Govt. To Try New Approach With The International Community
- SL’s UPR Report Given To President For Approval
- MR Confirms Holding Of Northern PC Polls
Sri Lanka’s report to be presented at the forthcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on human rights at the 21st session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva this November was presented to President Mahinda Rajapaksa on Friday.
The report prepared by a committee headed by Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe was presented for Presidential approval on Friday. The report is to be sent to the UNHRC on July 23.
The 10,700 word report has comprehensively outlined the recommendations that were made to the country at the previous UPR in 2008 and the voluntary recommendations by Sri Lanka. It is learnt that while Sri Lanka has rejected about 20 recommendations made at the 2008 UPR, the government has worked towards implementing between 60-70 recommendations.
The government in the report has stated that there has been considerable progress achieved in the human rights front, especially three years after the end of the war.
It is learnt that 45 ministries had provided progress reports with regard to the implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan.
The government states that the implementation of the Action Plan is now progressing since it is time bound and needs to be completed in the next five years.
However, the Mahinda Rajapaksa administration is looking at approaching the international community at the UPR admitting that the country still had challenges to address and ensuring better progress at the next UPR in 2016.
The government nevertheless would have some explaining to do for doing away with the Human Rights Ministry that addressed and monitored human rights related issues in the country.
Samarasinghe who was the minister in-charge of the Human Rights portfolio in the previous parliament is now a special human rights envoy of the government.
His work load in relation to human rights is now limited to making presentations to the UNHRC on behalf of Sri Lanka during sessions and to head the committee monitoring the implementation of the Human Rights Action Plan by the government ministries and institutions.
The Human Rights Action Plan is now implemented through the ministries.
“We will acknowledge the challenges and explain the progress made in the human rights front,” a senior government minister said.
Given the ground situation with regard to investigations on alleged human rights violations where those accountable are yet to be brought to book, the government would have a lot to explain before the UNHRC in November.
The fall in the law and order situation in the country resulting in an increase in the crime rate would also call for explanation. While the protection provided to criminals by senior members of the Rajapaksa administration with the police turning a blind eye to law enforcement would be a damning indictment on the government’s failure to record a definite progress in the human rights front.
“Since the UPR report will be sent to the UNHRC on Monday Sri Lanka would also give an update on the progress achieved in human rights between July 23rd and November,” the minister said.
Changing Foreign Policies
With Sri Lanka preparing for the UPR in November, the government is now anxious to put its best foot forward in its dealings with the international community.
The Rajapaksa government seems to have finally learnt a lesson from the March 22nd adoption of a resolution on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC.
All the wrong moves by the government at the time resulted in the country falling into the official, agenda of the international community.
The stubborn government after kicking its heels un-accepting its shortcoming has now come to understand that a change in its approach towards the international community has now become a necessity.
The government is well aware of the implications if it fails to properly engage the international community in the post war scenario.
The immediate issue Sri Lanka would have to face would be at the UPR in November where neighboring India together with Spain and Benin would monitor Sri Lanka’s review. The next is that the term of two of Sri Lanka’s allies, China and Russia in the UNHRC would come to an end by the end of 2012. Therefore, they would not be present in the Council when the US sponsored resolution is taken up for review at the 22nd session next March.
Given this situation the government decided to have an interactive session with the heads of Sri Lankan missions overseas.
A new direction in the government’s foreign policy was briefed to the diplomats at a two-day workshop in Diyathalawa last weekend where 59 heads of Sri Lankan missions overseas participated.
Countries that have diplomatic relations with Sri Lanka were categorized into four sectors – Middle East and Africa, East Asia and Pacific region, South Asia and Europe, Americas and Commonwealth nations.
President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Economic Development Minister Basil Rajapaksa and External Affairs Minister Prof. G. L. Peiris briefed the mission heads.
They were informed of the need for a course direction, especially in the post-war context.
The emphasis in post war foreign relations was said to be on economic and trade ties while making new friends amongst the international community.
The mission heads were taken on a week-long tour around the country for them to experience first hand the current situation and developments in the country following the end of the war.
They were to return to Colombo on Friday after the tour.
The government is also focused on re-building relations with the Western European countries that were strained during the period of the war. A senior government official said, “We need to re-build our diplomatic relations with Europe and even India.”
The mission heads were asked by senior government members to start building relations with members of the Tamil Diaspora. Understanding that the Tamil Diaspora played a considerable role amongst the international community, the government has observed that it would be a positive move to build relations with members of the Diaspora.
Following the recent visit of India’s National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon to Sri Lanka where emphasis was paid to key areas of concern to New Delhi, the President last week confirmed that Northern Provincial Council elections would be held in September next year.
“We want to hold elections in September 2013,” President Mahinda Rajapaksa told The Hindu.
“We are working towards it (the elections) in a systematic manner.”
The holding of Northern Provincial Council elections was one of the key issues discussed between Menon and senior members of the Rajapaksa administration including the President.
Another issue that was discussed was the government’s delay in finding a political solution to the ethnic issue and failure to honor its assurances given to New Delhi.
Rajapaksa in his interview with The Hindu has said that the government had worked on all the promises that were delivered and was serious about fulfilling all undertakings that were given. He said he had even said that he was willing to go beyond the 13th Amendment.
“I said 13th Amendment plus. Then Shankar (Shivshankar Menon, Indian National Security Adviser) remarked if I meant the creation of a Senate, and I said yes.”
However, the government continues to use the proposed parliamentary select committee (PSC) as a ruse to tell the Indians and the international community on the whole as the reason for the delay in finding a political solution to the ethnic issue.
The President has also told the Indian media that the creation of a Senate and the fleshing out of a solution needed to come from Parliament.
“This is (where) the Parliamentary Select Committee is important,” Rajapaksa has said. The government has continuously blamed the TNA and the UNP for the delay in formulating the PSC.
Be that as it may, the TNA and UNP have expressed the lack of confidence in the President and the government. The two parties claim that the government has not responded to the proposals made by them in order to move forward with the reconciliation process and eventually participate in the PSC.
The TNA and the UNP have therefore drawn the conclusion that the government was not committed to finding a political solution, but only trying to buy time using the PSC as an excuse.
It is in such a backdrop that Tamil Nadu has expressed doubts over the President’s statement of holding Northern Provincial Council elections in September 2013.
DMK chief M. Karunanidhi was skeptical about Rajapaksa’s claim of holding Northern Provincial Council elections and said there was a “hidden meaning” in the Sri Lankan President’s announcement.
“There seems to be some hidden meaning in Rajapaksa’s comments that electoral rolls have to be revised,” Karunanidhi told the media in Chennai. Given India’s experiences with the Rajapaksa administration where New Delhi has constantly been in the receiving end of forked tongue statements made by Sri Lanka, it is only natural to see the Indians being skeptic towards Rajapaksa’s comments.
For the Indians now the proof of the pudding would be in the eating.
Apart from the Indians, even the TNA and the UNP have expressed doubts over the holding of elections in the North.
The opposition parties have queried as to why the government was delaying the holding of elections in the North till next year when a Presidential and general election have already been held in 2010 after the end of the war.
To the TNA and UNP, the elections in the North is yet another comment made by the President to buy a little more time with India given the crucial times ahead at the UNHRC.
Nevertheless, New Delhi undoubtedly is now aware of Rajapaksa’s tactics and would consider all these factors when taking into consideration issues related to Sri Lanka in the international sphere.