The following is the presentation made by Mr. Brian F. A. Basnayake at the Side Event organized by Global Sri Lankan Forum –Executive Committee, at the 40th UNHRC Session in Geneva, on 12th July 2019 under the theme of “War, Reconciliation and Human Rights in Sri Lanka”.
The United Nations Organization came into being at the end of a debilitating world war that resulted in an unprecedented loss of lives in many parts of the globe and massive destruction of property and infrastructure in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia, including Japan. It was the genuine intention of the victors of the World War II to form an international organization endowed with the right kind of mechanism to bring about a world order that ensured peace and security for all nations, big and small. It was the organization that they intended to replace the League of Nations (formed after World War I) that failed comprehensively to prevent the outbreak of the Second World War.
Unlike the League of Nations, the UNO has survived through seven decades of armed conflicts between various member states and within individual states, assorted territorial disputes, superpower contentions including the Cold War, and major natural disasters in member states. There were other violations of its Charter by certain member states – the list goes on – but somehow the UNO has remained strong and firm to withstand them all. It is to the credit of the organization that regardless of the detractions from its critics and opponents it has managed to limit the conflicts and the ensuing suffering and destructions and, in the end, ensure the engagement of the disputants through dialogue, adjudication, or mediation for a peaceful resolution.
Indeed, it is this organization – only this organization with its imperfections and limitations – that we have to ensure a world order that functions for the greater good of all humanity and those of the states wherein they live and wish to live in peace and with dignity as free and equal human beings. As with all small states on this earth, Sri Lanka, an island strategically and opportunely located in the Indian Ocean, must inescapably rely on the multilateral system of the UNO, especially if it is to avoid domination by not only powerful neighbours but also even more assertive world powers from further afield. Particularly in these times when powerful nations in the West are increasingly turning to unilateral action against weaker nations in the developing world, in blatant disregard to the fundamental principles of the UNO Charter, small nations can only hope that the UNO will be a bastion to protect their right to sovereignty, non-interference in their internal affairs, and peaceful co-existence with their neighbours.
As so often is the case, in the guise of defending human rights, Western powers interfere or even intervene in the internal affairs of smaller nations in the developing world precisely to assert their power and their narrow political and economic interests. The majority of the people of Sri Lanka is becoming increasingly frustrated and disappointed with the United Nations as the once immovable bastion for the protection of human rights and the sovereign rights of every nation in all parts of the world. Sadly, it is now often shedding its neutrality and duty to protect small nations against the aggression and intimidation of the powerful states.
The Sri Lankan Experience
The questionable neutrality of the UN is best illustrated in some of the activities of the United Nations Human Rights Council. In this regard, its dealings with Sri Lanka indicate its bias towards the Western Powers’ volition rather than the collective interests of the people of Sri Lanka, irrespective of their gender, ethnicity or religious affiliations. The Resolution 30/1 of the UNHRC is doubtless full of noble intentions, but, unfortunately, it is riddled with anomalies that will eventually lead to the very opposite outcome that it purportedly intends to avoid – the integrity of the sovereign state of Sri Lanka.
The people of Sri Lanka, by all accounts, genuinely care about human rights and the need to protect them for all the communities and regions in Sri Lanka. Discrimination and denial of rights of minorities remain a problem not only in Sri Lanka but in almost every country in the world, including the US and the UK.
The people of Sri Lanka are aware of the shortcomings, but they are genuinely minded to improve conditions and ensure the upholding of the fundamental rights of all minorities at all times and everywhere on the island. Sri Lanka needs the space – economic, social, legal, cultural, and spiritual – to develop the required mechanisms and capacity speedily to perpetuate adherence to the fundamental rights of all her citizens. Not least of all is Sri Lanka in need of the majority of the people to engage in the discourse and the search for the mechanisms to perpetuate respect for the rights of all people, as enshrined in the beautiful precepts of the Buddha Dhamma. (This is not to disregard in any way the fundamental precepts of all great religions of the world.)
The people of Sri Lanka are also profoundly concerned with the envisaged political remedies in the light of the UNHCR Resolutions and recommendations. Fundamental to their wishes is the integrity of the nation, the continuation of its unitary status with guaranteed protection and support to all minorities and regions. However, the approach taken by the UNHRC will only drive a wedge between the communities in the long run and undermine not only reconciliation but also lead to the eventual rise of separatism once again and, alas, the final division of the country.
