Reception hosted by Foreign Ministry after Resolution adopted – invited 150 and around 70 attended the dinner.

  • President’s delegation had prepared to ‘undo’ the resolution the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which wanted to secure the resolution with an extension granted to implement the UN Resolution.  
  • Minister Marapana denied the Tri Forces had committed war crimes
  • Minister Marapana criticized the UNHR chief in order to mend the clauses on the resolution.
  • The delegation was set to ask the HRC to allow Sri Lanka to solve its own issues without foreign intervention.
  • In one voice UN member countries said the Government of Sri Lanka should make substantial progress over the next year in implementing a comprehensive transitional justice strategy with a clearly defined timeline, including the establishment of a special judicial mechanism.  

By Sulochana Ramiah Mohan

It is said that old habits never die and politicians are the best at it. It was outlandish how the Government of Sri Lanka (GoSL) handled the United Nation’s Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) 40th session that began this month in Geneva, Switzerland, spending exorbitantly, when they knew beforehand what awaited them.

Initially, the Foreign Ministry said there won’t be a government delegation flying for Geneva and that Sri Lanka’s Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva A.L.A. Azeez and his team would handle the 40th session Interactive Dialogue with UNHRC on Sri Lanka.

This was notified based on their own views that nothing ‘fresh’ would be introduced on Sri Lanka by the UNHRC and at the same time, it was written on the wall that an extension would be granted for Sri Lanka to implement what it undertook last year co-sponsoring the resolution. Even at that time, several international human rights bodies began criticizing the extension Sri Lanka would be granted.

However, a team was suddenly set up on the initiative of President Maithripala Sirisena. The team went, saw and tried to lobby to remove many of the serious clauses like war crimes allegations and the hybrid court but returned hearing the same resolution 30/1 being adopted unanimously as Resolution 40/1 last Thursday 21.

Some groups such as the one led by Admiral Sarath Weerasekara were waiting to see if there would be a debate on March 21st before adopting the resolution so that they could remove the strong words uttered by the HRC Chief, Michelle Bachelet.

High Commissioner Bachelet proposed an Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights (OHCHR) to be opened in Colombo.  She also suggested a team to visit Sri Lanka to look into what the World Evangelical Alliance claimed.

No groundbreaking resolution

Many of the UN member countries have decided almost two months before what they would table in Geneva, besides, as many knew, the 40th session had no plans to introduce a groundbreaking resolution for Sri Lanka. This was explicitly made clear to the Foreign Ministry. Despite this, Minister Marapana criticized the UNHR chief in order to mend the clauses on the resolution.

Before the delegation made it to Geneva the Foreign Ministry noted:  Following consultations held with President Maithripala Sirisena yesterday (March 12) by Foreign Minister Tilak Marapana among others, it was decided that the following will comprise the Sri Lanka Government Delegation from Colombo who will participate in these discussions. The notice listed Tilak Marapana, Minister of Foreign Affairs as the Leader of Delegation, Dr. Sarath Amunugama, Dr. Suren Raghavan, Governor of the Northern Province Ravinatha Aryasinha, Foreign Secretary and A. Nerin Pulle, Deputy Solicitor General.

The delegation was set to ask the HRC to allow Sri Lanka to solve its own issues without foreign intervention.

Accompanied by wife and son

Foreign Minister Marapana was accompanied by his wife and his son who is the secretary to the Minister father. The Foreign Ministry official said the Minister paid for his wife’s air travel and accommodation in Geneva. The delegation travelled in business class and stayed at Hotel Intercontinental, Geneva at a thumping cost that exceeded Rs.20mn. Roughly Business Class for Geneva and back to Colombo would cost around Rs. 400, 000 per person. Each of them was also given an allowance for the tour.

Two persons from the delegation are expected to return today (24) and the rest of the team tomorrow.

While in Geneva, on the instructions of Foreign Secretary, Aryasinha, a grand dinner reception was hosted for nearly 150 guests from world over who were in Geneva, at the superclass Hotel Kempinski which was awarded as Best City Foreign Hotel in 2018.

