UNHRC adopts resolution against Sri Lanka's rights record; India abstains from voting

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Geneva, Mar 23 (PTI) The UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday adopted a strong resolution against Sri Lanka's rights record, in a setback to President Gotabaya Rajapaksa who personally lobbied against the document which gives the UN body a mandate to collect evidence of crimes committed during the country's brutal civil war against the LTTE.

The resolution titled ‘Promotion of Reconciliation Accountability and Human Rights in Sri Lanka’ was adopted by the 47-member Council after 22 members voted in favour of the document at the ongoing 46th UNHRC session here.

India and Japan were among 14 countries which abstained from voting. Eleven countries, including Pakistan, China, Bangladesh and Russia, voted against the resolution.

Sri Lanka's ambassador here, M.C.A. Chandraprema, described the draft resolution as 'unwarranted, unjustified and in violations of the relevant articles of the United Nations’ Charter…' He rejected the resolution as 'divisive', saying it will polarize the Sri Lankan society and adversely affect the economic development, peace and harmony.

The resolution was adopted despite intense lobbying by the government of President Gotabaya Rajapaksa, who had dubbed the resolution as an act of political vendetta moved by the Western nations against Sri Lanka. Ahead of the voting on the resolution, Gotabaya and Prime Minister Mahinda Rajapaksa made phone calls to several world Muslim leaders.

India, which abstained from voting, said its approach to the question of human rights in Sri Lanka is guided by two fundamental considerations.

'One is our support to the Tamils of Sri Lanka for equality, justice, dignity and peace. The other is in ensuring the unity, stability and territorial integrity of Sri Lanka. We have always believed that these two goals are mutually supportive and Sri Lanka’s progress is best assured by simultaneously addressing both objectives,' said Pawankumar Badhe, First Secretary, Permanent Mission of India, Geneva.

He said India supported the call by the international community for the Government of Sri Lanka to fulfill its commitments on the devolution of political authority, including through the early holding of elections for Provincial Councils and to ensure that all Provincial Councils are able to operate effectively, in accordance with the 13th amendment to the Sri Lankan Constitution.

At the same time, he said, India believes that the work of the Office of the Human Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) should be in conformity with the mandate given by the relevant resolutions of the UN General Assembly.

'We would urge that the Government of Sri Lanka to carry forward the process of reconciliation, address the aspirations of the Tamil community and continue to engage constructively with the international community to ensure that the fundamental freedoms and human rights of all its citizens are fully protected,” Badhe added.

Sri Lanka was earlier defeated at three consecutive resolutions at the UN rights body when Gotabaya’s elder brother and incumbent Prime Minister Mahinda was the country's president between 2012 and 2014.

In 2015, the Maithripala Sirisena’s government had co-sponsored the UNHRC resolution and the action was described as a betrayal of Sri Lanka by Rajapaksa-led Opposition then.

The Gotabaya government had officially withdrawn from co-sponsoring the previous resolution undertaken by the previous government. It had called for an international investigation into alleged war crimes committed by both the government troops and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) during the final phase of the near-three-decade-long civil war that ended in May 2009.

The resolution calls upon 'the (Sri Lankan) government to ensure prompt thorough and impartial investigation, if warranted, prosecution of all alleged crimes relating to human rights violations and serious violations of international human rights law'.

It requests the OHCHR to enhance its monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in Sri Lanka, including on progress in reconciliation and accountability, and to present an oral update to the Human Rights Council at its 48th session, as well as a written update at its 49th session.

The resolution was tabled by the Core Group on Sri Lanka consisting of the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Malawi, Montenegro, and North Macedonia at the 46th Session of the UNHRC.

The United Kingdom on behalf of the core group on the resolution regretted Sri Lanka’s lack of commitment and noted that space for human rights defenders had decreased and emblematic human rights cases have been stalled. Austria on behalf of the EU member states echoed the UK’s concerns on Sri Lanka’s right accountability.

According to the Lankan government figures, over 20,000 people are missing due to various conflicts including the three-decade brutal war with Lankan Tamils in the north and east which claimed at least 100,000 lives.

The Tamils alleged that thousands were massacred during the final stages of the war that ended in 2009 when the government forces killed LTTE chief Velupillai Prabhakaran.

The Sri Lankan Army denies the charge, claiming it as a humanitarian operation to rid the Tamils of LTTE''s control.

At the end of the civil war, the United Nations accused both sides of atrocities, especially during the conflict''s final stages.

International rights groups claim at least 40,000 ethnic Tamil civilians were killed in the final stages of the war. PTI CORR/ZH AKJ ZH ZH