Sri Lanka reneges

The ethnic problem in Sri Lanka defies solution as Colombo has gone back on the resolution it co-sponsored with the USA at the 31st session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. The resolution required Sri Lanka to take a number of measures, including the setting up of a credible justice process with the participation of Commonwealth and other foreign judges and defence lawyers, to investigate allegations of violence and abuses of human rights during the 30-year-long civil war.

Speaking at the opening of the 32nd session on 13 June, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Sri Lanka should implement the resolution in full, release all political detainees immediately and comply fully with international human rights norms.

Sri Lankan President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe have declared no foreign judges are needed and they can resolve problems within the country without outside intervention. Sirisena went to the extent of saying the message of reconciliation should be delivered more to the Sinhala Buddhists in the South than to the Tamils in the North. It is important for the international community to use their leverage to ensure Sri Lanka implements what it had agreed to before peers.

By co-sponsoring the resolution in October 2015, Sri Lanka agreed to a hybrid judicial mechanism comprising a court with both national and international judges. The resolution cast a responsibility on the Sri Lankan government to reform its domestic law to ensure that it could implement effectively its own commitments.

Among other things, the resolution committed Sri Lanka to initiate a high level review of the Prevention of Terrorism Act and its regulations and the Public Security Ordinance Act with a view to repealing them and the formulation of a new security framework fully compliant with international law. So far, no concrete steps have been taken by the government. According to Colombo’s Daily Mirror, the government would enact three new Acts, the National Security Act, Prevention of Organised Crimes Act to replace the existing Prevention of Terrorism Act, and the Intelligence Act aimed at preventing re-emergence of terrorism.

The government proposed to incorporate some of the provisions of the National Security Act in the new Constitution to make this basic law. Defence Secretary Karunasena Hettiarachchi said all these legislative measures were still in the formative stage. Meanwhile, Sri Lanka continues to use the draconian Prevention of Terrorism Act to detain individuals without charge despite pledging to revoke it immediately in Geneva in October 2015. Revoking PTA is crucial to protect human rights of ethnic Tamils. India got sucked into the Sri Lankan imbroglio to protect the rights of minority Tamils.

The BJP government by a quirk of events finds itself on the side of the Sinhala majority and China. Sirisena, during a recent stopover in New Delhi, obtained Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s support to his government’s defiance of last year’s UNHRC resolution. Yi Xianliang, Chinese Ambassador to Sri Lanka, while extending his country’s unqualified support to Sri Lanka in Geneva, advised Colombo to keep foreign judges out of the reconciliation process. After so much bloodshed, the Tamil problem in Sri Lanka is back to square one. (The Statesman)

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