The people of Sri Lanka are keenly aware and also gravely concerned with the developments in the United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Spain. Devolution in those countries has not gone according to plan, and, of course, due to various reasons, the break-up of the United Kingdom and the secession of Catalonia from Spain is increasingly becoming a reality. In that context, introducing a federal system to Sri Lanka will be not only foolhardy, but also it will be vehemently opposed by a vast majority of the people and most sections of the society.
One of the most repugnant, but perhaps unintended consequences of the pressures exerted by UNHRC resolutions is the leverage given to Western powers to extract commercial and military concessions from not so resilient governments and equally weak leaders in the developing countries. The credibility of the UNHRC Resolution 30/1 is never more under scrutiny than right now after the Easter Sunday massacres in Sri Lanka. After almost ten years of peace and budding tranquillity, Sri Lanka woke up to the realities of security failures and political ineptitude. An administration orchestrated by the West and guided by the UN/UNHRC dismantled the highly effective security setup of the previous government, allowing the terrorist to perpetrate carnage. Then the Administration abysmally failed to handle the immediate aftermath of the massacres appropriately and, but for the swift and highly effective actions of the Sri Lanka armed forces and specialist units of the Sri Lanka Police force, further acts of terror and carnage that were planned to follow could have been even worse. The people of Sri Lanka are yearning for peace again. After almost 30 years of war and hardship, is it not understandable that the people would want the West to stop interfering in the domestic affairs of the country? Not only the West but also the UN interfered in the domestic affairs of the country:
“its Resident Coordinator in Sri Lanka, Hanna Singer, …. in violation of the Charter of the United Nations, international law and practice and United Nations Staff Rules and Regulations, without sustainable justification become involved in an essentially domestic political process, and interfered in the host country’s internal affairs”*
The UNHRC should seriously consider withdrawing the Resolution 30/1 and seek an honest dialogue with the Sri Lankan Government to evaluate the ways and means to help Sri Lanka shape reconciliation, reconstruction and political settlement – with the participation and support of the entire civil society.
International experiences with UNHRC Resolutions
It is not the intention here to condemn the UNHRC roundly and wholesale.
The UNHRC has played an important role globally and selectively. However, in its admission, the Council has deep-seated problems: “Despite these positive trends at the Council, HRC40 also revealed a number of dark clouds on the horizon – warning signs that, if left unaddressed, may presage a future breakdown in trust amongst delegations and a decline in the Council’s fortunes.” **
The first among those hazards facing the UNHRC is the perennial Palestine problem that the West is determined not to resolve, hoping the Palestinians in the occupied areas will finally succumb to Israeli rule and integrate as second class citizens or quietly fade away as a nation of people and become a distant memory like some native Americans or worse.
The paramount lesson in the history of the Council and of its predecessor UNCHR is that it tends to align with the Western powers and neglect its duty to protect the interests of the smaller and weaker nations. The UN, in general, perpetuates the divisions of the world according to the power and wealth of the individual member states as well as collective powers or regional blocs (NATO, OSCE and OECD and the like). UNHRC, therefore, follows the dictates of the Western powers to the detriment of the poorer nations and their interests. The twin forces of the international monetary system governed by the US and the military alliances controlled by the US and its European allies will work in tandem to keep developing countries in line with the objectives of the Western powers. The UN, IMF and World Bank are but instruments of the West’s hegemony of the world order.
Sri Lanka, through the fate of its proximity to India and its location in the path of the vital sea lanes, is increasingly becoming a pawn in regional politics with the attempts of the US to create a military hub on the island. The SOFA agreements envisage the takeover of large tracts of land for US agencies with total legal and economic control under US law. It will by design lead to an eventual dismemberment of the country and virtual serfdom of Sri Lankans, particularly in the South.
Large sections of the people of Sri Lanka are in almost mortal fear of the US as an existential threat to themselves, their beloved country and their cherished culture. The US was once considered a friend, but often viewed with suspicion, and lately, it is seen as the harbinger of total annihilation.
*Dr Palitha Kohone & Ms Tamara Kunanayakam, “Interference of certain Western countries and United Nations, illegal: Hypocrisy and Colonial Condescension of the West”, The Island, 05.12.2018
** Report on the 40th session of the Human Rights Council
By Brian F. A. Basnayake