Sri Lanka, against all overwhelming odds, achieved a remarkable feat when it secured 15 votes and managed to neutralise eight other nations against the US Resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Sessions in Geneva on Thursday.
Despite its influence through the European Union and various other channels, the US could attract only 24 votes for its Resolution against Sri Lanka.
That narrow win was overshadowed by the humiliation the US suffered on the Palestine issue at the UNHRC. Out of the 47 Member States of the UNHRC, 46, in one voice, urged for the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, isolating the US.
Though the US managed to muster 24 votes for the Resolution against Sri Lanka, it does not reflect the true and sincere view of those countries. Certain countries in the European Union, though their sentiments were with Sri Lanka, were compelled to vote for the US-led Resolution, based on the collective responsibility of the EU.
Even most of the eight countries which abstained from voting, have expressed their views in support of Sri Lanka. Some of them have commended the reconciliation process and the development activities in Sri Lanka’s North and the East.
Even India, which voted with the US for reasons better known to them, interfered and got a clause of the US Resolution changed, respecting Sri Lanka’s sovereignty.
All these developments and the majority views of the Member Nations of the UNHRC reflect that they were not in favour of the Resolution. These views expressed by the representatives of the UNHRC member countries speak the true support that Sri Lanka gained though the final result was a classic example of might overruling right.
Those who voted in favour of the resolution(24): Austria, Belgium, Benin, Cameroon, Chile, Costa Rica, Czech Republic, Guatemala, Hungary, India, Italy, Libya, Mauritius, Mexico, Nigeria, Norway, Peru, Poland, Republic of Moldova, Romania, Spain, Switzerland, United States and Uruguay.
Those who voted against (15): Bangladesh, China, Congo, Cuba, Ecuador, Indonesia, Kuwait, Maldives, Mauritania, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and Uganda.
Abstentions (8): Angola, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Djibouti, Jordan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia and Senegal.
Here are some of the views expressed by UNHRC member countries:
Cuba: Speaking against the resolution, the Cuban delegation said it needs to address the legitimacy and credibility of the work of the Council and would ask co-sponsors whether it would not be possible to delay action on the Resolution until the September session.
“Three years ago, US President Barack Obama said he would close the Guantanamo Bay detention centre, but that had not been done. It would seem that this could be an arena for possible confrontation,” the Cuban representative said and asked the co-sponsors to postpone the Resolution, thereby avoiding any action that would undermine the Council’s work.
“The Resolution set a negative precedent that risked singling out developing countries. The international community must allow space and time to countries emerging from conflict. The mission of the Human Rights Council was to provide technical assistance and cooperation to a country and build capacity with the consent of the concerned country.
“If done differently, it would put in question the sovereignty and independence of the concerned country. If the Council adopted the Resolution on Sri Lanka, it would act contrary to the principle of non-intervention. Sri Lanka cooperated with the High Commissioner and the Special Procedures, which made the proposed Resolution inadmissible, unjustified and unproductive”.
In an explanation of the vote before the vote on draft resolution, Cuba reiterated its request for a nominal vote as the Resolution was based on a blaming and shaming exercise. Cuba could not accept the fact that only three years would be given to the program of action proposed by the Government of Sri Lanka and regretted that the Council had not recognised the progress made in the country, notably in dealing with displaced persons.
A double standard was being applied to Sri Lanka as the European Union and the United States had used violence to carry out executions and to attack civilian populations in other regions of the world with no action being taken by the Human Rights Council. Detention centres, secret flights and indiscriminate bombings by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) required an independent commission of investigation.
Cuba noted that 40 percent of arms sales between 1983 and 2009 to the Sri Lankan Government had been made by the United States, the United Kingdom and Israel. The Sri Lankan Government had cooperated with the Human Rights Council and was committed to national reconciliation.
China: In a general comment on the draft resolution, China said constructive dialogue and cooperation was the proper way to resolve conflicts. The Resolution submitted by the United States was a product of the politicisation of human rights. The reconciliation efforts of Sri Lanka were beyond the mandate of the Human Rights Council.
Sri Lanka required the assistance of the international community. The draft resolution interfered in the internal affairs of Sri Lanka and violated the principles of the United Nations. The international community should provide the Government with sufficient time and space to complete the national reconciliation process, China said and called on all Member States to reject the draft resolution.
China, speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, said attempts to interfere in the national reconciliation process and internal affairs of Sri Lanka were against the United Nations Charter and norms of international relations.
Ecuador: In an explanation of the vote before the vote on the draft resolution, Ecuador’s representative said that despite the number of violations of human rights and regardless of who had committed them, the Human Rights Council should not take a biased approach. The situation of human rights in Sri Lanka would improve to the benefit of minorities and the population in general.
