Government Does A U Turn On The West
- Pillay And Blake Likely To Visit Next Month
- Govt. Gets UN Funding Through CERF
The Mahinda Rajapaksa government last week finally admitted that United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has been extended an invitation to visit Sri Lanka.
The government claims that Pillay during her visit to Sri Lanka would be able to learn firsthand of the positive developments in the country since the end of the war.
The invitation to Pillay comes as part of the Rajapaksa government’s efforts at re-building relations with the international community and the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
A government minister said the government hoped that Pillay’s visit would help soften the stance of some members of the international community adopted on the country.
Pillay’s visit and her observations are expected to be a mode of communication the government plans to use to inform the international community of the country’s post war developments and that it was not looking at being isolated from the diplomatic community.
Sources in the External Affairs Ministry said that Pillay is yet to confirm her visit and even representatives from her office have not informed of when they would visit the country.
“We have communicated that they (UNHRC officials) are welcome and they are yet to get back to us,” a government official said.
The Rajapaksa government, until the US backed resolution on Sri Lanka was adopted at the UNHRC’s March sessions, vehemently opposed any interference by the international community in the country’s affairs.
Extremist members in the government like Ministers Wimal Weerawansa and Champika Ranawaka have continuously campaigned against the government permitting any UN intervention in the country.
Weerawansa went to the extent of staging a fast unto death outside the UN compound in Colombo when UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon appointed a three-member panel of experts to report on the situation in Sri Lanka.
Nevertheless, the UNHRC sessions in March served as an eye opener to the Rajapaksa government that behaved like the ‘untouchables.’
The government now knows that living in isolation and saber rattling with the international community does not serve well for the country, especially in its path to becoming the ‘Miracle of Asia.’
The seriousness of the resolution adopted on Sri Lanka at the UNHRC in March has now sunk into the government. It has realized that the best option would be to show initiation in implementing the recommendations of the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC).
However, the government has also noted that the UNHRC officials could observe but not instruct the government on what needs to be done.
Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella told last week at the Cabinet press briefing that Pillay’s visit would not be to give instructions to the government.
He observed that delegations from India and the UK have also visited the country and travelled to many parts of Sri Lanka including the North and East.
Be that as it may, the UNHRC resolution on Sri Lanka states that any assistance would be provided with the consensus of the government.
Meanwhile, US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asia Robert Blake is also to visit the country some time soon although the dates are yet to be finalized.
At the time of going to print, External Affairs Ministry officials said that there were discussions about a visit by Blake to the country, but that it was yet to be finalized.
It is believed that Blake would make his visit prior to the 20th sessions of the UNHRC, which is to commence in Geneva this October.
Seeking Fair Assessment
The government says that it is seeking a fair assessment of Sri Lanka’s human rights record when the UNHRC holds the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Sri Lanka this November
Special human rights envoy and Minister Mahinda Samarasinghe said Sri Lanka would share the progress it has made in addressing human rights issues following the end of the war at the UPR.
He made these comments while speaking on the final day of the defence seminar held in Colombo last week.
He noted that Sri Lanka has set up military tribunals to address some accountability issues on the war and that the system adopted by Sri Lanka to address these concerns was similar to that adopted by other countries when concerns are raised against their military and yet only Sri Lanka is being sidelined saying it is not doing enough.
“In March 2012 Sri Lanka was faced with an unnecessary and unjustified challenge in the UN Human Rights Council. A resolution was tabled which, in effect, asked us to do what we were already in the process of doing. As has been our custom since the inception, we had regularly briefed the Council and had discussions with regional and cross regional groupings represented at that body periodically on the Sri Lankan situation. We had hosted special side events at which our progress was presented and discussed. We had been open and transparent about our successes and also about the challenges we faced. Hence the resolution was in our opinion, ill-timed, unwarranted and violated of the founding principles of the Human Rights Council,” Samarasinghe said.
The Minister during his speech noted that an area of concern is the concerted campaign of disinformation and pressure exerted by the so called “anti-Sri Lanka Diaspora” on host countries around the world to question our record.