The grand reception was held on March 21, after the resolution was adopted.
The list of invitees were thus: Ambassadors and Permanent Representatives of Angola, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia, South Africa Togo, Tunisia, Algeria, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Morocco, Mozambique, Mauritania, Uganda, Argentina, Bahamas, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay, Jamaica, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador Guatemala, Nicaragua, Venezuela, Afghanistan, Australia , Bahrain, Bangladesh, China , Fiji, India, Iraq, Japan, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Bhutan, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Kuwait, Laos Republic, Lebanon, Malaysia, the Maldives, Myanmar, New Zealand, Oman, Korea, Singapore, Syria, Thailand, the UAE, Vietnam, Austria, Denmark, Iceland, Italy, Spain, , the United Kingdom that led the Core Group, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovak Republic, Ukraine, Belarus, Belgium, Canada, Cyprus, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Latvia, Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, China, Argentina, Switzerland, Turkey , the USA, Romania, African Union, the EU delegation representative,  permanent Delegation of the OIC (international Centre Cintron (ICC),  Permeant delegation of the Commonwealth, Several international organizations such as the, UNOG, CERN ,ICRC, ILO, IOM, IPU, ITU,UNCTAD, WHO, WIPO, WMO GCSP , CD. Also, there were 14 Sri Lankan Professionals in Geneva working for the OHCHR, UNEP, CITES, IFRC, WHO, and UNHCR invited for the dinner.

When Ceylon Today contacted Foreign Ministry officials to verify if there was such a mega reception, the response was that they were ‘not updated’ on that.
Also, the Foreign Ministry official revealed that its ‘usual’ for a country’s permanent representative such as in Geneva to host such a reception using representational allowance collected over a period of time for branding the country. “Such allowances  must be spent”, he spelt out to Ceylon Today.

Undo Resolution

While the President’s delegation had prepared to ‘’undo’ the resolution the Tamil National Alliance (TNA) which wanted to secure the resolution with an extension granted to implement the UN Resolution.  

TNA MP M. A. Sumanthiran had met Prime Minister Prior to the Geneva visit, to convey if a proper body does not promote Sri Lanka to co-sponsor and secure the resolution, there will be trouble. The TNA decried that Azeez may not do it with the government delegation that was rushing to Geneva.

The President’s team wanted to remove Sri Lanka from co-sponsoring the resolution, to remove clauses such as the hybrid court, and war crimes charges and also the universal jurisdiction that was spelt out in the Resolution. Finally, all set off to Geneva, Marapana leading the way.

UN Ambassador Azeez cornered?

Ambassador Azeez had been handling the groundwork towards the session prior to March 20, where Sri Lanka was taken for discussion by the Core Group led by the UK and a statement by the UNHR Commissioner Michelle Bachelet that followed thereafter. However, he was made to sit on the backbench while the delegation that took off from Sri Lanka took control of the situation. Aryasinha stole the show in Geneva.

On March 5, 2019, the Core Group convened an informal meeting with Azeez and team to discuss Zero Draft resolution on reconciliation and accountability in Sri Lanka at the Palais des Nations (PdN). At the discussions, many States were represented and civil societies as well.  Macedonia and the UK acknowledged positive progress achieved in a number of areas addressed by Resolution 30/1 and 34/1 but stated that implementation, a complex process, needed to continue. He was well prepared.

Welcome development

On a positive note, the Core Group countries noted that it was a welcome development that Sri Lanka’s democratic institutions had demonstrated their independence and resilience following the situation that occurred for a ‘short period late last year’. They expressed the view that the Core Group had consulted Sri Lanka and had formed the view, that Sri Lanka’s commitment to the implementation of Resolutions 30/1 and 34/1 remained and that an extension of time was essential to ensure further progress in the commitments made.

Sweden, France and Switzerland reflected that there was a need for further significant progress as appeared in the zero draft. They said full and timely implementation of outstanding commitments made in the resolutions.

Sweden proposed to develop a time-bound implementation strategy to cooperate with the OHCHR for consideration at the 42 sessions of the Council, that is meant to be 2021.

Sri Lanka’s remarks on the informal consultation on March 5 was on the peaceful resolution of the political situation that took place at the end of last year and the  19th Amendment to the Constitution which established the independent mechanism. The right to Information Act, the office of the Missing Persons, the introduction of certificates of absence, protection of all persons of enforced disappearance and criminalizing enforce disappearance through enabling legislation, being a party to the optional protocol to the convention against torture etc. The release of the land held by security forces, etc.

The resolution was co-sponsored by 32 countries and 20 countries spoke at the Interactive Dialogue.

The PM wanted Resolution secured

Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe who is also pushing for legal reform, constitutional reforms and transitional justice mechanism despite there being lapses and unclear in his statements to the public, wanted an extension of time and to let the resolution role on for the next two years while the President and his team in Geneva went about berating the High Commissioner of double standards.

Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera last week explained how the Resolution came to be that is now. He noted Maithri-Ranil to take charge of handling our own problems ourselves in consultation with all our own citizens, international action that would have followed as a result of the OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka that was established under the former regime in March 2014 ceased.

