept by the LTTE against their will as hostages, as well as the efforts by the Government to ensure the safety of all Sri Lankans, and bring permanent peace to the country’. In other words, the first formal pronouncement by UNHRC on Sri Lanka, since the end of the war, was a positive one.

“This however did not put an end to attempts to victimise Sri Lanka. Senior UN officials suddenly started showing an interest in Sri Lanka that was not evident during the 30 years when Sri Lanka suffered from a terrorist problem. On 23 May 2009, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon made a spontaneous visit to Sri Lanka, under the guise of wanting to experience the post-war situation first-hand. Upon his return, the Secretary-General commissioned a ‘Panel of Experts report on Sri Lanka’.

“The report – whose stated objective was to educate the Secretary-General – was never officially tabled or recorded at UNHRC, and Sri Lanka therefore was not given a formal opportunity to officially respond to the POE’s alleged findings. However, a series of actions followed this investigation by the Panel of Experts.

“In 2012, a resolution was tabled at UNHRC, which stated in general terms that there were allegations of violations of humanitarian law, and human rights law, which took place during the last phases of the war. The Resolution asked the Sri Lankan Government to look into these allegations, while asking the High Commissioner to provide the technical assistance for that effort.

“The next Resolution was tabled in 2013; it went beyond simply calling for an investigation into violations allegedly committed during the war, by commenting on the prevailing political situation in the country, thereby clearly overstepping the bounds of the UN Charter.

“On 26 March 2014, through Resolution A/HRC/25/1, UNHRC requested the High Commissioner to undertake a comprehensive investigation into ‘serious violations and abuses of human rights and related crimes’ allegedly committed between February 2002 and November 2011, in Sri Lanka. It is based on this 2014 Resolution that the report of the OHCHR investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) was commissioned. The report was released on 15 September 2015.

“By the time this report was published, political power in Sri Lanka had shifted from President Rajapaksa’s Government to a new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. The Government of Sri Lanka, under the new political leadership, endorsed and accepted without reservation the conclusions and recommendations of the OISL Report.

“The Government of Sri Lanka then co-sponsored a fresh UNHRC resolution (A/HRC/30/1), on 29 September 2015, which again endorsed, without reservation, the conclusions and recommendations of the OISL Report. The Resolution was adopted unanimously. No country wanted to oppose a resolution already co-sponsored and endorsed by the affected party.

“It is doubtful whether anyone representing the Government of Sri Lanka actually read the contents of the OISL Report, given the speed with which the report was accepted and endorsed. It is therefore clear to us, as citizens of Sri Lanka, that the current government, which came to power in 2015, has not fulfilled its obligations to our people by conducting a proper evaluation of facts when co-sponsoring the UNHRC Resolution, A/HRC/30/1, and agreeing to fully implement its proposals.

“There are some serious flaws in the OISL report, which was the basis for Resolution 30/1. Resolution 25/1 which authorised an investigation by the Office of the Human Rights Commissioner, had referred to the subject as ‘Combatting Terrorism’ – yet, the resulting OISL report, released in September 2018, had disregarded this, defining the context as an ‘Internal Armed Conflict’.

“There is a considerable difference between ‘Combatting Terrorism’ and ‘Internal Armed Conflicts’. Most shockingly, the OISL report fails to identify the LTTE as a ‘Terrorist Organisation’ – instead, naming it a ‘Non-State Armed Group’. Is this a deliberate attempt to mislead this esteemed Council when there is ample recorded evidence of LTTE atrocities over three decades?

“By initiating Resolution 30/1, UNHRC has missed out on its obligations under the ‘Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy’ of UN. The real necessity at that time was an internatıonal investigation on the terrorist financing so that the perpetrators who fınanced terrorism could have been held accountable for three decades of violence against humanity.”

Dr. Mahanamahewa pointed out that LTTE clearly violated international humanitarian law by keeping 285,000 Tamil civilians hostage to be used as a human shield during the last phases of the war. “There are many other atrocities committed by LTTE over three decades, which falls within the purview of IHL.”

He also pointed out that former LTTE financiers had now set up what they call ‘Transnational Government of Tamil Eelam’ (TGTE) based internationally including United states of America, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Norway. “TGTE is a government in exile among the Sri Lankan Tamil diaspora. It aims to keep alive the idea of a state which TGTE aspires to create in the north and east provinces of Sri Lanka.”

Professor Guzel who participated at the press briefing as an independent analyst argued that the difference of legal definition of the past-armed conflict in Sri Lanka by HRC and OISL report had created impunity to the members of LTTE whom should be subject to criminal investigation for individual indirect responsibility for the financing of terrorism under the United Nations Global Counter Terrorism Strategy.

Terrorism financing is defined as “the wilful provision or collection, by any means, directly or indirectly, of funds by their nationals or in their territories with the intention that the funds should be used, or in the knowledge that they are to be used, in order to carry out terrorist acts.” International Convention for the Suppression of the Financing of Terrorism 1999, the term, “indirectly” is used for the individual criminal responsibility for the acts of terrorism.

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