Wickremesinghe repeating mistakes of 2015-2019

Monday, 18 September 2023 00:42 –      – 26

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Listening to the bombastic rhetoric delivered by Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva last week, one wonders if the amateurs who handled foreign relations under Gotabaya Rajapaksa are still running the show within the Ranil Wickremesinghe administration.

In response to what any astute observer would deem a cautious and conciliatory report by the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Sri Lanka outright rejected his report, in toto, along with all its recommendations, including calls for a comprehensive investigation into the Easter Sunday attacks. The fact of the matter is however that irrespective of Sri Lanka’s rejections, the resolutions remain applicable and the international mechanism for accountability and truth seeking remain in place and continue to function.

It is ironic that in 2015, the Government under then Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe reversed the trajectory towards extraterritorial jurisdiction and promised a transitional justice process. The Government decision to co-sponsor Resolution 30/1 at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) allowed Sri Lanka to take ownership and leadership in an international effort in Geneva and beyond, to achieve reconciliation and justice for human rights violations during the 26-year civil war. This marked a shift in how the HRC engaged with Sri Lanka which had lost vote after vote at the Council from 2012-2014, and the situation was hurtling towards a Special Commission of Inquiry on war crimes by 2015. Resolution 30/1 pulled the situation back from the brink, with firm commitments to address rights violations and deal with Sri Lanka’s difficult past.

A few years later, in exchange for its chest-thumping withdrawal from Res 30/1, the Gotabaya Rajapaksa administration received UNHRC Resolution 46/1 in March 2021, and Res 51/1 in October 2022 that established and continued operations of an office under the Human Rights High Commissioner’s office to collect, preserve and analyse evidence on crimes committed in Sri Lanka. This mechanism can now feed evidence into any court that may decide to prosecute Sri Lankan perpetrators. In other words, those who opposed and undermined Res 30/1 have delivered an international accountability mechanism in which the Sri Lankan Government had absolutely no role. By opposing the possibility of involvement of international judges in an entirely domestic process as envisioned in Res 30/1 these champions of Sri Lankan diplomacy have now ensured a process in which the investigators, prosecutors and judges are all foreigners.

By personally disengaging from the process and the commitments made at the HRC, then Prime Minister Wickremesinghe allowed his own ministers, diplomats and officials to undermine his transitional justice policies and eventually lead the country on a path that has brought it to its current plight. Today, for reasons better known to him, he has retained those very individuals in positions of power and from the recent statements in Geneva it seems they are very much in charge of the Government’s international relations agenda. As a result, the Wickremesinghe administration is repeating the same rhetoric as the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration in 2012-2014 and the self-destructive disengagement of the Gotabaya regime in 2019-2022.

It is perfectly demonstrating to the international community that the Government of Sri Lanka is incapable and unwilling to address the numerous outstanding issues concerning its human rights record, including justice for the Easter Sunday attacks. By doing so it is justifying international actions to hold those responsible to account under extraterritorial jurisdiction, if necessary. This amateurish approach will ensure that international accountability mechanisms will get ever stronger, and Sri Lanka will have an even lesser role in these processes.

President Wickremesinghe for his own sake and that of his administration should not allow those who undermined him and his policies to continue to set the agenda in the international sphere, especially in the multilateral arena of human rights.



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