Sunday 23 February 2020
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Advocacy at the United Nations

Advocacy at the United Nations


Once again the United Nations human rights council will discuss Sri Lanka on its agenda, once again the Sri Lankan government will seek for time and space to conduct its own investigation, once again the so-called human rights experts will convince the activist and the wider Tamil population to give time and space to keep Sri Lanka on the UN agenda.

Let us lay some clear positions before making the argument, as there will be mudslinging and twisting initiated by some vested political elements.

We strongly believe that working with and working within the UN and other multilateral settings will deliver justice up to some extent, but what we are debating is the approach that is adopted by some Tamil Political Leaders and Human Rights NGOs.

It is absolutely clear that international crimes have been committed in Sri Lanka during and aftermath of the bloody war which ended in 2009.

It is also absolutely clear that current and previous regimes of the Sri Lankan governments have no intentions of addressing the issues of accountability or building protection mechanisms to stop reoccurrence of these crimes.

The international community there is many preoccupied with other priorities than Sri Lanka.

The public pressure, backed by clear evidence of the crimes, international media, dedicated journalists, coordinated Tamil people’s advocacy among the member states, principle based leadership of the OHCHR and geo-political interests that brought Sri Lanka to the UN Human Rights councils’ agenda.

The culmination of multiple factors helped bring about 3 resolutions at the HRC. But some of the above factors changed because just before the 4th resolution, where by the new Sri Lankan regime used its geo-political diplomacy to seek time and space for an internal investigation or some may call it a “pseudo hybrid investigation”.

This resolution was agreed based on a consensus resolution, which Sri Lanka agreed to.  However, the resolution failed to address many of the serious concerns raised by the OHCHR’s comprehensive report.

The UN internal review, the Experts Panel report and many independent reports suggested that crimes against humanity have been committed in Sri Lanka or allegations as some may argue. Furthermore, the reports pointed out that the state’s inability to investigate such crimes, due to lack of statues and will of the judiciary. Yet, the resolution 30/1 put the responsibility of investigation back on the very same state structure which is responsible for committing these international crimes, the same institutions that has victimized the civilians, and the same leaders who just formed alliance to show a new face of government with old members.

Only the slightest hope was that the call for the inclusion of “International and Commonwealth Judges” in the domestic investigation. Yet the Sri Lankan leaders including the President and the Prime Minister consistently rejected such inclusion and interpreted the resolution on their own terms.

Using the slogan for “good governance and political solution”, the Sri Lankan government trapped the Tamil Leadership within the Constitution reform process to deflect accountability.

We should understand that accountability and political solutions are not mutually exclusive processes as Tamil National Alliance leadership and some Tamil Diaspora originations are trying to portray. They should be treated in parallel tracks. In fact, addressing of accountability and guaranteeing non-recurrence is vital for a genuine political process to succeed.

Ever since the regime change in Sri Lanka, many of the geo-political forces and Sri Lankan state have employed systematic strategies to push the UN accountability process to the long grass. During the last resolution Sri Lanka agreed to investigate the crimes on its own terms by their own players; this was a consensus resolution and Sri Lanka cannot openly disengage with this process. Hence the Government would never come to the council and say they would not carry out the promised investigation; instead they will only find room for dragging by asking for extensions for the decline using UN friendly terminology of “Time and Space”.

The member states who are leading this process are in a situation where by on one hand they have to use this space to consolidate their geo-political interest with the current regime and on the other hand balance the pressure exerted by human rights organisations and victims’ representatives, who are mainly Tamils who are a sizeable citizen population of the same member states. It is unfortunate that the victims’ leadership is either ignorant or in denial of this fact. They are all trapped in debate about the extension time frame.

It now looks like the UK diplomats will be leading the way this time around like the US during the last four resolutions. At this critical juncture, what should be the approach of Tamils and human rights NGOs? A critical factor that helped bring international awareness and mobilisation to move the UN member states towards some sort of action in the past.

Before looking at the approach, let’s revisit the conditions that have let to consecutive resolution at the UN:

There was strong evidence presented before the international community, there was a unanimous call from the victims for an International Independent Investigation at every level and this was voice consistent, the victims’ political representatives also reluctantly adapted this just call as well as most of the Tamil organizations in the western countries. This is not a political call, it is a call for justice for international crimes, and it was a call for international involvement to protect the island from slipping back into to the past.

Then how did this position change? The Sri Lankan state employed a short and a long term strategy to destabilise the Tamil unity. Firstly they put a blanket ban on most of the Tamil political and human rights organisation around the world, as well as listing many activist on that ban. While some members of the current Government engaged in secret talks with some Diaspora organisations in Singapore, promises were made to seek their help to defeat Mahinda Rajapaksa, then President of Sri Lanka who also held Command Responsibility for all the above mentioned crimes. Once the new regime was in power it selectively delisted Tamil organisations from the ban list to create suspicion and conflicts among them.

The divide and concur approach worked; many of these delisted organisations started to engage with the Government secretly. The Government started to talk about a political solution with them instead of accountability issues. These organisations and Tamil National Alliance responded positively to the government’s approach.

We would like to remind the Tamil organisations of their mandate and duty towards its population. The victims and the wider population want justice; a justice that will be sustainable for future guarantees, justice that will build trust on national institutions.

Instead of getting involved in internal quarrels Tamil organisations should represent its people’s interest; first and foremost they must hold Sri Lanka accountable and continue to call for international involvement in the investigation. Furthermore, reiterate that accountability and political solutions are not mutually exclusive process.

Tamil diplomacy for human rights should set clear agenda and that should be the following:

1) The victims and the victim population demand an international investigation and call for that should be reiterated; now that the reasons are even clearer after the failure of the new regime to set a constructive start of the investigation. The President and Prime Minister are both rejecting that the resolutions calls for inclusion of international judges. The call should be to clearly define the international dimension of the investigation.

2) Ongoing violations and monitoring of ongoing violations should be established by the OHCHR field office with immediate call for military instalments in the civilian land to be cleared and the land is given back to the rightful owners on an agreed time frame.

3) Accountability and political process are not mutually exclusive; hence accountability should not be deflected in the hope of political solution.

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