He noted further in response to former president Rajapaksa’s statement on 17 March 2019 instructing the government of Sri Lanka on what its position should be when the UN Human Rights Council that is at present meeting in Geneva discusses Sri Lanka’s progress on national reconciliation.

The Minister further noted that the resolutions since 2015 are to work together with our partner nations in the world so that our citizens benefit from the best expertise in the world, and we work with all our citizens to set up processes that would help us put behind decades of distrust, violence and impunity and promote, protect and advance the human rights of all our citizens.

Marapona spells out Sirisena’s stance

Marapana in Geneva, stood firm on the President’s stance on the resolution. On March 20, he explained the Geneva people about the Truth-Seeking for which an Office of Missing Persons (OMP) has been established by law and fully operationalised. He noted that the Cabinet of Ministers is currently considering draft legislation to establish a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

In the area of Justice review of cases under the PTA have taken place and trials under the PTA have been expedited, while consultations are ongoing in Parliament to replace the PTA with proposed legislation for Counter-Terrorism (CTA) ensuring its conformity to international standards and best practices.

As for Reparations, the Office for Reparations Act passed by Parliament in October 2018 has provided for the establishment of an Office of Reparations in terms of the said law and three Commissioners have been recommended for appointment by the Constitutional Council. These institutions are empowered to look into, ascertain, acknowledge and address complaints made to the same. It must be noted that statutory duties performed by such bodies have to accord with a process of fairness and rules of natural justice, in achieving the objectives in respect to which such bodies are established. To ensure Non-recurrence of conflict, we are firmly resolved to fulfilling the agenda on reconciliation.

Double standards

Minister Marapana, then denied the Tri Forces had committed war crimes and further noted that a hybrid is not possible without an amendment to the Constitution by 2/3 of members of the Parliament voting in favour and also the approval of the people at a Referendum. He also criticized t High Commissioner Bachelet of her double standards applied to the Sri Lankan government and its detractors.

On universal jurisdiction on suspected war criminals, the Foreign Minister said: “It must be asserted that there are no proven allegations against individuals on war crimes or crimes against humanity in the 2015 OHCHR Investigation on Sri Lanka (OISL) or in any subsequent official document.”  “It is an injustice to deprive any serving or retired officer of the Sri Lankan security forces or the police of their rights,” he added.

As for the mass graves in Mannar, he said that UNHRC’s assumption that further excavation was needed in a public report, on a matter of this magnitude and seriousness, is not acceptable, and may even cast doubt as regards other assertions in the report.”

The UN Human Rights Chief, however, welcomed that GoSL has made some progress but there has been minimal progress on accountability, she noted, including on setting up a special judicial mechanism to deal with the worst crimes committed during the 2009 conflict, Bachelet said, noting that continuing impunity risks-fueling communal or interethnic violence, and instability.

She called for the establishment of an independent Truth and Reconciliation Commission and a vetting process to remove officers with questionable human rights records and noted slow progress in replacing the problematic Prevention of Terrorism Act. She highlighted “continuing allegations of torture and other human rights violations by security forces, including sexual violence,” and called for an end to surveillance and reprisals targeting human rights defenders, and victims. She encouraged the Government to implement a detailed and comprehensive plan for the transitional process with a fixed timeline.

In one voice UN member countries said the Government of Sri Lanka should make substantial progress over the next year in implementing a comprehensive transitional justice strategy with a clearly defined timeline, including the establishment of a special judicial mechanism.  

Sri Lanka had lots of takeaways at the end of the 40th session, on Wednesday 20th and unanimously passed the 40/1 resolution without any debate and amendments to the resolution on the 22nd March 2019.

The whole idea of the UNHRC and Sri Lanka ties is to ensure a better future for Sri Lankans despite party and politics but global interests had ruined Sri Lanka in the last half-century.  Such mishaps and poor understanding of human values will put to test, time and again if Sri Lanka has no focus and continue to dupe the public spending exorbitantly.

Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha on the dinner hosted…

Holding a reception for interlocutors when a Foreign Minister attends for the first time is normal practice, noted Foreign Secretary Ravinatha Aryasinha.

He said that the last time when the Foreign Minister visited Geneva, there was no time to host such an event. Also, he added they had invited as many as 150 and around 70 attended the dinner. “Getting that many is a great deal as the invitees are busy with other work in Geneva,” he noted.

He also pointed out it was not only HR officials who were invited but many other international organizations like the WHO, ICRC and many from the SAARC member countries.

UN country representatives too attended the dinner.  He queried as to what was wrong in inviting people to a dinner after an important session like the UNHRC. Aryasinha was of the view that hosting such an event was good for the country.

(amiesulo@gmail.com)

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