“We call on those countries who express an interest in reconciliation in Sri Lanka to focus on the activities of these groups which are aimed at creating instability and undermining reconciliation,” he observed.
Samarasinghe also re-iterated that the report by the UN panel of experts remains questionable especially since no one knows the witnesses used to gather information for the report.
He said, “…the process and content of the Darusman Report is at best questionable.”
However at the same time he reiterated that the government was not questioning the prerogative of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to appoint a panel to advise him on Sri Lanka.
He said that the UN panel had an opportunity to visit Sri Lanka and gather information before making its final report, but yet did not make use of that opportunity.
The Minister said that through a national census carried out recently the government hopes to prove wrong the figures that thousands of civilians were killed during the final stages of the war.
“When we go before international human rights forums such as the UN Human Rights Council in September for the 21 Regular Session and in November for the Universal Periodic Review of Sri Lanka, we will share the progress we have made in all aspects of the promotion and protection of human rights. We can do no more than present our case and ask for a fair and impartial hearing. This is no more than we have always demanded,” Samarasinghe said.
Foreign Relations Improved
A foreign diplomat serving in Colombo said there seems to be an improvement in Colombo’s approach towards the international community and its requests.
“It seems like the dust following the March resolution is now settling down,” the diplomat said.
Expressing a similar sentiment, a local Foreign Service official said that Sri Lankan heads of overseas missions showed signs of improvement in their foreign relations with their respective host governments.
Details of interactions between local and foreign diplomats through the overseas missions have shown a marked improvement since March.
It is learnt that there has been an improvement in the work of the Sri Lankan mission in Geneva that was in the midst of controversy during the UNHRC sessions in March and afterwards.
The new mission head Ravinatha Aryasinha has initiated a dialogue with members of the international community that were previously not included in Sri Lanka’s ‘circle.’
“It seems like the new ambassador is making efforts to bridge the gap between Sri Lanka and most Western European countries,” the Foreign Service official said.
Building a dialogue with the countries that initiated and supported the resolution this March, has helped the Rajapaksa government realize that it had overreacted in some ways to the resolution.
Members of the diplomatic community feel that the entire drama during the March sessions was due to the lack of proper communication and misunderstandings.
“Most members of the international community now say that they did not expect Sri Lanka to over react since the resolution was only aimed at giving a direction for the government to work towards reconciliation through a process chosen by it (the government),” a Sri Lankan diplomat said.
He added that even neighboring India has expressed views to the effect that it should not have voted against a member of the region and found other ways of dealing with the situation.
“The Sri Lankan government during its latest interactions with members of the Indian government has expressed that it was understood that India’s action during the 19th UNHRC sessions was fueled by domestic politics as well,” the diplomat observed.
However, he said that the international community has taken into account the actions of the Rajapaksa government since March.
The appointment of a Presidential Task Force to implement the recommendations of the LLRC and the release of a National Action Plan on the implementation of the LLRC recommendations are seen as positive moves by the government.
“There is yet much to be done, but there’s hope,” the diplomat said.
Govt. Gets UN Funding
Amidst the positive development in the foreign relations front, the UN last week stated that it would allocate US$ 55 million to bolster operations in eight countries including Sri Lanka with neglected humanitarian emergencies.
A UN release has stated that Afghanistan, Cameroon, Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ethiopia, Madagascar, Sri Lanka and Sudan would receive funds from the Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) to help provide food, water, health and other basic services.
“These CERF grants provide critical funding. The money will save lives by helping aid agencies reach people in desperate need,” Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Valerie Amos said in a news release.
“I hope this funding will also serve to draw attention to their situation, as millions more people are still in need.”
Launched in 2006 and managed by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), CERF enables the fast delivery of life-saving assistance to people affected by natural disasters and other crises worldwide.
It is funded by voluntary contributions from Member States, non-governmental organizations, regional governments, the private sector and individual donors.
The new allocations will bring the total amount allocated by CERF to more than US$ 158 million this year, as 13 countries were given nearly US$ 104 million in January.
Each year, a third of all CERF funds are earmarked for underfunded emergencies to help improve the balance of global humanitarian aid distribution.