The Government was following the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission and would inform the Council of the results of the investigations of past human rights violations in Sri Lanka’s next Universal Periodic Review.
The situation of human rights in Afghanistan and Iraq should be investigated, they said.
Russian Federation: In an explanation of the vote before the vote on the draft resolution, the Russian Federation representative said that the process of national reconciliation in Sri Lanka should be carried out by the Government of Sri Lanka without interference from outside forces. The international community should not make hasty and ill-founded judgements.
The Russian Federation remained firm in its position that country situations could be considered in the Council only with the agreement of the State concerned and attempts to dictate to a sovereign State on how policy should be carried out was unacceptable.
Thailand: In an explanation of the vote before the vote, Thailand representative said that Thailand had always attached much importance to accountability and the fight against impunity as well as to engagement, cooperation and dialogue with the country concerned. Sri Lanka had shown a clear willingness to cooperate. For the moment, the home-grown process should be prioritised.
So far, Sri Lanka had shown its willingness to cooperate with the Council. For these reasons, Thailand would vote against the Resolution. Thailand urged the Sri Lankan Government to implement, without delay, the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission.
Philippines: In an explanation of the vote before the vote on the resolution, the Philippines delegation said the Philippines opposed the introduction of a trigger mechanism in the Council and attempts to turn technical assistance into a form of political pressure to influence governments.
This Resolution was a reincarnation of the trigger mechanism and it attempted to turn international cooperation into a form of political pressure.
Uganda: In an explanation of the vote before the vote on Resolution, the Uganda delegation noted the speedy publication of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report, the progress made in implementing the Report’s recommendations and the Government’s engagement with the international community and the Human Rights Council.
The draft resolution denied a reasonable time to be accorded to the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission report.
Special consideration should be given to transitional countries emerging from war if their governments demonstrated a clear intention and roadmap to address post-war situations, they said.
Maldives: In an explanation of the vote before the vote, the Maldives delegation said Maldives was a close friend of Sri Lanka and understood better than most the scale and impact of the conflict. The Maldives understood the trauma inflicted by the conflict and that it would take time to rebuild.
To rebuild, there had to be accountability for all involved in human rights abuses, reconciliation had to be promoted and the creation of a fairer and more equitable society ensured. The Maldives believed the resolution was not necessary at the current juncture. Sri Lanka needed time and space to implement the LLRC recommendations.
Indonesia: Speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, Indonesia’s representative said it was with deep regret that the delegation was not able to support the resolution.
This was due to the failure of the co-sponsor to respond in a constructive manner to the reconciliation process at the national level. The efforts of the Government of Sri Lanka to implement the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission were not without imperfections. However, the process needed support and nurturing at the international level.
Bangladesh: In an explanation of the vote before the vote on resolution, the Bangladesh delegation said Bangladesh maintained a specific position to not support country specific resolutions without the approval of the country concerned. Such resolutions would make limited impact on the ground if the country concerned was not on board.
Sri Lanka was a country that had been the victim of terrorism for more than three decades and had only recently come out of this violence. The Government of Sri Lanka had provided significant leadership in countering international terrorism and required time and space to heal from the long lasting effects of terrorism. Bangladesh would vote against the Resolution, they said.
Saudi Arabia: “We are of the view that Sri Lanka should have more time for reconciliation”.
Kuwait: “We are against the Resolution against Sri Lanka at this juncture as only three years have elapsed after the conflict”.
Qatar: “Sri Lanka as a member of the Non-Aligned Movement has taken tremendous efforts to promote reconciliation in the aftermath of the conflict”.
Congo: “Sri Lanka should be given more time to heal the wounds of conflict”.
Mauritania: “Sri Lanka has made tremendous strides towards development in the aftermath of the conflict”.
Kyrgyzstan and Angola were among the eight nations that abstained from voting.
Kyrgyzstan: Speaking in an explanation of the vote before the vote, the delegation of Kyrgyzstan said they would abstain as they held the view that Sri Lanka had not had enough time to review the recommendations of the Commission.
The Council should allow enough time for improvement of the situation without interference.
Action at the international level would only destabilise the situation, which was not in the favour of any member of the international community.
Angola: In an explanation of the vote before the vote on the resolution, the Angola delegation said it would abstain from voting on the Resolution because the principles that guided the Council had not been respected. The Resolution should encourage and help the people of Sri Lanka to pursue national reconciliation. Angola had gone through a complex and difficult process of national reconciliation and the results could not be achieved on paper but only at the grass roots level, they said.